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Posts tagged ‘Michelangelo’

Compendium // Rome > Moses, the other great Michelangelo

Michelangelo’s David is one of the most cited, famous and admired sculptures in the history of art. Its image graces tea towels and teapots, erotic aprons and nodding-head dolls. And it’s no wonder. When I revisited the great marble man over Christmas, my emotions raised the nearer I got to the splendid stone musculature. We have been left with few Michelangelo sculptures in a truly finished state. Much of the works of his sculptural oeuvre have only just started emerging from their cacophony of natural stone. But in Rome there is another Michelangelo in the ecstatic state of splendid finesse, which is every bit the equal of David for its brilliance of anatomy, and for the emotions captured in marble. I am not talking of the Vatican’s La Pieta, but Moses, a mere stone’s throw from the Colosseum.


Without a recommendation, you could easily miss San Pietro in Vincoli (St Peter in Chains), the church in central Rome where Moses is held (and which also hosts the chains purported to have held said St Peter in captivity). There, in one corner, the sole direction of the tourist gaze will soon demarcate where Michelangelo’s masterpiece is waiting. Had Moses sat within the mammoth marble tomb structure of Pope Julius II for which he was originally intended, there would have been no missing him. Commissioned by the Pope in 1505, the tomb was designed to hold 40 like-sized sculptures and fill a central apse of the new St Peter’s Basilica. As it was, Michelangelo soon became embroiled in the Pope’s other great commission: the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and when his tomb was eventually installed at its current location, Moses took centre stage, his being the only one of the major sculptures for the tomb completed.

Perhaps it was a twist of fate which made things that way. For it would be a crying shame indeed if this truly exquisite statue had been lost in a crowd of 39 others, relegated to a tier some 4 metres of the ground in its intended positioning. Today, by contrast, the relative accessibility of San Pietro in Vincoli means you can get to almost touching distance of the great man, and the effect is ravishing.


How can I describe an encounter with Moses? Emotional for sure, awestruck most certainly. The way in which Michelangelo so adeptly sculpts the flowing beard of Moses, twisted around his fingers in what appears to be both a moment of contemplation and rage at the idolatry of the Israelites who he finds to be worshiping a golden cow upon his descent from Mount Sinai. There is a beautiful, throbbing intensity about his musculature and his domineering presence. This Moses is both godlike to behold, and intimidating to witness.

Above all things he is a true icon of art history, and what is Michelangelo’s perhaps more overlooked masterpiece, available for all to see (for free) in the very centre of Rome.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Florence, Land of the Medici (Part 2): Michelangelo’s David

It is one of the most famous icons in all the history of Art, and one of the world’s undisputed masterpieces of sculpture. Michelangelo’s David must have been reproduced more than any other statue across the globe: You’d be hard pushed to find a garden centre which didn’t contain a moss-covered replica, or an Italian souvernir shop which didn’t have a panoply of aprons focusing on David’s genitals, keyrings of the same, and your own personal desktop David in every size and colour variation. Yet despite it’s high visibility, nothing can prepare you for seeing the real thing. Nothing.


I remember the moment of my first acquaintance with David when I studied art history in 2001. It was the day I was least looking forward to, since I thought David was too well-known and obvious to excite. But when I saw the original, the huge vast scale of it, the sheer perfection of his exquisitely sculpted flesh in marble, it made me cry. I stood before that masterpiece completely enraptured. And I have looked forward to making a second acquaintance ever since. Some 16 years passed before I could see David up close again, but as these photos show, he inspired me every bit as much on this second visit, and I took a long and happy pause to revel in every details of Michelangelo’s impossibly perfected magnum opus.


Created between 1501 and 1504, David is the work not of an experienced sculptor at the height of his game, but of a junior Michelangelo in the early years of his career. Much nurtured by his patron, Lorenzo (the Magnificent) di Medici, Michelangelo enjoyed a swift rise to fame, but his talent was the true driver, something which was never so brilliantly exhibited as in the creation of this perfect nude. The work is yet more incredible when you consider that Michelangelo first had to sculpt around the previous abandoned attempts made by two other sculptors on the same block of marble. He also had to make the best of this mammoth hunk of stone which had suffered notable deterioration during the 26 years when it had lain abandoned in a sculptural workshop, exposed to the elements. But as Michelangelo always said, he did not create sculptures, but simply freed them from the marble. And with David, he gave liberty to the most perfectly formed being ever seen in the history of art.


