Tag Archive | Leonardo da Vinci

Rise of the Brave Shepherd

Continuation of: M as in Michelangelo

Work is love made visible – Kahlil Gibran

From September 13, 1501 until the first half of 1504, Michelangelo was industriously engaged in sculptural works related to his Gothic treatment of David, the young shepherd from the tribe of Judah who rose to become a hero of Israel. It was also during the autumn of 1504 when the traditional trinity of great masters of that period: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, 1483-1520), were all present in Firenze. Think of that!

During the above span of time, three popes reigned over the Catholic Church in Rome. Following the death of Pope Alexander VI (Roderic/Rodrigo de Borja, 1431-1503, pope from 1492), Pius III (Francesco Todeschini Piccolomini, 1439-1503) took over the pontificate on September 22, 1503. Sadly, his untimely death on October 18, 1503 marked his reign as the shortest papacy in the history of the Church. Thereafter, the ten year pontificate of Julius II (Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, 1443-1513) commenced on November 1, 1503 following the shortest conclave in the papal history.

Even as Michelangelo worked to create David in a specially constructed wooden shed expressly erected to shield his work from prying eyes, he was sporadically attending to prearranged contract works agreed in 1501 with (pope-to-be) Cardinal Francesco Piccolomini to execute fifteen small size marble statues of male saints, over a period of three years, to decorate the Piccolomini Chapel in the Duomo di Siena, the city where Cardinal Francesco was born.

Besides other works, Michelangelo was also preparing to work on Tondo Doni (Doni Madonna), his first panel painting, ordered by the wealthy Florentine Agnolo Doni (1474-1539) either for his wedding in 1504 to noblewoman Maddalena (1489-1540) of the powerful Strozzi family or for the birth of his first daughter in 1507.

Historically, the biblical hero David (c. 1035-970 BC) in the face of all odds had defended his people and governed justly as a king who helped found the eternal throne of God. He has been much honoured in the history of the Jewish people ever since his duel with Goliath which is narrated briefly in 1 Samuel 17 of the Old Testament. Erecting a statue of this heroic personality was considered as a bringer of good omen for the future of Firenze. David would also symbolize the reality that the rulers of Firenze would defend the Republic with courage and govern it conscientiously.

As the narration in 1 Samuel 17 goes, when war again broke out between the Israelites and the Philistines and they were confronting each other across a valley between Shochoh and Azekah in Ephesdammim, shepherd David, the twenty-three year old youngest son of the Bethlehemite Jesse had come forward and dared to accept the challenge of Goliath (the Philistine of Gath) to any one from the Israelite ranks to come out and fight him. In the encounter which followed, the giant Goliath of six cubits and a span in height encased in complete armour and wielding weapons fell to the earth after having been hit on his forehead by a smooth stone shot from the sling of David after which he had quickly severed Goliath’s head with the giant’s own sword.

Michelangelo’s preference for muscular young men evidently dominates his art since they appears to be his ideal for beauty. The initial sketch Michelangelo prepared depicted the brave shepherd David standing with his foot planted on the head of Goliath. This was found unsuitable owing to the inadequate size and quality imperfections of the block of marble which was already worked upon on by earlier sculptors.

To that end, the design and composition, proportion and orientation Michelangelo had in his mind for his David had to be remodelled which prompted him to prepare another wax model which became the catalyst for the profile of his sculpture of David which he created at the wooden shed at the courtyard of the workshops belonging to Opera del Duomo.

Given that David was part of a dozen of statues of prominent Old Testament characters originally intended for placement along the borderline surrounding the outside of the dome of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, it has to be viewed from below. And so, some parts of the body featured in disproportionate size apparently don’t hang together.

I could imagine the attention given for the articulation and balance based on the classical contrapposto pose David should adopt and of the clothes he should wear or not. To suit the shape of the block of marble, the left arm has been bent to touch the sling on the shoulder as against the originally extended arm Michelangelo envisaged.

Here he has adhered to his life-long theory of ruling out add-ons to the block of marble. By making the slingshot barely visible over David’s shoulder, Michelangelo has implied that cleverness underlined the young shepherd’s victory rather than sheer force.

In February 1503, when the sculpture was half finished, the Consuls decided that Michelangelo be paid in all 400 golden florins, including the stipulated salary. A major concern then was the ambiguity in the location chosen to install the sculpture. The intended location had to be ruled out considering the feasibility of lifting such a mammoth figure to the height of the buttresses of the Cattedrale. Nevertheless, at a headlong pace, Michelangelo brought David to perfection and almost had the sculpture completed before the learned Consuls met on January 25, 1504 to finalize where David would be best installed.

