Sunday, June 12, 2016

Say It Isn't So!

The Bargello Courtyard
Michelangelo cheated? Used deceptive selling practices? Completely misrepresented a Roman mythological figure? Jason Arkles, a well-respected Florentine sculptor, led our Renaissance art class through the Bargello Museum to explain these unsettling facts about the great artist.

The Bargello, the oldest public building in Florence, served as a residence, a prison where executions were held in the courtyard, and, since 1865, a museum housing some of the most important works of the Renaissance. This is where Michelangelo's early works are displayed.

His first cupid, probably sculpted when Michelangelo was barely twenty, was also his first mistake in judgment. When a dealer told the young artist that he could probably fetch a higher price for the sculpture if it looked "old," the dealer and Michelangelo roughed cupid up a bit, rubbed dirt all over it, and sold it for quite a bit more than it was worth at the time.
Michelangelo's Drunken Bacchus
The artist's second error in judgment occurred when he was commissioned by Cardinal Raffaela Riario to create the Roman god Bacchus. The Cardinal expected a respectful statue that illuminated the idea that this was the god of transformation. Michelangelo, however, thought only of the popular albeit slightly erroneous "sex, drugs and rock and roll" reputation of Bacchus, so he created a sculpture where the god looks drunk as he fondly gazes at a wine goblet in his hand.

The Cardinal politely thanked the artist, paid him, and then placed the statue in a shed where it remained for over fifty years. Thank heavens Michelangelo redeemed himself a bit later with the Pietà, and then spent the rest of his career dazzling everyone with one magnificent accomplishment after another.

As we walked about the first floor of the Bargello, Jason explained that sculpture was originally commissioned only by the church, and, because it was placed in niches, artists sculpted only the front of the piece while leaving the back, the part that wouldn't show, completely flat. As we looked at the complex sculptures in the Bargello, detailed and defined from every angle--front, back and sides--we were grateful sculpture had progressed to capture every part of its subjects.

1 comment: