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Culture news
Renaissance man. The genius of Michelangelo seen in a new light
07.20.2007 11:25

David By Galina Stolyarova

Staff Writer

The exuberance of physical power, a signature feature of the sculptural language of 16th-century master Michelangelo, took center stage at a new exhibition at the State Hermitage Museum that opened Tuesday in the Twelve Column Hall.

Showcasing two marble sculptures by the legendary Italian artist, set against sumptuous modern black-and-white photographs by Aurelio Amendola, the display also celebrates fine carving, the elegance of shape, and natural grace.

Michelangelo’s so-called Crouching Boy — the only sculpture by Michelangelo in the possession of the Hermitage — is shown alongside a sculpture of David (Apollo) from the collection of the National Museum of Bargello in Florence. Both works date from the 1525-1530s.

Originally designed for the Medici Chapels in Florence, the Crouching Boy oozes tension and mournful restraint. The figure is trapped in a circle of emotional resignation. By contrast, it is the spirit of freedom that David radiates. The standing man appears to be relaxed, as if liberating himself from a marble mantle.

The two sculptures could have possibly even been kept under one roof within the walls of Michelangelo’s studio five centuries ago.

“We will probably never be able to find out whether the two sculptures ever existed within the same walls,” said Cristina Acidini Luchinat, superintendent of Florence museums. “If it did happen, then the likeliest possible period was around 1530-1532, when Michelangelo was working on a series of sculptures for the Medici Chapels in the San Lorenzo church, in his Via Mozza studio.”

Florence’s San Lorenzo was the parish church for the Medici dynasty. The basilica serves as the burial site of all the principal members of the Medici family.

Sergei Androsov, one of the project’s curators, said historical context is important for understanding the spirit of the sculptures.

“At that moment Michelangelo was contemplating leaving his beloved Florence for good,” Androsov said. “The motifs of grief, sorrow and escapism that can be traced in the two sculptures were inspired by the events in the artist’s own life.”

The historically turbulent 1530s, when Florence was besieged by the forces of Emperor Charles V, were Michelangelo’s last years in the city. In 1534 he fled Florence for Rome.

“The exhibition’s advantage is in the juxtaposition of the sculptures and exquisite photography, which unveils new visual angles for the ancient masterpieces,” said Vladimir Matveyev, deputy director of the Hermitage. “The photography ignites a dialogue with the sculpture and takes the audiences on a captivating journey.”

In his photographs, Amendola strives to capture the essence of a detail and concentrate on a whimsical shadow. The resulting experience of watching his work is like slowly drowning in nectar. Following the footsteps of Amendola, the visitors gradually view the sculpture, exploring it from different angles and distances.

“I am thrilled by being able to photograph sculpture and architecture,” Amendola said. “I take photographs not only of the works of the great masters of the past, like, for instance, Donatello or Bernini but also of contemporary sculpture.

The benefit of dealing with the patriarchs is that they cannot possibly express any annoyance with my work,” he joked.

Born into a noble family in1474 in Florence, Michelangelo was sent to a family of stone carvers for training. When Michelangelo grew up he often said that his passion for carving was probably rooted in his early years in the stone-cutting shop.

But his father had envisaged another career for his son. Years later Michelangelo — already an established sculptor, architect, artist and poet — recalled his father’s fury: “When I told my father that I wished to be an artist, he flew into a rage, saying that ‘artists are laborers, no better than shoemakers.’”

The exhibition can be seen through Sept. 23 in the Hermitage’s Twelve Column Hall.

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