Art historians have tentatively identified two handsome, naked men riding triumphantly on ferocious panthers as the only surviving bronze sculptures by the Renaissance giant Michelangelo. (The Guardian)
Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.
- According to the Guardian article, the so-called “Rothschild bronzes” may be the only surviving bronze sculptures by Michelangelo. Besides bronze, can you name some other media in which Renaissance artists worked?
- oil painting. Only one authenticated oil painting by Michelangelo has survived. Many paintings by fellow Renaissance titan Raphael, however, have survived quite nicely. Fact: Raphael was much more likely than Michelangelo to paint people with their clothes on.
- fresco. Frescoes are a type of painting executed on wet plaster, so the painting becomes a part of the wall itself. The artwork decorating the ceiling and walls Sistine Chapel is probably Michelangelo’s most famous work in fresco. (Let the Vatican Museums take you on a 3-D tour of the Sistine Chapel.)
- marble sculpture. Michelangelo is probably most well-known for his marble sculptures, including the famous David, which he carved just a few years before casting the Rothschild bronzes.
- architecture. Although Michelangelo himself was a far-sighted architect and engineer, the most famous piece of Renaissance architecture was Filippo Brunelleschi’s “Duomo,” the cathedral in Michelangelo’s hometown of Florence, Italy. (Learn more about the Duomo here.) Michelangelo’s David, over life-size at 5.2 meters (17 feet) tall, was originally commissioned to stand on the roof of the church.
- drawing or sketching. Like many artists, Michelangelo executed hundreds of preparatory sketches, either individual studies of anatomy or outlines of larger works.
- bas-relief. Bas-relief is a type of sculpture where the images are carved out of a shallow background. (Images on coins are bas-relief, for example.)
- fashion and textile design. Contrary to popular belief, Michelangelo did NOT design the uniforms for the Swiss Guards at the Vatican. His friend Raphael, however, did influence their Renaissance swagger.
- Why do you think no other bronze sculptures by Michelangelo have survived?
- Bronze is a valuable commodity. In the 500 years since Michelangelo was actively working, individuals and communities have melted down sculptures to use the bronze for other purposes. The Guardian lists one such example: A huge bronze sculpture of Michelangelo’s greatest patron, Pope Julius II, was melted down to make a cannon—which was nicknamed “La Giulia.”
- Other bronze sculptures may have survived, but have yet to be identified as works Michelangelo. (Stay hopeful, and look in your attics!)
- Identifying the Rothschild bronzes as genuine Michelangelos took “an international team of experts from different fields.” What fields or disciplines were involved in the “Renaissance whodunit”?
- art historians. The initial identification came from Paul Joannides, who connected the bronzes to sketches of Michelangelo sculptures made by a student of Michelangelo’s.
- anatomists. Studying anatomy and Michelangelo’s work revealed that “every detail in the bronzes was textbook perfect Michelangelo—from the six-packs to the belly buttons to the peroneal tendon.”
- neutron imaging scientists (tomographers?). A high-tech neutron scan of the bronzes dated them to the first decade of the 16th century.
- museum curators and archivists. Victoria Avery, keeper of applied arts at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, was a key resource in the attribution project. The sculptures, which belong to an unidentified private collector, will be displayed at the museum.
Nat Geo: Historical Italy