I Saw Michelangelo Carve

A Frenchman named Blaise de Vigenère saw Michelangelo at work on this Florentine Pietà.

The Florentine Pietà (or Deposition) c. 155o       226 cm (89 in),  in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Fl0rence
This photo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license here.

He was one of the few whom Michelangelo ever let watch him carve. Years later he wrote:

“I saw Michelangelo at work. He was over sixty and although he was not very strong, yet in a quarter of an hour he caused more splinters to fall from a very hard block of marble than three young masons in three or four times as long. No one can believe it who has not seen it with his own eyes. And he attacked the work with such energy and fire that I thought it would fly into pieces. With one blow he brought down fragments three or four fingers in breadth, and so exactly at the point marked, that if only a little more marble had fallen, he would have risked spoiling the whole work.”

In fact, Michelangelo was past seventy-five and the Frenchman must have chanced into his workshop on one of the very first days of the carving, when, having taken his measurements, Michelangelo pared the “fat” off his block. Otherwise he would not have brought down fragments so large nor worked so recklessly. Michelangelo hated to be watched while he worked, not only because idlers as well as critics made him nervous but because he liked to keep his carving technique a secret. Benvenuto Cellini seems to say he saw him working in the Medici chapel, but he may only have seen the large clay models Michelangelo used there for reference while he carved.

This entry was posted in art, great artists, Michelangelo, sculpture. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to I Saw Michelangelo Carve

  1. Aryul says:

    Wow, thanks for this and all your other post. I love learning more about the great Michelangelo. Hope you keep them coming!

  2. 100swallows says:

    I’m glad you like the stories, Aryul. Don’t you worry–there are lots more.

  3. This super realistic from Michelangelo. Nice picture

  4. Luke says:

    I saw the Pieta in St Peters Basilica a few years ago as well as the Taj Mahal and many great cathederals in Italy… what a legacy from these great artists=sculptors=stoneworkers !!.

  5. Pingback: Watching a Sculptor | Fernando's Stoneyard

  6. Jo says:

    Hi, Love this quote by Blaise de Vigenere, on Michelangelo! I am a student researching and I’m wondering what the source is that you took this quote from?

    • 100swallows says:

      Jo: The quote appears in Michelangelo: Paintings, Sculpture, Architecture by Ludwig Goldscheider
      (Phaidon Press Ltd. 5 Cromwell Place, London SW7 and Phaidon Publishers Inc. and 111 Fourth Ave. New York, N.Y. 10003; first edition 1953, revised and reprinted 1967)

      Ludwig Goldscheider puts this quote in his section on Michelangelo’s Florentine Pietà (page 22) but I have never found his source. I will keep looking. Meanwhile let me recommend Goldscheider’s book, which is one of the best publications on Michelangelo and his work which I have ever found, not only for the unique photos but for the insights into the artist and his methods and the quotations by critics and historians (normally with their sources identified) that appear everywhere. I hope you can find a copy. Good luck with your research. Un saludo

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