Thursday, July 12, 2012

Michelangelo

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Michelangelo Buonarroti

Michelangelo Buonarroti was born on March 6, 1475 in Caprese, Italy. At the age of thirteen, he was apprenticed to Domenico Ghirlandaio, who at the time was painting a chapel in the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence. Here, the young Michelangelo learned the technique of fresco. At the age of fifteen, Michelangelo began to spend time in the home and in the gardens of Lorenzo de Medici, where he studied sculpture under Bertoldo di Giovanni. It was during this time that he completed the Madonna of the Stairs and the Battle of the Centaurs. The political climate in Florence following the death of Lorenzo de Medici led Michelangelo to leave the city, going first to Bologna and then to Rome. In Rome, he carved the Bacchus and then the Pietà which is in St. Peters basilica in Rome.

Michelangelo returned to Florence where he was commissioned to erect a statue for the Duomo in 1501. He started with a block of marble other sculptors believed was too tall and too shallow. The story he chose to work from is a biblical story. When the Israelites were surrounded by barbarian warriors led by the giant Goliath, only one shepherd boy, David, was brave enough to stand up to him. Michelangelo captures David in the exact moment he is sizing up his enemy. David is a classical pose, standing relaxed but alert. Davids confidence is evident in the stance he has taken; Michelangelo is able to express the intense concentration in the sculptures eyes. In the spirit that animated the Republic of Florence, David was the symbol and guardian of Florentine liberty. The citizens of the Republic were to defend their city’s freedom, just as David had done when he defeated Goliath and his enemies. Michelangelo created David in such a way that had yet to be seen. It is not the young boy victorious after killing the giant and proudly treading on Goliaths’ head, as Donatello and Verrocchio had depicted their sculptures of David. Michelangelo, instead, depicted him before the battle; a young man concentrated and determined to help his people and win the battle. Michelangelo perfects the contrapposto position as in the Greek representation of a hero. David’s left side is smooth, composed and relaxed while the right side from his foot to his hair is more dynamic and active. As in the Pietà, Michelangelo’s knowledge of the human body is most evident. Every muscle, vein, down to the fingernails seem to breathe with life the statue is a world of perfection from an anatomical point of view. Nevertheless many have observed and objected that the left hand of Michelangelo’s David appears oversized and disproportionate; it is possible that the artist intended the hand to symbolize strength and power.

Five centuries after Michelangelos David was unveiled in Florences Piazza della Signoria, there is another concern about how to save this icon of youthful beauty from the ravages of time. In the cradle of the Renaissance, whether a major artwork should be cleaned, restored or left untouched is invariably the stuff of intense debate. Thus, when Florences art establishment decided last year that David needed attention, it acted cautiously. It promised only a gentle cleaning of the 14-foot-high statue, nicknamed the “Giant”, which has stood inside the Galleria dellAccademia since 187. Almost inevitably, a heated battle has ensued. Agnese Parronchi, the experienced restorer first hired to clean the statue, resigned in April 00, charging that the officially approved method was too harsh and could cause damage. Now a petition signed by international scholars has proposed suspending any action pending review by an independent commission of experts. Antonio Paolucci, the superintendent of Florentine art who has the last word on such matters, stated recently that the cleaning of David would finally begin in September, with a new restorer already named.

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Parronchi argues that the statue should be cleaned using a minimally invasive dry method involving soft brushes, cotton swabs, an eraser and a chamois cloth. Her reason is based on that David was outdoors for such a period of time that the pores are open and much dust has accumulated. Also, Parronchi stated that this dust accumulation can be cleaned easily and that extreme measures are not necessary. Parronchi is supported by James H. Beck, a Columbia University art historian and president of ArtWatch International, who has now organized the petition urging Mr. Paolucci to halt the cleaning.

In contrast, the case for “wet” cleaning, proposed by the Accademias director Franca Falletti, is based on a report prepared by a committee of scientists from the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, a government art-restoration department. After months of testing, they concluded that the greatest threat to David was posed by a light sprinkling of gypsum, a calcium sulphate that responds to humidity. They proposed removing this by applying wet poultices using distilled water, which, they said, would also draw the dust out of pores. Falletti argues that Parronchis method and materials are absolutely unacceptable, saying that the issue is removing the dust, not brushing it round.

Of course, whether David needs cleaning at all is another matter, not least because the sculpture was never considered a perfect piece of marble. Excavated from the Fantiscritti quarry near Carrara, the 18-foot-high block was exposed to the elements in the courtyard of Florences Opera del Duomo, the cathedrals storage space, for almost 40 years before Michelangelo tackled it. And even after completing his sculpturing, he spent four months treating and polishing the marble before its unveiling in September 1504. Since then, David has not always been handled respectfully. In 157 his left arm was snapped off during a riot; the white mixture of lime and sand used to reattach it is still visible. Then, having absorbed soot for three centuries, the statue was subjected to still greater damage by two botched 1th-century cleaning jobs. In 1810 it was covered in wax. And in 184 the wax, along with Michelangelos original patina, was removed with hydrochloric acid. In 11, however an unbalanced Italian artist took a hammer and knocked off the second toe of Davids left foot. A new toe was shaped from fragments of marble and plaster. The idea of cleaning David again has been debated sporadically since 11. Mr. Paolucci insists that next years anniversary of the works inauguration did not prompt the decision to act now, although he conceded that a clean David should be ready by September 00. Cristina Acidini, who heads the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, said the statue needed help. Acidini argues that the cleaning doesnt mean making the statue whiter or more beautiful; but, the aim is to remove what is damaging it. The restorer now chosen to do the cleaning, Cinzia Parnigoni, has agreed to use the wet method. Ms. Falletti estimated that work on David, which tourists will be able to watch, should take seven to eight months.

David was merely one highlight of Michelangelo’s lifetime career of the arts. Buonarroti did not limit himself to sculpture alone, but produced magnificent works in painting and architecture. Michelangelo Buonarroti died, on February 18th, 1564, after a fever. The body of the dead artist was deposited in a sarcophagus in the church of Santi Apostoli, but a few days after the burial his nephew, Lionardo Buonarroti, took possession of his uncles property and carried off the corpse, concealed in a bale. As soon as they reached Florence, the mortal remains of the Michelangelo were taken to Santa Croce, where Michelangelo himself had wanted to be buried. The inhabitants of Florence turned out in large numbers to honor their fellow Florentine who loved his city and the arts.



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