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Last updated at 17:39 GMT, Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Sale of Vasari's papers suddenly stopped


10 March 2010

A sale of the papers of Giorgio Vasari, thought of as the founder of European art history, was stopped at the last moment. They were being sold to pay tax debts, but the family said the price was too low.

Duncan Kennedy

Michaelangelo's famous sculpture 'David'

Michaelangelo's famous sculpture 'David'


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Giorgio Vasari lived in the 16th century and was an acclaimed artist himself. But it was in chronicling the lives of other Renaissance artists that he earned his reputation as the founder of European art history. His most famous work, called Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects, contains letters to and from Michaelangelo, local rulers and popes.

The papers were seized by Italy's tax authorities in lieu of unpaid debts by the Italian count who owned them. Some reports say he tried to sell them for $200 million to a Russian gas billionaire, who then apparently died. The count's family deny this. Now an auction to sell the papers for a starting price of three and a half million dollars has been stopped, because the family say that's too cheap. A judge in Tuscany will now decide if a higher price is more suitable. One expert has said the archive is worth more like $13 million.

The auction was stopped with just 15 minutes to spare, when lawyers for Vasari's heirs stepped in. The tax authorities said they had to accept the auctioneer's decision to halt the sale.

Whatever the final price and whoever buys them, there is one hitch: the papers are housed in Vasari's former home in Tuscany and cannot be moved, by order of the Italian Ministry of Culture.

Duncan Kennedy, BBC News, Rome


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an acclaimed artist

a well known, respected and highly praised artist


writing about, detailing, keeping records of

the founder of

the person who is responsible for starting something

in lieu of unpaid debts

in place of, instead of money that is owed

deny this

say this is not true

an auction

a public sale where people bid against each other, making higher and higher offers of money; the item is sold to the person who offers the most money

the archive

the historic collection

to spare

remaining, extra, left over (here, before the auction started)

Vasari's heirs stepped in

the people, who became the owners of Vasari's property and money after he died, interrupted


problem, difficulty

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