Remarks by Dottoressa Pina Ragionieri Director of Casa Buonarroti
February 22, 2008
For those who work in the shadow of Michelangelo at Casa Buonarroti in Florence, the subject of this exhibition is naturally of the greatest interest: its first section speaks about the face of the Renaissance Master, the second presents a selection from one of the most precious properties of the Institution I have been directing for many years: that is, the Collection of original drawings by Michelangelo.
Michelangelo was not fond of portraying himself or of being portrayed by others. Vasari writes: "Of Michelangelo there are but two painted portraits ... and there is a bronze portrait in full relief made by Daniello Ricciarelli, as well as this famous one by Cavalier Lione, of which so many copies have been made..." Only a few additions can be made to Vasari's brief list, one of the most important of which is the watercolour by Francisco de Hollanda, a singularly domestic picture of Michelangelo, who is seen at over the age of seventy.
Still, the fame of Michelangelo meant that large numbers of engravings and pictures were made in the sixteenth century. About a hundred were catalogued by Ernst Steinmann, who in 1911 organized the first and, as far as we know, the only exhibition of portraits of Michelangelo to have been put on to date. In 1913 he published a monumental book on the subject. The book is present in our exhibition, open to the page with the reproduction of the famous watercolor by Francisco de Hollanda.
But the image of Michelangelo has also come down to us through other types of portraits: artists used his features in groups of figures in their works. We find many examples of these, including Raphael in the Stanza della Segnatura in the Vatican. And writers, most notably Condivi and Vasari, described him in their biographies, even down to the detail of certain streaks, wavering between gold and blue, in the great Master's eyes.
Ernst Steinmann wrote: "Michelangelo let the fire of his friendship express himself more willingly with his pen than with his brush or scalpel." It is a very similar conviction that leads us to suggest, in the first section of our exhibition, an "inner" portrait of the artist, not only through the "written portraits" he made, but also through his Rimes. Together with Steinmann's great book - it will be possible to see autograph poems by the great Master, and some editions of his verses.
The second section of our exhibition shows a good number of drawings by Michelangelo, coming from the Casa Buonarroti Collection. Let's tell briefly its interesting story.
Vasari tells us that, prior to his death in Rome in 1564, Michelangelo had burned "a large number of his own drawings, sketches and cartoons so that no one should see the labors he endured and the ways he tested his genius, and lest he should appear less than perfect." It is partly because of the artist's desire for perfection that his graphic work is so rare and valuable: even Leonardo Buonarroti, his nephew and heir, was obliged to pay a high price for a group of Michelangelo's drawings that came onto the Roman market after the artist's death. These were probably the ones that Leonardo would donate to Cosimo I dei Medici around 1566.
When, in the second decade of the seventeenth century, Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger decided to devote a series of rooms in the family house on via Ghibellina to the memory of his great ancestor, a good number of the drawings given to the Medici were returned by Cosimo II.
Many of the drawings were collected in volumes at the time, but the ones that were considered most beautiful were framed and hung on the walls of the new rooms. The collection of Michelangelo's drawings owned by the Buonarroti family was the largest in the world at the time, and with more than 200 sheets, it remains so today.
Cosimo Buonarroti, the last direct heir of the family, died in 1858. He had been the owner of the greater part of Michelangelo's papers and he left them to the public in his will, along with the house on Via Ghibellina and the objects contained in it.
As the demands of conservation make it impossible to place the graphic works permanently on show, only small samples of the collection are displayed in rotation in the Casa Buonarroti Museum. I am therefore very happy to share some of these treasures with our friends in Syracuse and New York, painting a unique portrait of the artist through his words and his drawings.
Click here for the Casa Buonarroti website in Florence, Italy.