Concordancing the Vite of Vasari

How many words did Vasari know by 1568? He certainly knew a lot, indeed!  How many times did he used certain words? How many types of a word he included and which? However, why would anyone be interested in how many are the words Giorgio Vasari might have known or used? My sole intention is to provide some thoughts for further research. This book may be useful in the studies of art history, Italian historical linguistics and corpus linguistics. More, it is the product of primary experimentation between Italian renaissance art history, art history literature and corpus linguistics.
This short essay incorporates into one solid narrative old thoughts with new comments on textual research and art history in digital era. 
As in the begging there had been the word, I feel we should start by the definition of the word concordance, as it may feel less comfortable in art history settings. A short induction to the tools of art history will proceed. The application of this word will then follow, roughly illustrated by two, not so different, examples. While, the conclusion of this exposition is nothing more than questions and propositions for further art historical research.

According to Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edition) “concordance” (n.) may refer to :

1.1 The fact of agreeing or being concordant; agreement, harmony.
b.1.b (with pl.) An instance of agreement or accord.
†2.2 spec. A treaty, agreement, or compact. Obs.
†3.3 Gram. = concord n. 6. Obs.
4.4 An agreeable or satisfactory blending of musical sounds or notes; harmony; = concord 4.
†5.5 A composition combining and harmonizing various accounts; a harmony. Obs.
6.6 A citation of parallel passages in a book, esp. in the Bible. Obs.
b.6.b An alphabetical arrangement of the principal words contained in a book, with citations of the passages in which they occur. These were first made for the Bible; hence Johnson's explanation ‘A book which shows in how many texts of scripture any word occurs’. Orig. in pl. (med.L. concordantiæ), each group of parallel passages being properly a concordantia.
   This is sometimes denominated a verbal concordance as distinguished from a real concordance which is an index of subjects or topics.
A more specialized – but still general – dictionary, as the Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics (4th Edition, 2010) by Jack C Richards, Richard Schmidt (eds.), describes:

concordance concordancing v
a list of all the words which are used in a particular text or in the works of a particular author, together with a list of the contexts in which each word occurs (usually not including highly frequent grammatical words such as articles and prepositions). Concordances have been used in the study of word frequencies, grammar, discourse and stylistics. In recent years the preparation of concordances by computers has been used to analyze individual texts, large samples of writing by a particular author, or different genres and registers. A collection of texts for such purposes is called a corpus. Computer concordances are now often used in the preparation of dictionaries, since they enable lexicographers to study how words are used in a wide range of contexts. (p. 113)
concordancer n
software that searches for words of phrases in a corpus and displays the selected item or items in a list together with their surrounding context. Concordancers enable the uses of words to be displayed together with contexts of use (see below) and are used in discourse analysis and other forms of language analysis. They are also sometimes used by teachers to provide students with examples of authentic language use. (p. 113)

While according to, the more popular, Collins Cobuild English Language Dictionary (1987), “concordance”, is:

an alphabetical list of the words in a book or a set of books which also says where each word can be found and often how it is used.

Here, it is inevitable to reproduce only the words in alphabetical order and the number of their occurrences. A printed edition including each word in its sentence and textual context could require several multi-pages volumes.

Art history, now, as discipline, or as a science, following qualitative or quantitative social methods, inclined to stylistic, iconographical or textual reception studies is always in the need of research questions to justify its existence.

Which would be though the key tools of an art historian to approach an artwork or artefact?

A proposition, under consideration, is suggested. The key elements in the armoury of history of art could be: 1) topography, 2) typology and 3) technology.

Topography by definition means
However, the existence and use of concordancing software in art history provides invaluable insights, regarding both the use, and thus the meaning, of a word regarding its literal textual and syntax sequence or context.  Such a concordancing, in its very nature, database already exists online.

Vasari scrittore, Una banca dati per gli scritti e il lessico vasariano[1] is a project of great inspiration; which unfortunately had been a rather late discovery to my attention – through google search. It is the product of a collaboration between Fondazione Memofonte, regional council of Tuscany and of Kunsthistorisches Institut di Firenze (German art history institute in Florence). This project celebrated the 500 years of Vasari’s birth, 1511-2011, largely based on Paola Barocchi and Rosanna Bettarini's nine-volume critical edition of 1966-87 (of which three volumes are commentary).  For more information visit

Using the interlinked databases of the above project, one may combine linguistic with (art) historical research. Here is an example:

Giorgio Vasari’s Lives had been published twice in their authors’ lifetime. The first edition appeared in 1550[2]; while a second revised and largely augmented edition had been published in 1568.[3] Vasari has written the lives of more than one hundred and thirty artists (painter, sculptors, architects, and other artists such as miniaturists). His structured political narrative is used as a primary source in art history and this work is considered an ultimate starting point of any renaissance or early modern art history research. This is reason Vasari’s Lives can take a paradigmatic nature, considering theoretical and digital applications described here.

