Robert Mileham wrote:
I mean no disrespect for either of these two great sculptors. They, like Beethoven and Mozart, are pillars of our western art. Nevertheless I have reservations especially about Michelangelo. Neither an academic nor even well read in Art History I am a simple sculptor with strong but malleable views.
If you were an alien with no prejudices, no foreknowledge of these sculptors would you believe that Michelangelo’s David and Pieta were by the same artist?
But, Robert, our art isn’t for aliens. Culture is an accumulation of thought and works humans have come up with over the centuries–one builds on another. It is the meaning man has given his circumstances: education is “foreknowledge”.
I don’t know what you mean to imply here. Why shouldn’t the two works be so different? Creating always means experimenting.
If you knew the story of David and Goliath and were asked which of the two Michelangelo was trying to depict; using reason only, who would it be?
Only reason? But reason would have to take into account the facts one knows about the story and also the way the figure of David had changed into an icon of patriotism or independence. Michelangelo was more concerned with that symbol than with the actual story of the boy and the giant. And also with his own idea of beauty and the greatness of Man.
If you did not know what the Pieta was meant to depict, honestly would you believe it to be a Mother and Son subject?
But you do know what the Pietà is meant to depict–there’s no way out of that. The alien is just ignorant.
In the first I would argue that he is huge; facially very ugly and anatomically wrong (head and hands too big).
I understand that you mean to be the alien arguing here and not yourself. I’m sorry the little green fellow would get scared. You would have to explain to him that artists sometimes make colossal figures because humans are impressed by size. And if he is put off by the face, tell him it is Michelangelo’s unique conception of a beautiful, dramatic, face, but that some humans like you find it ugly. And explain that getting the anatomy “right” is a fine aim but that there are higher ones.
In the second, even if Mary had borne Jesus at the age of 16 she would have been approaching 50. The actress Sarah Barnhart was also a sculptress and produced this extraordinary work. Surely the great pillar of Renaissance sculpture could have come somewhat closer to the emotion framework Frank Lin mentions. I do not deny, it is very beautiful and moving but for a different story.
Michelangelo, taking that subject, found a way of sculpting a beautiful girl’s face and a beautiful nude and a reverie of beautiful folds. But he also managed to create a mood of great sadness. That’s at least a nine out of ten. Mere illustration anyone can do.
Now the first book of Samuel, chapter 16 vv 12 describes David ‘of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look too.’ Judging by the number of intimate relations he subsequently had with women, how could we possibly doubt that? How also could we think that Michelangelo would have missed this? He was well able to create beautiful male faces!
Michelangelo’s attempts at sculpting women are a laugh, they are men with breasts.
Hey, Robert, judging by the number of intimate relations old Rasputin had with women, you’d think ugliness was the secret. Actually, I always thought David’s is as beautiful a face as any human ever made, though I wouldn’t choose beautiful if I had to pick just one word. The dramatic element–the frown, those rolling eyes, that glance–takes it out of the contest with quiet, classical Greek beauty. In any case, I don’t see how you could call such an idealized face, one with such regular, symmetrical features, ugly? Whereas, I do see how one might call Bernini’s David’s grimacing face ugly.
I don’t laugh at Michelangelo’s women figures. I always thought the Dawn and Night monsters, whatever sex they were, were of an otherworldly beauty.
Bernini’s work, like Mozart seems to pour out of him, unlike his great predecessor he does not destroy his work (does he?), or even cross anything out! He is streets ahead of him in animated action. Who could miss St Theresa’s passionate emotions either?
Bernini had greater natural facility–no doubt about it. In that he was like Mozart. But let’s not blame Michelangelo for his frustration. Admire one for the miraculous gift from heaven, the other for his hard work and suffering.
It’s true: no one could miss Theresa’s passionate emotions–Bernini saw to that. I agree that the figure is very successful but the patron watching the “show” from the wing is downright corny. That is the danger of trying to portray suffering or religious fervor by showing the blubbering face and the hanky. The viewer sees what is meant but keeps his distance, which is dangerous for the whining figure. Dangerous because it is too close to the comical or disagreeable. The exaggeration of Baroque art is its limitation.
It is not so much a matter of who is best, the guy who comes after is always at an advantage, he or she knows what they have to surpass. In their own way they were both ground breakers of sorts.
(On a more technical point, I understand that Michelangelo believed in carving from one block of marble where Bernini used multiple blocks joined together facilitating more difficult poses.)
There is such a difference between sculpture modelled and sculpture carved. Michelangelo was a stone sculptor and his designs are made with the compactness and hardness of stone in mind. Though Bernini was also a stone sculptor, he was so good that he treated stone as if it were NOT stone–as if it were wax or clay. They talk about the mystery of Michelangelo’s carving technique; much more interesting, more mysterious, is Bernini’s. How could anyone carve, for example, that Daphne without breaking the marble everywhere? Bernini was freer in stone than anyone who came before him. And so he began imagining figures with outspread limbs and other cantilevers and unsupported frills. This was previously considered (and still is) sculptural folly, mainly because stone breaks.
There is also the difference in each man’s conception of a powerful design. Michelangelo made his out of a triangle, a circle, a square. Bernini, freer, broke out of those constricting shapes.
Robert: Thanks for this. Your own sculpture is wonderful. I especially liked the sprightly nymphs.
Robert’s blog: http://dorsetsculpture.blogspot.com/