February 28, 2010


"Columns, after Michelangelo"

8 x 6, oil pastels on pastel paper

It is easy to see how Michelangelo would have served as an inspiration to the artists of his day. Art scholar Charles de Tolnay elaborates; "Each artist drew his inspiration from a single aspect of the master's art, transforming it and integrating it within the scope of his own tendencies "(such as carriage, drama, dignity of gestures ). Most artists wanted to expand beyond the classical view of an ideal world and incorporate their own visions into the work as Michelangelo had done with the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Never before had a painting been done that depicted God in the way the artist had boldly portrayed him. Suddenly Michelangelo's contemporaries began stepping out of their own comfort zones,  changed the proportions of their figures, and began using different backgrounds or employing figurative elements into their work. Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael among others, had previously embraced the principal that beauty is nature, while Michelangelo's focus became expressing his inward image of beauty that he "made more concrete by a profound study of the natural world" as he sketched and drew from live models. Tolnay further explains that the Master's incorporation of the ignudi in the Sistine celling was a new concept of "movement, and design"; and because they served as "a rhythmic outline freely arranged in space and no longer tied to earth" . This bold new concept "encouraged an entire group of young artists to liberate themselves from the classical Renaissance canons"  And the use of opaque, fresh colors Michelangelo had incorporated into the ceiling figures; along with a new emphasis on grandeur ushered in a new art age known as "Mannerism". A few years later, sculptor, architect, and founder of the Baroque Age, Gian Bernini would exclaim "Michelangelo was great as a sculptor and painter, but truly divine as an architect"

"After four tortured years, more than 400 over life-sized figures, I felt as old and as weary as Jeremiah. I was only 37, yet friends did not recognize the old man I had become...What one has most to work and struggle for in painting is to do the work with a great amount of labour and sweat in such a way that it may afterwards appear, however much it was laboured upon, to have been done almost quickly and without any labour...if people knew how hard I worked to achieve my mastery, it wouldn't seem so wonderful after all"
"The science of design is the source and very essence of paint, sculpture, and architecture. Sometimes, it seems to me that, all the works of the human brain and hand are either design itself or a branch of that art"
...Michelangelo Buonorroti

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 

February 16, 2010


"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

February 12, 2010

love hurts

and just like that, her beloved imac bit the dust...
her desk is now a sad, and oh so empty space
awaiting repair or replacement (shudder)...

more snow on the way...

sounds like a wonderful "opportunity" for a technology cleanse...
"eek" she says, eye twitching

or perhaps a mental "re-boot" with hot chocolate by the fire and a good book (or ten)...

wishing you warmth and comfort wherever you are
surrounded by everyone (and everything) you hold dear

Mother Teresa

February 8, 2010

B is for Buonarrati

Today's "inspiration" is Michelangelo Buonorrati. I have mentioned my obsession with Italy and Michelangelo here and here and this post details the origin of the above painting; which is from one of his sculptures.

And, above are charcoal drawings, both gifts from my son (also the artist). They depict Michelangelo's sculptures at the entrance to the Medici Chapel and are known as Night and Day, Morning and Evening. As Night (female) prepares for sleep, Day (male) begins anew. Exploring the push-pull concepts (life and death, beginnings and endings, male and female) was a common theme repeated throughout his work. He knew from a very early age that he loved art, became an apprentice at age 13 and completed his first sculpture to rave reviews at the tender age of 17. When he began carving The David at age 26, he was already widely recognized as the most talented sculptor in Italy. Have you ever looked at images of Carrara, Italy where he traveled to choose his marble? A breathtakingly beautiful spot!
One detail about his life that I found most interesting is that after painting the frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel for two years, he took a break that lasted several months. Art historians agree that when he returned from this break, there was a discernible difference in his style. His images seemed less detailed, yet more full of emotion. Why? Did he just need a break? Or did he make changes once he was able to step away and view the work from a new perspective (the floor below)? Or was there something else that happened during his leave that offered a shift in consciousness?
Additionally, his life gravitated to architecture and writing poetry in his later years. He was appointed director of St. Peters and worked there overseeing details of the building right up until a week before his death (which will be 446 years next week). If you have been to Rome and Florence; you can't help but feel his influence and powerful presence on every street corner, in every piazza, every building and doorway.

Much has been written about him, but nothing so compelling as his book of poems. Some focus on Neoplatonic love; a very uplifting view that embraces a universal source in which all things are connected and ultimately reunite; while the latter poems written in his last years are more regretful, wrestling with angst and emotion.

And I could go on and on (and probably will another day) but you get the picture. He was, and continues to be, a huge inspiration and influence on everything I love about art and life. Sometimes when I am stressed to the max, I close my eyes and "look" out over those cliffs of Carrara, and envision him writing his poems there. I can only imagine what it must have looked and felt like in 1501, when he chose the marble for The David, and what a pilgrimage it must have been just to arrive there. But taking in that view surely was the most glorious part of his day-or at least that is how I picture him; perched on a cliff, writing such sentiments as the verse below...

"My eyes eager for beautiful things, and my soul no less for its salvation,
have no other means by which they may ascend to heaven than to gaze on all such things,
from the highest stars descends a shining light which draws our desire to them;
this we here call love.
The noble heart has nothing else that can make it love and burn;
nothing else to guide it,
than a face which in its eyes acts as those stars do."...Michelangelo