The word of “science”, for instance, can be well traced several times over the Lives. Giorgio Vasari, for instance, in his Vite (1550 and 1568) did not use the word “science” (scienza, scienze, scienzia, scienzie) in the life of Leonardo, while he used “science” in certain others artists, having primarily the meaning of high-developed technique accompanied by theoretical support and background. In fact, one encounters the word in question 85 times in both the editions. Scienza, scienze scienzia scienzie. 36 times in the 1550; while 49 in the second edition in his lifetime.

One cannot help but to notice that all the uses of the word “science” in the Lives are connected with Florentine masters or with people with strong connection with the Florentines; Leon Battista Alberti from Genoa or Raffaello Sanzio from Urbino; or Guglielmo de Marcillat from France working in Arezzo, for instance. See Appendix. [4]

With this in mind, even though it is rather risky and tricky, paraphrasing George Bazin’s “the history of art was born of the pride of the Florentines,’’[5]  we could arrive at the notion that history of “science”, as natural philosophy in this panel, was born of the pride of the Florentines. That way we could even possibly support, and thus conclude, that art and science are two “parallels” that meet or that have never been apart, indeed. Or, a better insight could be revealed by the humanistic intriguing dictum of “Ut arts scientia,” at least as perceived here, in the Lives of Giorgio Vasari.

Another digital corpus linguistics (and) art history investigation could be using the BIA database of The Medici Archive Project.[6] (

Using Bia database and a working hypothesis on Museo VS Galleria (Museum VS Gallery) in order to understand the meaning of the words “museo” and “galleria” used from Francesco Bondicchi. Francesco Bondicchi was "segretario di legazione a Milano, col residente Rucellai" in 1655, and then served as agent in Milan from 1656 to 1697.[7]

After a quick surfing, using MAP’s Bia database as a corpus, as in linguistics, could be at least intriguing! Try a simple search in All fields (document transcriptions, document synopses, volumes, peoples, places) using the word “museo” for instance. Apart from mentions of Paolo Giovio’s Museo and Cosimo III de' Medici’s “museum”, one can also find the correspondence of Francesco Bondicchi to Apollonio Bassetti, and the latter’s “natural history museum.” “Sento ancora per essa l'arrivo de cristalli ben condizionati e mi tengo di buono che sieno piaciuti a quelli che servir devono di rinforzo al di lei museo, che spero accresceremo di qualcos'altro” (Doc ID 24472). These appearances / occurrences could reveal that the word “museo” had been used mainly in relation to natural history collections or curiosities. In addition, another search using the word “galleria” this time brings rather interesting results. The word “Galleria” had been primarily applied in reference to antiquities, painting, art collecting; and art in general; apart from being used as a place index, ex. Galleria degli Uffizi.  More, the above Francesco Bondicchi likewise made this distinction as “that Manfredi Settala was very upset because Marchis Lice visited his art gallery and tried having some old portraits of his family painted by Tiziano and Fede Galizia” (Doc ID 24194).

If such a semantically distinction is historically plausible, indeed, one could suspect that, if and, when the Milanese Francesco Bondicchi had read Federico Borromeo’s Musaeum, he could have first thought that the book would be about a collection of naturalia! In addition, it might be understood that such a last hypothesis would require Bondicchi’s unawareness of Borromeo’s interests or more of his activities! Another possibility explaining this distinction could be linked with cultural connotations other than the nature of the collection. Further research on Francesco Bondicchi, and his network, needs to done for a secure, if any, answer, to the matter in question, Museo vs galleria. Nonetheless, using and exploiting Bia database seems promising for (art) historical research in digital era.

Fascinating, as it may be, indeed, could we, thus, use Bia as a text corpus, among others, to approach the meaning of a word in a certain time and context? The limitations of the number documents already being transcribed, uploaded, or not, should also be taken into consideration, but not as a hinder. [8]

In this primary approach, discussed here, to examine the vocabulary used by Giorgio Vasari, and in order to produce these word lists, I have based these efforts to the Memofonte online .pdf editions of Vasari’s Vite.[9]  There are also many other online editions one could have used, indeed. A proposed catalogue listing the freely available (to all who have internet access or know who to use internet) online editions could include: the Wikisource , the Biblioteca digitale della letteratura italiana , the Liber Liber sites, along with the facsimile of the 1568 edition from the Digitale Bibliothek, Münchener Digitalisierungszentrum (MDZ) ; while in the Internet Archive project ( one could consult online or download, among unbelievably many others, the 9 volume Gaetano Milanesi edition (1878-85). Google books in public domain could also be a source of reference.

