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First Impressions: Michelangelo (First…
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First Impressions: Michelangelo (First Impressions Series) (1993)

by Richard McLanathan

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Michelangelo by Richard McLanathan. Library Section 7F: The Church in the World: Religious Arts. This is a very nice overview of the life of Renaissance artist Michelangelo Buonnaroti, with a selection of his most important works. He came from an important Florentine family fallen on bad times. In the 1400's, Italy was a composed of warring city states, of which Florence was a great banking and arts center. Its most famous family, the Medici, were wealthy art patrons, and producer of popes. By age 13 Michelangelo was apprenticed to a famous artist in Florence whose workshop was his entryway into the arts. Lorenzo “the Magnificent” de Medici, was the greatest art patron of the age. He and his circle were influenced by Plato’s theory that the study of truly beautiful things leads one to the basic truths underlying the surface appearance of things. In their eyes beauty equaled truth. Michelangelo’s work expressed this supreme idea. Florentines identified their city as the cradle of the Renaissance, a new Athens, connecting the ideal truths of Plato and those of Christianity. This link is key to understanding the Renaissance. It underlies every aspect of Renaissance life, especially the arts. It is central to the art and life of Michelangelo.
In 1498 at age 24 Michelangelo was given an extraordinary commission to sculpt a pietá, a term meaning a sculpture of Mary holding the dead Christ, whose body was to be life-sized. The carving took just one year. Lest anyone be confused, Michelangelo carved a saying on a band crossing Mary’s breast, “Michelangelo Buonnaroti the Florentine made it”! Installed in the Vatican, it was immediately admired. You may recall that this sculpture was displayed in the Vatican pavilion at the New York World’s Fair in the 1960s. Lashed to the deck of a ship with location finders and bouyant collar, this was an incredible risk. Seeing this brilliant white sculpture, displayed on a sea of royal blue velvet, made a big impression on me as a child. After its return to the Vatican, a madman struck the sculpture, breaking off Mary’s freely extended arm. The fragments were gathered, the piece repaired, and it is still on display today.
The next great work was painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, named for Pope Sixtus. Ironically, Michelangelo disliked painting, which kept him from his true love, sculpting. Michelangelo’s painting of biblical scenes and saints covered the entire ceiling, 50 feet above the floor. A four-page wide foldout in the center of this book shows the entire ceiling in color. One half of the ceiling is shown with an accumulation of four centuries of smoke and grime, while the other half shows it newly cleaned. This cleaning revealed his original, brilliant colors.
This painting was done in fresco. Fresh plaster is smoothed on the ceiling, and the wet paint applied on the wet plaster. As the plaster dries, the paint is incorporated into the surface. Only enough plaster for the day’s work can be applied because the paint will not be incorporated into dry plaster, but will peel off later. Remember too, that paints did not come in tubes. The colors had to be ground into powder and mixed with a binder, like linseed oil for oil paint, or gum tragacanth for watercolor. Each artist experimented and had his own secret formulae.
Years later Michelangelo was commissioned to paint The Last Judgment on the Sistine’s vertical wall behind the altar. God is in the center of the painting, saving the good for heaven and condemning the sinful to hell. Several of Michelangelo’s critics are pictured in hell, a good artist’s joke! Michelangelo also includes himself as a flayed skin, suspended between heaven and hell, leaving God to judge where he belongs! When Vatican cardinals meet to choose the next pope, they always meet in the Sistine chapel, where the traditional stove and smokestack are installed, and nowadays, a false floor laid to prevent wear to the stone original.
This book discusses other works, including Michelangelo’s David, the ultimate symbol of classical male beauty and of the strength and vigilance of the city state of Florence. Note that David is looking to the left, the symbolic side from which evil always comes. His slingshot is at the ready over his shoulder. Originally placed in the plaza in front of the Florentine city hall, today a copy is there, and the original is protected in the famed Uffizi Gallery. With a six foot tall base, the figure stands 18 feet. Knowing viewers would be looking from below, Michelangelo made the upper part of the body slightly larger to compensate. This is why David’s head is so massive. Beauty most definitely equals truth in this sculpture.
If you are interested in reading more about Michelangelo, read Irving Stone’s biographical novel, The Agony and the Ecstasy. You can also see the film by the same name on netflix. This shows the process by which he painted the Sistine ceiling, on rough scaffolding, often flat on his back or bent over in cramped positions. Charleton Heston plays the artist, Rex Harrison, Pope Julius II, who impatiently kept urging the artist to finish. Pope to artist: “When will you make a finish?” Artist’s response: “When it’s done, your Holiness!” You can’t rush perfection, even if you are a pope!
I found this book at the rummage sale along with one about Rembrandt, who also did many religious works. Whoever donated them, thank you so much! If anyone else has any books about artists who did religious works, the library could certainly use them. ( )
  Epiphany-OviedoELCA | Jun 10, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0810936348, Hardcover)

Developed especially for older middle-grade and young teen readers, these exciting biographies bring to life the world's great artists.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:06 -0400)

A biography of the Renaissance sculptor, painter, architect, and poet, whose greatest work may have been the Sistine Chapel in Rome's St. Peter's Cathedral.

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