Of course David is not the only gem to be discovered in the Accademia Gallery where he can now be found. There reside a number of the unfinished Michelangelo’s sculptures commenced in anticipation of the great Pope Julius II tomb of which the sculptor’s famous Moses was also intended to be part. Likewise there is a room loaded full of plaster casts, all of which were used to give instructions to fellow scuptors who, like Michelangelo, would come to emerge from this indubitable city of the rebirth of Art. All of it makes a visit to the Accademia gallery a must, but book online to avoid the queues – it’s well worth the not waiting :-).


© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2011-2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

From Illyria to Italy, Part 6: The Treasures of the Vatican

The treasures of the Vatican undoubtedly represent collectively the most famous art historical hoard in the world. Containing works such as Raphael’s School of Athens, Caravaggio’s Entombment of Christ, the incredibly preserved pre-Roman sculpture Laocoön and his Sons, the Belvedere Torso, and of course Michelangelo’s most famous masterpiece, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, there are few in the world who would enter without feeling as though they had seen something of its contents before. Indeed I had seen it all before, having first visited the museum during my art history studies, a period of absolute enlightenment which opened my eyes to the aesthetic possibilities of the present via the past. But since that trip, unbelievably some 15 years ago, I have routinely put off reentering this temple of art, for fear of the crowds who regularly collect there.

On this year’s trip to Rome, we decided to break the stalemate. Dominik had never been in, and my last trip was too confined into distant memory to be of proper value. Besides, as far as the Sistine Chapel stakes went, I was no longer satisfied to content myself with the (albeit rather good) replica in Goring-by-Sea, nor the probably computer generated scenes in Angels and Demons. While we found the entrance to be a good 20 minutes walk in the merciless heat around the enormous outer perimeter of the Vatican City, upon our arrival at the museum, we were surprised to find our pre-bought ticket entitled us to immediate entrance without so much of a hint of a queue…That was until we got inside.


To say that there were crowds inside the museum would be suggest a beach is endowed with a few grains of sand. It was packed, rammed! There were so many coach parties, each plugged into headphones bearing the monotonous tone of their flag-bearing guide, that at times we felt as though we might be forcefully parted by the tidal wave of tourists, rather like that traumatic scene in Empire of the Sun. Just as one wave was swept along the corridors in search of the predetermined scheduled “highlights” another would sweep into the vacuum left in its wake. Moments of reflexion and breathing space were few. Once we got up to the corridor of maps, the bottle necking effect was so intense that we had no choice but to continue with the flow of the coach tours. Turning back was no longer an option. Finally we shuffled into the Sistine Chapel. So too did the coaches. And any attempt to enjoy the serenity of Michelangelo’s masterpiece was resolutely destroyed, not so much by the crowd´s chatting, but by the screaming guards shouting into the microphone “SILENCE!!!!”, the words booming out of the speakers so loudly they practically cracked the great work. Lord, I think the shock of it shaved at least 5 years off my life.


Despite all of this, the Vatican museum remained an immense treat to behold. There are elements of the collection so arrestingly beautiful, and so incredibly well known, that one can’t help but get lost in the historical aura given off before them. However, knowing already what famous pieces lay in store, I actually found myself more happily drawn to the lesser known objects… the gallery of over 1000 marble busts was disarmingly beautiful, as well as some of the frescos painted in the Galleria deli candelabra for example, or in the long corridor of maps. And even better, since the works weren’t marked on the tourist trail, most of the hoards left them alone!

Somewhat surprisingly, we were allowed to take photos, so the images featured on this post were taken by yours truly. Don’t expect to see the Sistine Chapel though. Photo (and indeed bare knees and shoulders) were strictly banned there… so it looks as though you may need to rely on the Goring-by-Sea replica after all.


All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2016 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.