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Michaelangelo Essays

1. The main aim of this article is to point out links between the sculpture and Michaelangelo’s own life and ideas. He had been asked by Pope Clement VII to produce a funerary chapel for several members of the important Medici family of which the pope himself was a member. The writer therefore point s out how the sculptures  point  towards Michaelangelo’s own views on life and death.

2. In response the artist produced four figures, Day, Dawn, Night  and Dusk – he left these enigmatic figures on the chapel floor when he left Florence in 1534. He never returned, caught up by the demands of the new Pope for more and more works.  The author states that ‘Dawn’ and ‘Dusk’ seem to be caught in a world of dreams – part way between sleep and wakefulness, just as the world seems to be at those times.

Michaelangelo worked on this project for some 14 years, although this was not continuous. He only completed about half of the work necessary.

3. She seems to be concerned with Michaelangelo’s ideas about the fleetingness of human existence. These were important and wealthy men, but now they are just corpses. The other idea put across is the artist’s use of allegory and how he does this by using symbols – an owl, a mask, a peacock – to express himself.

4. Other evidence is from the artist’s poetry on the subject of the transience of life:-

            Fame makes the epitaphs lie horizontal,

Because they are dead, their action has been stopped,

Jt does not go forward, nor backward either.

5. The conclusion is based upon the fact that the artist was already 45 when he began this task – this in an age when longevity was not common, though in fact Michaelangelo lived until 1564, some 30 years after he abandoned this project. He would have been well aware of death and the transience of earthly existence living at  a time when plague or war could devastate a population and, working as he was in a chapel dedicated to dead people, was perhaps something he brooded upon as he worked and took as his inspiration.

6. The writer obviously knows her subject well and is capable of capturing the interest of her audience. The writer  does include a number of technical words, ‘niche’; ’apex’ but this was written for ‘Sculpture Review’ so such jargon might be expected. The majority language though is that in regard to the emotions and attitudes expressed :- brooding; languorous; disturbed; passive and dramatic, and many more words in the same vein.

7. The main theme is of Michaelangelo’s own ideas about death as a troubled state where the deceased are not free from problems and stress and how this affected the art produced. This theme of death and art is present in this article from the opening sentence and is returned to throughout. The deceased are portrayed as idealized figures rather than as true portraits, perhaps because the artist felt that people idealized the dead, or perhaps just to please his patron whose family they were. She notes that the figures are muscular, but that these muscles sag and are fleshy and asks if these men had lost their vigor and will to live. Perhaps that reflects Michaelangelo’s feelings in middle age, when his own body must have been beginning to let him down. Laura Morelli even points out that an oncologist has seen the ravages of cancer which are clearly seen in one figure, that of ‘Night’ and she points out how far removed these allegorical figures are from the perfection of the artist’s ‘David’ a decade and a half earlier.

8. This is rather a gloomy piece, but it is of course about a funerary chapel so could never be a cheerful place at a time when there was a strong belief in purgatory and eternal; damnation.

Works Cited

Complete Poems and Selected Letters of Michelangelo,

Creighton Gilbert, translator; Robert N Linscott, editor

 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963,

Morelli, Laura, “ Day, night, dawn, dusk” Body and soul,  Sculpture Review 50 No 4, Winter 2001

 

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