Michelangelo's Christian Mysticism: Spirituality, Poetry and Art in Sixteenth-Century Italy

By Moroncini, Ambra | The Catholic Historical Review, Summer 2015 | Go to article overview

Michelangelo's Christian Mysticism: Spirituality, Poetry and Art in Sixteenth-Century Italy


Moroncini, Ambra, The Catholic Historical Review


Michelangelo's Christian Mysticism: Spirituality, Poetry and Art in Sixteenth-Century Italy. By Sarah Rolfe Prodan. (New York: Cambridge University Press. 2014. Pp xvi, 251. $95.00. ISBN 978-1-107-04376-3.)

It is fair to acknowledge that Michelangelo's art, life, and tormented soul have produced a multitude of readings-biographical, historical, aesthetic, psychoanalytic, religious, and others less prominent. Few studies, however, have tried to look at Michelangelo "the poet" to obtain a deeper understanding of his art and spirituality. Sarah Rolfe Prodan's fine book on Michelangelo's Christian mysticism combines a literary, historical, and aesthetic approach to highlight the Augustinian matrix at the heart of the protagonist's religious life. In eight highly erudite chap- ters interrelated in two micro-studies (Part I: Michelangelo and Renaissance Augustinianism; Part II: Michelangelo and Viterban Spirituality), the uniqueness of Augustinian mystical theolog)', as well as the pneumatological aspect of piety within the Viterbo circle, are considered authoritatively in order to enhance our understanding of Michelangelo's spiritual writings.

Part I offers an enthralling reading of key imagery in St. Augustine's soteriology ("the sea," "the mountain," "the fire with the sword"), which can also be discerned in Michelangelo's rime. The author discusses how these allegorical images have been absorbed by Michelangelo not just from the Confessions and other selected works by Augustine but also from Dante's Commedia and Cristoforo Landino's Comento. Although this reading is not new to Michelangelo scholars, Prodan's intellectually rich discourse places emphasis on those poems which best bring to light the similarity of spiritual identity with the journey of Dante's pilgrim and Augustine's description of the spiritual consequences of concupiscence in terms of the ascent of spiritual gravitation. Chapter 4 in particular ("The Fire with Sword: Grace and Divine Presence") provides a stimulating analysis of how the allegorical interpretation of the flaming sword in the Bible, in Augustine, in the Commedia (Purg. VIII, 25-27) and in Landino's Comento (specifically in relation to his interpretation of Purgatorio VIII) have contributed to the illumination of the allegorical significance of images of fire in some of Michelangelo's poems. …

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