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ITAL4924 - Michelangelo: painter, sculptor and poet

Value: 0.5 course units
Dr Chiara Franceschini
Teaching structure:
one assessed 5000 word essay (100%).

Module Description:

Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) was not just a painter, a sculptor and an architect; he was also a poet and a writer of personal letters (about 1.400 letters survive) and other kinds of everyday notes. His life and his achievements were celebrated already when we was alive, and an entire history of art, the one conceived by his fellow painter Giorgio Vasari, was conceived having him at its summit as the Florentine glory par excellence. However, if we follow the course of his life through other sources, the picture that emerges is rather different: Michelangelo was an artist who had to compete with major rivals; who had intense relations with pupils and friends; who struggled to excel in every genre of art; who tried to rise the economic status of his family and who desired to be part of a larger circle of men and women of letters. His life was as long as to cover, and to adapt to, all the major political and religious crisis of the Italian Cinquecento: from the Savonarolan moment; to the Reformation; to the Counter-Reformation.

This module will provide both a reading of the writings by Michelangelo, especially his poetry and a selection from his letters, and an introduction to his production as a draftsman, a painter and a sculptor. We will compare autobiographical and biographical sources in order to deconstruct the myth of the artist. We will also give a context to his major works of arts and we will look at his career strategies and moves. The presentation of Michelangelo’s life and works will also aim to provide an introduction to the tormented history of the Italian Cinquecento.

Preparatory Reading and Set Texts:

Editions of Michelangelo’s poetry, to chose among:

  • Michelangelo, Rime e Lettere, a cura di P. Mastocola, Torino 1992.
  • Michelangelo, Rime, a cura di M. Residori, Milano 1998 [based on the ed. by N. Girardi].

Contemporary biographies:

  • Giorgio Vasari, La vita di Michelangelo nelle redazioni del 1550 e del 1568, ed. P. Barocchi, vol. II, Commento, Milano-Napoli 1962, pp. 447-448.
  • Ascanio Condivi, Vita di Michelagnolo Buonarroti, ed. G. Nencioni; con saggi di M. Hirst e C. Elam, Firenze 1998.

English translations with commentaries:

  • Michelangelo Buonarroti The poems, ed. and transl. by C. Ryan, London 1996.
  • Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the artists: a selection, transl. by G. Bull, London 1993, pp. 414-488 (‘Michelangelo’).
  • Ascanio Condivi, The life of Michel-Angelo, transl. by Alice Sedgwick Wohl; ed. by Hellmut Wohl, Pennsylvania State University Press 1999.

Introductory readings:

  • John T. Spike, Young Michelangelo: the path to the Sistine: a biography, London 2010.
  • William E. Wallace, Michelangelo: The Artist, the Man and his Times, Cambridge University Press 2010.
  • L. Barkan, Michelangelo: A Life on Paper, Princeton University Press, 2010.