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Raphael and the bad humours of painters in Vasari's Lives of the Artists

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Throughout his monumental series of artists’ biographies, and above all in the section of this text dealing with his contemporaries, Giorgio Vasari used the medically related terms ‘complexion’ and ‘humour’ in distinct – though not wholly discrete – ways. The former is deployed to comment on artists’ innate constitutional strength and on changes in their health, while the latter is invoked primarily to characterize pathological tendencies – often problematic or morally objectionable ones. When correlated with information in other vite, striking passages at the beginning and end of the biography of Raphael serve to clarify how and why Vasari considered certain humours – primarily melancholy, but secondarily choler – particularly destructive in their influence on artists’ behaviour. Conversely, the (essentially jaundiced) picture of human temperament in Vasari's text at large serves inversely to underscore the strength of his stated admiration for the ‘gracious,’ Christ-like Raphael.
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Keywords: Raphael; Vasari; biography; humours; melancholy

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Redlands

Publication date: 2008-04-01

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