Thursday, October 31, 2013

Michelangelo Buonarroti

Pieta per Vittoria Colonna
Black chalk on cardboard
28.9 × 18.9 cm
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, USA

The theme of the Pieta, so dear to the sculptor Michelangelo, is addressed in a highly emotional composition. The dead Jesus is cradled between the grieving Mary's legs, who raises her arms to heaven as two angels also raise Christ's arms at right angles. Mary's gesture balances the forceful vertical lines of Jesus' body, which lies on a rock. Above the two stands a beam, the Cross, on which is inscribed, vertically, a quotation by Dante: Non vi si pensa quanto sangue costa ? "There they don't think of how much blood it costs".

Sometime around 1538, at about the age of 60, Michelangelo was introduced to Vittoria Colonna, Marchesa di Pescara, about age 45.  Vittoria was the widow of the imperial general Ferrante Francesco d’Avalos, a descendant of one of the oldest families of Italy and a member of the Viterbo Circle, a religious group that wanted the church to base theology of salvation on grace rather than works. His friendship with Vittoria gained Michelangelo admittance into her social circles and introduced him to issues dealing with church reform.

Michelangelo and Vittoria shared a loving platonic relationship until her death in 1547. She was one of Michelangelo’s closest friends, and only female companion. The two exchanged letters and shared discussions about religion, politics and art. The relationship with Vittoria, an accomplished woman of the Renaissance and an acclaimed and published spiritual poet, spurred Michelangelo to write some of his most inspired poetry including, To Vittoria Colonna:

When the prime mover of many sighs
Heaven took through death from out her earthly place,
Nature, that never made so fair a face,
Remained ashamed, and tears were in all eyes.
O fate, unheeding my impassioned cries!
O hopes fallacious! O thou spirit of grace,
Where art thou now? Earth holds in its embrace
Thy lovely limbs, thy holy thoughts the skies.
Vainly did cruel death attempt to stay
The rumor of thy virtuous renown,
That Lethe’s waters could not wash away!
A thousand leaves, since he hath stricken thee down,
Speak of thee, not to thee could Heaven convey,
Except through death, a refuge and a crown.
Translated into English by H.W. Longfellow (1807-1882).

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (1475 - 1564) was an Italian Renaissance painter, sculptor, architect who exerted an unparalleled influence on the development of Western art.
He was considered the greatest living artist in his lifetime, and ever since then he has been held to be one of the greatest artists of all time. In his lifetime he was also often called Il Divino ("the divine one").

In his personal life, Michelangelo was abstemious. He told his apprentice: "However rich I may have been, I have always lived like a poor man."
It is said he was indifferent to food and drink, eating "more out of necessity than of pleasure" and that he "often slept in his clothes and ... boots."
He was by nature a solitary and melancholy person. His biographer says, "His nature was so rough and uncouth that his domestic habits were incredibly squalid, and deprived posterity of any pupils who might have followed him."