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Michelangelo. (1475 – 1564)

His is a name iconic, one that defines the creative genius of the Renaissance. While David, the “Prisoners”, the glory of the Sistine Chapel and innumerable other works have come to define this man’s tactile artistic contributions to western culture, he was also a remarkable poet.

Michelangelo Aged

Michelangelo Etching, English, 1874

In the course of his eighty-nine year life, he composed over 300 sonnets and madrigals. The structure of his poetry was centered upon three ideals: the love of Christ, love of Florence and love of beauty. (See Sonnets of Michelangelo,Symonds, 1878, page xix.)

For decades there has been a great deal of discussion within academic circles about the homoerotic nature of Michelangelo’s writing.

Some background:

In 1623, the artist’s grandnephew, Michelangelo the Younger, published the first edition of the sonnets. Much of the controversy that swirls around that earlier edition is based upon changes discovered in the course of John Addington Symond’s 1878 translations: the “Younger” changed the gender of the maestro’s passions from male to female. Times being what they were in the early 17th century, those changes can perhaps be more clearly understood.

In his introduction to the 1878 rhymed translation of the sonnets, Symonds addresses those changes and the perspective of the artist:

“Nothing is more clear than that Michael Angelo (sic) worshiped Beauty in the Platonic spirit, passing beyond its personal and specific manifestations to the universal and impersonal. This thought is repeated over and over again in his poetry; and if we bear in mind that he habitually regarded the loveliness of man or woman as a sign and symbol of eternal and immutable beauty, we shall feel it of less importance to discover who it was that prompted him to this or that poetic utterance.” (See Symonds, Introduction, Page xviii).

The earlier sonnets address topics as diverse as Dante, life, love, religion, art, Pope Julius II, the people of Prato and other matters of interest. The variety of his observations are uniquely intriguing, particularly as insights into other contemporary artists or those who commissioned Buonarotti’s work.

Those observations changed over time.

Nicodemus Pieta

Nicodemus Pieta, Michelangelo, 1547 – 1555

In the latter years of his life, Michelangelo’s words turn introspective. He reflects on the span of his life and the journey that brought him to older age. In deference to Michelangelo’s Nicodemus Pieta in the Museum of the Works of the Duomo in Florence, this sonnet (below) is printed in gold on the walls which face the Pieta in the newly restored museum.
On the Brink of Death
To Giorgio Vasari
Sonnet LXV

The course of my life has brought me now
Through a stormy sea, in a frail ship,
To the common port where, landing
We account for every deed, wretched or holy.

So that finally I see
How wrong the fond illusion was
That made art my idol and my King,
Leading me to want what harmed me.

My amorous fancies, once foolish and happy
What sense have they now that I approach two deaths
The first of which I know is sure, the second threatening.

Let neither painting nor carving any longer calm
My soul turned to that divine Love
Who to embrace us opened His arms upon the cross.

 

Though he worked on one other pieta in his later years, the Rondanini Pieta in the Castello Sforzesco in Milan, the Nicodemus Pieta is a physical representation of Michelangelo’s melancholy musings on life and death.
When you visit the Museum of the Works of the Duomo in Florence, please take some time to sit in the chamber reserved solely for the display of the Nicodemus Pieta, and give thought to yet another surprising facet of Michelangelo’s gifts.
Details:
Symond’s rhymed translation, in full, can be read at this link, The Sonnets of Michel Angelo Buonarotti

Address: Piazza del Duomo, 9, 50122 Firenze, Italy

Hours: 9:00AM – 7:30PMĀ  Daily

Entrance: Euro 15.00 pp (Adult)

Pre Purchase tickets on line: Cumulative Entrance Ticket (Duomo, Museum, Campanile, Baptistery, Crypt and Dome)

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Jacopo da Pontormo1525 - 1528Santa Felicita, FlorenceCapponi Chapel

Jacopo da Pontormo
1525 – 1528
Santa Felicita, Florence
Capponi Chapel

The eyes are haunting: oval, staring in pain and grief. It is the fresco that initiated Mannerist painting in Florence: Pontormo’s Deposition in the Capponi Chapel of Santa Felicita.

Jacopo Carucci, known as Jacopo da Pontormo or, simply, Pontormo, was born in 1494. A student of the Florentine school, his fresco of the Deposition in the Capponi Chapel of Santa Felicita in the city is considered by many his masterpiece. Brunelleschi, he of the dome and many other architectural splendors for Florence, designed the chapel in which Pontormo worked.

Recently, during a late winter afternoon, I visited the church of Santa Felicita. The nave was empty and through a haze of frosted breath, Pontormo’s work sprang more than ever to life. The fragile odor of incense floated in the darkening space as I approached the gate that protects the fresco. It was, this time more than ever, the eyes of the grief-stricken that most startled me.

When Pontormo was twenty-one he made the journey to Rome with the specific goal of studying Michelangelo’s work. Buonarotti was completing the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the effect that it had on the young Jacopo was life-changing. Pontormo had the opportunity to view the mammoth fresco up close, on the scaffolding. Perhaps he studied the faces and eyes of the Delphic Sybil; her large anxious eyes glance to her left, warily.

Delphic SybilDetail, Sistine ChapelVatican, Rome

Delphic Sybil
Detail, Sistine Chapel
Vatican, Rome

A similar wariness, balanced with fear and grief fill many of the eyes of the figures Pontormo created for his Deposition.

The work was finish in 1528 after three years behind a tall brick wall that the artists builtĀ  to keep the curious eyes and mouths of critics at bay.

One of the early artists studies for the Deposition illustrates how the artist used a structure for the fresco without the necessity of reliance on the actual cross. During the Renaissance, the focal point of most other artist’s interpretation of the deposition involved, whether centered or not, the physical form the cross.

Study for DepositionJacopo da Pontormo, 1524

Study for Deposition
Jacopo da Pontormo, 1524

Pontormo has created a swirling mass of human form, consumed by grief and loss, fear and trepidation. While the cross is nowhere to be seen, while the body of Jesus is supported and held by men and women whose feet seem to barely touch the ground, Pontormo brings us ‘in’ with the eyes. He has created a scene of intense drama, one that does not rely on the standard interpretation of his time and one that clearly broke with the works of the Renaissance. Mannerism was born.

As I returned to the Borgo San Jacopo on that winter evening, it was the eyes of Pontormo’s vision that haunted me. If you ever have the opportunity to visit Florence, please don’t miss this masterpiece of Mannerist art, one that brought an entirely new vision and freedom to artists of Italy.

Pontormo Deposition Two

Detail
Jacopo da Pontormo
Deposition, Capponi Chapel
Santa Felicita

IF YOU GO

Santa Felicita

Piazza di San Felicita, 3

Florence 50125

Hours: Daily except Sunday: 9:30AM – 12:00 Noon and 3:30PM – 5:30PM

Tel: +39.055.213.018

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