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Michael Angelo.-Poet, painter, sculptor, and architect.
On his return to Florence his spirits revived, and he painted several splendid altar-pieces for the churches of his order. His design approached that of Raphael; and he was even superior in boldness of relief, and strength of colouring. Among his most celebrated pictures was a St. Sebastian, a St. Mark, Marriage of St. Catharine, the Four Evangelists, and the Assumption. He died in his convent of St. Mark, in 1517.
Michael Angelo Buonaroti, of the noble house of Canossa, was born in the year 1475, in the castle of Caprese, on the Arno. His predilection for art was so strong that he prevailed with his father to place him with Ghirlandaio. He early attracted the attention of Lorenzo de Medicis, who fostered his genius with a generosity and sympathy that the artist never forgot. Poet, painter, sculptor, and architect, he excelled in every branch of art; yet, in his declining days, he regretted not having devoted himself wholly to sculpture.
“The genius of this great man," says Opie, "made an entire change in modern art; to the little and meagre he gave grandeur and amplitude; to the confused and uninteresting he gave simplicity and effect; and to the feeble and unmeaning he stamped energy and character. Raphael, his greatest cotemporary and rival, thanked God for having been born in an age which boasted of such a man; and Reynolds, the greatest painter and critic of our times, prides himself on the capability of feeling his excellence, and declares that the slightest of his perfections ought to confer glory and distinction enough to satisfy an ambitious man." Michael Angelo having observed the great deficiency of Albert
Diligence. Sistine chapel.-Generalization.
Durer's rules for drawing, resolved to write a complete treatise on the anatomy and proportions of the human figure, and to compose a theory founded on the knowledge and experience acquired by long practice, for the benefit of all future artists. That this resolution was never carried into effect must ever be regretted, as an incalculable and irreparable loss to the arts; for certainly never man, before or since, (at least in modern times,) was so perfectly qualified for the task.
He was indefatigable in his practice, and in the study both of nature and the works of the ancients, and this was continued through his whole life, even to extreme old age; the poorest of men, as he observed of himself, did not labour from necessity more than he did from choice; indeed, from all that is related of him, he appears not to have had the slightest conception that his art was to be acquired by any other means than incessant and unwearied diligence, though, as Sir Joshua Reynolds justly remarks, he, of all men that ever lived, might have advanced the strongest pretensions to the efficacy of genius and inspiration.
The principal work of Michael Angelo in the way of painting, consists of a series of pictures painted on the ceiling and part of the walls of the Pope's chapel, commonly called the Cappella Sistina. The subjects, (taken from the sacred records,) beginning with the Creation, and ending with the Last Judgment, seem to have been chosen for the purpose of exhibiting the history of man, as he stands in relation to the Creator, and of showing his origin, progress, and the final dispensations of Providence respecting him. He avoids, on all occasions, a multiplicity of objects, and a multiplicity plicity of parts. He knew, as a great critic has judiciously remarked, that, in poetry and painting, many little things do not make a great one; and he has, therefore, rejected all unnecessary subdivisions and unessential particularities; hence the bold swell
Telling the story.-Purpose effected by one stroke.
and flow of his line, uninterrupted by useless breaks and petty inflections; hence the unincumbered breadth of his surfaces, on which the eye rests unfatigued and unperplexed by impertinent differences and trivial distinctions; and hence the fewness and largeness of the parts, both in respect to his figures and his compositions, at once so simple and so impressive.
The same method obtains with him in the intellectual as in the practical parts of the art. In his manner of conceiving his subject and telling his story, he equally avoids all petty and commonplace details of circumstances, ingenious artifices, ur.important shades of character, and merely curious varieties of expression, which arrest and attract the attention of the spectator, and weaken the force of the general effect: essence, not individuality ; sentiment, not incident; man, not men, are his objects; and like the Satan and Death, of Milton, he meditates no second stroke, but hastens, by one sure blow, to effect his purpose.
As his profound knowledge of the human figure taught him what to reject, so it likewise taught and enabled him to mark the essential forms with unexampled force and precision: possessed himself, he instantly possesses the spectator with a complete idea of his object. As in the drawing of his figures there is more knowledge and precision, so in their actions and attitudes there is more vigour and unity than is seen in any other modern painter. By this is meant, that the situation and turn of every limb is more correspondent with the whole, is more perfectly informed with the same mind, and more exactly bears its part in the general feeling; and hence it is, that though Raphael often exceeds him in the variety of his characters, the particular expression of passion, and what may be called the dramatic. effect of his pictures, yet, in giving the appearance of thought, capacity, and dignity, he is altogether unrivalled and unapproached.
Unison of parts.-Derelictions, dangerous.
This perfect unity or concurrence of every feature, joint, and limb, in the same feeling, united to the breadth and boldness of his style of drawing, is what constitutes the intellectual energy of his figures, and gives them that air of inspiration and of belonging to a higher species of beings, which Sir Joshua Reynolds notices with such admiration. Wrapped and absorbed themselves, they instantly communicate the same sensations to the beholder, who, awe-struck while he gazes on them, dares not think them on a level and of the same rank with himself.
Such is his figure of the Creator, borne aloft on clouds, dividing light from darkness. Such when, descending on attendant spirits, he imparts the electric spark of vitality and immortality to the newly-formed Adam, or, with a word, calls forth the adoring Eve from the side of her sleeping mate. Such are the majestic forms of the prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Zechariah, and Joel. And such, though wild and haggard, the form of the Cumean Sibyl, and many others, if not all, of that sublime and inimitable circle: all of them, more or less, in louder or lower tones, proclaim the imagination that conceived, and the hand that formed them, were divine. These are some of the principal features of the style of Michael Angelo; a style in which knowledge, energy, and simplicity bear equal parts; which unravels perplexity, gives the appearance of ease to difficulty, and imparts dignity and sentiment to every object it embraces. Though the sublime in poetry and painting so overpowers, and takes such absolute possession of the whole mind, that, while the work is before us, no room is left for the ungracious and ungrateful task of criticism, yet, in cooler moments, it cannot, it must not, be denied, that Michael Angelo had derelictions and deficiencies too great to be overlooked, and too dangerous to be excused; that he was sometimes capricious and extravagant in his inventions, and
Anatomical knowledge.-Elements of style.
generally too ostentatious of his anatomical knowledge; that he wanted the vigorous tone of colour and force of chiaroscuro necessary to complete the effect of his design; and that, from aiming always to be great, he often violated propriety, neglected the proper discrimination of character, and not seldom pushed it into monotony and bombast. It has been pleaded, in mitigation, that great painters, like great poets,
"sometimes gloriously offend,
And rise to faults true critics dare not mend;"
that his errors flowed from the same source as his beauties; and were often such as none but himself was ever capable of committing, and such as could never have occurred to a mean or vulgar mind.
"Sublimity of conception, grandeur of form, and breadth of manner," says Fuseli, are the elements of Michael Angelo's style. By these principles he selected or rejected the objects of innitation. As painter, as sculptor, as architect, he attempted, and above any other man succeeded, to unite magnificence of plan and endless variety of subordinate parts with the utmost simplicity and breadth. His line is uniformly grand; character and beauty were admitted only as far as they could be made subservient to grandeur. The child, the female, meanness, deformity, were by him indiscriminately stamped with grandeur. To give the appearance of perfect ease to the most perplexing difficulty, was the exclusive power of Michael Angelo. He is the inventor of epic painting, in that sublime circle of the Sistine chapel which exhibits the origin, the progress, and the final dispensations of theocracy. He has personified motion in the groups of the cartoon of Pisa; embodied sentiment on the monuments of San