Michelangelo: Did you know?
Something a little different for you this week – an art tidbit from Chiara, one of Agora Gallery’s friendly and knowledgeable gallery assistants. Chiara is originally from Italy, and it was in Rome that she achieved her B.A. in Art History, with a special focus on Renaissance art. What an inspiring location! She loves to share her learning with other art lovers, and in this weeks’ post she shares a side of Michelangelo of which few people are aware.
Did you know? by Chiara Mortaroli
Everyone knows of Michelangelo (1474- 1564), and everyone knows that he was one of the masters of the Italian Renaissance. Most art lovers also know that he was a genius painter, sculptor and architect and that his drawings are still used nowadays as samples of how to reach anatomic perfection in representations of human figures.
He is commonly associated with any discussion about the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, which he painted in only four years, and we immediately recognize his strong touch when we look at sculptures such as “La Pieta’” (“The Pity”) and “Moses.” Most of us probably also recall hearing about his difficult character, his vices and his whims (including the stories that discuss his relationships with the Popes of his time).
What is more unusual to hear about is the romantic and generous side of this grand figure of Art History, his talent as a poet and his sensitivity. Did you know that Michelangelo used to exchange touching letters and poems with – and even painted a portrait of and for – a remarkable woman named Vittoria Colonna?
Vittoria lived from 1490 – 1547 and was widowed at 33 years old, a decade before she met Michelangelo. She was a brilliant figure of the intellectual society of her day, and her influence can be traced in certain political events as well. She and Michelangelo shared their thoughts and feelings for almost 10 years before her death.
Here is one of the stunning poems that Michelangelo wrote to Vittoria:
“WHEN the prime mover of many sighs
Heaven took through death from out her earthly place,
Nature, that never made so fair a face,
Remained ashamed, and tears were in all eyes.
O fate, unheeding my impassioned cries!
O hopes fallacious! O thou spirit of grace,
Where art thou now? Earth holds in its embrace
Thy lovely limbs, thy holy thoughts the skies.
Vainly did cruel death attempt to stay
The rumor of thy virtuous renown,
That Lethe’s waters could not wash away!
A thousand leaves, since he hath stricken thee down,
Speak of thee, not to thee could Heaven convey,
Except through death, a refuge and a crown.”
(Poem translated into English by H.W. Longfellow)
You can read more poems by Michelangelo in the book “The Complete Poems of Michelangelo” by John Frederick Nims, available online and easy to download to your ebook or order to arrive at your door. You can find Vittoria’s replies in the book “Sonnets for Michelangelo” by Margaret L. King and Albert Rabil Jr. also available online. They’re well worth a read in themselves, and also provide an unusual insight into the life and mind of one of the great geniuses of the Renaissance period whose work continues to influence us today.