Follow on: The Crown at the Piazza

Note: For close study, some images featured above pertain to the replica at Piazza della Signoria.

(© Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

M as in Michelangelo

Continuation of: The Florentine Mystique

Memory is the guardian of all things – Cicero

A lifetime of passion for art had intensely taken root in Michelangelo (Michelagniolo, March 6, 1475 – February 18, 1564) since he entered the sculpture garden of Lorenzo de’ Medici (Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici, January 1, 1449 – April 8, 1492). Noting his talents, Lorenzo saw in the teenager a promising student of sculpture who would one day bring honour to Firenze.

Born to Ludovico di Leonardo Buonarotti Simoni and his wife Francesca at Castello di Caprese, Michelangelo’s desire for art had grown in him long before 1488 when he was nurtured among the stone quarries of Settignano in the care of a stonemason and his wife. Undoubtedly, his allure for art had kept on its steadfast progress during his apprenticeship as a painter with Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449-1494) who had returned from Rome only few years ago after painting in the Sistine Chapel between 1482 and 1484 for Pope Sixtus IV (Francesco della Rovere, 1414-1484, pope from 1471).

Young Michelangelo’s first two marble works, Madonna (Madonna della Scala) and the Battle of the Centaurs, were executed during his formative years under Bertoldo di Giovanni (ca. 1420-1491), Donatello’s pupil and keeper of the statues and sculpture in the Medici gardens of San Marco.

It was here Il Magnifico Lorenzo maintained many fine art treasures he collected for the good school of Painters and Sculptors he founded – similar to the “Accademia Leonardi Vinci”, the school of arts (1) connected with Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) established during his Milanese stay from 1482 until the fall of Duke Lodovico (Il Moro) Sforza (1451-1508) in 1499.

What a marvellous idea to spread all those priceless collections of antiques out where Michelangelo could look around with child-like wonder and delight. It was here that his fellow-pupil young Pietro Torrigiano (ca. 1472-1522/8), moved by envy or driven by pride, broke Michelangelo’s nose and was obliged to flee from Firenze having earned the hatred of the Florentines (2). 

Taken into Lorenzo’s household, Michelangelo enjoyed the privilege of a room, a place at Lorenzo’s dining table with his sons and swathed in the opportunities to absorb culture from the Medicean circle until Lorenzo’s untimely death at his country Villa at Careggi in April, 1492 – which almost brought to an end the true golden age of the Italian Renaissance.

Sometime after Michelangelo’s return to his father’s house following the death of Lorenzo, a problem become apparent after Piero de’ Medici (1471-1503), the eldest son of the deceased Lorenzo, took over leadership of the Signoria. Young, haughty, chivalrous, and rather despotic in his views, interest in the affairs of the State which even in an abbreviated form seldom came out of Piero. Successively, for reasons attributed to the political developments, in 1494, the Medici was expelled from Firenze – declaring them traitors and rebels. The efforts of the Medici to regain their power in Firenze would succeed only in 1512 when Giuliano de’ Lorenzi de’ Medici (Giuliano II, 1478-1516) was brought in from Venice to head the Signoria, but shortly thereafter, Firenze would turn into a papal dependency.

Unable to remain neutral in the above developments, Michelangelo left Firenze and stayed at Bologna, after a brief stint at Venice. Upon his return to Firenze in 1495 when the political climate has improved, he was among those who were consulted vis-à-vis the Sala del Maggior Consiglio of Palazzo della Signoria which Girolamo Savonarola (1452-98) proposed to enlarge to accommodate the new government of the people following the expulsion of Piero de’ Medici from Firenze.

A marble Sleeping Cupid Michelangelo fashioned during this time was eventually sold to Cardinal Raffaele Riario of San Giorgio which paved the way for him to proceed to Rome in June, 1496. In there, following the creation of the life-size drunken Bacchus, on August 26, 1498, he earned the commission to execute a Pietà for Cardinal Jean Bilhères de Lagraulas (Cardinal di San Dionigi), the French ambassador at Rome who desired a suitable monument for himself in Rome by the hand of the famous Michelangelo.  

This classic work in marble, when finished was placed in the circular chapel dedicated to Santa Maria della Febbre (Our Lady of the Fever) of the old Basilica di San Pietro (3) which was at that time still standing.

The future spacious Piazza San Pietro surrounded by vast semi-circular colonnades which the Baroque master Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), the greatest sculptor since Michelangelo, designed in front of the Basilica (1656-1667) was then covered with a cluster of small constructions and pathways. La Pietà,as the Italians call the group,earned Michelangelo great fame and fortified his reputation as “Il Divinio” (The Divine One) among the artists of his lifetime.

