Michelangelo drawings on display in Washington National Gallery of Art features Renaissance master through Jan. 5

December 22, 1996|By Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON - Michelangelo's drawings and a bevy of works based on them by other Renaissance artists are available to be viewed and enjoyed at the National Gallery of Art, thanks to their current owner, Queen Elizabeth II of Britain.

Estimates of the number of Michelangelo drawings in existence vary from about 350 to 750 - with no more than 10 believed to be in the United States.

"Michelangelo and His Influence: Drawings From Windsor Castle" temporarily augments this small figure, with 22 drawings on 18 sheets by Michelangelo, and more than four dozen works by contemporaries who drew inspiration from him.

The exhibition remains on display in the museum's East Building through Jan. 5.

Few artists in history evoke as much reverence as Michelangelo.

Michelangelo Buonarroti was born in the Tuscan town of Caprese, Italy, on March 6, 1475. He lived in Florence and Rome during the height of the Renaissance, working at various times as a sculptor, a painter and architect. Throughout these periods, however, he continued to make drawings.

Michelangelo's fellow artists held him in high regard.

Many of them fashioned direct copies of his compositions, while others produced renderings closely based on his subject matter. Some merely borrowed from his work, creating their own stirring interpretations.

The display opens with a look at "Ideal Heads," portraits based on historical and imaginary figures. The centerpiece of this section is an alluring two-sided depiction of the Virgin Mary by Michelangelo.

Surrounding this sublime image is a series of profile renditions by other artists who derived their manner not only from Michelangelo's work, but also from a style of portraiture practiced during the Renaissance.

Highlighting two galleries is a selection of presentation drawings - those Michelangelo made as gifts.

Among noteworthy works here is a sophisticated three-tier drawing, "The Fall of Phaeton" (1533), depicting the ill-fated chariot ride by the son of Apollo, which Michelangelo produced as gift for Tommaso de' Cavalieri, a young Roman aristocrat of whom the artist was enamored.

Close by, an interpretation of Phaeton by Raffaello da Montelupo is much more condensed, with the imagery located beneath a previously drawn architectural form.

A red chalk drawing by Michelangelo, "The Archers" (about 1530), is complemented by a near perfect copy of the same image crafted by Bernardino Cesari, roughly 70 years after Michelangelo executed the original.

Another work that Michelangelo made for Cavalieri is a unique two-sided black chalk drawing that not only inspired two similar versions by other artists included here, but also provides an insight to the master's creative process.

The recto, or front side, of "Tityus" (1532) shows the son of Zeus, chained to a rock and under attack from a large, tenacious bird - his punishment for the attempted rape of the children of Leto. On its verso, or backside, Michelangelo traced his own image of Tityus, and rearranged the figure as a preliminary sketch for another drawing on display, "The Risen Christ" (1532).

A spirited pen-and-ink version of Hercules battling the Hydra by Raphael accents a section devoted to the influence of pTC Michelangelo's sculptures and highly detailed anatomical drawings.

Michelangelo's famed depictions of the human form - whether in whole or in part - clearly reflect his astute understanding of the body and physical movement.

"He could do more with the human body, I think, than any other artist before or since," said Paul Joannides, art historian at the University of Cambridge and author of the exhibition's catalog.

"He could wring a greater range of emotion, a greater range of spiritual expression, from the bend of a wrist, or the bend of a knee," Joannides said.

The show concludes with a survey of works by other artists based on Michelangelo's biblical depictions - images inspired not so much by his drawings as by his illustrious paintings, especially those that grace the interior of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.

The National Gallery of Art is on Constitution Avenue between Seventh and Third streets N.W. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays. Admission is free.

Pub Date: 12/22/96

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