February 16, 2010

Ignudi

"After Michelangelo"
9 x 12, oil on canvas
I love the guy above, especially the wild hair. He is one of about 20 ignudi (plural, meaning naked) idealized human figures painted by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel.

So...ponder this with me. What if you were a sculptor but your "boss" insisted you paint frescos instead (something you knew absolutely nothing about)? And what if those frescoes were 60 feet up in the air? And what if your "canvas" was 5000 square-feet? How would you even begin such a project? ...a question which leads me to ask just how did Michelangelo find inspiration in this assignment that must have been demoralizing and demeaning to a man referred to as the greatest sculptor in all of Italy? Author Charles de Tolnay explained it best when he wrote "The creative imagination took fire suddenly when Michelangelo let himself be inspired by the real form and mass of the curved vault, and decided to adorn it with figures."
He began by sketching the basic outline of the ceiling shape, divided it into sections framed by architectural details like moldings and columns and then designed figures to fit within those shapes. Using his love of architecture and design, he also figured out how to conform the figures to the curved shape of the ceiling in such a way that they do not appear distorted from below. And as you look up at this magnificent work of art, you can't help be in awe of such feats.
In the same way that he allowed each individual piece of marble to dictate which figure should be "freed" from within; here he allowed the existing structure to inform the design of his frescoes. Even though it wasn't where he wanted to be, he found a way to make it his own and transform this "job" into something divine--an incredible example of acceptance and surrender to "what is." (How many current day artists, musicians, and actors report that they must put their dreams on hold while they reluctantly accept menial jobs to pay the bills?). Michelangelo was promised the opportunity to sculpt 40 statues once the ceiling was completed, a dream that he never fully realized.
I'm thinking that if the 5000 square feet is divided between the four years it took him to complete the ceiling, it means that he must have finished sections that were close to life-size most every day that he went to work. And although he had assistants mixing and carrying paint, he did the bulk of the work himself. And considering that he had to allow TIME to plan and sketch each design, re-do sections of plaster that were damaged by humidity and mold, as well as design and build his scaffolding, it sort of gives a whole new meaning to "a painting a day" doesn't it?
"Time marches on and measures out the hours
of this our life, a poisonous bitter day,
It is a scythe and we are like the hay,
Faith is short-lived and beauty does not last"...Michelangelo

2 comments:

Natalie Parmelee said...

Yes, and it gives a whole new meaning to our every day, thank you! A great perspective to apply across the board, love it!
Geez. Sanding & prepping my home's interior for paint suddenly seems as easy as it actually is...

Linda said...

Nice painting! I love your comments that accompany this. Very interesting.