The Youth of Michelangelo

By Charles De Tolnay | Go to book overview

VI. RETURN TO THE VISION OF PRETERHUMAN
FORCES

THE conception of the St. Matthew, the last of the youthful works preserved by Michelangelo, goes back to his classical Florentine period. On April 24, 1503, he signed a contract with the consuls of the Arte della Lana to execute twelve apostles for the cathedral at Florence (XI, 3). It seems that Michelangelo made some preparatory sketches at that time of which only one is preserved. This sketch (No. 19) represents a figure in profile, with one foot resting on a raised base, in "antique" drapery which lhe carries the other to his chin in a thoughtful gesture, which we find later in the Noason lunette of the Sistine Ceiling and in the Pensieroso of e Medici Chapel. The ensemble of the pose and drapery is reminiscent of statues of ancient orators. The calm pose and contemplative spirit of the figure as well as the severe rectilinear folds of drapery are completely typical of Michelangelo's works of the classic period.

A great distance lies between this sketch and the unfinished marble St. Matthew on which the artist worked about three years later (xi, 8). The apostle is a figure of massive proportions, with powerful neck and limbs, and bearded head. The tendency toward amplitude in forms noted in the preceding tondi is here fully developed. However, equilibrium between the enlarged forms and an increased vitality of the figure that was achieved in the others does not exist in the St. Matthew, where the vitality is completely overwhelming.

The calm position of the figure in the sketch is transformed in the pose in the St. Matthew, where the body seems seized in a sort of convulsion. The leg is drawn up in an uncontrolled reflex movement; the head twists violently, with wide opened eyes and a mouth which seems to groan. His hands seek a place of support. The left elbow is pressed against his side and the left hand clutches with trembling fingers the large book under his arm. The thumb of the right hand is thrust into his belt and his other fingers grip his robe.

66

The figure of the St. Matthew expresses a sort of eruption of uncontrolled and deepseated natural forces in man, which not only determines the position of the members but seems to have produced their very forms. His immense limbs break through the slight drapery like flowing lava. There is nothing here of the knowing anatomy of the David. Instead, Michelangelo suggests in the bodily forms of the St. Matthew, wherein anatomical exactitude is largely suppressed, the ebb and flow of vital forces which carry on rhythmically within the human body. In life we see mainly the immobile aspect of the body, although its physiology constantly reminds us of the fundamental law of its rhythmic nature. Michelangelo actually tries to show this inward rhythm. He gives a softness and flowing contours to the limbs and swells them with a sort of vital sap. He subordinates external accuracy to the inward vision of truth which possesses him. In view of this, it is not wholly surprising that Michelangelo did not complete

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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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