Изображения страниц

ancient art, then first brought together, or newly discovered, were deposited. Here, seeing a fellow-student one day engaged in copying a piece of ancient sculpture, he suddenly became conscious of a power within him which had not yet been revealed. Lorenzo encouraged him, and before long he had restored an antique Dancing Fawn by giving it a new head from his own fancy. This statue is still preserved in the Uffizi at Florence. Michael Angelo's restoration entirely harmonizes with the spirit of the antique. Lorenzo now sought to secure the young artist's entire devotion of his life to art. Michael Angelo, at this time fifteen or sixteen years old, became an inmate of the Medicean palace, with the promise of the emoluments of any official station which would satisfy his father's pride; and during the two or three following years he produced several works in sculpture which are said to have already intimated his highest qualities as an artist. At this crisis in his career, death deprived him of his patron, the loss of whom could not be wholly made up to him by the continued favor of the Medicean family.

But there was opened to him, while residing in the palace of the Medici after Lorenzo's death, a source of instruction of which no earlier artist appears to have thought to avail himself. The prior of the convent of San Spirito, having received from Michael Angelo the gift of a crucifix in wood, sculptured by his hand, for the church of that convent, gave him, in return, subjects for dissection from the hospital of the establishment. These were studied by Michael Angelo with enthusiasm, and materially aided him in acquiring his profound knowledge of the anatomy of the human body. Anatomical studies, in relation to the works of this master, and so to the history of modern art since his day, may be said to have taken the place of the gymnasia of the Greeksthough the Greek artists had the great advantage of being able to study the forms and motions of living men.

On the expulsion of the Medici from Florence in 1494, Michael Angelo, now about twenty years of age, retired first to Venice, and afterwards to Bologna; whence, after somewhat more than a year, he returned to Florence. One of the

works which he executed on his return-a Sleeping Cupidhaving been passed off at Rome for an antique, and sold to a Cardinal, the purchaser, suspecting a trick, is said to have sent a messenger to Florence to discover the author of it, and especially to ascertain whether Michael Angelo had executed the supposed antique. Being inquired of, Michael Angelo is said to have answered by improvising with his pen a colossal hand, of which an engraving has come down to us. This rough sketch, showing wonderful mastery of drawing, was the occasion of his being called, for the first time, to Rome, the scene of the greatest achievements of his life. He became the guest of the Cardinal, Giorgio di Riario,* with whom he resided for a year, sculpturing, in that time, his Bacchus, now in the Uffizi Gallery at Florence; and his so-called Pietà, at present in St. Peter's, which represents the mother of our Lord bearing his dead body upon her lap. The Pietà is his most finished work; among his contemporaries it added much to his fame, and he himself seems to have regarded it with fondness. The London Quarterly speaks of it as follows: "The group of the Pietà will ever remain one of his most attractive works. The inanimate state of the Saviour's body gives it a tenderness and relaxation which contrasts refreshingly with his usual excess of vital development; while the features of the Virgin have a pathos and solemn individuality which raises this head greatly above his conventional standard."

His increasing reputation brought him back to Florence to finish a colossal statue of David, which some sciolist in art had undertaken for the gonfalonier Soderini, but could not complete. This statue remains to the present day on the square on which it was originally placed. It serves as a landmark in the life of the artist. Several other works in sculpture were executed by Michael Angelo, at that time, in his paternal city. He then, also, painted his well-known Holy Family, now in the Tribune of the Uffizi, which some suppose to be his only easel picture-for he had quite a con

* Harford, vol. I, page 218.

tempt for oil-painting, and was wont to say, rudely enough, that it was fit only for women and children. This picture was ordered by a rich citizen of Florence, who, playing the connoisseur, proposed to the artist to accept a less sum than he had demanded for it, but was afterwards well enough forced to pay even more than double the price originally set. It seemed to me remarkable only for the successful execution of the difficult attitude of the Virgin, who is represented as handing the infant Saviour, over her shoulder, to St. Joseph, or receiving the child from him behind her. By far the most celebrated of Michael Angelo's works of this period was a cartoon, or first sketch, for a fresco to be painted in the Hall of Council of the palace, representing a scene in the then recent war between the Florentines and the Pisans. When this fresco was. ordered, Leonardo da Vinci was drawing his cartoon for another, to be its pendant. Conscious of power, and stirred with generous emulation, Michael Angelo chose a subject which enabled him to exhibit, to the greatest advantage, his familiarity with the nude-the Florentines surprised by the Pisans while bathing in the Arno. This cartoon was the first great exhibition of the results of the study of the nude human form in modern times, and presenting so striking a contrast, as it did, to the straight figures in regular rank and file, and mostly of one height, of the compositions of the old schools of Christian art, it came to serve as a lesson for all the young painters of Michael Angelo's day, including Andrea del Sarto and Raphael himself. The fresco was never executed, and during the civil commotions of the year 1512 the cartoon was destroyed. Our knowledge of this work is derived from contemporary descriptions, and from early copies of portions of it, some of which have been engraved. Of Da Vinci's rival cartoon we have but a single group from which to judge of it, and this only in a copy by Rubens.

