February 21, 2010

The Drawings

 "Study for St. Laurence in the Judgement, after Michelangelo"
Conte' drawing on pastel paper, 6 x 8
 "Study of Sibyl, after Michelangelo "
Conte' drawing on pastel paper, 6 x 8

I love Michelangelo's drawings. For me they stand on their own. But he felt quite differently about that. Many of the Master's sketches have a curvilinear quality, and some actually look like several parentheses stacked on top of each other as he "finds the form" (as is evidenced by my top sketch). He even developed a sort of "shorthand" in sketching for times when his chalk couldn't quite keep up with his ideas. However, sketches for the figures in the Sistine Chapel begin to take on a more corrected, geometrical appearance; a characteristic author Luciano Berti attributes to Michelangelo's love of architecture, explaining; "This is a characteristic that had hitherto been absent from Michelangelo's's sketches,...a new system of thinking in terms of a tight smbiosis between architecture and representation. " As an example, he sites the Sibyl sketch where lines begin to appear "surer and straighter" than before. All his figures appear very solid and muscular, as he often employed male models for both male and female figures in his drawings and paintings. 

There are many drawings attributed to Michelangelo, although there is some controversy over which ones are truly authentic. According to Berti, when Michelangelo was near death, he ordered that bonfires burn many of his preliminary sketches and drawings so that "no one might see the labors he had gone through and the tentative modes of his genius, not wishing to appear less perfect". How unfortunate is that? He felt such intense-type-A-on steriods-kind-of-pressure to present nothing but absolute perfection to the world. Most of us go to museums and see an artist's "best" work, often forgetting to take into account that we are only seeing a fraction of the work completed in a lifetime. And unless we are allowed to compare the amateurish, earlier work, it is difficult to fully appreciate the artist's growth. In Michelangelo's case, we are left to wonder just how horrible the drawings could possibly have been considering that he carved this at the ripe old age of 24? (sigh)

 "The Agony and the Ecstasy" movie was made in 1965, where we see Michelangelo conceiving many of the ideas for his drawings, and is portrayed lying on his back in order to paint the chapel ceiling.  But in a letter to his family, the artist included a sketch demonstrating his ability to paint from a standing position with his back arched as reaches up (and back) over his head.  Ouch. My neck hurts just looking at it. The film strays from historic facts, but for me, all is forgiven upon seeing the Carrara marble quarries...and the enormous recreated frescoes viewed at eye level are simply stunning. I almost wore out the "pause" button studying each and every frame... 

"He wouldn't have been pleased to see us surveying his working drawings. Michelangelo wanted you to look at is finished work and be overwhelmed by it and not realize that it's the result of thousands of decisions"...Hugo Chapman 


Paz said...

I want to take a drawing class this year. I'm no artist. I'm certainly no Michaelangelo but I'm inspired by your work and other artists. I'd like to give it a try and see what happens. Thanks for the inspiration.


FCP said...

You are right there in the heart of inspiration with the Art Student's League down the street. What an incredible opportunity. I look forward to hearing all about it-you must do it!

Gwen Bell said...

Wow...so strong and beautiful! Love the way you used both light and dark chalk, leaving your initial guides. The result is masterful! The folds in the skirt are nothing less than awesome. You make me want to bring out my drawing toys.