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Michelangelo, like Leonardo, was a man of many talents; sculptor, architect, painter and poet, he made the apotheosis of muscular movement, which to him was the physical manifestation of passion. He moulded his draughtsmanship, bent it, twisted it, and stretched it to the extreme limits of possibility. There are not any landscapes in Michelangelo's painting. All the emotions, all the passions, all the thoughts of humanity were personified in his eyes in the naked bodies of men and women. He rarely conceived his human forms in attitudes of immobility or repose. Michelangelo became a painter so that he could express in a more malleable material what his titanesque soul felt, what his sculptor's imagination saw, but what sculpture refused him. Thus this admirable sculptor became the creator, at the Vatican, of the most lyrical and epic decoration ever seen: the Sistine Chapel. The profusion of his invention is spread over this vast area of over 900 square metres. There are 343 principal figures of prodigious variety of expression, many of colossal size, and in addition a great number of subsidiary ones introduced for decorative effect. The creator of this vast scheme was only thirty-four when he began his work. Michelangelo compels us to enlarge our conception of what is beautiful. To the Greeks it was physical perfection; but Michelangelo cared little for physical beauty, except in a few instances, such as his painting of Adam on the Sistine ceiling, and his sculptures of the Pietà. Though a master of anatomy and of the laws of composition, he dared to disregard both if it were necessary to express his concept: to exaggerate the muscles of his figures, and even put them in positions the human body could not naturally assume. In his later painting, The Last Judgment on the end wall of the Sistine, he poured out his soul like a torrent. Michelangelo was the first to make the human form express a variety of emotions. In his hands emotion became an instrument upon which he played, extracting themes and harmonies of infinite variety. His figures carry our imagination far beyond the personal meaning of the names attached to them.



Publié par
Date de parution 04 juillet 2023
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781783107469
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 3 Mo

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Author: Eugene Müntz
Translator: Arthur Borges

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ISBN: 978-1-78310-746-9

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© Parkstone Press International, New York, USA

All media rights reserved worldwide
Unless otherwise mentioned, all reproductions are the copyright of the photographers. Despite due diligence, we have been unable to identify copyright holders in all cases. Anyone with a claim should contact the publisher.
Eugene Müntz


1 . Portrait of Michelangelo , ca. 1533. Black chalk. Teyler Museum, Haarlem.
2. Copy of a figure from “Tribute Money” by Masaccio , 1488-1495. Kupferstichkabinett, Munich.
3 . Raphael, Leon X , ca. 1517. Distemper on wood, 120 x 156 cm. Uffizi, Florence.


The Brancacci Chapel and Uffizi Gallery in Florence amply illustrate the powerful influence on Michelangelo of his fellow masters. Cimabue’s Madonna and Child Enthroned with Eight Angels and Four Prophets and Giotto’s Ognissanti Madonna , both at the Uffizi, plus Masaccio’s Adam and Eve Expelled from Paradise at the Brancacci, all feed directly into one of the most talented and famous artists of Italy’s sixteenth century.
Up until the fourteenth century, artists ranked as lower-class manual labour. After long years of neglect, Florence began importing Greek painters to reinvigorate painting that had become stuck in a Byzantine style that was stiff, repetitious and top-heavy with gold.
Born in Arezzo, Margaritone was one little-known fourteenth-century painter who broke away from the ‘Greek style’ that permeated painting and mosaics. Though a true pioneer, he is less remembered than Cimabue and Giotto. Also much influenced by Greek painting, Cimabue was a Florentine sculptor and painter who quickly injected brighter, more natural and vivacious colours into his paintings. We are still a long way from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, but painting was now moving in its direction.
No later than the early fourteenth century, Giotto di Bondone had fully emancipated Florentine painting from the Byzantine tradition. This student of Cimabue’s redefined the painting of his era. Between Cimabue’s and Giotto’s works cited above, the new trend stands out in the rendering of the Virgin’s face and clothing. Cimabue was breaking out of the Byzantine mould. In a later work, he would himself come under the influence of one of his own students: Giotto’s Holy Virgin has a very lifelike gaze and cradles her infant in her arms like any normal caring young mother. The other figures in the composition appear less Byzantine and wear gold more sparingly. The pleating on her garb outlines the curves of her body. These features define his contribution to a fourteenth-century revolution in Florentine art. His skills as a portrait and landscape artist served him well when he later became chief architect of the Opera del Duomo in Florence, whose bell tower he started in the Florentine Gothic style. Like Michelangelo after him, he was a man of many talents. The fourteenth century proved most dynamic and Giotto’s style spread wide and far thanks to Bernardo Daddi, Taddeo Gaddi, Andrea di Cione (a.k.a. Orcagna) and other heirs.
4 . Cimabue, Madonna in Majesty with Eight Angels and Four Prophets , ca. 1280. Distemper on wood, 385 x 223 cm. Uffizi, Florence.
5 . Giotto de Bondone, Madonna Enthroned with Child, Angels and Saints , 1306-1310. Distemper on wood, 325 x 204 cm. Uffizi, Florence.
6 . Fra Angelico, Annunciation , 1430-32. San Marco, Florence.

