Redrawing Michelangelo

Michelangelo, poorly garbed, spotted fellow artist Raphael walking down a street in Florence accompanied by a large group of smartly-dressed women and men, obvious admirers of the renowned painter. (Raphael was nearly always in the company of at least one woman, even while painting.) Michelangelo shouted out, teasingly, “I thought you were a judge on circuit with his entourage.” Raphael responded, sharply, “And we thought you were the hangman.” That story, which may or may not be true, has endured for centuries because it contains a deep intuition about these two men—a significant insight into their relative roles within the pecking order of the Florentine art world. 

Considered by historians to be one of the three most important Renaissance artists—we would argue for a lesser rank—Michelangelo (Buonarroti) was certainly outclassed by the other two: Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael (Raffaello Sanzi), on grounds of creative genius. We see Michelangelo’s high rank as mainly due to his beautiful statue, David, and to the Sistine Chapel ceiling, two large and imposing works borne forth on broad shoulders of religious pride and sited in sacred spaces that receive enormous publicity. Meanwhile, less conspicuous works of Leonardo, Raphael, Botticelli, Donatello, and others vibrate with personality, originality, inspiration—connection with “the Muses.” 

We realize PluribusOne™ is guilty of heresy in the court of consensus art authority; therefore, we need to present strong evidence for our conclusion. To that end, the following three paragraphs synopsize three of four cornerstones of our argument. 

First, we look to Michelangelo’s early life where his father witnessed his innate inclination, his personality that favored manual labor over intellectual endeavor. Although Michelangelo did not lack well-rounded schooling, it is known that he avoided the study of Greek and Latin languages that would signify a thirst for delving firsthand into earlier knowledge and ideas, for doing research toward discovering new data, making conceptual breakthroughs, developing fresh perspectives. Instead, his David reflects triteness, and his approach to its design was from a traditional conservative mindset compared to, for example, Donatello’s earlier risqué rendition. And nothing in Michelangelo’s repertoire compares to the power embodied in Leonardo’s Mona Lisa

Second, we look to Michelangelo’s earliest works in marble and see a mind focused on conforming to established images and techniques as he reproduced iconic sculptures that display no clue that he felt connected to the spirit of the subject matter. To wit: after having completed the bust of one elderly visage, Lorenzo de Medici (who had effectively adopted Michelangelo) pointed out its unnaturalness, which Michelangelo hastened to correct. Not to denigrate Michelangelo’s extreme skill with tools of the trade; David was a masterful work. Yet Michelangelo admitted that the job was mainly methodical and physically demanding. Patrons could count on him to bring these talents and traits to any task, and far better than a distractible polymath genius like Leonardo. Not surprisingly, Michelangelo was recognized as best candidate for the grueling Sistine Chapel project. 

Third, we look to his later work and dispute the accepted view that he was both the designer and painter of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, rife and rich with creative application of heretical symbolism. Not that he lacked familiarity with the ideas, exposed to him by scholars of the day, or that he made no creative contribution. However, some of those referred to as “helpers” were clearly designers, not mere laborers sent in to lug plaster and to paint-by-numbers. It was, in fact, Michelangelo who performed most of that physical task.

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2 Responses to “Redrawing Michelangelo”

  1. Sandi Says:

    If you don’t consider Michelangelo to be among the top three, who would you add to Leonardo and Raphael?

  2. PluribusOne™ Says:

    Sandro Botticelli.

    Our contention is that the whole idea of a high (matured) Renaissance period was conjured for the purpose of excluding Botticelli’s blatantly pagan works, powerful images that reflect and lie at the heart of the spirit of the Italian Renaissance and Hermetic vision for the future of Western culture.

    The conceptualizing of a “High Renaissance” period is the Church-inspired attempt to usurp the creative power and humanist thrust of the period. Michelangelo was an obedient artisan whose energies were devoted more to the Church and its agenda than to the Medici family who had sponsored him as part of their initiative.

    We would class Michelangelo with Caravaggio although Caravaggio did not begin painting until years after Michelangelo’s death. (See our earlier post on Caravaggio.)

    Consider that the Church was readied for a “counter-reformation” even before Martin Luthur posted The Ninety-Five Theses and the official Reformation began. Ignore historians’ dates and follow the flows of the competing spirits of the age.

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