Michelangelo’s Thinker

Lorenzo de Medici by Michelangelo, in the Medici Chapel, Florence, Italy

Michelangelo didn’t dress his statues of Lorenzo and Giuliano D’Medici in the fine clothes rich men actually wore around Florence in his time. He put Roman army outfits on them. They were rulers, weren’t they? One would be an active commander on campaign; the other, a meditating general, his elbow resting on the money box, the “purse”, which is a symbol for his troubling responsibilities.

And their Roman outfits were very much made-to-order.

They are both wearing cuirasses or chest armor, which Michelangelo always liked to model because it was idealized anatomy to start with. He went right ahead and idealized its flexibility too. No metal cuirass had even been so much like a wonderful breast. It bent like rubber on his statues—wherever necessary to fit the folds or the curves of beauty, of course.

Giuliano de Medici

“Metal doesn’t bend like that?” asks the Master. “Pretend it’s leather. What? You say leather doesn’t bend like that either? Forget that the Duke is wearing a cuirass. That’s his beautiful chest—what difference does it make?”

Like the cuirass were the stockings. On the thinking general, the Lorenzo, they cover his feet, his ankles, and his shins, like real stockings. But on the other figure, the Giuliano, they disappear somewhere as you follow them down to the feet, which are bare. You wonder whether the folded-back top of the supposed sock is really only a garter. “Does Giuliano have stockings on or are those his bare ankles?” you ask the Master.
“However you see it, that’s fine,” he answers.

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