Vasari's Lives of the Artists Chapter VII: Paolo Uccello.

My final post for the day in my catch up on artists from Vasari's Lives - Paolo Uccello.

The Life of Paolo Uccello, Florentine Painter
[1397 - 1475]

Paolo Uccello would have been the most delightful and inventive genius in the history of painting from Giotto's day to the present, if he had spent as much time working on human figures and animals as he lost of the problems of perspective; for although these things are ingenious and beautiful, anyone whose pursuit of them is excessive wastes hour after hour, exhausts his native abilities, and fills his minds with difficulties, quite often turning a fertile and effortless talent into one that is sterile and overworked; and anyone who pays more attention to perspective than to human figures achieves an arid style full of profiles, produced by the desire to examine things in minute detail. Besides this, such a person frequently becomes solitary, eccentric, melancholy, and impoverished like Paolo Uccello who, endowed by Nature with a meticulous and subtle mind, took pleasure only in the investigation of certain problems of perspective which were difficult or impossible, and which, however original and vexing, nevertheless hindered him so much in painting figures that as he grew older, he grew even worse.
Quite a harsh start for Paolo Uccello! But, after some more damning words, Vasari does note that Uccello was responsible for introducing some excellent rules in perspective in art. He was also noted to be experimental with colour, not something Vasari seems to have approved of. From there Vasari writes of his career; altar pieces, on canvas, and with many scenes involving animals (birds were his favourite, earning him the nickname 'Paolo of the Birds'). He also painted scenes in the cloister of Santa Maria Novella from Genesis: The Creation and Noah specifically, among many other works.

Despite those words at the beginning of the chapter, Vasari concludes that Paolo's efforts were truly great, however strange an individual he was. He finishes with a rather sad tale: Donatello the sculptor once asked him what he was working on and Paolo replied to wait and see. When he finally revealed his work Donatello is said to have replied, "Ah, Paolo, now that it ought to be covered up, you're uncovering it instead!" Understandably, he was very hurt by it and afterwards left his house very little, closing himself away and working on his obsession - perspective.

Here are some of his works:

Vase in perspective.
Perspective Study Of Mazzocchio.
Disputation of St. Stephen (c. 1435).
Hope (1435).
Equestrian Monument Of Sir John Hawkwood (1436)
St. Francis (1435).
Oculus Depicting The Resurrection (1443).
Oculus Depicting The Nativity (1443).
A Young Lady of Fashion (1464).
Victory Over Bernardino Della Ciarda (1438).


  1. format a bit changed, i see... Sir John Hawkwood was an interesting sort of mercenary, according to Wiki; described there as brutal and devious... not the sort of hero one might elect for an official portrait, except the 15th c. in Italy was pretty warlike and H apparently took advantage of that ...
    even a little bit of history shows how different moral standards were in those days...

    1. Yes, I've been playing around. And it's changed again since you've commented! (The comment box is a bit odd, I must say. Should have a border. Don't know how).

      Sir John Hawkwood - I didn't get around to looking him up - I'll go and have a read myself... :)


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