Tuesday, August 12, 2008


From The Royal Collection, Leda and the Swan (Leonardo) , Drawing by Raphael

Lucretia by Raphael

And these two by Raphael of his mistress

Passable female forms?

The almost ‘God Like’ adoration given to Michelangelo is in my view misplaced and many sculptors out stripped his skill. I acknowledge only that he was a great sculptor and painter of his time.

Half of humanity he left out completely.

Jeff said over on museworthy

Artists in the 16th century in this part of Europe generally didn’t have access to female models at all. For faces and portraits, yes, but not for figures.

Is that strictly true? Probably not completely.

There’s a whole lot of sociological issues you could go into there, but it’s not fair to hold those against Michelangelo. For an artist, like Michelangelo, without much first hand exposure to the female form or much interest in the subject, it’s not surprising that his female creations were often somewhat masculine.

There may be some truth in what Jeff says here but I am not convinced; if Michelangelo had wanted to do a good female form he would have found away, from the little I know about him he was not too afraid of doing his own thing despite powerful opposition and conventions.

(I do sympathise however with the many young men who went to their deaths in the Great War of 1914-18 having seen nothing more that what was on show in the Nation Gallery and a naughty French post card or two. Such is the puritanical society.)

The Virgin Mary in Michelangelo’s Pieta is an acceptable female face (much too young but that’s another issue) not to my mind especially beautiful, so as Jeff says he could do it.

There are plenty of paintings by other Artists of the time, Leonardo, Raphael and others were able to produce passable female forms which vary in actuate femininity. (See examples above.)

For what it is worth I do not believe ‘Mich’ wanted to paint or sculpt women.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Robert: You ought to judge an artist by the best that he does; and certainly not by what he DIDN'T do. Michelangelo decided to sculpt and paint only the male body: you are right: he didn't want to paint or sculpt women. Nor landscapes or horses or a lot of other things that he must however have loved to see. I know you think he has grave flaws even in his male figures. But if we can't agree that they are beautiful, at least concede that they are original and powerful. There are, by the way, great painters that, though they depicted women, didn't make them pretty (Brueghel).

12:28 pm  
Blogger Robert said...

100swallows welcome again, I wish I was in Spain, it is very wet here.

Ah but he did depict women as men.

I suppose that a one subject specialist is ‘acceptable’ but “As one of the Best Artists of All Time”?

(Aside; a gallery owner of some importance said “That’s a bit limiting” when I told him I did Figures and Dogs! I naturally took it to heart!)

I have never denied that Michelangelo was a good and important Artist nor that he did some exceptional work which was powerful and original. My main point was, that to my mind he does not stand head and shoulders above other Sculptors and Painters and I do not consider him ‘ground breaking’ as the ancient Greeks were there first. I will agree that he was an important ‘Landmark’ in the history of Art and if another had been given those commissions he would have been that ‘Landmark’. That does not belittle Michelangelo’s talent or his importance but it does put him into perspective.

It must be said also that he was subject of a lot of spin (like Mr Blair.

Let us assume that some terrible event took place causing the abrupt disappearance of the painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The Church powers decided that a new 21 C work should be commissioned to replace the blank ceiling.

The only requirements are that the same themes should be depicted in a style that is instantly recognisable and easily understood by the ‘Masses’ who will continue to attend God’s Church.

Let’s step aside from the difficulties posed by prejudice and what is or is not acceptable to show today of people without their cloths on. Let us assume that the Artist is going to paint broadly in line with what Michelangelo did in terms of ‘taste and realism’.

Sticking to these unlikely parameters, do you think the Artist could get away with only painting men? Indeed, do you think anyone producing the painting in my next post as a public painting would be so revered?

(I was shocked when I saw it on Museworthy- http://artmodel.wordpress.com/2008/08/10/gender-maneuvers-from-michelangelo/-

, indeed I do not remember it in any of the books I have on Michelangelo – I wonder why not!)

2:23 pm  
Blogger chris miller said...

"Sticking to these unlikely parameters, do you think the Artist could get away with only painting men?"

Good question, Robert -- and I think it points to the extraordinary status of the artist and patron involved -- as well to that rather critical moment in the history of Christianity.

You and I are much more interested in the female form -- but there have been some very masculine periods in European art history: Classical Greece, Renaissance Italy, and the Fascist or Communist states of the 20th C.

Can you think of any great female nude statuary from those eras ?

Going a step further -- who are the sculptors, throughout history, who have been really good at both male and female figures ?

And -- how many male nudes have you or I ever done ?

2:54 pm  
Blogger Robert said...

There is not so much demand for representations of the male figure I agree, I have been asked to do three against twenty or so female. However if I was asked to paint a scene which included both male and female I would at least try and make them look different! Living under a regime which insisted I did them all the same on pain of death or starvation then I expect you are right. Do you think Michelangelo was under such pressure? I thought that he was quite difficult, often doing his own thing against pressure from Patrons.

Yes we all specialise up to a point and as you imply will excel in the areas we get most out of, though taboo, politics, fashion, religious or moral pressure will affect our output. Have you seen any of the ‘dangerous’ sketches Turner is supposed to have done which were destroyed or hidden by Ruskin?

I have seen only a few instances of female subject matter in Soviet and Nazi Art but you are right.

10:03 pm  
Blogger Robert said...

Baltimore seems to have a problem with sculptural gender too see:


12:20 pm  
Blogger Robert said...

I have been thinking again about all this. I recently heard a story about the grandson of a very well known Pre-Raphaelite painter who had refused to allow quite a large number of his paintings to be sold; indeed they are not signed and live in the grandson's garage to this day. The painter did not think them good enough. I understand that Michelangelo had a similar problem and too had a swing at one of his! But the issue here is "good enough". Michelangelo's women (all his women) were not good enough and not worthy of the space that occupy.

7:44 pm  

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