Published: July 3, 2001
ATLANTA, GA. – “Michelangelo: Drawings and Other Treasures from the Casa Buonarroti, Florence” is on view at the High Museum of Art through September 2. The exhibition encompasses 47 objects from the Casa Buonarroti, Michelangelo Buonarroti’s familial home in Florence, Italy, and includes 24 drawings by the Italian master himself, nine of which have never before been exhibited in the United States. After leaving the High, the show will travel to only one other American venue, the Toledo Museum of Art (September 21 to November 25).
By most accounts, there are fewer than a dozen drawings and no paintings or sculpture by Michelangelo (1475-1564) in American collections. The two dozen drawings in this show by the artist will temporarily triple the number of his works in the United States. Included are sketches and preparatory studies Michelangelo made for the frescoes on the ceiling of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel and numerous architectural studies for the San Lorenzo complex in Florence.
The exhibition’s guest curator is Gary M Radke, professor of fine arts at Syracuse University and noted expert in Italian Renaissance art. David Brenneman, the High’s Frances B. Bunzl Family Curator of European Art, is the curator of record for the High.
The exhibition explores Michelangelo’s work within the context of his family’s intellectual and artistic accomplishments. The Buonarroti family actively promoted Michelangelo’s fame and lovingly preserved his personal notebooks. Their home, now a private foundation, boasts one of the world’s largest surviving collections of his drawings. Michelangelo’s drawings are featured in three exhibition sections: “Michelangelo and the Casa Buonarroti,” “Works for San Lorenzo” and “Works for the Sistine Chapel.”
Besides preserving works by Michelangelo, the Buonarroti family also commissioned and collected modern and antique masterpieces by other artists. Included in the exhibition is the renowned life-size bronze bust of Michelangelo by his pupil Daniele da Volterra. Also on display is the world’s best surviving Roman copy of the right arm of Myron’s famous “Discus Thrower.” The show aims to present Michelangelo’s work in a new, more intimate light. “His drawings impress with their speed and surety of execution, bringing viewers extremely close to the man himself,” stated guest curator Radke.
Also featured in the exhibition are personal sketches, writings and studies from Michelangelo’s notebooks. They include a sonnet in his own hand beside a caricature of himself painting the Sistine ceiling, labeled blocks of stone giving instructions to workmen at the quarry and tiny drawings of food that allowed an illiterate assistant to prepare three of his meals.
Featured architectural studies for the Medici chapel and library at San Lorenzo include early, hurried sketches as well as more finished, labeled plans. Quick studies for figures in the Sistine Chapel (a page of nudes, the torso of Adam from the “Expulsion from the Garden,” a risen Christ) reveal his total mastery of the human figure in motion and at rest.
The exhibition also illustrates the technical aspects of Michelangelo’s works, helping viewers to recognize and appreciate the challenges the artist faced as he worked out his thoughts on paper. Included in the show are examples of every major drawing medium in which Michelangelo worked: charcoal, pen and ink, pen and wash, red chalk and black chalk.
A small wax model of a “River God” illustrates his “sketching” in three dimensions. Works in the exhibition range from just five inches long (a study for an arm for the Sistine Ceiling) to a nearly two-foot tall cartoon (full-scale study) of the “Madonna and Child,” as well as the artist’s largest surviving architectural drawing (the over three-foot wide study for the façade of San Lorenzo).
Michelangelo was born in 1475 in the town of Caprese in the Florentine territory of Italy. At age 13, he shocked his family when he began an apprenticeship with the painter Domenico Ghirlandaio in Florence. Michelangelo developed his artistic skills and became involved with the Florentine ruling family of Lorenzo de’Medici, and with the poets, artists and scholars in the Medici circle.
Early in his career, Michelangelo’s pursuit of artistic perfection in the representation of the human body led him to study anatomy. He also began his lifelong practice of making drawings and sketches in preparation for his sculpture, painting and architectural commissions.
With the death in 1492 of his patron and Florentine statesman Lorenzo de’Medici, government upheaval ensued in Florence, and Michelangelo left the city for Bologna and then Rome where he continued to work and study classical sculpture. Dating from this Roman period is his early sculpture “Pieta” (1498-1500), executed for Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.
Michelangelo’s colossal statue of “David” (1501-1504) was completed during a stint back in Florence. From 1508 to 1512, the artist worked on the more than 300 painted figures for the ceiling of the Vaticans’ Sistine Chapel. Following completion of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, Michelangelo completed his work on “Moses” and “The Dying Slave” for the tomb of Julius II. By age 70, he had spent 40 years on Pope Julius’ tomb.
Before he left Florence in 1534, again for Rome, Michelangelo developed his designs for the Laurentian Library and the Medici Tombs. In Rome, he received a commission from the Pope to paint the frescoes for the “Last Judgment” wall of the Sistine Chapel.
Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment” was controversial, even before its unveiling, because of the nearly total nudity of the saints depicted in it. After completing his fresco work at the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo focuses most of his attention on architecture. His late architectural commissions include work on St Peter’s Basilica and the Campidoglio (Capitoline Hill) in Rome.
Michelangelo continued to work well into his later years. His last work, the “Rondanini Pieta,” was left incomplete. The artist died in 1564 at the age of 89. Today most of Michelangelo’s completed works remain in Italy, and approximately 500 drawings are held primarily in British, French and Italian collections, including the Casa Buonarroti.
Also on view at the high Museum of Art through September 2 is “Art of the Architect.” Inspired by Michelangelo’s architectural legacy, this intimate installation will feature the drawings and paintings of five contemporary Italian architects. Angela Turner, herself an Italian architect, is the show’s guest curator and has worked with a local architectural historian to select the content of the show.
“Paintings from the Age of Michelangelo in the Kress Collection,” is on view through October 7 and showcases ten works from the High’s permanent collection produced during Michelangelo’s lifetime (1475-1564).
It shows other approaches to rendering the human body in Renaissance art and provides a visual context for the exhibition of his drawings. The installation is organized by David Brenneman, the High’s Frances B. Bunzl Family Curator of European Art.
The fully illustrated, 152-page catalogue was written by Dr Pina Ragionieri, director of the Casa Buonarroti, and translated by Miranda MacPhail, with contributions by guest curator Gary M. Radke. The catalogue is published and distributed by the High Museum of Art.
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