The book was originally conceived as a way for Vasari to lend his support and advice to Cosimo de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, who was commissioning a large number of artistic works as part of his grandiose plans for the city of Florence. The work is a cornerstone of art history, and has been influential in subsequent centuries.
The book is divided into three parts: the first part deals with the lives of the most excellent painters, sculptors, and architects; the second part discusses their works; and the third part offers a general commentary on the state of the arts.
The book was first published in 1568, and was immediately popular. It was translated into numerous languages, and had a profound impact on the development of Western art.