There is a reason that Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni is referred to as il divino, or “the divine one”. Because of the beauty and perfection of his works, it was thought that his artistic hands were an extension of the hands of God! Throughout his long life, and nearly half a millennium later, Michelangelo’s works have astounded their viewers. Every year, millions of tourists flock to Italy to get a glimpse of David, The Creation of Adam, or the Pietà; and I shamelessly admit, that I have been one of these people. The influence of his works throughout art history is undeniable, and 500 years later, they have withstood the test of time that curators are still wanting to incorporate Michelangelo’s works into exhibits for museum guests.
But as much as we might loooove to ogle at David’s gorgeous physique and/or marvel at the complexity that is the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, there is an aspect of these stunning creations that is sometimes overlooked … and those are the carefully thought out plans that went into making them a reality. Queue the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s latest blockbuster exhibit, Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer, as the show delves into Michelangelo’s method. You can read more about the herculean effort that this exhibit was, through a fascinating ArtNet article here. The large majority of the exhibit were drawings (moment of appreciation for 500 year old pieces of paper and the people that have taken care of them!), a few sculptures, and a few small paintings.
As you walk into the exhibition, you are greeted by an enormous canvas that features the exhibition title, and the option to take an audio guide for your visit (got to get one!). The show goes in chronological order of Michelangelo’s life, and begins with drawings done by his master, Domenico Ghirlandaio, and Michelangelo as his young pupil. Contained in this section is the The Torment of Saint Anthony, which is the earliest known painting by the artist and is estimated to have been made when he was 12 or 13 years old! Also included are two sculptures that were made in his teenage years, and various sketches of paintings by the great Florentine artists that preceded him. I was excited to recognize Michelangelo’s red-chalk sketch of Masaccio’s famed Expulsion from the Garden of Eden that is in the Brancacci Chapel in the church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence.
Continuing through the large exhibition space into the “young adult” years of our current master, we see drawings of figures, musculature studies, architectural concepts, and studies of ancient Florentine fortifications … ALL of which are so incredibly detailed you need to get so up close to be able to see the minor strokes made by the artist.
And then … the moment most viewers (especially me) had been eager to see … the Sistine Chapel section! I was amazed and delighted to see a large projection of the ceiling that was right above the drawings that Michelangelo is now most famous for. Having not visited Rome for a few years now, I had forgotten how complex and colorful the ceiling is! The most special moment for me was being just inches away from the study of the hands of God for the Creation of Adam, which is now one of the most famous and most reproduced paintings in all of art history. Then to be able to look up at the “real” thing, was an extraordinary experience.
As you continue through the exhibit, the next section features the work he had done in his elder years, and works by his contemporaries that felt his influence. Our master lived to be an ASTOUNDING 88 years old! It is uncommon for people in today’s world to live to that age, but in the mid 16th century it was unheard of … and plays into his il divino title a bit more, don’t you think? Here, the shift from High Renaissance into Mannerism (a period of art which he pioneered!) is clear. Figures are just a liiiittle more exaggerated, elongated, and the musculature is definitely more built up. I realized it was time to say goodbye to the perfection of David and hello to Hulk-Jesus when I saw a small scale reproduction painting of the Last Judgment.
As the largest fan of the Old Masters, I was thrilled that this exhibit was going to be here in New York. Being able to see a new perspective on one of the most celebrated artists in history and his subsequent works was absolutely incredible! My hats off to the Prints and Drawings Department at the MET for creating such a truly masterful and inspired show! You can read more about the exhibition overview at the MET’s website here.