The Medici Chapel

The Medici Chapel

The Medici Chapel

The Medici Chapel

Excerpt

The contents of this volume embrace the history of the Medici Chapel, its interpretation from the point of view of form and subject matter, and the analysis of the other works which the master executed or projected during the approximately one and a half decades of his occupation with the Medici tombs. This period from 1520 to 1534 is here conceived as a single phase in Michelangelo's artistic development.

Excluded from this context are the works made immediately after the Sistine Ceiling, which stylistically still belong to the earlier period. These are the three statues for the Tomb of Julius II (Moses and the two Slaves in the Louvre), and the projects for the façade of San Lorenzo. These works will be treated in subsequent volumes, the former in connection with the history of the Julius Tomb, the latter in the characterization of Michelangelo as an architect.

The short account of Michelangelo's life begins with the time immediately after the completion of the Sistine Ceiling, and follows his vicissitudes up to the time when he left forever his native city of Florence.

The master was forty-five years old when he began work on the Medici monuments, fifty-nine when he left Florence permanently. This period of artistic maturity, the very zenith of life, during which other artists usually do their greatest works, lies in Michelangelo's case under an unlucky star. It is a period of frustrated creative capacity, a time from which nothing is preserved but projects which were never executed, or remained unfinished--not to speak of unsuccessful works (Christ of the Minerva, Noli me tangere). This fact has both external and internal reasons. The rivalry and jealousy of Michelangelo's patrons, who continually added more tasks and did not allow the completion of tasks already assigned, and his own docility in accepting new tasks until the total was beyond human power to accomplish, prevented him from creating in this period any work which can be compared in completeness and magnitude with the Sistine Ceiling.

The epoch of the titanic flight toward heaven is finished. The excess of energy seems to have dried up. In the period of the Sistine Ceiling he glorified the world-creating power; now, enveloped in dreamlike and resigned reflection, he passively contemplates the universal world force whose instrument he feels himself to be. In this resignation there is revealed a new wisdom. The form language teeming with power is replaced by a more tender, refined, slim, rhythmic form. Quiet melancholy or resigned grief appears in the faces, instead of the passions of the furor divinus. An autumnal mood lies over these creations. The sun is already sinking, and the shadows of the approaching evening of life gather on the horizon. The master feels himself old--he is grown old before his time. His thoughts are concentrated on death. Yet he does not separate death from life; he sees its unity with life, and it becomes for him the maternal womb of true life. "Se la vita ci piace, essendo anco la morte di mano d'un medesimo maestro, quella non ci . . .

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