Museum Home Past Exhibitions Michelangelo to Vasari: Drawing the Figure in Renaissance Florence

July 15–October 19, 2003 at the Getty Center

Holy Family / Michelangelo
Holy Family
Michelangelo Buonarroti
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This exhibition examines Michelangelo's impact on two generations of Florentine artists.

With his ideal interpretation of the human body and the sculptural power of his compositions, Michelangelo influenced his contemporaries and followers. During the 16th century, Florence enjoyed a period of great artistic productivity under the patronage of Cosimo I de' Medici, duke of Florence. Artists developed a new movement called the bella maniera (beautiful style), or Mannerism; they sought to shock and delight viewers with exaggerated poses, extreme perspective, and muscular figures that threatened to spill off the page.

For all his work, from sculpture to painting to architecture, Michelangelo began by drawing on paper as a means of clarifying and building his ideas, at the core of which was the grasp of the human form. The sheet above shows how he could give a working drawing the monumentality of a sculpted object. The complex layering of media, rare in Michelangelo's drawings, enhances the sense of three-dimensionality.

Bearded Man: Youth Running / Vasari
Bearded Man Filling a Glass: Youth Running
Giorgio Vasari
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These two drawings are studies for the side panels of Feast in the House of Simon, a triptych that once decorated the refectory of the Monteoliveto Abbey near Naples.

Although Giorgio Vasari initially hesitated to accept this commission because of its odd shape, he nonetheless brilliantly exploited the possibilities of the frame. He filled the space to the brink with dynamic figures and compelling realistic details, such as the wine being poured from the bottle in the left panel.

Kneeling Figure / Andrea del Sarto
Study of a Kneeling Figure with a Sketch of a Face
Andrea del Sarto
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Andrea del Sarto was one of the first artists influenced by Michelangelo's emphasis on human musculature. The investigation of anatomy and proportion was crucial to an artist's understanding of the human body and one of the major challenges for Renaissance artists.

In this preparatory sketch of a naked model made from life, del Sarto accurately rendered the muscles and position of the limbs. Red chalk was the preferred medium for nude studies because of its malleability and ability to capture the energy and splendor of flesh.

This sketched figure appears in del Sarto's painting The Disputa on the Trinity, now in the Palazzo Pitti in Florence.

Dead Christ / Pontormo
Dead Christ (verso)
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With his head thrown back, the stiff form of the dead body of Christ stretches across the width of this sheet. While earlier Italian draftsmen emphasized grace and beauty, Pontormo introduced anatomical distortions and anxious expressions in his art. Loosely drawn sketches like this one were heralded as the sign of the stylistic and technical change brought about by Mannerism. This drawing was probably Pontormo's response to Albrecht Dürer's woodcuts, which display similarly dramatic, contorted linework.

Study of Male Hand / Bronzino
Study of a Male Hand
Agnolo Bronzino
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In 16th-century Florence, copying works by great masters was considered essential training for an artist. The inspiration for this study is the right hand of Giuliano de' Medici from a renowned sculpture by Michelangelo (Tomb of Giuliano de' Medici in the Church of San Lorenzo, Florence). The precise handling of veins and bone structure masks Bronzino's complex composition. He combined upper, lower, and frontal views of the hand that cannot be seen simultaneously.