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Crouching Boy

Appreciating the Different Statues of Great Sculptor Michelangelo

Part 4 of a 4 Part Series

The Risen Christ, Cristo della Minerva in Italian, also known as Christ the Redeemer or Christ Carrying the Cross, is a marble sculpture finished by Michelangelo in 1521. It is in the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome. The work was commissioned in 1514, by the Roman patrician Metello Vari. Michelangelo was working on an initial version of this statue in his studio in 1515, when he discovered a black vein in the white marble. A new version was completed in 1519-1520. Christ is shown by Michelangelo unclothed in a standing pose. During the Baroque period a bronze floating loincloth was added. The first version, rough as it was, disappeared in 1607. In 1997 it was recognized as Michelangleo’s lost work, located in the town of Bassano Romano, north of Rome.

The Medici Chapel houses monuments to members of the Medici family and is located in the New Sacristy of the Church of San Lorenzo in Florence. The funereal monuments were commissioned in 1520 by Pope Clement VII (formerly Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici), executed largely by Michelangelo from 1520 to 1534 and completed by Michelangelo’s pupils after his departure from Florence.

The coffered Medici Chapel Dome echoes that of the Roman Pantheon, although Michelangelo’s dome is much more airy and well lit. The figures that Michelangelo planned for the Chapel steadily increased in size throughout the first stages of construction. The sculpted and polished figures are set against a stark but elegant two-tone backdrop of dark gray Tuscan limestone supports and white plaster walls.

Though never finished, the Medici Chapel is the only one of Michelangelo’s great architectural-sculptural projects to be realized in anything approaching entirety. After Michelangelo left for Rome in 1534, never to return to Florence, the sculptures in the chapel were installed by his pupils.

The two monumental groups of sculptures for the tombs of Lorenzo (Duke di Urbino) and Giuliano and (Duke de Nemours) are each composed of a seated armed figure in a niche, with an allegorical figures reclining on either side of the sarcophagus below. The seated figures, representing the two dukes are not treated as portraits. Lorenzo, whose face is shaded by a helmet, personifies the reflective man. Giuliano, who is holding the baton of an army commander, portrays the active man. At his feet recline the figures of “Night” and “Day.” “Night,” a giantess, is twisting in uneasy slumber; “Day,” is a herculean figure, who looks wrathfully over his shoulder. Just as imposing, but far less violent, are the two companion figures reclining between sleep and waking on the sarcophagus of Lorenzo. The male figure is known as “Dusk,” the female figure as “Dawn.”

Lorenzo the Magnificent and Giuliano the Elder were buried at the entrance wall and over them was set a marble group consisting of a “Madonna and Child” and the Medici patron saints Cosmas and Damian. The “Madonna” is a work of imposing majesty, completely by Michelangelo; the saints are the work of pupils after models by the master.

In his preparatory sketch of a double wall tomb for the de’ Medici tomb, Michelangelo included two crouching figures and it appears that his statue “The Crouching Boy” was intended for the tomb, but the it was not included in his final design for the project. It is a 21” tall marble sculpture and shows a boy, pulling out a thorn from his foot. Even though the statue is not well-finished, the facial features, hair and body shapes are easily recognizable. The Crouching Boy sculpture was purchased by Catherine the Great and is preserved today at the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.

The Apollo is an unfinished marble sculpture that dates from approximately 1530. It now stands in the Bargello museum in Florence. The statue had been commissioned for the private palace of Baccio Valori, but work on the sculpture stopped shortly after Alessandro de’ Medici was made duke and Michelangelo left the city. The sculpture then entered the collection of Duke Cosimo I. He placed it in the Boboli Gardens, where it decorated a long niche of its amphitheater. Hallmarks of Michelangelo’s style and methods are clearly evident on unfinished work, but the great sculptor never made note of the statue himself.

Michelangelo carved the bust of Brutus a few years after the defeat of the Republic of Florence. As a supporter of the Florentine Republic, Michelangelo designed and supervised the remodeling and construction of its fortifications and he was a strong opponent of tyranny. The sculpture was commissioned by the Donato Giannotti for Cardinal Niccolò Ridolfi. In the Divine Comedy, Dante had placed Brutus among the lowest of the low and although Michelangelo was very devoted to the poems of Dante, during the Renaissance, Brutus came to be seen as a strong and defiant opponent of tyranny. Michelangelo’s conception of Brutus is clearly expressed in this bust and represents a heroic scorn for tyranny, namely the Medici. The work is in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence.

Two of the last works that Michelangelo worked on during the last years of his life each involved the death of Christ. The Deposition, also called the Bandini Pietà, or The Lamentation over the Dead Christ is a marble sculpture that he worked between 1547 and 1555. It depicts four figures – the dead body of Jesus Christ, newly taken down from the Cross; Nicodemus, or possibly Joseph of Arimathea; Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary. The sculpture is housed in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Florence and is therefore also known as the Florentine Pietà.

Michelangelo made the Florence Pietà to decorate his tomb in Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. He began to work on the sculpture around the age of 72. He later sold it however, prior to completion, after intentionally damaging Christ’s left arm and leg. Some experts believe it was because the marble was flawed and the sculpture could not be completed without the addition of a piece of marble from another block. One of the owners of the work, Francesco Bandini, hired an apprentice sculptor named Tiberio Calcagni, to restore the work to its current composition. The face of Nicodemus under the hood is considered to be a self-portrait of Michelangelo himself, but since its inception, the piece has been plagued by ambiguities and never ending interpretations.

The Rondanini Pietà was worked on from 1552 until the last days of his life, in 1564. The statue stood for centuries in the courtyard at the Palazzo Rondanini in Rome. The work is currently housed in the Museum of Rondanini Pietà of Sforza Castle in Milan. This final sculpture revisited the theme of the Virgin Mary mourning over the body of the dead Christ, which he had first explored in his Pietà of 1499. It was produced at a time when Michelangelo’s sense of his own mortality was growing. He had worked on the sculpture all day, just six days before his death.