With the completion of La Pietà (1498-1499), the world had witnessed the creation of two classic masterpieces within the span of a few years – the other being The Last Supper (Cenacolo), the marvellous wall-painting Leonardo da Vinci probably begun in c. 1495 on the refectory wall of Santa Maria delle Grazie, the monastery of Dominican friars in Milan and finished in 1498.

At the age of twenty-six, Michelangelo returned to Firenze where he would be a resident till 1504. By then, many changes had taken place in Firenze – it was now devoid of the divinely ordained preaching of Girolamo Savonarola who had eventually faced excommunication followed by implementation of his death sentence when he was hanged and burned on May 23, 1498 – bringing to an end the story of medieval Firenze.

Michelangelo was now ready to take on the offer of the powerful Consuls of the Arte della Lana, the Operai of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore of Firenze. They proposed to him to fashion, complete and finish to perfection a colossal male statue out of a huge block of marble conveyed from Carrara to Firenze many years ago.

The Arte della Lana who owned this block of marble had once offered it in vain to Donatello, the favoured architect of the Medici.  Afterwards, a certain Maestro Simone da Fiesole had commenced work of a huge figure on it but left his work unfinished. Even though Giorgio Vasari was misinformed to name “Maestro Simone” as the sculptor who spoiled that block of marble, it was Agostino di Duccio (1418-81) who upon his return to Firenze from Perugia in 1463, entered the Guild and commenced work on this block of marble which he shortly quit for unknown reasons. A decade later, Antonio Rossellino (1427-c.1479), best known for his Madonna reliefs, gave it a try which didn’t reach anywhere.

Sculptor Andrea Contucci (Andrea dal Monte Sansovino, ca. 1467-1529) who had entered into the guild in 1491 had sought to secure this block to carve a statue by augmenting it with additional pieces of stone. (4) But Arte della Lana preferred to hear Michelangelo’s stance in the matter before they acceded to Contucci’s request. 

Furthermore,they had also consulted with Leonardo da Vinci when he returned back from Milan in the summer-time of 1500. But curiously enough, their efforts to rope him in were in vain, although Leonardo had retired to Firenze in quest of better fortune and finding little or no work of interest to engage him here was seeking employment in the service of Cesare Borgia (1476-1507) who was then cherishing reconstruction of a kingdom of Central Italy under his headship.

As for Michelangelo, this block of marble quarried years before his birth, was just the sort of thing he was aiming at. He was only pleased to accept the commission which was first signed on August 16, 1501: to undertake the Contractual work from September 1501, and complete it within the term of the next two years.   

Michelangelo’s acceptance of the commission gave an atmosphere of hope to Arte della Lana which also guaranteed a good monumental sculpture out of the block without the addition of several pieces.

Follow on: Rise of the Brave Shepherd

Notes:

  1. In 1531, Baccio Bandinelli founded a school of arts in the quarters granted to him in the Vatican besides another in Florence in c. 1550. Then again, it is Giorgio Vasari who founded the first proper Academy of Fine Arts in Firenze in 1563.
  2. In 1519, Benvenuto Cellini (1500-71) refused Pietro Torrigiano’s invitation to accompany him to England for the one reason that the impolitic Torrigiano had broken Michelangelo’s nose. During 1511-18, Torrigiano had worked on the double tomb of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, and the tomb of Henry’s mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, in Westminster Abbey in England.
  3. The ancient chapel of Santa Maria della Febbre (St. Mary of the Fever), older than the Constantinian Basilica,  was originally built as a mausoleum which was converted into the sacristy south of the new Basilica di San Pietro Rome in 1506.
  4. Andrea Sansovino (Andrea Contucci) would in turn obtained commission for the Baptism of Christ for the Battistero di San Giovanni of Firenze by 1500 but left it unfinished by leaving for Rome in 1505 to work on the marble wall-tombs (1506-09) of Cardinal Ascanio Maria Sforza (1455-1505) and Cardinal Girolamo Basso della Rovere (1434-1507) at Basilica Parrocchiale Santa Maria del Popolo.

(© Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

A Procession of One

Continuation of: Distant Fire, Delightful Gleams

There are certain things in life one feels to be good and beautiful and must hunger after them. Throughout the 15th century Italy (1), it had become fashionable for men of wealth, influence and of the church to decorate their premises with fine arts of those derived from the classical Greco-Roman cultural heritage – collections primarily of Greek art from finds in mainland Italy and Sicily.

