While Giorgio Vasari gives each of the artists he deems of importance their own section, they can hardly be considered in isolation. All the artists he considers are bound up in a dense network of artistic influence. To learn their craft, pupils would work under or in the studio of a master artist; only after a long apprenticeship could artists then strike out on their own and make a name for themselves. Even Cimabue, who for Vasari stands at the very beginning of the rebirth of art, was a pupil to imported Byzantine artists. He then took on Giotto as a pupil and the non-linear chain continues. In Vasari’s progressive account of the improvement of art, such a system allows for the consistent refinement of art; small and precise, rather than large and sweeping changes. Despite this, Cimabue and Giotto are given much more artistic agency than their followers; their drive to create is noted as instinctual as well as divinely allotted or derived from Nature (there is an oscillation between the two throughout the text). The successive histories display the great degree of blending between artistic fields and media during the Renaissance. Many of these artists began as apprentices to goldsmiths before gravitating toward the medium they are most known for. While Vasari’s Lives is often dismissed as merely a collection of heroicizing biographies, the links of influence and tutelage that can be drawn out illuminate the vibrant and interwoven artistic community in Renaissance Italy.
1470-75: Andrea del Verrocchio and Leonardo, The Baptism of Christ by St. John [Uffizi]
Vasari writes of the pupil Leonardo assisting his master Verrocchio in his Baptism of Christ by St. John: "In this work he was assisted by Leonardo da Vinci, his disciple, then quite young, who painted therein an angel with his own hand, which was much better than the others parts of the work; and for that reason Andrea resolved never again to touch a brush, since Leonardo, young as he was, had acquitted himself in that art much better than he had done."