The Youth of Michelangelo

By Charles De Tolnay | Go to book overview

IV. DIFFERENTIATION OF OUTWARD FORM

THE first Roman period does not change the stream of Michelangelo's artistic development. In the Bologna period Michelangelo had found means to differentiate emotional expression. Now there awakes in him the need to render outer forms more sharply and precisely. At Rome he enters into competition with the works of the famous Florentine sculptors of the Quattrocento which were to be found everywhere in the churches of the papal city at that time.

Two works are preserved from the first Roman period: the Bacchus and the Pietà in St. Peter's. The Bacchus seems to be the earlier: it still shows traces of the rather coarse early style and use of the drill, which he later abandoned (iv). The Pietà already shows a new sharpness and firmness in the execution of details (v).

Michelangelo seems to have worked on the Bacchus without external compulsion; he reached back in it to the greatest task of his Florentine youth, the representation of a nude, male figure of larger than life size. If the Hercules were preserved, the Bacchus would probably be less surprising.

In antiquity, when an intimate acquaintance with the properties of the various deities was presupposed, representations of the gods were limited to generalized types distinguished from one another only by a few attributes. It was the beholder's task to complement them with all the qualities he ascribed to their divine persons. Dionysus was represented as a beautiful youth who resembled sometimes Apollo, sometimes Mercury, or perhaps Antinous or simply a young athlete. And yet this was enough to signify to men of antiquity the idea connected with his person, and which found expression in his frenetic cult. His presence induced in believers a state of ecstasy, in which they felt themselves united with the primitive forces of nature.

The Renaissance conception of Bacchus shows him generally as the embodiment of sensuality and the joy of life. Although the Renaissance was familiar with the cult of the "mystic Dionysus" as proved by Boccaccio, Pico della Mirandola and Poliziano, they were fond of representing him as god of pleasure, in a state of drunkenness, swaying and uncertain on his legs. He appears thus in the few Renaissance representations we have of the god.

Michelangelo creates a figure which fully expresses the inner essence of the god Bacchus as cosmic symbol. His figure stands upright but the usual contraposto is transformed into a swaying pose. The soft, fleshy body of the god, in which young manly strength is united with feminine softness, seems filled with some mysterious inner sap. This tellurian sap seems to rise through his limbs and bow his head. The grapes on his head appear to grow there and wed themselves with the locks of his hair. He is a human incarnation of the whole rhythm of natural life with its alternate vigor and lassitude. This is the Dionysus who periodically dies only to come to life again with the spring, like growing vegetation. The death-aspect of his being is expressed in the muzzle of the lion; the reawakening of the vital forces is incarnated in the small,

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The Youth of Michelangelo
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction xiii
  • Life 1
  • I - Origins 3
  • II - Early Childhood 11
  • III - Apprenticeship in the Studio of the Brothers Ghirlandaio 14
  • IV - In the School of the Giardino Mediceo 16
  • V - The Court of Lorenzo De' Medici 18
  • VI - Florence under Piero De' Medici 20
  • VII - Bologna la Grassa 22
  • VIII - Florence, the Free Republic 24
  • IX - Quattrocento Rome 26
  • X - Classical Florence 29
  • XI - Imperial Rome 32
  • XII - Carrara 33
  • XIII - The Quarrel 34
  • XIV - Refuge in Florence 36
  • XV - Bologna under Julius II 38
  • XVI - Return to Florence 41
  • Notes to Part I 42
  • Artistic Development 61
  • Introduction 63
  • I - Foundations of the New Style 65
  • II - Primordial Visions of Life and Destiny 75
  • III - Differentiation of Emotions 83
  • IV - Differentiation of Outward Form 89
  • V - Differentiation of Inward Structure: Classical Style 93
  • VI - Return to the Vision of Preterhuman Forces 113
  • Conclusion 117
  • Critical Catalogue 119
  • Introduction to the Catalogue 121
  • Catalogue of Original Sculpture and Painting 123
  • Catalogue of Drawings Nil 173
  • Catalogue of Lost Works 193
  • Catalogue of Apocryphal and Falsely Attributed Works 225
  • Paintings Falsely Attributed to Michelangelo's Youth 236
  • Appendices 239
  • Bibliographical Abbreviations 257
  • Addenda 263
  • Index 265
  • The Illustrations 281
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