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Posts Tagged ‘Michelangelo’

Of an afternoon in summer Florence, the wide streets connecting the Duomo and Piazza della Signoria, the Ponte Vecchio and the Palazzo Pitti, are filled with visitors. Along the Via dei Calzaiuoli is one of the often overlooked treasures of the Renaissance, the church of Orsanmichele.

Built by the many, and powerful, trade guilds of the city, it is an edifice typical of the Renaissance in its

Donatello St. George Orsanmichele Florence

Donatello
St. George
Orsanmichele Florence

unification of religious purpose and civic power.

Bacchus Michelangelo Bargello, Florence

Bacchus
Michelangelo
Bargello, Florence

This is the story of how Donatello’s St. George (1420) spent time with Michelangelo’s Bacchus (1496-1497) during one of the darkest periods of art history.

In a niche created in the exterior walls of Orsanmichele, rests Donatello’s St. George. A masterpiece of early Renaissance sculpture, it was one of the first works by a maestro whose enormous talents forever changed the world of art.  Buonarotti shared with many of his contemporaries profound respect for Donatello’s incredible skill.

Across the center of Florence, rests one of Michelangelo’s masterpieces, his Bacchus. Created for a Cardinal of the Catholic Church in Rome, who rejected the work on initial viewing, the statue was returned to Florence where it has remained.

How did these two works of art, located across the city of Florence, ever “meet”? Read on.

Fast forward to the early years of the Second World War. The German’s, in partnership with their Italian allies, began a systematic and targeted removal of much of Florence’s art. From the Uffizi went works by Botticelli, Rubens and Mantegna. From the Museum of the Works of the Duomo went works by such Renaissance masters as Donatello, Michelangelo and Della Robbia. From the niche on the walls of Orsanmichele went St. George and from the Bargello went Bacchus.

As Allied forces began their landings at Salerno and Anzio, those works of art taken from museums all across Italy began to move north. German forces,  in response to orders from numerous quarters of the Nazi regime, placed the pilfered treasures in ‘safe havens’ across northern Italy and southern Germany.

Deane Keller Monuments Men

Deane Keller
Monuments Men

Frederick Hartt Monuments Men

Frederick Hartt
Monuments Men

It was in 1943 that an American artist and Yale art professor, Deane Keller, along with 345 other passionate and dedicated art historians, to include Frederick Hartt, joined the US Armed forces. They were tasked with the onerous responsibility of locating masterpieces taken by the Germans from museums and private collections across Italy.

As if the terrible confusion of the war zone was not enough, this small group of exceptionally creative and dedicated men and women had to deal with little, if any, budget, acquisition of resources as they needed them (and often, those resources were barely sufficient to the tasks at hand) and the pressures of time in securing masterpieces of art before they were lost.

Here is just one story of the innumerable successes achieved by this group:

In the course of pursuing a shipment suspected of containing the finest Renaissance masterpieces from the Uffizi and other Florence museums, the team of “Monuments Men” as they came to be called, received reliable information that the cache was located in the Castle of Neumelans (1582-1583) in the tiny northern Italian Tyrol village of Campo Tures. The secreted store of treasures was, indeed, there.

The discovery of the trove of art in the castle was eclipsed, however, by the treasures in the fortification’s nearby carriage house. In crates created years before were, among countless masterpieces,  Donatello’s St. George and Michelangelo’s Bacchus.

Further investigations yielded yet another highly valued shipment, stored in the village of San Leonardo, near the city of Trieste.

In total, when the treasures were inventoried and the shipment prepared for its triumphant return to Florence, the 1946 valuation was over $500,000,000.00. When the convoy of trucks carrying the irreplaceable art arrived in the Piazza della Signoria, the sense of closure, relief and of civilization’s victory was palpable.

As I stand at the base of Donatello’s St. George, or study the lines of Michelangelo’s Bacchus, I see not only the work of masters; I see cold nights in alpine villages, dark rooms where men, enemies or not, protected our civilization’s storied past and I recall tales of plunder and triumph.

FURTHER INFORMATION:

If you are interested in learning more about the Monuments Men, please visit The Monuments Men Foundation, established by Robert M. Edsel, author of the books mentioned in this article.

