Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 27, 2012


August 27, 1498: Michelangelo receives a commission from Cardinal Jean Biheres de Ladraulas for a funerary statue. Michelangelo was born on March 6, 1475 and was a Renaissance sculptor, painter, architect, poet, and engineer. His first love was sculpture and when asked to paint, he would acquiesce but claim he was a sculptor, not a painter. When asked to take on other projects, he would repeat that he was a sculptor. His poetry comes to us today on the edges of papers he used to make preliminary drawings for both his sculpture and his painted works.

The French Cardinal asked the young sculptor to create a piece for his tomb. He was already an old man and would, in fact, die the following year. It took Michelangelo less than two years to create his work and it was placed in the Chapel of Santa Petronilla as part of the mausoleum for the Cardinal. Shortly after it’s installation, according to legend, the sculptor overheard a viewer speak about the work and was horrified as the appreciative man was told it was done by another artist. Therefore, the true artist signed the work with his entire name and place of birth, claiming his Florentine heritage. It is the only signed piece by Michelangelo. He regretted the act of hubris and vowed to never again mar his work in this manner.

The statue the young artist created is the Pietà. It was made of Carrara marble and depicts the Virgin Mother holding the body of her crucified Son. A young woman looks down upon her son with an expression of intense sadness. Jesus does not show signs of the Passion because Michelangelo did not want the statue to be about death so much as to show the serene face of Jesus as he has conquered death for his followers. It was moved several times after completion and sustained damage in one of the moves. Four of Mary’s fingers were broken off and restored in 1736.

On May 21, 1972 (Pentecost Sunday), the statue was attacked by Laszlo Toth, a disturbed geologist. He walked into the chapel at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City where the Pietà now resides. Toth used a geologist’s hammer to attack the work while shouting, “I am Jesus Christ.” As pieces of marble scattered, onlookers picked up the bits and kept them as mementos, adding to the chaos. Some of the pieces were returned to help repair the work, but many were not. Mary’s nose had to be repaired from a block of marble cut out of her back. The statue was painstakingly repaired and returned to the same chapel, only now it is behind a bullet-proof acrylic glass panel.

If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.

Lord, grant that I may always desire more than I can accomplish.

I cannot live under pressures from patrons, let alone paint.

The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection. – all from Michelangelo Buonarroti

Also on this day:

Powerful Industry – In 1859, the modern day oil industry starts.
War is Hell – In 1896, the shortest war in history was fought.
Kǒng Qiū – In 551 BC, Confucius is born.

David Revealed

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 8, 2011

Michelangelo's David

September 8, 1504: Florence is stunned by the new artwork by Michelangelo, his statue David. He began his sculpting of the statue in 1501 and it took three years to produce the 17 foot tall nude. David is a Biblical hero and was commissioned to be part of the Florence Cathedral. Instead, it was placed in the Palazzo della Signoria, the seat of government in Florence. The statue soon came to represent the defense of civil liberties as embodied in the Florence Republic. At the time, Florence was an independent city-state being threatened on all side, especially by the Medici family. David glared out towards Rome.

Plans had been made to erect twelve large Old Testament sculptures for the buttresses of the cathedral of Santa Maria Del Fiore. Two of these statues were completed, having been made of terra cotta. Eager to continue, the men in charge switched to Carrara marble and Agostino di Duccio began work, roughly giving shape to the block of marble. He was assassinated and work stopped. Antonio Rossellino was asked to continue to the work but soon after his contract was rescinded. The block of marble was left idle for over 25 years.

The authorities noticed the expensive block of useless marble which had already been the object of great amounts of work. So they cast about for a sculptor to finish the work. Many, including Leonardo da Vinci, were consulted. Michelangelo, 26-years-old at the time, was selected. He began work on September 13, 1501 and continued to free David from the marble.

By January 25, 1504, it became obvious that there was no way to raise the statue, which weighed six tons, to the top of the cathedral. A committee of 30, again including Leonardo da Vince, decided on an appropriate site for the statue. Michelangelo had not brought forth a victorious David with the Goliath slain at his feet. Rather, his David is the young man ready to face his enemy. His face is taught and pensive, ready for battle, but his body is loose, holding his sling over his shoulder. He is ready to take the enemy by storm, hoping against hope to outwit the larger foe. A perfect symbol for Florence in Renaissance Italy.

“Carving is easy, you just go down to the skin and stop.”

“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

“I am a poor man and of little worth, who is laboring in that art that God has given me in order to extend my life as long as possible.”

“I hope that I may always desire more than I can accomplish.” – all from Michelangelo

Also on this day:
Something in the Water – In 1854, Dr. John Snow saved London from an outbreak of cholera.
There She Is – In 1921, Margaret Gorman became the first Miss America.

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Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 18, 2010


February 18, 1564: The world loses one of its finest artists and archetypal Renaissance man when Michelangelo dies. He was a sculptor, painter, architect, and poet. Because he was so prolific in both his work and private correspondence, we know much more about him than most other 16th century compatriots.

The Pietà and David, two of his best-known sculptures were created while he was in his twenties and thirties. He lived to be eighty-eight. He had a low opinion of painting and yet painted the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling with artwork that is recognizable worldwide. He also designed the dome for St Peter’s Basilica, changing classical architecture.

Michelangelo’s work was commissioned by several Popes starting with Julius II. After the Pope’s death, Michelangelo continued working on previously commissioned works including the Pope’s burial chamber. The next Pope, Leo X, was not happy about this and tried to persuade the artist to work on more current tasks. Michelangelo also worked for Pope Paul III, filling the wall behind the altar in the Sistine Chapel with The Last Judgment. Many of the people pictured are naked and this caused quite a stir. Nakedness in the papal chapel was seen as being both obscene and sacrilegious.

Michelangelo was known as arrogant with others while being dissatisfied with himself. He was inspired by the beauty of the male form both aesthetically and emotionally. He struggled between his platonic ideals and carnal lust in both his sculpture and his poetry.

Michelangelo was the subject of two biographies written while he was still alive. It was unheard of at the time.

“In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love; they had five hundred years of democracy and peace and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” – Orson Welles

“I love the Biblical subjects and the Italian art. My favorite artist I can say is Michelangelo. He was an unbelievable artist. He could handle any kind of statue made from stone and paint anything anywhere, like he did at the Sistine Chapel in Rome. It probably is the greatest artwork ever done.” – Karl Hepner

“I believe in Michelangelo, Velasquez, and Rembrandt; in the might of design, the mystery of color, the redemption of all things by Beauty everlasting, and the message of Art that has made these hands blessed. Amen. Amen.” – George Bernard Shaw

“His drawings of the male nude are incredibly sensual. You get the feeling of his hand all over the body. If all we knew about Michelangelo was his drawings, he would still be hailed as a genius.” – Hugo Chapman

Also on this day, in 2001 Dale Earnhardt, Sr. was killed in a car crash at the Daytona 500.

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