Hollow Men: Writing, Objects, and Public Image in Renaissance Italy

Hollow Men: Writing, Objects, and Public Image in Renaissance Italy

Hollow Men: Writing, Objects, and Public Image in Renaissance Italy

Hollow Men: Writing, Objects, and Public Image in Renaissance Italy

Excerpt

The Florentine church of San Lorenzo is famous for Michelangelo’s Medici chapel (1519–34), whose main point of interest is the elaborate tomb monuments to Giuliano and Lorenzo. Each year, thousands of tourists visit the site to pay their respects to Michelangelo and gaze at the large statues of two good-looking young princes. Many visitors do not notice the masks displayed prominently on the men’s armor, next to the statue of Night, and in the decorative frieze around the room; and most visitors are unaware that the statues were not designed to depict either man with any kind of visual accuracy. Michelangelo is reputed to have said—apparently with great prescience—“in a thousand years, nobody will know that they looked any different.”

Although statues like these were seen as exalting the person commemorated, it has frequently been observed that in the early Renaissance, images of people were considered not so much imitations of reality as a part of “reality” itself. The separation of this kind of representation from “real” reality is part of the story of this book, as this separation occurred alongside and contributed to a rhetorical stance that I call the monumental pose—a pose that demanded and authorized an outward projection of authority, which might or might not coincide with some inner sentiment. The Medici tombs are useful in opening this discussion, as tourists gaze not on true-to-life funerary portraits, but rather on what Stephen Campbell has called “ideal heroic bodies.” These ideal figures are linked with a series of prominently placed masks or larvae, a word that could also translate as “phantasms”

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