Monuments Men Foundation

Robert M. Edsel, who is the founder of the Monuments Men Foundation, was also the co-producer of the awarded documentary, The Rape of Europa. This fascinating documentary  tells the story of Nazi Germany’s plundering of Europe’s great works of art during World War II and Allied efforts to minimize the damage.

The Monuments Men is a film directed by George Clooney, scheduled for release later this year.

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Allegory with Venus and CupidAgnolo di CosimoCalled Bronzinoca. 1545

Allegory with Venus and Cupid
Agnolo di Cosimo
Called Bronzino
ca. 1545

Agnolo di Cosimo, called Bronzino, studied from the age of fourteen in the bottega of Jacopo da Pontormo. In 1545, he received a commission (most likely from Cosimo I, Grand Duke of Tuscany though some attributions list this as a commission from Francesco Salviati) for a painting to be given to King Francis I of France. The oil on wood painting is called “Allegory of Venus and Cupid” or “Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time.”

What many people do not know is that Bronzino included an homage to the master, Leonardo da Vinci, in this complicated and convoluted work.

From Venus’s intimate embrace with her son, Cupid, to the upper right  bald figure of Time who holds the hour glass in his hand, most of the foreground of the work is relatively easy to understand. Move to the background and interpretations dissolve in what is a surreal backdrop of shadow and mannerist painting.

One particular figure is the subject of this article.

To the left of Cupid, whose naked buttocks disconcertingly intrudes on the left, is the figure of someone – a woman? a man? – in the midst of agony, anger and despair. Various interpretations have this figure representing jealousy or, by some, as the figure of syphilis, representative of unwise (out of wedlock?) intercourse. Regardless, it is clearly the image of someone in great distress.

Now, more back story.

In 1505, Leonardo da Vinci was given the commission for a fresco depicting the Battle of Anghiari to be completed on a wall in the Council Chamber of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. His cartoon, long lost, depicted a tortuous configuration of horses and men engaged in the heat of battle.

It was to one particular figure that Leonardo gave the most fearsome features-one Niccolò Piccinino. A condottiero (military leader) of considerable fame and success, he succumbed to the forces of Ludovico Sforza at the Battle of Anghiari (1440). In the throws of that battle, as Leonardo portrayed the action, Niccolò’s fierce and focused face is grimaced in a combination of determination and madness.

battle of AnghiariCartoon copy by RubensOrig by Leonardo da Vinci1505Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

Detail, Battle of Anghiari
Cartoon copy by Rubens – 1603
Orig by Leonardo da Vinci
1505
Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

Now, back to Bronzino.

It is believed that Bronzino was given the opportunity to study Leonardo’s design, most likely from a 1553 engraving by Lorenzo Zacchia. Historians believe Zacchia created the engraving from studying the actual cartoon. Leonardo’s figures made a deep impression on the young Bronzino.

During some recent discussions with friends in Florence, it was posited that Bronzino was so affected by the face of Niccolò Piccinino that he created a mirror of the condottiero’s face, and used it (in homage to da Vinci) for a face in his Allegory.

Below is a close up detail of the Anghiari face, flipped horizontally and a close up the Bronzino’s figure.

Bronzino, Leftda Vinci, Right

Bronzino, Left
da Vinci, Right

Whether this recent interpretation will stand the test of time remains to be seen. What is true is that there is a startling similarity in the faces – one on a cartoon created by Leonardo, and the allegorical figure included in Bronzino’s work.

IF YOU GO:

The Bronzino work, Allegory of Venus and Cupid, is in the National Museum in London

Battle of Anghiari, by Leonardo da Vinci.

There has been a great deal of inquiry recently about whether some of Leonardo’s work existed behind a ‘second wall’ in the Sala dei Cinquicento (once the Council Chamber) in the Palazzo Vecchio. In March of 2012, the search for this possible fresco was terminated, though these articles are interesting. Listed below are a few links for those who are interested.

New York Times

U.K. Telegraph

Discovery News

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Torment of St. AnthonyMichelangeloca. 1488

Torment of St. Anthony
Michelangelo
ca. 1488

A young Michelangelo, barely twelve years of age, copied an engraving while in the workshops of Domenico Ghirlandaio.

I never would have guessed this to be a work by the same master who painted the Doni Tondo, or the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel.

Originally attributed to ‘a student of the workshop,’ it was only after the 2008 purchase of the work by a New York art collector, that the panel was definitively studied and attributed to Buonarotti.

What a surprising and unusual piece it is.

