Tag Archive | Michelangelo

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)

The Florentine Mystique

Continuation of: The Greek Connection

Wherever you go, there you are – Confucius

Mindful walking during daytime is a pursuit we engage in whilst we are in Firenze. Such legwork on days of less tourist frenzy not only helps to face fewer hustle and gearbox but also inspires to look around through the eyes of Love. Getting out and about here would reward one the opportunity to reflect on the barometers of a community that was fashioned by this architecture of mediaeval characteristics – originated from the various strange phases of Florentine history.

Unlike passeggiata, the Italian tradition of taking an after-sumptuous-meal leisurely stroll for fun, socializing or for health reasons, an observant visitor on easy-going walks around the streets and piazzas of this City of Flowers proffer a distinctive Italian atmosphere and colour.

Since olden Italy was divided into small States and constantly at war with each other.  On that note, the dwellings of great families were generally composed of a double wall of strong stone masonry to turn them into strongholds. And so, some of the greatest architectural achievements in Firenze of that period were houses so outsize they were considered as palaces.

The mediaeval characteristics are much evident in Firenze’s piazzas, courtyards, gardens, open arcades, etc. Distinctive features of the buildings reveal deep-set windows protected by heavy iron grills, arches, porches, and curves that express feeling in design.

While the roof line below the terracotta is adorned with heavy, ornamental cornice, the walls are divided into sections with vertical pilasters and horizontal strips of mouldings. The street front has the popular round-headed windows while the ground floor windows, smaller in size, are appropriately defended with barred grills.

In the photographic viewpoint, there are fabulous shots of varied angles all around which includes after-rain puddle reflections and curious modern day sights.

There are numerous Tuscan Romanesque arches, frescoes on the walls, decorative street lamps, old horse tethering wrought iron rings on the walls, bas-reliefs on lintels, iron holders on the walls for torches to illuminate the street, etc (1).

In the architectural point-of-view, the kind of marbles, including Carrara marble, and other materials for construction and architectural adornment used all around here are of varying characteristics.

Of the two main types of sandstones, pietra forte, the fine-grained, brownish-yellow sandstone of considerable resilience is the primary material and used widely as well as in the construction of prominent edifices such as Basilica di Santa Croce, Palazzo Pitti, Santa Maria Novella, Palazzo Vecchio, etc.

At Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, pull focus and take another look up at the Cupola of Filippo Brunelleschi (1379-1446). Pietra serena, the silvery grey sandstone much favoured by Brunelleschi, is used widely there – particularly at the three girdling belts of the Cupola.

All this may seem rather nostalgic pictorials of old architecture and ornate details and may seem looking backwards. Better still, we understand Città di Firenze clearer as our perspectives evolve to the realisation that the splendour and flair of the past goes with you at every step in Firenze, which the illustrious Dante Alighieri praised as ‘La bellissima e famosissima figlia di Roma’ (3).

Follow on: M as in Michelangelo

Notes:

  1. Some of the cast iron piazza/park bench supports, lamp-posts, sewer covers, are still marked with Fonderia delle Cure – Giovanni Berta in Firenze (likewise in Rome), relates to the earlier century.
  2. Pietra serena: Mainly used as ornamental, art, architectural decorations, etc, pietra serena or pietra di macigno is an elegant variety of calcareous sandstone composed of sedimentary layers of different colour. Because of its good mechanical strength it is used also at Cappella dei Pazzi and Cappelle Medicee. The archives of the Opera del Duomo will be of much use to those interested more on this subject.
  3. La bellissima e famosissima figlia di Roma: Beautiful and famous daughter of Rome.

(© Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

MICHELANGELO – IL DIVINO

Painting is good to the extent that it resembles sculpture; sculpture is bad to the extent that it resembles painting” – Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) *

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Pietà (1498–1499) at Basilica di San Pietro, Vaticano

A son was born to Francesca di Neri del Miniato di Siena and local Podestà, Lodovico di Leonardo Buonarotto Simoni,  on THIS DAY (March 6th) in 1475 (1474 – according to Giorgio Vasari) in the small village of Caprese (today known as Caprese Michelangelo) in the province of Arezzo in Tuscany, Italy.

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Left: Rebellious Slave – Right: Dying Slave (1513–1516) at the Louvre, Paris

Second of five brothers, he will be commonly known as Michelangelo and would go on to create wonders in sculpting, architecture, poetry, and engineering. Besides being an architect in the creation of Basilica di San Pietro in Vaticano, this Italian High Renaissance artist who painted the ceiling and altar wall of the Sistine Chapel which includes “The Last Judgement” and created his most famous sculptures, “Pietà” and “David” amongst others; would capture the hearts and imagination of millions all over the world.

McMichelangelo’s original “David” displayed at Galleria dell’Accademia in Firenze

The endless hours spent reading a plethora of sound biographical material on Michelangelo; the hours spent studying his arts displayed at the Louvre in Paris and at various places in Firenze and Roma; the visual documentaries and movies like “The Agony and The Ecstasy” that had flashed past before my eyes – all of these conjure up an image of an extraordinary genius with infinite talent. One this day, we salute this Il Divino (“the divine one“) of Firenze who once walked upon this Earth.  Jo

MdBasilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross), Firenze where Michelangelo’s tomb (designed by Vasari) is located right opposite to the tomb of Galileo Galilei  (designed by Giulio Foggini). The cenotaph of Niccolò Machiavelli is on the same aisle in close vicinity.

PS: Quoted on Page 337 of “In the Arena” The Autobiography of Charlton Heston.

(Photos: © Joseph SébastineManningtree Archive)