LS: A Fit of Rage
Michelangelo wasn’t even 25-years-old when he finished one of the most masterful sculptures ever created, The Pieta. I’m always thrown into a state of numb humility, shocked into amazement of how much genius can be placed into a single human being, when I view Michelangelo’s sculptures. The musculature, the notion that if you reached out and touched the ribcage, the flesh would slide slightly over the hardness of bone. And the folds of the fabric? It’s almost easier to imagine him bending the stone itself than actually releasing those folds from its prison of granite chip by chip.
This piece of artwork began as a block of stone. And inside Mary and Christ? It is not somewhat cavernous, and filled with organs, it is merely rock, solid, plain, just like the parts that were removed by the artist’s chisel.
Only days after The Pieta was installed in Saint Peter’s Basilica, a conversation took place between two pilgrims, overheard by Michelangelo himself. It went something like this.
“You said, Bob. Look at that skin! I swear you could just reach out and touch it, couldn’t you?”
So they did. And it really was just stone.
Debby said, “Christoforo Solari sculpted it. It’s his best work yet, I’ll bet.”
“Solari, you said? I’ll have to tell my family. We all are big fans of Solari.”
And off they went to pray, or prostrate themselves, or whatever it was that pilgrims did in those days in St. Peter’s.
Behind a pillar, Michelangelo fumed. “Cristoforo Solari? Cristoforo Solari? Cristoforo Solari couldn’t begin to sculpt that piece. Yes, he does muscles well, but there’s not life to the skin. His folds are all loose, they flow yes, but they do not bend and lie in tension with the form they are draping. No! He shall not get the glory for my work.”
That night Michelangelo grabbed his hammer and chisel and stormed back into the church, rage carving his features into a harsh mask. He pounded an inscription on the sash that divided Mary’s breasts.
MICHEL ANGELUS BONAROTUS FLORENT FACIBAT.
Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florentine, made this.
“This was my work. Not Cristofor Solari’s. How dare anybody think otherwise? Well, let it not be mistaken again! Very well, then, let it not.”
But the sun rose the next morning. The anger subsided and Michelangelo walked into the church. There across the mother of Christ lay his name. She, her son, the work of art over which he had labored was now his alone. Not God’s. Not the world’s. And in that moment, perhaps something living inside the sculpture died under the weight of his own name.
We can’t know what he thought, but we do know that Michelangelo never signed another work, regretting the outburst of pride.
Who am I writing for? God? Others? Or myself? And if a master like Michelangelo, an artist that no one has ever eclipsed, could meet his work with such humility, surely I must meet mine with a great deal more.
lisa samson blogs at http://lisasamson.typepad.com/ and lives in Kentucky.