The Simple Concordance Program [10] has provided me the capability to approach in numbers the range of vocabulary, Vasari used writing his Vite. Vasari used about 22,279 different words in the Torrentiana edition of his Le Vite, 1550 ; while the total number of words being used is 280,561. More, in the subsequent two-volume edition from the printing house of Giunti, in 1568 , he used approximately 20,571 and 28,841 different words respectively. The total number of words used in each volume rises in 276,025 words in the first volume and 488,249 in the second one. (See Table 1)

          Number of 
Giuntina tomo 120,571276,025
Giuntina tomo 228,841488,249
Table 1

When one is looking these numbers should be cautiously careful for the use of abbreviations and parenthesises, brackets, square brackets for pointing out to the modern reader (the) missing part of word or phrase or a page break in the original have being kept as they appear in the Memofonte editions. However, under no occasion should these mis-calucations, or perhaps inaccuracies, diminish the nature of this effort; considering that this work is totally based on free internet and software public resources and material. 

More, I have chosen to count the different spellings of the same word as a different, including the necessary capitalisation after a full stop.  The inflected nature of the Italian language should also be taken into consideration. A fair example is the noun ‘abbot’ (or ‘cleric’) which appears in the text as ‘ABATE’ once, as ‘Abate’ four times, as ‘abate’ ten times and in the plural ‘abati’ two times, in the Torrentiana edition. Another even more interesting example could be that of the typological variations the word ‘divine.’ (See Table 2)

TorrentianaGiuntina volume 1Giuntina volume 2
3 divin1 divin4 divin
36 divina10 divina1 Divina
9 divinamente6 divinamente41 divina
15 divine5 divini15 divinamente
16 divini4 divinità13 divine
19 divinità1 divinissimamente12 divini
2 divinissima3 divinissimo2 Divinità
5 divinissimamente1 DIVINO14 divinità
5 divinissime17 divino1 divinissima
1 divinissimi1 DIVINUM2 divinissimamente
7 divinissimo1 DIVINUS1 divinissime
1 DIVINO1 divinissimi
29 divino4 divinissimo
Numbers before words indicate the number of times each word appears in certain edition
Table 2

The questions these lengthy Word Lists aim to answer, in the near future, vary, of course. 

Will the formation and foundation of an “Italian Renaissance Art History Literature Corpus” endow us with new insights? These insights could refer to the use of specific words and their grammar or syntax structures.[11]  Such an approach would be of interest of linguistics, especially those occupied with the teaching of the 16th Italian language to Art History students.[12]  The production of a Vasarian Dictionary will undeniably help towards this direction. A historian (of art) could also could benefit from such a Corpus for she/he would be able to locate easier the context of each word and exactly the times each word appears and in reference with what and whom. She/he would also undeniably profit from the study of the original Italian editions with the help of a Vasarian Dictionary as a study companion.

Does this specific amount and type of vocabulary make, indeed, Vasari a literary man?  Vasari, indeed, by the fact had been using the technical language of his craft. If yes, in what terms?[13] What is the amount of words and vocabulary other contemporary writers applied to their writings, ex. Pietro Aretino, Paolo Govio, etc, and what these findings tells us? And since Vasari and hisVite have shaped the way we think, read (or even feel) about art and art history, what is linguistic profile of each one of Vite’seditions (first edition in 1550 and the second one in two volumes in 1568)? More, if we could, indeed, the place Vite through linguistics in the science of history of (art) literature, what is its genre and how it differs from the others? Further, how do Vitediffer from other Lives of the Artists, in terms of vocabulary and use of language? What other historical information, if any, could we elicit through such a procedure?

I do not any to the above questions, at this moment. Several speculations could be provided through the science of history of literature, as known today, to the best of knowledge. All these rhetorical problems could be of no use unless certain historical problems are to be sought.

Do “we” speak of a new direction of historical linguistics[14] or art history? Perhaps, of art historical corpus linguistics? A direction where linguistics, literature and technology are engaged in the service of (art) history. Any such direction undoubtedly embeds a new dimension in art history; since the latter provides an open field for application.

