I have spoken before of the contrast between seeking out specific works of art and simply looking for objects which please your senses. This was illustrated again for me this morning.
I set out to visit Casa Buonarroti, the family home of Michaelangelo, in particular to see two famous early sculptures – the Madonna of the Stairs and the Battle of the Centaurs. These will be examined in a forthcoming course lecture on the early years of Michelangelo.
These works certainly live up to their reputation. The ‘Madonna della Scala’ is carved in delicate relief; in particular I admired the way Michaelangelo handled the drapery of the Madonna’s dress.
The ‘Battle of the Centaurs’ demonstrates Michaelangelo’s nascent ability to carve living figures out of marble, which would develop through his figures for the Medici tombs in San Lorenzo and is most famously seen in his ‘David’, probably the world’s most famous sculpture. In this early work we can see his fascination with anatomy in the defined musculature of the writhing bodies in battle.
There are other things to see in the Casa. Perhaps what struck me most is the opulence and exhibitionism of the family. I believe they were not supportive of Michaelangelo as he set out, indeed I have read descriptions of them actively discouraging him. However, as he found fame and fortune the family seem to have been happy to partake of these and welcome him back. The actions of subsequent generations to sell off many of his drawings to gain further wealth seem similarly morally dubious.
Michalangelo always seems introspective and melancholic to me when portrayed in painting or sculpture. He seems to have been the archetypal tempestuous genius.
There is a room in the house richly decorated with paintings and sculptures celebrating his works and career, again laid on by a family welcoming him back and perhaps seeking to ride on his coattails.
Having left the Casa I walked the short distance to Piazza Santa Croce. I had neither the time nor energy to tackle the Basilica, where one needs several hours to fully appreciate the treasures on show. At the side of the church was a notice of an exhibition of wooden sculptures in the sacristy. The price was right (free!) so why not?
These are wooden Madonna and Child works from churches in the Basilicata region of southern Italy. No, I haven’t heard of it either. And I know nothing about wooden sculpture of this period. There were no artists I had heard of; indeed most works were ‘from the workshop of..’ or ‘by the Master of..’. And yet these are beautiful,serene pieces exhibited in a gorgeous, airy chamber, beautifully lit and radiating gorgeous luminous colours. I shall go back here during my stay; I left feeling peaceful and enriched.