‘New’ Michelangelo Sculptures Identified

ARTS

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)

Use our beautiful historical map of Italy to put the Renaissance in context.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.

Isn't she beautiful? Michelangelo Buonarroti painted this depiction of the Delphic sibyl in 1509, about a year or two after he may have sculpted the so-called "Rothschild Bronzes." (Sibyls were oracles or prophets, and this one worked in ancient Delphi, Greece.) She is part of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, part of the Vatican in Rome, Italy. Fresco by Michelangelo Buonarroti (Sistine Chapel, Vatican City)

My favorite Michelangelo! Michelangelo Buonarroti painted this depiction of the Delphic sibyl in 1509, about a year or two after he may have sculpted the so-called “Rothschild Bronzes.” (Sibyls were oracles or prophets, and this one worked in ancient Delphi, Greece.) She is part of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, at the Vatican in Rome, Italy.
Fresco by Michelangelo Buonarroti (Sistine Chapel, Vatican City)

Discussion Ideas

  • 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?
  • "Small Cowper Madonna," by Raphael (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.)

    “Small Cowper Madonna,” by Raphael (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.)

  • 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.

 

  • The sagging skin of St. Bartholomew is allegedly a self-portrait of Michelangelo. Fresco by Michelangelo Buonarroti (The Last Judgement, Sistine Chapel, Vatican City)

    The sagging skin of St. Bartholomew is allegedly a self-portrait of Michelangelo.
    Fresco by Michelangelo Buonarroti (The Last Judgement, Sistine Chapel, Vatican City)

  • 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.)

 

  • This view of the David shows that Michelangelo carved the Biblical hero as a southpaw—left-handed, like Michelangelo himself.  Photograph by Starkoss, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-SA-4.0

    This view of the David shows that Michelangelo carved the Biblical hero as a southpaw—left-handed, like Michelangelo himself.
    Photograph by Starkoss, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-SA-4.0

  • 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.

 

  • Hundreds of years after its construction, the Duomo still dominates the skyline of Florence, Italy. Photograph by Patrick McCarthy, National Geographic

    Hundreds of years after its construction, the Duomo still dominates the skyline of Florence, Italy.
    Photograph by Patrick McCarthy, National Geographic

  • 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.

 

  • Michelangelo sketched the toes, hands, face, and torso of the Libyan sibyl long before he painted her in plaster (and clothed) on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Fresco by Michelangelo Buonarroti (Sistine Chapel, Vatican City)

    Michelangelo sketched the toes, hands, face, and torso of the Libyan sibyl long before he painted her in plaster (and clothed) on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
    Fresco by Michelangelo Buonarroti (Sistine Chapel, Vatican City)

  • drawing or sketching. Like many artists, Michelangelo executed hundreds of preparatory sketches, either individual studies of anatomy or outlines of larger works.

 

  • The metalsmith Lorenzo Ghiberti sculpted bronze bas-reliefs for the doors of the baptistry of the Florence Cathedral (the Duomo). Michelangelo called these doors the "Gates of Paradise." (The close-up panel is Moses receiving the Ten Commandments in what generously seems more like Renaissance Tuscany than the prehistoric Negev.) Photographs by Eteru (doors) and Kandi (Moses), courtesy Wikimedia. Both CC-BY-SA 3.0

    The metalsmith Lorenzo Ghiberti sculpted bronze bas-reliefs for the doors of the baptistry of the Florence Cathedral (the Duomo). Michelangelo called these doors the “Gates of Paradise.” (The close-up panel is Moses receiving the Ten Commandments in what generously seems more like Renaissance Tuscany than the prehistoric Negev.)
    Photographs by Eteru (doors) and Kandi (Moses), courtesy Wikimedia. Both CC-BY-SA 3.0

  • 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.)

 

  • Pontifical Swiss Guards are responsible for the safety and security of the Pope and the Vatican. While they still carry traditional equipment such as a swords, modern Swiss Guards also carry guns. Photograph by Lobozpics, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-SA-3.0

    Pontifical Swiss Guards are responsible for the safety and security of the Pope and the Vatican. While they still carry traditional equipment such as a swords, modern Swiss Guards also carry guns.
    Photograph by Lobozpics, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-SA-3.0

  • 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.

 

TEACHERS’ TOOLKIT

The Guardian: Michelangelo’s bronze panther-riders revealed after ‘Renaissance whodunnit’

Nat Geo: Historical Italy

3 responses to “‘New’ Michelangelo Sculptures Identified

  1. Dilphic sybile…in this painting i can say that michealangelo again took an idea from the human body part(stomach)
    From her face till her feet…we can see the shape of a stomach..

    Like

  2. Pingback: 11 Things We Learned This Week | Nat Geo Education Blog·

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