In 1550, another Tuscan writer made (art) history when he wrote The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects.
Not only did Giorgio Vasari single-handedly invent “art history” with his book, but he also opened a window on to a previously cloistered world: the lives of the people who were changing the meaning of art and the way we, even today, perceive works of art and the role they play in culture and human experience.
It’s important to remember that artists and artisans were considered second-class citizens at the time. They served their aristocratic patrons. But with Vasari’s work, they came to vivid three-dimensional life on the page for the first time.
In many ways, Vasari also created (or at least opened the path for) the “celebrity artist” by giving us gossipy, juicy details about their personal histories and intrigues. The parallels with modern-day food and wine writing and the rise of celebrity chefs, celebrity sommeliers, and celebrity winemakers are myriad.
I’ve teased legacy Montalcino winemaker Stefano Cinelli Colombini that the title of his wonderful book Brunello, ritratti a memoria (Brunello, Portraits from Memory, Fattoria dei Barbi Edizioni, Montalcino, February, 2020) should have been The Lives of the Most Excellent Brunello Growers and Winemakers. Currently available in Italian (see link), it’s a roman d’aventure that brings to life the people who made Brunello di Montalcino what it is today.
I know that when Anglophone wine insiders pick up the translation I’m working on, they’ll skip directly to the handful of household and tableside names we know here in the U.S. But those who want something deeper than workaday hagiography will find that Brunello’s arc is a synecdoche for post-war Italy and the heroic women and men who built it and who came before it. I believe that even the most savvy among the Brunellisti will be surprised and thrilled by Stefano’s Melvillian pastiche of characters, their sacrifice, ingenuity, and achievement.
With acute clarity, Stefano’s work shows that the history of Montalcino is an epoch story of tragedy, resilience, and ultimate triumph.
My translation will be published by Fattoria dei Barbi Edizioni this fall. Stay tuned for previews.