The Dream of the Moving Statue

By Kenneth Gross | Go to book overview
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6
Resisting Pygmalion

In his life of Michelangelo, Vasari transcribes a brief epigram by Giovanni Strozzi, written in praise of the statue of Night in the Medici chapel (fig. 9), presumably about the time of its unveiling in 1544:

La Notte, che tu vedi in dolci atti
dormir, fu da un Angelo scolpita
in questo sasso; e, perché dorme, ha vita:
destala, se nol credi, e parleratti. 1

Night, which you see sleeping in such sweet attitudes, was carved in this stone by an angel; and because she sleeps, she has life. Wake her, if you don't believe it, and she will speak to you.

The wit of the lines is subtle—the play on atti (which can refer to acts and motions as well as poses or attitudes), the relegitimation of the artist's given name and quasi-divine power, the Keatsian deduction of life from the mimesis of human sleep, the teasing of the viewer's skepticism. The final line points to a wholly conventional aspiration of Renaissance aesthetics, echoed in the praise of the statue of Hermione in The Winter's Tale: "They say one would speak to her and stand in hope of answer." But we need to be careful in weighing such hyperboles, whose claims, as David Summers notes, could be "both serious and consciously removed, artificial, ironic." 2

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