Martin Schongauer, one of four sons of an Augsburg goldsmith, created a varied and complex set of copper engravings. The Torment is one of the few pieces that exist as a separate print. Martin’s more famous works are series: Passion, Death and Coronation of the Virgin, and Wise and Foolish Virgins.

How did this engraving find its way to Florence? The Medici Bank had many offices across Europe. It is possible that the work was sold to collectors in Bruges or Geneva, for example and then it was traded among merchants who traveled to and from Florence on business; all conjecture at this point, to be sure.

It is certainly difficult to understand why Michelangelo selected, or perhaps was given the commission to paint, his interpretation of this engraving. The young man tightened the design of the original engraving and, it is said by art experts, he studied the anatomy of fish so that a more lifelike rendering of sea creatures could be added to the work.

Why would Ghirlandaio’s workshop, in the heart of Renaissance Florence, select such an engraving for their study? Difficult to say. Perhaps it was the unique structure of the work, the elliptical, nearly hypnotic, central core that both draws you in and seems to circulate as you study it.

Martin SchongauerTorment of St Anthony1488

Martin Schongauer
Torment of St Anthony
1488

Regardless, the young Michelangelo created a painted wooden panel that moves the tormented saint from the skies above the middle eastern desert to the blue skies of Tuscany. In the background is a river scene that could easily be interpreted as that of the Arno River as it courses through the city.

Whether his work was created in the workshops of Florence, in his studio carving masterpieces in marble, or laboring under incredibly difficult conditions on scaffolds in the Sistine Chapel in Rome, the diversity, skill and artistic eye of Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni continue to fascinate.

The Torment is now in the collection of the Kimball Art Museum in Ft. Worth, Texas. As of this writing, I was unable to ascertain the engraving’s location or collection.

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As part of the Art and History of Renaissance Art class, this video is used to introduce the students to the music and art of certain periods of Florentine art. I hope that you will enjoy this brief (Four Minute) presentation and, as always, thank you for taking the time to read about bella Italia with “Travels Across Italy”!

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Michelangelo. It is a name that conjures images of paint strained eyes, of angry popes and of marble dust.

MichelangeloBacchus, 1496-1497

Michelangelo
Bacchus, 1496-1497

The Bacchus, an unusual and controversial work, was created by Michelangelo between 1496 and 1497, when the young artist was twenty years old.  The commission came from a rather unexpected source, that of Raffaele Sansoni Galeoti Riario, who became Cardinal Riario. Passionate about sculpture and, in particular his garden, Riario had commissioned the piece to add to his home sculpture garden in the Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome.

Palazzo della Cancelleria

Palazzo della Cancelleria

An interesting side story to this commission. Riario was sold a sleeping cupid as a true piece of ancient Roman art. The connoisseurship of the Cardinal was widely known and he, eventually, discovered that the piece had been carved by Michelangelo. Upset though Riario may have been, he was also an astute businessman. It was his orders that brought Michelangelo to Rome where the artist worked for most of the remaining years of his life.

As the photo of the Cancelleria, the Chancellery of the Vatican, attests, Riario had enormous financial resources available to support his commissions.

Upon seeing the Bacchus, however, Riario’s reaction was not dissimilar to words penned by Percy Shelley many years later, “It looks drunken, brutal, and narrow-minded, and has an expression of dissoluteness the most revolting.”

Riario hated the work and refused to accept it. However, an associate of his at the Vatican, one Jacopo Galli, Riario’s banker, patron and friend of Michelangelo, paid for the commission and placed it in his private collection.

It was not until 1847 that the statue was transferred to Florence where it now resides in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence.

Bacchus, FaceMichelangelo

Bacchus, Face
Michelangelo

It is a strange work, to say the least. The expression of Bacchus, the asexual nature of his body, the posture of drunkenness he displays were all brilliant and intentional marks of a master artist. What offended Riario and what often offends people to this day is that the statue does not fit most people’s expectations of a god. Human in every aspect, with a grape-eating faun at this side, was – I believe – a not too indirect way for Michelangelo to portray his view of Riario as a person and, perhaps, the church in general.

Known to be exacerbating, difficult, unpredictably  emotional, the young sculptor may have seen this commission as a way of communicating his disdain for the patrons of his youth. It may have galled Michelangelo to know that a sleeping cupid had been the means by which orders came from Pope Julius II, one of Riario’s relatives, for the artist to report to Rome.