It is no small matter how much the architectural and artistic achievements of the ancient Greeks have set its effects on the Western culture in general. The renewed interest in the classical past and in the grammar of Greek architecture came not only with the progress in trade and banking activities of both Venetian and Genoese families in the Aegean, but also from the steadily growing awareness and appreciation in Western Europe for Greek literature. While, amongst other aspects, this was fostered by the printing of Greek type initiated by Aldus Manutius (ca. 1449-1515) in Venice’s Sant’Agostino neighbourhood, it also spearheaded an increase in the influx of visiting scholars between Western Europe and the Greek lands.

The taste for art collecting per se aroused far reaching expectations for a brilliant coterie of sculptors, painters, and goldsmiths which occasioned burgeoning of an imposing series of reproductions of Greco-Roman art, etc.

On an equal par with Genoa, Milan and Venice in northern Italy, Firenze of that time was one of the richest, liveliest regions of varied economic activity. Primarily a manufacturing centre with booming export trades, its principal foundation of wealth lay in the cloth industry. Furthermore, the Medici Bank which ranked as the biggest and most respected financial magnets of Europe was a prestigious laurel to Firenze’s singular privilege as the top most banking centre.

Mindful of the historical personalities of the wealthy merchant families of Firenze, foremost amongst men from the long line of bourgeois Mediceans includes: Cosimo de’ Medici (Cosimo di Giovanni de’ Medici/Cosimo the Elder (Pater Patriae, 1389-1464), his grandsons: Lorenzo de’ Medici (Lorenzo il Magnifico, 1449-92), Giuliano de’ Medici (1453-1478) (see profile pictures on the title card (2)), and counting two of their family popes: Pope Leo X (Giovanni di Lorenzo de’ Medici, 1475-1521, pope from 1513), and Pope Clement VII (Giulio di Giuliano de’ Medici, 1478-1534, pope from 1523). As Mediceans, theirs was a procession of one – all too princely a Medici to neglect their great patronage for all kinds of arts and science. 

Essentially, the Medici transformed art’s status to “fine arts”. There is some modern-day appraisal that this view could be a myth created by the Medici themselves. Then again, to appreciate the many-sided aspects that could outshine this view, of course, one should go to Tuscany and Italy on the whole. Where better to do it than there?

The Medici’s endeavours helped to remove the impediment on opportunities at hand for their contemporary sculptors, painters, architects, and thereby enriched their earnings, career success and recognition. Above all, they paved the way for most of the artisans to demonstrate their brilliant talents and expressions through so many artistic treasures of the Renaissance. One such personage was Baccio Bandinelli (Bartolommeo di Michelangelo Bandinelli/Brandini, 1493–1560).

Baccio Bandinelli was one amongst the most favoured by the House of Medici which included the great maestro Michelangelo (Michelagniolo di Lodovico Buonarroti (1475-1564), Donatello (Donato di Niccolo di Betto Bardi, ca. 1386-1466), Bertoldo di Giovanni (ca. 1440-1491), Giuliano da Sangallo (Giuliano Giamberti, 1443-1516), Sandro Botticelli (Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi, Ca. 1444-1510), Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) amongst others.

Being one of Firenze’s principal mannerist sculptors, it was Baccio Bandinelli who created the sculpture: Hercules and Cacus(1525-34) which stands guard on a pedestal on the right side of the portal of Palazzo Vecchio while, a marble replica of Michelangelo’s David (1501-04) (3) stood in pride of place on the other side along the old Ringhiera (4).

Follow-on: “The Greek Connection” (Part 3)

  1. The term Italy in this write up refer to the country as a whole since Italy finally became a unified nation-state only in 1871;
  2. Picture credits of Title header: Source: commons.wikimedia.org: From left:

1) Ritratto di Cosimo il Vecchio – Portrait of Cosimo de’ Medici the Elder by Jacopo Pontormo (1494–1557) – Galleria degli Uffizi, Firenze;

2) Ritratto di Lorenzo Il Magnifico Portrait of Lorenzo de’ Medici by Giorgio Vasari  (1511–1574) – at Galleria degli Uffizi, Firenze; 

3) Portrait of Giuliano de’ Medici by Sandro Botticelli (1445–1510) – at Accademia di Belle Arti G. Carrara, Bergamo

3) This substitute of Michelangelo’s David was created by sculptor Luigi Arrighetti (1858-1938) with Saul Fanfani (1856-1919) and installed here in June 1910. The original David (installed in May 1504) was removed in 1873 to the shelter of Galleria dell’Accademia Firenze to avoid further weathering and damage. A bronze cast of David by Clement Papi (1803-75), can be seen at Piazzale Michelangelo, Firenze, where it was on view from September 13, 1875

4) Only the remnants of the original Ringhiera of the 14th century remains after its removal in 1812.

(© Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)