If you have not had a chance to visit the exhibit on Michelangelo’s drawings at the Metropolitan Museum Fifth Avenue, New York, I would highly recommend doing so before the show’s closing on February 12, 2018. Over eight years, the curator of the exhibit, Carmen Bambach, has achieved the impossible in bringing together 133 of Michelangelo’s drawings. The opportunity to view and enjoy so many drawings in a single venue is perhaps more rare than most celestial phenomenon. Moreover, the chronological arrangement of the drawings allows the visitor to explore the great artist’s personal and professional life in a unique way.
From his early days as an apprentice to Domenico Ghirlandaio, to his learning from and self-measuring against the great masters of the early Renaissance such as Giotto and Masaccio, to his artistic apotheosis with works such as the St. Peter’s Pietà, the David, and the Sistine Chapel Ceiling, the drawings are not only beautiful, but also biographical. Moreover, those drawings displayed in the exhibit associated with specific works of art allow us a “behind-the-scenes” look into the conceptual process of artistic creation. In the case of certain preparatory drawings for the Sistine Chapel, it literally feels like you are looking over the Michelangelo’s shoulder as he dreamed up his majestic compositions.
I not only had the great privilege of visiting the show several times on my own, but also the honor of receiving permission to lecture on the exhibit to several of our academic tour groups. (For more information and upcoming events in the US, see https://rockyruggiero.com/events/)
Although a majority of the drawings in the exhibit come from the collections of the Uffizi Gallery and the Casa Buonarroti Museum in Florence, Italy, they are very rarely displayed in their native city. Only the Casa Buonarroti consistently displays Michelangelo’s drawings, albeit only six at a time, and in constant rotation for reasons of conservation. While scholars such as myself are granted special permission to view drawings in these collections upon request, they are generally kept out of the public eye due to the damage caused to the delicate and often fragile drawings by continual exposure to light. So while students and tourists can enjoy the paintings, sculptures and buildings of the Renaissance in Italy, Renaissance drawings remain a forbidden fruit.
This Italian reality only adds to the special importance of the drawings exhibition at the Met. That such a great quantity of extraordinarily high-quality drawings by an artist of the caliber of the “Divine Michelangelo” is on display for an exceptional three-month period is perhaps a nearly once-in-a-lifetime experience.
See them now, because you may never see them again…