When you are in Florence, be sure to take a morning (see open hours below IF YOU GO) to explore the galleries in the Bargello Museum. The Ground floor gallery houses many pieces of remarkable sculpture, the Bacchus among them. The second floor galleries house Donatello’s David, works by the Della Robbia workshop and many other treasures of Renaissance art.

IF YOU GO:

Museo Nazionale el Bargello

Via del Proconsolo, 4

50122 Florence

Tel: +39.055.238.8606

Tickets: Euro 4.00 per person

Web: Bargello Firenze

Open Hours: Please note the very specific hours that the museum is open: 8:15AM – 1:50PM Daily with the exception of:

Closed, 1st, 3rd, 5th Sunday of the month, Closed 2nd and 4th Monday of the month and closed January 1, May 1, and December 25

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Many tourists walk past the city hall of Florence, the Palazzo Vecchio, and never realize the treasures inside.

In the mid 17th century, if you wanted to hide a huge fresco (painting on a plaster wall) painted by a master artist, where would you hide it? The answer is, as it has always been, right in front of everyone’s eyes. Read on.

Michelangelo and Da Vinci are two artists whose paths rarely crossed. Cross they did, however, in early 16th Century Florence.

Ruben’s Copy of Da Vinci’s Study – Battle of Anghiari

In 1503, the governing political body of Florence, lead by Gonfaloniere Piero Soderini, commissioned Da Vinci to paint the Battle of Anghiari. The fresco was to cover a portion of the wall in the city hall’s Salone dei Cinquecento, the Hall of the 500.  Michelangelo was commissioned to fresco the Battle of Cascina on the wall opposite Da Vinci’s work.

Why these subjects and location?

Michelangelo’s Battle of Cascina celebrated the defeat of Pisa in 1364. The Italian League, led by Florence, defeated Milan in 1440 at the Battle of Anghieri. This victory firmly placed the Florentine republic at the forefront of Italian politics for centuries.The Hall of the 500, largest meeting room in city hall, was an appropriate place for symbols of Florence’s major victories.

Study for Michelangelo’s
Battle of Cascina

Da Vinci, fed up with the frustrations of his consuming experiments with fresco techniques, fled the city in frustration. The project lagged in the midst of infighting and the ever present pressures of city budgets. The Battle of Cascina was abandoned when Pope Julius II called for Michelangelo’s  return to Rome. The study for Michelangelo’s work was later destroyed by his jealous rival, Bartolommeo Bandinelli.

Move ahead a little over one hundred years. In the mid-17th century, Georgio Vasari, a passionate admirer of Da Vinci’s work, accepted and completed the commission to complete the decorations in the Hall of the 500.

Endoscope through Vasari’s Fresco
Salone dei Cinquecento, Florence

In the 1970’s a certain art ‘engineer’, and National Georgraphic Fellow, by the name of Maurizio Seracini noticed a cryptic note on the south center panel of Vasari’s work: cerca trova (seek and you shall find).

Seracini’s interest was piqued. Ever since discovering those words, he has believed that Vasari was sending a message: “Seek the master’s work and you will find it.” Seracini believes that Vasari built a wall in front of Da Vinci’s work so that the 1503 work would be protected.

After decades of study, in late 2011, Seracini’s team used an endoscope to explore the space behind Vasari’s work. They made four important discoveries:

  • Samples of pigment that are nearly identical to those used on Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
  • Red pigment, associated with lacquer and unlikely to have been used on a plastered wall, was identified.
  • There are beige colored brush strokes on the wall behind Vasari’s work.
  • Scientists have confirmed that an air gap does, indeed, exist behind Vasari’s wall.

There is growing confidence, within the art and scientific communities, that there is a strong likelihood that a long last Da Vinci is about to be discovered.

Banner showing scale of Da Vinci’s
Planned Fresco for the Salone dei
Cinquecento

When in Florence, visit the Salone dei Cinquecento inside the Palazzo Vecchio to see what all the fuss is about.

IF YOU GO:

Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

Piazza della Signoria

Opening times and days: Use this link to verify. Odd/varying hours and open days.

www.museicivicifiorentini.it/en/palazzovecchio

Tickets: Euro 6.50 Full Price. Reduced Euro 4.50 for ages 18 – 25, over 65 and university students.

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