"studies for Capitol columns, after Michelangelo"
8 x 6, conte' and pastels on pastel paper
Explaining the steps artists must master in order to progress in their work, Studio Incamminati artist and teacher Lea Colie Wight, explains, "Most of us start out learning how to use graphite, charcoal or paint to accurately record what we see. The process begins as an exercise in controlling a brush or pencil and learning how the materials can be used to create an illusion of reality. If we finally achieve that objective, the focus shifts to one of communicating personal expressions and observations". The key word is "if" because there is no guarantee that we, as artists, will ever evolve beyond learning the technical aspects of creating art and discover that shift in consciousness...which was never a concern for Michelangelo, who proved that shift in focus while he was still a teenager. Art historian and Michelangelo scholar, Charles de Tolnay explains "His youthful works already manifest the entire vision that characterized him", a vision that was "still vague in expression only because he did not yet possess technical mastery and deepened knowledge of anatomy and perspective." The young artist had the vision before the technical skills--rare indeed. Today we would say that he "found his unique voice" early in life.
De Tolnay goes on to suggest that his "maturity began to exhibit a rhythm", and his life can be divided into three phases. The early years, when he was sculpting the Pieta and the Bruges Madonna, were characterized as "heroic" ; while the middle years when he agonized over the Sistine Chapel, Tolnay refers to as "elegiac" because so much of his life revolved around sorrow and angst. The latter years before his death are described as "tragic" as Michelangelo recognized that his dreams had taken a forty year detour. And while I understand those characterizations, I also see another side that is rarely discussed. He was devoted to his family all his life. Written correspondence between Michelangelo and with his family reveals constant requests for money from his father and brothers which he dutifully obliged. Often the money was used to buy land and there were occasions when he sent ALL of his earnings home to them, while he lived very frugally. One of his letters explains that the Pope had refused to pay him for over a year, and that he had nothing to live on. In his last years, having outlived most of his family members, he continued this generosity by regularly sending donations to the poor and needy. He gave anonymous, feeling that his philanthropy was more meaningful if he did not accept praise for his efforts. Certainly he had many challenges, but I see a man who lived life with great passion, humble requests and intense spirituality; a man who seemed to make peace with his past, as evidenced here in his own words: