Europe 1300 - 1800
- Michelangelo: Sculptor, Painter, Architect and Poet
- Who was Michelangelo?
- Michelangelo and his early drawings
- Pietà (marble sculpture)
- Michelangelo's David and the Florentine Republic
- Unfinished business—Michelangelo and the Pope
- Moses (marble sculpture)
- Moses (marble sculpture)
- Carving marble with traditional tools
- Slaves (marble sculptures)
- Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel
- Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel
- Studies for the Battle of Cascina and the Creation of Adam
- Studies for the Libyan Sibyl and a small Sketch for a Seated Figure (verso)
- Studies for the Libyan Sibyl (recto); Studies for the Libyan Sibyl and a small Sketch for a Seated Figure (verso)
- Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel
- Last Judgment, Sistine Chapel
- Last Judgment (altar wall, Sistine Chapel)
- Studies for the Last Judgment and a late crucifixion drawing
- Michelangelo, Medici Chapel (New Sacristy)
- Laurentian Library
- Replicating Michelangelo
Michelangelo returned to Florence from Rome in 1501 at the age of twenty-six, and remained there for four years. This was to be one of the most productive periods of his life, and he became a lifelong supporter of Florentine republicanism during this time.
Battle of Cascina
The republican government of Florence commissioned Michelangelo and his great Florentine rival, Leonardo da Vinci, to paint enormous battle scenes celebrating historic Florentine victories in the Palazzo Vecchio. However, these patriotic works were never realized. Michelangelo’s only contribution was a large-scale drawing, or cartoon, intended as the central section of the planned composition called the Battle of Cascina, which no longer survives.
The Battle of Cascina was a famous fourteenth-century victory over Pisa. Michelangelo's Bathers depicted the Florentine army hurriedly preparing for battle after a dip in the river. Michelangelo’s drawing caused a sensation because of his dynamic portrayal of over life-size figures in action. Many artists flocked to study Michelangelo’s hugely influential cartoon. They were thrilled by the way he showed nude and semi nude figures in a variety of unique poses, the whole scene pulsating with movement and drama.
The figure is of crucial importance in the larger scene because his turning body directs attention to the bodies behind. Close inspection of the figure reveals that, despite the remarkably realistic three-dimensional rendering, his pose is unnatural. This is particularly true of the upper body, which has been twisted to impossible limits.
Summoned to Rome: the Sistine Chapel ceiling
Michelangelo was summoned to Rome by Pope Julius II in 1505, spending the years 1508 to 1512 decorating the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican palace. The thirty-three year-old artist had little experience of fresco technique, and the ceiling painting was an extraordinary achievement. Michelangelo’s design was a very ambitious one that included painting an architectural framework. He divided the ceiling (over 40m long) into nine compartments, filled with fresco scenes of the creation of the world and man’s early history as told in the Bible.
The Creation of Adam
This is the only surviving study for Adam in the Creation of Adam. He painted the figure of Adam, on the second half of the ceiling, around 1511. Adam reclines on his right side, his left arm resting on his left leg stretches out to receive life from God. At the lower left is a study for his right hand. The figure’s stretching motion seems natural but in fact relies on an impossible dislocation of the upper body. Michelangelo is blurring the boundaries between the realities of the human figure and an invented ideal form.
According to the Bible, Adam was the first man to be created by God. Michelangelo manages to make the impossible position of Adam's upper body look convincing, because his observation of his muscular form and the play of light on it is compellingly realistic. Michelangelo must have made a number of further drawings of Adam before the production of the cartoon (the full-size drawing which would have been transferred onto the ceiling). The head and the hands are only in outline here so would have needed refining.
Michelangelo has exploited the qualities of the red chalk to create a warmth of tone as he drew from the live model. He concentrated on the torso and upper legs of his model whose ideal anatomy is indicated by shading, especially on the chest and stomach areas. Around the outside of the whole body he has reinforced the edge with a strong line. The figure appears to be as much like a sculpture as a painting, and Michelangelo considered himself primarily a sculptor.
From small studies to large figures
The drawing is a rare survivor from the many hundreds that Michelangelo made to prepare the ceiling. How did he transform these small-scale figures into their gigantic counterparts on the ceiling? The normal method of enlarging a drawing was to overlay it with a grid of squares, which allowed the design to be copied into larger squares on a cartoon. Michelangelo then transferred the figures to the wet plaster, either by cutting through the outlines on the paper with a knife, or by dusting charcoal through holes punctured in the cartoon.
Fresco painting is notoriously difficult, as it involves applying water-based pigments to wet plaster and has to be done very quickly. Nevertheless, Michelangelo appears to have painted the vault almost single-handed. He soon dismissed his assistants, an indication perhaps of his perfectionism and single-mindedness. The fresco was painted from a stepped scaffold suspended on wooden rafters. This meant that Michelangelo painted standing up—contrary to popular belief that he lay on his back.
Examination of the Sistine vault has shown that Michelangelo quickened the pace at which he painted in the second phase of his work. This change in tempo was due to a growing command of painting in fresco that allowed him to work with greater confidence. His desire to finish such a physically exhausting project, coupled with the pressure almost certainly exerted on him by his impatient patron, may also have contributed to his speed. However his preparation methods remained as meticulous as before.
M. Hirst, Michelangelo and his drawings (New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1988).
J. Wilde, The Italian Drawings of the XV and XVI Centuries in the Collection of His Majesty the King at Windsor Castle (London, The British Museum Press, 1953).
J.A. Gere and N. Turner, Drawings by Michelangelo in the British Museum (London, The British Museum Press, 1975).
© Trustees of the British Museum
Want to join the conversation?
- Can someone give me link(s) about Fresco?
Indeed, Michelangelo's Creation of Adam is a masterpiece. No wonder why it becomes the most well-known artwork in the world.(8 votes)
- Why does the writer call it a cartoon?(4 votes)
- "Cartoon" is the way English speakers have called what in Italian is known as a "cartone," and "cartone" in Italian means a "very large piece of paper" (among other definitions). When artists wanted to transfer a design drawn on paper to the suface of a wall, they would enlarge their small sketches into huge drawings of the same portions of the final image to be made on the wall, using grid patterns and similar proportions. The big drawing, or cartone/cartoon, could then be temporarily appended to the wall and a special transfer process allowed them to mechanically impress the image drawn on the big paper onto the wall. This elaborate multi-step process insured that the original design of the sketch is correctly represented when redone on a much bigger scale on the wall.(11 votes)
- Why would Julius II commission Michelangelo, a sculptor, to produce this work? Seeing and he'd never worked in fresco until the first time he laid his brush upon the ceiling, the Pope must have had enormous faith in him.
This also had to have had some deep psychological impact on him, considering his most practiced and beloved sight was fresh marble.(3 votes)
- Where might someone find a copy of this (below) book?
M. Hirst, Michelangelo and his drawings (New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1988)(2 votes)
- https://books.google.com/books?id=CABewycCBfwC&pg=PR3&dq=Hirst,+Michelangelo+and+his+drawings+%28New+Haven+and+London,+Yale+University+Press,+1988&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjHyfiI5O7KAhWIVhoKHZd_DcUQ6AEILjAB#v=onepage&q=Hirst%2C%20Michelangelo%20and%20his%20drawings%20%28New%20Haven%20and%20London%2C%20Yale%20University%20Press%2C%201988&f=false(2 votes)
- Did he get blind due to pigments falling into his eyes while painting the frescoes of the ceiling in laid position on the scaffold ?(2 votes)
- When was "The Battle of Cascina" destroyed? Are there any surviving pictures of it?(1 vote)
- Not that I know of, but there might be. it is truly a great loss to the world that the work is lost in any case.(1 vote)
- I have a drawing "Two Figures" from the Battle of Cascina, Michelangelo. If you look at "Battle of Cascina" at Holkham Hall, my two figures are the two at the far right end ( above the first row sitting down. At the bottom right is the stamp from Venice Academy museum. How can I find out about the drawing? Thank you, Darlyn Vejar
darlynvejar@yahoo. com(1 vote)
- I'm afraid I don't see what is so impossible about Adam's upper body position. Could anyone explain why this assertion has been made?
I appreciate that Adam is hardly of an average build but not unnatural, I wouldn't have thought.(1 vote)
- How was he able to complete his work at the Sistine Chapel if he had become blind?(0 votes)
- as far as I know hhe never went blind, especially since he did more work after the chapels completion, but his eyesight was probably at least damaged.(1 vote)