Monday, May 26, 2008

My Comments with Links, Bernini vs Michelangelo


Argument -See Here

I mean no disrespect for either of these two great sculptors. They, like Beethoven and Mozart, are pillars of our western art. Nevertheless I have reservations especially about Michelangelo. Neither an academic nor even well read in Art History I am a simple sculptor with strong but malleable views.

If you were an alien with no prejudices, no foreknowledge of these sculptors would you believe that Michelangelo’s David and Pieta were by the same artist?

If you knew the story of David and Goliath and were asked which of the two Michelangelo was trying to depict; using reason only, who would it be?

If you did not know what the Pieta was meant to depict, honestly would you believe it to be a Mother and Son subject?

In the first I would argue that he is huge; facially very ugly and anatomically wrong (head and hands too big).

In the first, even if Mary had borne Jesus at the age of 16 she would have been approaching 50. The actress Sarah Barnhart was also a sculptress and produced this extraordinary work. Surly the great pillar of Renaissance sculpture could have come somewhat closer to the emotion framework Frank Lin mentions. I do not deny, it is very beautiful and moving but for a different story.

Now the first book of Samuel, chapter 16 vv 12 describes David ‘of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look too.’ Judging by the number of intimate relations he subsequently had with women, how could we possibly doubt that? How also could we think that Michelangelo would have missed this? He was well able to create beautiful male faces!

Michelangelo’s attempts at sculpting women are a laugh, they are men with breasts.

Bernini’s work, like Mozart seems to pour out of him, unlike his great predecessor he does not destroy his work (does he?), or even cross anything out! He is streets ahead of him in animated action. Who could miss St Theresa’s passionate emotions either?

It is not so much a matter of who is best, the guy who comes after is always at an advantage, he or she knows what they have to surpass. In their own way they were both ground breakers of sorts.

(On a more technical point, I understand that Michelangelo believed in carving from one block of marble where Bernini used multiple blocks joined together facilitating more difficult poses.)

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2 Comments:

Blogger Daisy said...

Robert,
While art is subjective, and you are entitled to your opinion about Michelangelo and his work, when looking at his David, and his Vatican Pieta there are a few things you should know. In regards to the David, yes Michelangelo depicts him as strong, perhaps stronger than suggested by the Biblical writings, however it is important to note, the sculpture was commissioned by the city of Florence. The city viewed David as somewhat of a mascot, and looked up to the figure as symbol of a triumphant underdog as a result of their own history. This is likely the reason that he is sculpted to look like a hero. Also the piece was created for a location determined by the city of Florence, on top of the Palazzo Vecchio. This elevated location is the reason for the large hands and head. It is also the reason for the over expression seen in the face of the David. The work was intentionally made this way so that the hands and face, which are very important to the figure can be seen from street level, and from street level they would not only not look overly large, nor would the face look overly expressive. For this reason these features on the David should not be seen as points of criticism, but rather as symbols of Michelangelo's grasp of the importance of view point and perspective. Also it should be noted that only after Michelangelo had completed his David sculpture was the decision made not to display it on the roof, as was the original plan. The choice was made to display the work on the right side of the main entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio instead. The reposition was due to the fact that when the sculpture was done it was deemed by the city too good to be displayed in the manner originally planned, and the location was changed so that it could be better viewed and enjoyed by the people of Florence. In regards to the Vatican Pieta you should know that the Virgin Mary was intentionally depicted as younger than her age. This is common in the art world. The holy mother is often shown as younger than her age would have been because her youth is a symbol of her purity. While you did not bring it up in your post there are a few things about the sculpture of the Vatican Pieta that should be noted, especially when viewing the work as an example of Michelangelo as an artist. The figure of the Virgin Mary is seen not only as young, but also as excessively large. If the figure were to stand she would be much larger than the figure of Christ. Her legs are greatly oversized when compared to her upper body. This is also deliberate and was done to create a figure with a lap large enough to hold a grown man, without looking awkward. This is notable for several reasons; first of all those who have only a casual knowledge of the work frequently overlook it. This is because of the mastery of the work of the artist. His ability to create such an out of proportion figure, and have it frequently overlooked is a testament to his skill. This also was the artist's first venture into the world of mannerism, a style that he came to master. This information is not intended to change your opinion of this artist or his work. It is simply some information that I felt was pertinent to consider when looking at these two specific works, and should be taken into consideration when looking at the particular features that you wrote about.

2:10 am  
Blogger Robert said...

Daisy
Thank you for visiting and you are quite right to bring up these points here. Most of them have been well aired by academics around the world for centuries in many worthy books and essays. On the internet, blogs and adoring fans continue to express these views and back them up with arguments and historical “facts” to support the view that these errors are in fact intentional by a great artist.

Sadly I do not have much time to answer each of your points in depth please forgive me, I am a full time sculptor working in what looks like difficult times!

I have been aware of much of what you say since the age of eleven (1961 horror). Somewhere else in my blogging I mentioned that my parents had returned from a holiday with a multitude of books, photos, cine-camera film and even small composite marble giftware copies of important tourist attractions.

The rules for sculptors are different to the ones obeyed by artists for two dimensional works. The viewers’ brains can deal with foreshortening and perspective in a three dimensional object without any tinkering by the artist. This is not the case with a two dimensional work. (Michelangelo would have known that).

To make a man look more aggressive, powerful, impressive etc. one makes his head smaller and his chest wider, to the extent that his head is 1:8 in proportion to his height. Michelangelo’s so called “David” is less than 1:6 - that of a ten-year-old boy.

I rather feel that over the centuries Michelangelo has been the object of a lot of “spin” for political and financial (tourist) reasons. It is interesting that you felt the need to make these points in his defence; they are brought up again and again in academic literature to explain his errors. Like allowing the banking system to collapse we can’t allow Michelangelo’s reputation to take a fall. Far too much money rapped up in it both for the curators of the tourist industry and for all the great and good academics who have their reputations to protect!

Anyone who has taught sculpture up to and including “A” level students will agree that we all have a tendency to make hands and heads too big.

I grant you one concession. Michelangelo was one of the artists who took art from medieval imagery back to a more realistic expression, that of the Romans and Greeks.

Allow me at least to look at his work and evaluate what I see and what it does for me. I am not interested in the historical “facts” explaining why a work of art is wrong, ugly and not very good. All works of art have errors; the Pieta is a great work.

10:33 am  

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