“The perfection of his design (the key to pictorial expression) is so familiar to you that, in the representation of the human body, you see the goal of art, that is to say, in what is particularly inaccessible about it”, wrote the playwright Pietro Aretino about the “divine” Michelangelo.
In its exhibition of more than 150 drawings, the Metropolitan Museum of New York is demonstrating the graphic virtuosity of this master of the Renaissance (1475–1564).
“Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer” also presents the other two arts that the artist practised: three sculptures in marble, his first paintings, a wooden model of a chapel vault, as well as a variety of works by other artists. But the thrust of the exhibition is a complete series of drawings and a monumental sketch that Michelangelo made for his final fresco painted at the Vatican Palace. Loans have been made by private and public collections.
Influenced by a Neo-Platonic conception, for Michelangelo art and drawing were tools at the service of ideas, while the soul was subject to the body (this carcer terreno). For the artist, the human body was in a continual struggle to free itself from its material nature and to join the heaven of ideas. By getting closer to a “copy of the perfection of God and a memory of divine painting”, explained the Portuguese miniaturist Francisco da Hollanda in his Dialogues with Michelangelo, the Renaissance master set his sights on achieving perfection in images in which his writhing bodies related more to theology than to anatomy. “In his work, anatomy becomes music. In his work, the human body is an almost purely architectural material”, wrote the Futurist Umberto Boccioni (Dinamismo plastico, Milan, 1911).
Michelangelo’s contorted bodies reflect his quality of terribilità, the word used by Vasari in his Lives of the Artists to praise the grandeur of the artist’s spirit and his technical virtuosity. His “divine designs” also present some of the most important attributes of his artistic conception: the non finito, the reminiscence of beauty, mannerism, movement, hiatus, absolute exhaustion, torpor, torment, fury, passion, etc. With his extraordinary capacity for imagination (fantasia) and reflection, Michelangelo ascribed the act of purification to his function as an artist: by eliminating matter (through subtraction), he could arrive closer to the image’s underlying conception.
Name: Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni
Birth: 1475, Caprese
Death: 1564, Rome
Master: Domenico Ghirlandaio
Pupils: Ascanio Condivi, Tommaso dei Cavalieri
Patrons: Lorenzo de’ Medici, Julius II, Leo X, Clement VII, Paul III
Most famous works: David (1504), Pietà (1498); frescoes on the ceiling (1508–12) and altar wall (Last Judgement, 1536–41) of the Sistine Chapel