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Michelangelo in Florence
Mar 10 , 2011
It’s almost impossible to go to an museum in Florence without seeing at least on Michelangelo piece. Explore the city through the life of Michelangelo in Florence.
Many people think of Michelangelo as the greatest Renaissance artist who carved the famous 17-foot tall statue of David and painted the entire ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Yet, few know what about his work leading to his masterpieces and even fewer yet appreciate his evolution away from Renaissance ideals. Luckily, a handful of Museums in Florence provide insight into his life, his work and his transformation as an artist from age 15 to his death at 89. You'll be amazed by how much his style changed and his impact on the entire course of western art history.
If you want to learn more about Michelangelo, start at Casas Bounarrotti, which houses Michelangelo's earliest works and studies. Though he often denied his formal training to make himself seem even more naturally gifted, Michelangelo had all the advantages to become an artist by growing up in Florence. At age 13, he studied as an apprentice and then as student at the Garden of San Marco academy founded by Lorenzo the Magnificent, the most powerful member of the Medici family. Life for Michelangelo in Florence dramatically changed as soon as Lorenzo noticed Michelangelo's talent and insisted that he move into the palace. Thereafter, Michelangelo created his earliest masterpieces, Battle of the Centaurs and the Madonna of the Stairs, both of which you can see at Casa Buonarroti Museum in Florence. Though he was only 15 years old, Michelangelo demonstrated mastery of classical sculpture.
Michelangelo in Bologna and Rome
After Lorenzo's death in 1492, Florence became unstable and Michelangelo left for Bologna and Rome. In the coming years, he became a famous for his Pietà in Saint Peter's Basilica in the Vatican and the sculpture of Bacchus. At the Bargello Museum which houses the Bacchus sculpture, you'll notice that Michelangelo truly transformed his style. Unlike the works of Michelangelo in Florence from a few years earlier, Bacchus embodied Michelangelo's ability to depict a naturalistic form and create something with such control that it appeared out of control. With this sculpture, he simultaneously accepted and denied classic Greek art and culture. With Bacchus' classic pose, Michelangelo referenced classic art; yet he inherently denied it by portraying Bacchus as a foolish, drunk god.
After spending time away from Florence, Michelangelo returned in 1505 to create one his best pieces, The David (now at Academy Gallery). This 17-foot-tall sculpture embodied the spirit of Florence, a young republic. In contrast to previous depictions of David after the fall of Goliath, Michelangelo's David captures David's consciousness at the moment between his decision to kill Goliath and his action. It represented the Renaissance ideals of rationality, confidence, and beauty. If you get the chance to see Donatello's bronze David at the Bargello Museum, see if you can see the difference in sentiment. Michelangelo in Florence wanted to show the power and strength of the republic where Donatello highlighted its vulnerability.
Developing a Mannerist Style
After mastering classical form, many think that Michelangelo went crazy or somehow lost his ability to create beautiful forms in a harmonious manner. He developed a mannerist style with strange elongated forms. At the Academy, you'll see the Slaves, two marble sculptures which clearly show his change in style. The slaves appear to twist and turn, fighting to get out of the stone. Unlike previous pieces which showed harmony, the Slaves appear chaotic. While many think these statues don't look real, it seems that Michelangelo aimed to depict a different kind of reality. Rather than a physical reality, Michelangelo sought to depict an emotional one.
After you've explore the Academy Museum, visit the Dome Museum which houses his Pietà. In this sculpture, Christ's body dramatically curves as a group of small people support him. Again, while it doesn't necessarily show a physical reality with perfectly proportioned bodies, it does give a sense of the drama at Jesus' death. It's an emotional piece which gives up the correct cannons or proportion to show the feeling of the moment.
The evolution of the art of Michelangelo in Florence clearly reflected his changing ideas about art and his transformation as an artist. At the beginning, he worked towards mastering classical ideals of proportion, harmony and balance. After he mastered depicting physical reality, it sought to achieve something else with his art. He moved to create something more expressive and true to the emotions around the events he portrayed.