The Youth of Michelangelo

The Youth of Michelangelo

The Youth of Michelangelo

The Youth of Michelangelo

Excerpt

In Michelangelo there is a very marked dualism between the "social being" and his spiritual and artistic personality. Externally timid, of a bourgeois simplicity, leading a modest and solitary life, he was in his soul obsessed with a dream of heroic grandeur. Never did he attempt to raise his daily life to the level of his ideal, nor did he ever attempt to incorporate immediately in his works the experiences of his daily life. His innate Platonism wished to keep the two far apart. Thus the biography of Michelangelo forms the most complete contrast to his artistic thoughts. It seems proper, therefore, to treat separately the history of Michelangelo's life and his artistic development.

In the first part of this book an attempt is made to reconstruct the exterior circumstances of the life of Michelangelo, the Florentine bourgeois. The presentation is based on the primary sources, that is, on the correspondence of Michelangelo (not only on the published letters but on letters not hitherto published and preserved in the family archives in Florence) and on documents. Condivi, Vasari and Varchi, the contemporary biographers of Michelangelo who give much apocryphal artistic gossip are critically considered in second place. This procedure differs from that followed hitherto and may give a less entertaining view of the personality of Michelangelo, while having perhaps the advantage of showing more clearly his strong and simple character.

Behind the daily life, and the relation of the man to his geographical and social milieu, lies the real life -- with which indeed, this book is chiefly concerned -- that is, the life of the spirit. It develops according to its own hidden laws; it is "documented" only by the actual works of art. The second part of the book thus deals with the artistic development of the master. There are many works on Michelangelo the artist but there seems to be still lacking a presentation which considers the form and content of his work as an inseparable unity. The great critics of the past have analyzed style and form in Michelangelo as if they had an existence separate from the content. More recent writers have interpreted the subject matter as if the works were simple illustrations of intellectual abstractions.

In this book Michelangelo's works are considered neither as mere solutions of formal problems nor as allegories. We have rather attempted to show in them the mutual dependence of form and content. The formal motif or the subject matter is only a point of departure; during the execution of the work the artist, perhaps partly unconsciously, infuses into it his experience of life in order to create an image of existence, which reveals to us a fundamental law of life.

Past research on Michelangelo done by the author is summarized in the critical catalogue. The reproductions, which were in great part taken according to the author's direction, will, it is hoped, help to substantiate the critical observations in the text and catalogue.

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