The Art Gallery of Ontario has transported the opportunity to display a few dozen drawings by Michelangelo into a most stimulating embrace of the ancient-god-like artist’s enduring significance. Its exhibition strategy boldly maintains the parity of that giant’s architectural projects with the far more renowned and revered paintings and sculptures. So it transpires that the heart of the event is a slide show of the Biblioteca Laurenziana. Michelangelo’s creation of a library in Florence for those over-achievers, the Medicis’ in the early 16th century, was, it now dawns on us, despite being commissioned by a Pope (a Medici family Pope), not about the vision of a pious, ascetic geek being brought to fruition by a pious, ascetic artist, but instead about a Ponderosa of a family wanting to show off its collection of rare books and manuscripts in order to prove it had become super-refined.
Shown here, the reading room, provided with pews. But more significantly the linearity of that feature folds into an ensemble of formal progressions along the windows in the service of focusing light through self-disciplined endeavor.
Similarly the vestibule is a dispensation of classical restrained and muscular forms and color to usher the researcher into eliciting the best of one’s reflective concentration upon primordial (this-worldly) power.
The stairs to the workplace, offering a range of styles in accordance with the range of formats by which to proceed.
Far from a popular idol of “spiritual” (Biblical) creations, Michelangelo was a rabidly competitive craftsman, clawing his way on behalf of lucrative commissions, a business of kick-ass designs populated by many, many similarly rabid self-starters and self-servers. Far more often than not, Michelangelo’s projects were shot down long before the marble quarry was consulted.
Here we have renditions of his bid to build the Church of San Giovanini del Firentine, clearly indicating his strategy of pristine (classical) forms and hues as providing a lift not requiring angels.
A vault that might seem a prison. But in fact being a lift-off!
In this context, the glorious modelling of figures—sacred and profane—moves toward a far less familiar sublime than has been generally assumed. His drawing for Cleopatra gives us an aristocrat beset by deadly forces in the (secular) world at large. Her poise is the heart of the work.
Michelangelo produced thousands of such drafts on behalf of capturing the space between material flesh and a primal dynamic.
Muscular and something more. Michelangelo was a tireless student of sensuous mystery.
The muscular factor of this Madonna and Child takes precedence.
As you can see from this view of one of the galleries, the work of Michelangelo shares the spotlight with that of another great artist, Auguste Rodin (1840-1917). This juxtaposition speaks to the kinship of two artists, vastly separated in time and space, but obsessed with the same issue of apt kinetic grace.
Rodin’s study lifts a mundane factor to extreme mystery.
Rodin’s work, The Burghers of Calais, gives us presences facing a death sentence. And it is the liveliness that steals the show!