Michelangelo was a stone cutter … we know this from David and his other
extraordinary sculptures in marble.
So how could a pair
of three-foot tall bronze sculptures be
attributed to him recently? On what basis, when there is no other Michelangelo bronze to
compare to, stylistically?
The figures are a non-matching pair of men riding in triumph
on two sinuous panthers, one man older and lithe, the other young and athletic.
They have long been admired for the beauty of their anatomy and expression,
their first recorded attribution was to Michelangelo when they catalogued in
the collection of Adolphe de Rothschild in the 19th century. But, since they there
was no other documentation and they are unsigned, this attribution was
dismissed and, for the past 120 years, the bronzes have been attributed to
various other sculptors.
That changed last autumn when Prof Paul Joannides, Emeritus
Professor of Art History at the University
of Cambridge, connected
the bronzes to a drawing by one of Michelangelo’s apprentices. The drawing is in
the Musée Fabre
According to the press release issued by The FitzwilliamMuseum
in Cambridge, England, “A sheet of studies with
Virgin Embracing Infant Jesus, c.1508, is a student’s faithful copy of various
slightly earlier lost sketches by Michelangelo. In one corner is a composition
of a muscular youth riding a panther, which is very similar in pose to the
bronzes, and drawn in the abrupt, forceful manner that Michelangelo employed in
designs for sculpture. This suggests that Michelangelo was working up this very
unusual theme for a work in three dimensions.”
So, the drawing provides a clue. And – although none remain to us – there is
the documented knowledge that Michelangelo did produce works in bronze. I’d say
it that production of works in bronze was expected of a Renaissance sculptor of
any standing. It’s known that one of two documented Michelangelo sculptures was
destroyed during the French Revolution; the other, a twice life-size statue of
Pope Julius II, was melted down for
artillery just three years after it was completed.
The recent insight
provided by the drawing triggered a program of concentrated art-historical
research. When compared with other works by Michelangelo the bronzes were found
to be very similar in style and anatomy to his works of 1500-1510. That dating was
confirmed by preliminary interpretation of initial scientific analysis.
Interdisciplinary research continues.
Dr Victoria Avery, Keeper of the Applied Arts Department of
the Fitzwilliam Museum
says, "It has been fantastically exciting to have been able to participate
in this ground-breaking project, which has involved input from many
art-historians in the UK, Europe and the States, and to draw on evidence from
conservation scientists and anatomists.
The bronzes and a selection of the evidence are now on
display in the Italian galleries at the Fitzwilliam
Museum, Cambridge, from February 3 until 9 August