If the museum’s special exhibition of drawings by Italian Renaissance sculptor, painter, and architect Michelangelo Buonarroti leaves you craving more, you’ll enjoy this companion show exploring that master’s impact on the history and practice of art. Master/Apprentice: Imitation and Inspiration in the Renaissance surveys, through almost 50 works from the CMA’s collection, the enthusiasm with which Michelangelo’s creations have been copied, imitated, and continually reborn since the 1500s.
Word of Michelangelo’s genius and ambition spread early in the 1500s, when his sculpted David was unveiled in Florence (1504), his Sistine Chapel ceiling frescoes were completed in Rome (1512), and the first reproductions of his works were made as engravings. In The Climbers engraving, made just six years after Michelangelo’s 1504 commission to paint the monumental Battle of Cascina fresco in Florence’s city hall, engraver Marcantonio Raimondi quoted three figures directly from the left side of the composition. The print demonstrated Marcantonio’s superior ability in accurately rendering Michelangelo’s heroic male figures.
Michelangelo’s keenly observed human figures made from live nude models also shaped the very idea of life drawing. Among several of such drawings in the exhibition, a work by sculptor Baccio Bandinelli reveals his dependence on Michelangelo’s famed nude figures on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Like Michelangelo, Bandinelli brought to drawing a knowledge of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture, creating fine lines and shading with red chalk to imitate the appearance of sculpted stone.
Michelangelo’s attention to human anatomy so greatly influenced his contemporaries that the practice of dissection became a regular part of artistic training in Florence around 1550. Several drawings in the exhibition attest to the widespread study of anatomy, including one attributed to Bartolommeo da Arezzo that portrays a human torso stripped of its skin. Such studies, although they may seem macabre today, were intended to assist the artist in perfecting the human form, with Michelangelo’s nudes considered the ultimate model for imitation. Even in the 1800s, French sculptor Auguste Rodin, among many other artists, turned to Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling for inspiration. The twisting titans on Rodin’s sculpted pedestal base were inspired by Michelangelo’s painted male nudes on the ceiling. Rodin did not copy the poses directly but captured the energy and movement of the nudes in innovative three-dimensional forms.
Master/Apprentice is the result of a graduate seminar in the CMA-CWRU Joint Program taught by Erin Benay and myself. The eight students in the seminar performed research and wrote labels for the works in the exhibition.