Next came a period of International Gothic influence in the fifteenth century just as Masaccio erupted into the Florentine art scene with his rich intricacies of style. His impact on Michelangelo was to be dramatic. Masaccio’s actual name was Tommaso di Giovanni Cassi; born in 1401, he died after only twenty-seven hyperactive years. He was among the first to be called by his given name, a sure sign of new, higher social status for artists. Two noteworthy works are his Trinity at the Santa Maria Novella and the Expulsion from Paradise in the Brancacci Chapel. This leading revolutionary of Italian Renaissance art upset all the existing rules. Influenced by Giotto, Brunelleschi’s new architectural attitude to perspective, Donatello’s sculpture and other friends or cohorts, Masaccio added perspective into his frescoes alongside those of Brancacci, populated with figures so lifelike the eye almost senses their movements. Masaccio steers attention into exactly what to notice, leaving viewers no leeway for apathy. Expulsion from Paradise is easily his masterpiece: hunched over with sin and guilt, the two figures radiate pure shame and suffering. It is distinctly more terrifying than Masolino’s treatment of the same theme opposite it. Late twentieth-century restoration work on the chapel abolished the fig leaves, bringing all the genitalia back into full view: this was the first nude painting ever and Masaccio was offering art now far removed from anything Byzantine. His painting was so original that Fra Angelico, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Caravaggio, Ingrès and Michelangelo himself all went out of their way to see it. Whatever direction their works took, each had his debt to Masaccio.
Masaccio’s legacy is huge. Fra Giovanni da Fiesole (a.k.a. Fra Angelico) came much under his influence, though many years his senior. This pious and humble Dominican friar completed lovely frescoes for the cloisters and cells of the San Marco Convent, including the Annunciation . Then came Domenico Veneziano, who ripened Fra Angelico’s style into the full firm substance and refinement specific to Florentine Renaissance art.
In the mid-fifteenth century, humanist philosophy turned its back to the Middle Ages and reached out to Antiquity for inspiration. Meanwhile, art was looking to its Greco-Roman heritage as it too shunned all things medieval. Yet the term ‘Renaissance’ was only invented in the nineteenth century when Jules Michelet published his History of the Renaissance in 1855.
Before going any further, we should review the different stages of the Renaissance. It is generally agreed that an initial ‘Primitive’ Renaissance spanned 1400 to 1480, followed by the ‘Golden Age’ from 1480 to between 1520 and 1530; it closed with the Late Renaissance covering 1530 to 1600. Long considered decadent, this last period is only the logical end of a movement that dominated the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Michelangelo started in the Golden Age and continued into the Late Renaissance when Mannerism came to the fore.
By the mid-fifteenth century, Plato’s works had reached Florence and, with leveraging from the printing press, Marsilio Ficino helped spread throughout Europe the humanist view that placed man at the centre of the universe. The new focus on Antiquity stimulated painting, sculpture and architecture, but by building on it rather than just borrowing. Florence was the cradle of the Italian Renaissance and from there it spread to Rome in ways we shall see.
The Renaissance was characterised by refinement in literature as much as art. Filippo Lippi and Benozzo Gozzoli are but two protégés of the Medici. Lorenzo de’ Medici (a.k.a. Il Magnifico ) stood out as the patron of numerous artists but other prominent families followed his example. One such beneficiary was Leonardo da Vinci, who studied in the workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio, only to quickly surpass his mentor and drive him to despair. Da Vinci and Michelangelo even emulated each other creatively now and then.
7 . Masaccio, Expulsion from Paradise , fresco. Brancacci Chapel, Santa Maria del Carmine, in Florence.
8 . Botticelli, Spring , 1482. Tempera on wood, 203.2 x 312.4 cm. Uffizi, Florence.
9 . Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa , 1503-05. Oil on canvas, 77 x 53 cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris.

This was also the era of Sandro Botticelli’s Spring and Birth of Venus . If Botticelli’s strength lay in rendering the beauty, balance, grace and harmony that typified fifteenth-century Florence, Michelangelo’s focus lay entirely elsewhere. After Masolino and Masaccio, Fra Filippo Lippi’s son Filippino, also a student of Botticelli, went on to work on the Brancacci Chapel. Lippi’s frescoes in the Santa Maria Novella Church were already heralding the shift from the Golden Age to the Mannerism of the Late Renaissance.
The fifteenth century was as intense for religion as for art. The Dominicans of San Marco exerted strong influence on art, as witnessed in the works of Fra Angelico. At the close of the century, the general mood in Florence was fast deteriorating with the death of Il Magnifico and the extremist preachings of the self-styled fundamentalist prophet and book burner, Girolamo Savonarola, who was out to eradicate immorality and corruption in the Medici family, clergy and general population until he was finally arrested by the Inquisition, tortured, excommunicated, hanged and then burnt at the stake for good measure. Moreover, the Medici went into exile. All of these events seriously mutilated the local art scene. One upshot was that Botticelli, Filippino Lippi, Benozzo Gozzoli and Michelangelo all veered into more dramatised depictions.
There was also the impact on fifteenth-century Florence of the Flemish School. Strong trade links to Flanders enhanced the arts of Florence too. The Flemings used oil paint with a particular approach to colour and addition of aerial perspective while the Florentines were discovering linear perspective. Influential Flemish masters include Jan van Eyck, Hugo van der Goes, Hans Memling and R

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