Unmissable Michelangelo ; VISUAL ART Charles Darwent Michelangelo Drawings: Closer to the Master British Museum LONDON
Darwent, Charles, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
It is hard to believe that the man who created the Sistine Chapel ceiling pretty well single-handed did not think of himself as a painter. As far as we can tell, Michelangelo viewed painting with mild condescension, the kind of thing done by more stolid talents like his master, Domenico Ghirlandaio. Real genius - and Michelangelo didn't hesitate to include his own in this class - expressed itself in sculpture, the voluptuous battle between man and stone. Asked to pick a second string to his bow, the Florentine would probably have gone for architecture, and then, perhaps, for poetry. The extraordinariness of an artist who could create the world's greatest programmatic painting and still see the medium as fourth best staggers the mind.
So any Michelangelo show has its work cut out for it, being called on not just to illustrate the various parts of his genius but to offer some explanation of how they can have coexisted. Even great exhibitions of his work - the Getty's in 2003, the Chicago Art Institute's the year before - fall down on the second count. Here is the man responsible not only for the Sistine ceiling but for the world's best-known sculpture, David, and for the better part of its most famous church (St Peter's in Rome). The more you are told these things, the less plausible it seems that Michelangelo can have done them all' maybe, that he can have existed.
Which is why the British Museum's new Michelangelo show is unmissable. Instead of showing the end of the artist's process, it starts at the beginning: with his drawings, the intimate place from which David, the dome of St Peter's and the Sistine's ignudi all sprang. The exhibition's subtitle, "closer to the master", is no hype. In the 90 or so drawings on show, you sense the strange fury of the artist's hand' a centrifugal force that span off into gesso and marble, nudes and domes, with equal brilliance.
What hits you most in these drawings is the density of his vision. Paper was a rarer commodity in the early 16th century than now, and Michelangelo is known to have been frugal with it. But this doesn't begin to explain a page like the Ash-molean's Studies for the Libyan spandrel and the Slaves for the Julius tomb, dating from the artist's second stay in Rome from 1505 to 1516.
One set of drawings is the working-out of a putto who sits by the Libyan Sibyl on the Sistine ceiling, the other of supporting …
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Publication information: Article title: Unmissable Michelangelo ; VISUAL ART Charles Darwent Michelangelo Drawings: Closer to the Master British Museum LONDON. Contributors: Darwent, Charles - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent on Sunday (London, England). Publication date: March 19, 2006. Page number: 15. © 2009 The Independent on Sunday. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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