Ioannis Tzortzakakis

[1] This project was curated by Fondazione MemofonteStudio per l’Elaborazione Informatica delle Fonti Storico Artistiche. Scientific direction: Paola Barocchi and Miriam Fileti Mazza. Working group: Alessia CecconiMartina Nastasi, with the collaboration of Elena Miraglio. Computer developmentFederico Toscano. The project was financed by Regione Toscana and Kunsthistorisches Institut Florenz.
[2] Giorgio Vasari, Le vite de’ più eccellenti architetti, pittori, et scultori italiani, da Cimabue insino a’ tempi nostri, Nell’edizione per i tipi di Lorenzo Torrentino, Firenze 1550
[3] Le vite de’ più eccellenti architetti, pittori, et scultori, Scritte Da M. Giorgio Vasari Pittore et Architetto Aretino, Di Nuovo dal Medesimo Riviste Et Ampliate Con i Ritratti Loro Et con l’aggiunta delle Vite de’ vivi, & de’ morti Dall’anno 1550 infino al 1567. Con le Tavole in ciascun volume, Delle cose piω Notabili, De’ Ritratti, Delle vite degli Artefici, et dei Luoghi dove sono l’opere loro. In Fiorenza, Appresso i Giunti, 1568.
[4] These considerations consit the main argument of a paper accepted at the 24th International Congress of History of Science, Technology and Medicine, University of Manchester, UK, entitled “Artistic literature and the word of science: Leonardo da Vinci and Giorgio Vasari.”
[5] George Bazin (1986) Histoire de l’histoire de l’art, de Vasari à nos jours, Paris: Albin Michel, p. 15.
[6] From its Mission page: “Since its foundation in the early 1990s, the Medici Archive Project (MAP) has been innovating new strategies for research in the Humanities. During the early stages of its existence, MAP’s mission was to merge archival research with technological innovations for data management. A pioneering group of scholars began to catalog in a rudimentary electronic database the letters of one of the most exhaustive and complete courtly archives of early modern Europe: the Medici Granducal Archival Collection (Mediceo del Principato). This archival collection  comprising over four-million letters distributed in 6,429 volumes and occupying a mile of shelf space  covers a chronological span of two hundred years, from 1537 to 1743. It documents the political, diplomatic, gastronomic, economic, artistic, scientific, military and medical culture of early modern Tuscany and Europe.” ( 
[7] I personally would like to thank Alessio Assonitis, The Medici Archive Project, for bringing Bondicchi’s identity to my attention, via the BIA forum of discussion.
[8] This comment on “Museo vs galleria” also appears at the discussion forum of the project in question. 
[9] Giorgio Vasari, Vite de’ più eccellenti pittori scultori e architettori, 1550 e 1568, a cura di R. Bettarini e P. Barocchi, Firenze S.P.E.S., Sansoni, 1966-1987, Edizione Torrentiniana, PDF pubblicato marzo 2006 (sezione a cura di: Paola Barocchi; con la collaborazione di M. Fileti Mazza), , last access 27 August 2010 and Giorgio Vasari, Vite de’ più eccellenti pittori scultori e architettori, 1550 e 1568, a cura di R. Bettarini e P. Barocchi, Firenze S.P.E.S., giΰ Sansoni, 1966-1987, Edizione Giuntina, Tomo I, Tomo II, PDF pubblicato marzo 2006 (sezione a cura di: Paola Barocchi; con la collaborazione di M. Fileti Mazza), , last access 27 August 2010.
[10] According to its specifications: “This free program lets you create word lists and search natural language text files for words, phrases, and patterns. SCP is a concordance and word listing program that is able to read texts written in many languages. There are built-in alphabets for English, French, German, Polish, Greek, Russian, etc. SCP contains an alphabet editor which you can use to create alphabets for any other language.” ( This software is the project – product of Alan Reed.
[11] Silvio Avalle D’Arco (1990) “A concordance of the early Italian poetic language”, Computers and the Humanities, Volume 24, Numbers 5-6, 353-362.
[12] Claire Kennedy, Tiziana Miceli (2002) “The CWIC Project: Developing and Using a Corpus for Intermediate Italian Students”, Language and Computers, Teaching and Learning by Doing Corpus Analysis. Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on Teaching and Language Corpora, Graz 19-24 July, 2000, Bernhard Kettemann and Marko Georg (eds.), Amsterdam/New York, Rodopi, 183-192 and Winnie Cheng, Martin Warren and Xu Xun-feng (2003) “The language learner as language researcher: putting corpus linguistics on the timetable”, System, Volume 31, Issue 2, 173-186.
[13] Partly an answer to such a question can be found at: Antonio Paolucci (2009) “La lingua di Giorgio Vasari,” Le mille e una lingua: atti delle tornate dell’Accademia degli Incamminati sulla lingua italiana, a cura di Costanza Melani ; con una premessa di Simona Costa, Firenze, Polistampa, 147-151.
[14] For an introduction to and a short bibliography on “Corpus linguistics and historical linguistics” and “Historical corpora” see, for instance, Anke Lόdeling and Merja Kytö (2008) Corpus Linguistics, An International Handbook, Volume 1, HSK 29.1, Berlin, New York, Walter de Gruyter.

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