Blackpaint 76

Michelangelo’s Dream” at the Courtauld Gallery

I have to say that I was hoping to be able to find things to criticise in this exhibition.  The advice given by WordPress to bloggers is: be controversial!  What better opportunity could there be than to attack God – because Michelangelo is the Clapton of drawing.

Unfortunately, they are stunning – but I do have some minor cavils to air, so all is not lost.

The very first drawing is a preliminary sketch of  Phaeton’s fall from the heavenly chariot; it is brilliantly realised, and you would think could not be improved – until you see the next two versions.  The next, in black chalk, pulls the composition together into a triangular shape with Helion at the apex.  Phaeton’s upside-down, falling body echoing that of the falling horse on the right of the picture and heading towards the base, formed by the earth and Phaeton’s frantic sisters.

The third (or was it the second?) version is a vertical, funnel- shaped plummet  towards the earth, with the horses interlocked in an embrace.

Next is the Dream; a winged messenger swoops down to blow a horn in the face of a sleeping, muscular nude male, lounging on a box and leaning against a sort of globe.  in the box is a collection of theatrical masks and around the figure, lightly but perfectly drawn in the background, a set of writhing figures indulge in what appear to be sinful activities.  The drawing is in black chalk, and the shading is soft, no distinguishable lines (which is true of most of the drawings, except where a stylus has been used, and very light shading lines in these).  As Laura Cumming says, it has a cinematic feel, as if these background figures are appearing and disappearing on a screen.

To lower the general tone, the globe appears to be bisected to resemble the two halves of a bottom.

I think the next is Ganymede, being attacked in mid air from behind, by a giant eagle, the talons of which are gripping the boy’s legs; also in black chalk.

Next is Bacchanal, this time in red chalk; a group of chubby (but muscular) boys is carting a dead horse towards a pot.  A drunken man is sprawled on the right and an old female satyr is nursing a child (I think) on the left.

There now follows The Risen Christ, the usual Michelangelo muscular young man thrusting up towards heaven with a cape, or remnant of winding sheet round one shoulder – and perhaps it’s now pertinent to ask why they have such tiny genitals, like seed pearls.  Is it some sort of Renaissance unspoken convention?  Maybe they copied it from the Greeks and Romans.

A Resurrection now, in black chalk over red and stylus – shading lines, folllowed by-

Another Resurrection, this time a single figure of the risen Christ.  A static pose, even rather awkward; the body slightly lumpy – so not great, but still Michelangelo.

Now a figure of Lazarus, from 1516 (the main “Presentation Drawings” date from 1533) in red chalk; M. used the pose for Christ later.

I must have missed the Tityos, who has his liver eaten by eagles, like Prometheus; maybe I just don’t remember it.

There were some good copies by other artists, notably Tintoretto, on blue-green paper.

So – they are fantastic drawings, probably the best ever and all that, but a bit too refined and polished for my taste.  That probably has to do with the circumstances; the artist was seemingly smitten – in vain – with the young noble he drew them for, so they are sort of love tokens.

Not for me – I like a bit of crudeness, heavy shading, visible correction, sketchiness really (see example  below).  I remember an exhibition of Turner views of Venice; I thought the sketches were fantastic, the finished paintings a disappointment.

More on the Courtauld tomorrow.  By the way, I forgot to mention, in Blackpaint 64, the film about Michelangelo, “The Pride and the Passion”.

And here’s one of mine:


Wednesday 24th Feb 2010

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