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Archive for the ‘Uffizi Gallery’ Category

Michelangelo’s David, an Enduring Symbol of Triumph

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Today is Michelangelo’s birthday, so I’m posting this article I wrote about him for the newsletter for a local Italian Club last year.  The photo below is from an event organized by the Friends of the Uffizi Gallery. They raise funds for the restoration of art at the Uffizi and recently funded the new Michelangelo Room that opened at the Uffizi on Jan 29, 2013.  You can read about that project here: http://bit.ly/Xqq8nE.  The organization is led by President Contessa Maria Vittoria Colonna Rimbotti.  You may recall that Vittoria Colonna was Michelangelo’s muse and descends from the same family! Please visit their website and consider joining their organization, or donating to their very worthy cause: www.FriendsoftheUffiziGallery.org.

Friends of the Uffizi Gallery

Anyone who has seen Michelangelo’s David has no need to see anything else by another sculptor, living or dead.
~ Giorgio Vasari (Renaissance painter and writer, as well as Michelangelo’s biographer)

 Michelangelo Buonarroti was twenty-six years old in 1501, the year he began working on David, the 17-foot-tall marble statue that would become one of Italy’s most iconic artworks.  Of the work, he is often quoted as having said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” Throughout history, people have acknowledged that quote as pertaining not just to art, but to human potential. Therefore, David also serves as a visual testimony to the important influence of Italy on the development of Western art, as well as to the many other important cultural contributions it has made in the world.

The biblical tale of the young David cleverly defeating the giant Goliath, which inspired the work, is also one of human potential. It’s likely that Michelangelo identified with David because he was also a young man with immense talent, which drove him forward in an indefatigable manner. He’d been born in Caprese near Arezzo in Tuscany. His father was a banker and government worker, who eventually, albeit reluctantly, supported his son’s artistic aspirations. By the time Michelangelo was thirteen he was apprenticed to a painter, and when he turned fourteen his father persuaded a sculptor to pay the teen as a working artist, which was as unusual then as it would be today.
Michelangelo's David
The monumental David was completed in 1504. This was after Michelangelo created the hauntingly beautiful sculpture, the Pietà, which was finished in 1499, but before he began working on the intricately-detailed ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in 1508, which he completed in 1512. This means that all three masterpieces were completed before he turned 40.  Mistakenly, it’s been reported at times that Michelangelo lost his eyesight while working on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, but the condition was only temporary and the artist continued to work until he died at the age of 88.

What many don’t know about David is that the statue had already been started by two other artists before Michelangelo was commissioned to finish it. The expensive block of Carrara marble had lain abandoned for twenty-five years in the yard of the cathedral of Santa Maria Del Fiore.  The Overseers of the Office of Works of the Duomo, known as the Operai had wanted to commission a series of twelve large Old Testament sculptures to sit at the top of the cathedral, but the two artists that they’d contracted for the David, one working under the tutelage of Donatello, had both failed to complete the work.

Michelangelo was chosen from a group of artists, which included Leonardo da Vinci, to finish the work because he made the most persuasive case to the Operai as to why he should get the commission. Da Vinci later remarked dismissively, perhaps from jealousy, about Michelangelo working on David “He looks like a baker. The marble dust flour all over him and his back is covered with a snowstorm of chips.”

However, Michelangelo triumphed where previous artists had failed. He completed the magnificent work in 1504. When he revealed the six-ton David to the Operai and other Florentine dignitaries, they immediately realized that the plans to erect the statue atop the cathedral were flawed. Not only was it extremely heavy and large, but it was so magnificent that they decided, instead, to give it a more prestigious location.  Even da Vinci conceded that David deserved a more prominent location. Ultimately, the statue was placed in the Piazza della Signoria near the entrance of Palazzo Vecchio where an exact replica now stands today.  The original has remained in the nearby Accademia di Belle Arti since 1873.

Michelangelo never married, nor had children. He remarked, “My sculptures are my children. And they will live for much longer.” His biographers note that he was often disheveled, frenzied. Though he was paid well for his art, he lived like a peasant. He did not accept apprentices, nor would any have lasted with him.  His artistic talent created a fire inside of him that raged deeply and made him difficult to endure. Though he was widely admired, he had few close friends.

Perhaps Michelangelo’s isolation was a blessing in disguise because it enabled him to channel his passion and talent entirely into his work.  As such, he made a significant contribution to both the artistic achievements of Italy and to the creation of Western art as a whole. His works, such as David, and just like the biblical story that inspired it, continue to endure, inspire and triumph.

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Uffizi’s Angels in America

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Cristofano Allori Christ Served by the Angels

Cristofano Allori, Christ Served by the Angels, beginning of the 17th century, Oil on canvas, Collection of the Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy. On view as part of the 2012 national touring exhibit, "Offering of the Angels."

Recently, I had the opportunity to revisit the Uffizi Gallery.  However, this time I was in Fort Lauderdale, rather than Florence.  This is because the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art partnered with the Uffizi to bring a stunning exhibit, “Offering of the Angels” to our backyard.  The centerpiece of the exhibit was a stunning work by Botticelli titled, “Madonna with Child (Madonna della loggia),” and dated circa 1466-1467.

NIAF Ambassador Spring 2012I remember when I was in Rome in the summer of 1987 that it was the exact time during the restoration of the Sistine Chapel when the restorers had hit the halfway mark.  So, one-half of the ceiling was still full of soot and grime, while the other half was brilliant with vibrant color.  This was the year prior to my beginning college as an Art History major and I’d been working as an intern for two years at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  I was voraciously consuming the art trades – ArtNews, Art in America, etc.  There had been much talk in the press at this time about how Michelangelo was — suddenly — being recognized as a master colorist.  This was not something that had been known about his work, or noted.  We know now that this was because so many of his great works were buried under centuries of candle wax and ash.

“Offering of the Angels” provides a similar opportunity to rediscover the work of old masters from the perspective enabled by their restoration.  The colors are brilliant.  The Uffizi has gone one step further to demonstrate the extraordinary discoveries that result from restoration by documenting the restoration of Titian’s “The Madonna and Child with Saint Catherine of Alexandria” dated 1550 to 1560.  Uffizi has provided reproductions of all the stages of restoration of this work.  Following them, stage-by-stage, is akin to uncovering a hidden treasure and this is precisely the wonder of restoration.  It can reveal complexities and nuances within an artwork that have not been fully appreciated or understood since the work was created.

So, I marvel at the restoration process and I marvel at the beauty of the works contained within this exhibit, all of which have been magnificently restored and all of which hinge on the premise of faith within the Christian religion.  Art can be seen, faith can not.  Faith is a magical vestige of hope and enlightenment and it’s faith that served as the impetus and inspiration for much of the great art of Italy.

If you’d like to read the article I’ve written about this exhibit for Ambassador, the magazine of the National Italian American Foundation (an organization that I have such admiration for, and encourage you to support if you’ve got Italian blood, or an interest in Italy), please click here to download the PDF> Botticelli in Your Backyard by Jenifer Mangione Vogt | Ambassador| National Italian American Foundation