When Giovanni Bazzi criticized Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists, he didn’t know how much that would forever change his life and legacy. The artist known today as Sodoma died February 15, 1549. Born in 1477, Bazzi epitomizes the Siena brand of High Renaissance painting, especially in works such as his Saint Sebastian (above, from 1525), which presents the swooning saint with his trademark assortment of arrows pointing in all directions. Unfortunately, thanks to a vengeful Vasari and the power of negative press, Bazzi’s artistic achievement remained overshadowed by the accusations of homosexuality and pedophilia for centuries. “'His manner of life was licentious and dishonorable,” Vasari wrote. “And as he always had boys and beardless youths about him of whom he was inordinately fond, this earned him the nickname of Sodoma; but instead of feeling shame, he gloried in it, writing stanzas and verses on it, singing them to the accompaniment of the lute.” Histories of the Renaissance overflow with tales of dangerous and talented characters, but, sadly, Bazzi may not have been one of them.
Bazzi’s Saint George and the Dragon (above, from 1518) displays his talent for imaginative decoration and flourishes of colorful detail. By all non-Vasari accounts, Bazzi, known as "Il Mattaccio" (i.e., the maniac), dressed the part of the wild man artist, lived with his wife and children, enjoyed telling jokes and playing music, and even managed a large menagerie of exotic animals in his home, which may have inspired some of the details of the dragon squaring off with Saint George. There’s some evidence that Bazzi may have actually used “Sodoma” in his signature in later years, but I’m not sure if that’s a sign of shameless pride (as Vasari would like us to believe) or simple resignation to the power of Vasari’s ability to create a professional identity for him, whether he liked it or not.
As late as the 1600s, works by Bazzi such as his Pieta (above, from 1540) were attributed to Leonardo da Vinci thanks to their powerful use of chiaroscuro. Certainly, Bazzi knew how to paint and borrowed many of the best aspects of the contemporaries he most admired. Raphael admired Bazzi’s work and used Bazzi’s portrait for that of the philosopher Protogenes in his The School of Athens. Raphael places Protogenes/Bazzi/Sodoma far to the right, half hidden behind the curving arch as if almost ashamed to be in the picture. Vasari’s Lives of the Painters tells many of the wonderful stories that make up the patchwork collage of early art history, but Giovanni Bazzi, aka Sodoma, remains Vasari’s greatest victim.