A new era in Michael Angelo's artist-life was now about to open. Not long after the accession of Julius II to the pontificate, which took place in 1503, that pontiff recalled Michael Angelo to Rome, and employed him to plan and execute a

mausoleum for himself. The plan was sketched, and the execution commenced; but it was never finished. The design of this mausoleum was quite original. Instead of a recumbent figure of the deceased, in official robes, supported by bas-reliefs on the sides and at either end, with a canopy over it—the usual style of such monuments at that day-Michael Angelo designed a structure of marble thirty feet long and as many feet in height, by fifteen feet in width, divided on the sides by pilasters supporting an entablature, above which was to be a group representing the apotheosis of the pontiff; and the spaces between the pilasters were to be occupied by statues of Victories, emblematic of successes in war, while to the pilasters were to be attached figures of imagined Captives. One of the Victories, a male figure, was sculptured, and has been preserved. It is now in the Uffizi at Florence. Two of the Captives are to be seen in the Louvre. One of the latter being esteemed by a competent judge "beyond comparison the finest figure which arose under the chisel of Michael Angelo," I will here give his description of it. "A l'aspect de cette statue, on prend du goût et du style de la sculpture michel-angesque une toute autre idée que celle dont cette épithète semble devoir produire l'impression. Rien en effet ne peut être conçu dans un système de dessin et de formes plus coulant et plus éloigné de l'ostentation anatomique. Michel Ange n' a point composé de statue, ni de figure, dans un principe à la fois plus grand et plus vrai. Il n'en a point terminé avec plus grand soin et plus d'amour, avec un dessin plus pur et plus large. Le rendu de la chair y est remarquable. Les proportions y sont grandioses, le travail en est correct. La tête est pleine de charme et d'expression."* In adopting these remarks, I depend altogether upon another's judgment; for it happens that this work never attracted my own attention sufficiently for me to remember it. Another statue designed for the mausoleum of Julius II is the famous Moses, now in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli, at Rome. Though not finished until twenty-five years later, this may be

*De Quincy, pp. 41, 42.

properly noticed here, as it harmonizes in spirit, more than any other of Michael Angelo's sculptures, with his frescos of Prophets and Sybils in the Sistine Chapel, of which I shall have presently to speak. The statue of Moses was intended for a position more than twenty feet high, on the upper part of the monument. Of course it is colossal, and appears to disadvantage in its present lower position. It seemed to me to convey the idea of blended greatness of mind and moral grandeur, the two elements ennobling each other, and both heightened in their effect by an expression of conscious subor dination to Divine Power. It is no deification, but a manifest subjection of all that is humanly great to the rule of the Almighty. Here is exalted human intelligence, rendered sublime by divine impressions upon the mind. Here is loftiness of human character, dignified as the result of a self-conquest which was guided and inspired by absorbing consciousness of the perfection of the Infinite. The two horns on the top of the head are an instance of Michael Angelo's daring originality, which, however, has its justification in the prophetic symbolism of the Old Testament Scriptures, as, for example, in the images presented in vision to Ezekiel.

The project of the mausoleum was abandoned through the influence of Bramante, the great architect of the day, who turned the attention of Julius to the rebuilding of St. Peter's. Michael Angelo, having lost the favor of the pontiff, in consequence of that influence, again withdrew to Florence, and for some time did not renew his attendance at the papal court. About the year 1506, he made a bronze statue of Julius II for the city of Bologna, then recently subjugated by the Pope, and his temporary residence. A story illustrative of the character of Julius is connected with it. Michael Angelo proposed to represent him as holding a book in one hand"Rather put a sword there," said Julius, "I am not a man of letters." Perhaps the artist would have so idealized His Holiness as to convey a silent reproof to the priestly warrior. This work has perished.

In the year 1508, Michael Angelo rejoined the papal train at Rome, where he found Julius wholly bent upon rebuilding

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »