Sunday, May 17, 2009

Kimbell Art Museum's New Michelangelo Painting

Michelangelo, The Torment of Saint Anthony, c. 1487–88. Oil and tempera on panel, 18 1/2 x 13 1/4 in. Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth

What an exciting addition to the Kimbell's already stellar permanent collection! This painting by Michelangelo was produced after being permitted to see Domenico Ghirlandaio's print and painting collection. Michelangelo was placed by his father into apprenticeship with Ghirlandaio for three years in 1488 "under the following conditions: That the said Michelangelo shall remain with the above-named during all the said time, to the end that they may teach him to paint and to exercise their vocation, and that the above-named shall have full command over him, paying him in the course of these three years threnty-four florins, as wages..." (exerpt from Lives of the Most Eminent Painters) He was particularly interested in Martin Schongauer's engraving The Temptation of Saint Anthony. A young artist, he created his own version of the biblical story.

Here is quoted text from Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Most Eminent Painters regarding this very painting: "Now it chanced that when Domenico was painting the great chapel of Santa Maria Novella, he one day went out, and Michelangelo then set himself to draw the scaffolding, with some trestles, the various utensils of the art, and some of those young men who were then working there. Domenico having returned and seen the drawing of Michelangelo exclaimed, 'This boy knows more than I do,' standing in amaze at the originality and novelty of manner which the judgment imparted to him by Heaven had enabled a mere child to exhibit. For the work was, in truth, rather such as might have fully satisfied the artist, had it been performed by the hand of an experienced master. But if it was possible to Michelangelo to effect so much, that happened because all the gifts of nature were in him enhanced, and strengthened by study and exercise, wherefore he daily produced works of increased excellence, as began clearly to be made manifest in the copy which he made of a plate engraved by the German Martino, and which procured him a very great name. This engraving was one which had just then been brought to Florence, and represented St. Anthony tormented by devils. It is a copperplate, and Michelangelo copied it with a pen in such a manner as had never before been seen. He painted it in colours also; and, the better to imitate the strange forms of some among those devils, he bought fish which had scales somewhat resembling those on the demons; in this painted copy he displayed so much ability that his credit and reputation were greatly increased thereby."

Vasari is credited to have begun the history of art with this excellent accounting, though some say his narrative is biased. Be that as it may, I procured my volume from an estate sale and have not had the time to read it in full. I feel it rising to the top of book pile to be read this summer. Oh, happy day - a summer to read and a new masterpiece to see this fall when it arrives at the Kimbell. Check out the link in the post title to the Kimbell's page about the acquisition of the painting.

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