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Introduction

All the original works of art in this exhibition come from the collections of the Casa Buonarroti in Florence.  A private foundation and museum, the Casa Buonarroti owns the largest collection of Michelangelo’s drawings and private papers in the world.  It is directed by Dottoressa Pina Ragionieri, curator of this exhibition in Syracuse and New York.

Michelangelo: The Man and the Myth

Even today the accomplishments of Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) seem super human.  His friends and colleagues called him “divine,” and admirers from around the world continue to travel long distances to see his work first hand.  At the end of his life Michelangelo burned a great number of his papers and his drawings so that he could avoid appearing, as one biographer put it, “less than perfect.”  In this search for perfection, Michelangelo showed himself to be very human. Nothing actually seems to have come easily to him.  Michelangelo took on multiple commissions and imagined enormous creative schemes that no single human being, not even he, could hope to complete in a lifetime.

In this exhibition you will learn about the places where Michelangelo worked and his accomplishments as a sculptor, painter, architect, military engineer, poet, and successful businessman.  A number of portraits will allow you to meet him face to face.  Finally, over a dozen of his original drawings and writings will allow you to see him at work.  While the master preferred to keep his creative process private—he is unlikely to have approved of an exhibition like this one—these materials demonstrate that Michelangelo the man cannot be understood without also exploring his myth.

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Michelangelo’s Italy

Michelangelo lived in Italy during the Renaissance.  Historians usually date this era of exploration, discovery, and rediscovery to around the years 1300 to 1600.  A politically unstable time when Italy was broken up into numerous independent and often warring city states, the Renaissance saw the birth of modern capitalism.  Individuals, groups and institutions invested great amounts of new wealth in art and architecture. Christianity remained the dominant religion, but artists, architects, writers, and other educated people increasingly turned to the moral and philosophical examples of Greece and Rome.  Ancient literature, art, and architecture offered models for rational thinking, clear expression, and naturalistic representation of the world around them.  The ancient world was so esteemed, that when a youthful work by Michelangelo was discovered not to be a Roman work its seller had claimed it to be, the owner demanded his money back.  Soon thereafter critics recognized that Michelangelo had not only equaled the standards of ancient art, but actually exceeded them.

The Laurentian Library

In the 1520s, Pope Clement VII commissioned Michelangelo to build a library, attached to the church of San Lorenzo in Florence, to hold the collection of ancient books and manuscripts owned by the Medici Family.  While construction for the library began in the mid-1520s, it was not completed until almost 40 years later by Bartolommeo Ammanati after Michelangelo’s model.  The window frames found in this exhibition are based on the designs for the vestibule outside the library.

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