Tuesday, July 20, 2004

July 20th, Tuesday

I went to see the works of the Duomo today, and after that I went to San Lorenzo with the intention of looking at the work of Donatello.  
 
I was overwhelmed by Michelangelo's Pieta at the Duomo museum.    It is monumental, angular, polished in some parts, very rough in others; it's a very complex composition with four figures, which is extremely impressive given that Michelangelo worked directly into the marble without copying from plaster.  The single most powerful statement in the work seems to me to be the face of Nicodemus, which is a self-portrait of Michelangelo.  I don't know the story of Nicodemus, but to me the face is noble and at the same time full of sorrow, age, and grief.  I sense a kind of deep lonliness in Michelangelo's work which makes it very personal sometimes in a way that many Renaissance artists are not. 
 
I plan to find out about Nicodemus' story tonight by asking Colleen. 
 
Ghiberti's later baptistry doors
What amazing works.  These originals seem much finer to me than the copies currently on the Baptistry.  I was delighted and thrilled by the perfectly small figures.  I think these are my favorite bas-reliefs.  What a brilliant man!  He combines the use of illusionistic perspective lines with relief carving to perfect effect.  This effect is particularly strong in the panel relating the story of Jacob and Isaiah.  Viewed from the side, the figures seem to lean precariously out into space, but there is none of this feeling when viewed from the front, because the receding perspective lines in the floor seem to bring the floor out under their feet.  What an amazing trick!  This way, the figures can stand apart from the relief and create a greater sense of space which is then integrated into the illusionistic background by the perspective lines.  Standing in front of this work, it is almost impossible to believe how shallow the relief space actually is.  It seems like I have never seen a relief work with such a remarkable sense of depth as this one, of Jacob and Isaiah. 
 
His Adam and Eve panel is amazing in another way--it is a wonderful composition.  The circularity of the composition has the effect of connecting all the events in the story, from Adam's and Eve's creations to their temptation and expulsion from the garden, making all these events seem to come inevitably out of each other.  The figure of God bending over the newly created Adam shows the greatest tenderness and care.  In all his works there is a wonderful sense of humanity. 
 
Other things that really impressed me in the museum included the works of Maso di Banco and the Pisano's...
 
After our lecture last night, which focused on Donatello, I wanted immediately to look at his things first hand, but I got sidetracked in San Lorenzo by Annigoni's two paintings there. 

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