Art during the Renaissance Period – Part 4 (Michelangelo Buonarroti ‚Äď Statue of Moses)


Statue of Moses


                   The Statue of Moses is a part of the tomb of Pope Julius II. It was originally intended to be for the upper portion of a massive three storey monument which was to hold more than 40 statues. The project was later scaled down step-by-step until it the plan had become a simple wall tomb with less than one third of the intended number of statues. This was a cause of much personal frustration to him, as an artist who was primarily a sculptor. He considered the Statue of Moses as his most important and most life-like of all his creations.

                  Moses shows a seated figure, not in any dynamic action, yet somehow managing to exude restless energy and  anger. This is at the point in the story where Moses returns from the Mount Sinai with the two tablets of testimony with the intent to deliver the Ten Commandments to his people but instead breaks them in his terrible anger when he sees them worshipping the Golden Calf. His left leg is pulled back, so the hips are turned towards the left, with the torso turned a little towards the right, the face is again turned towards the left and he pulls his beard to the right side. This creates an interesting and dynamic composition. The figure looks disproportionate, with a long torso, because the statue was meant to be on the upper storey and he had proportioned it to look right when viewed from below.

Art during the Renaissance Period – Part 4 (Michelangelo Buonarroti ‚Äď Sistine Chapel ceiling)


                  The central panel of the Sistine Chapel is decorated with the nine scenes from the Book of Genesis: (from left to right on the image below) First Day of Creation, Creation of the Sun and Moon, Dividing Water from Heavens, Creation of Adam, Creation of Eve, Temptation and Banishment, Sacrifice of Noah, The Great Flood and Noah`s Drunkenness. Above and below these scenes are 12 figures of prophets and sibyls who prophesied the coming of the Messiah.  Furthermore, the crescent-shaped lunettes are decorated with the ancestors of Christ, the triangular-shaped spandrels with figures not yet identified and the four, large corner pendentives with a biblical story.   

Sistine Chapel ceiling

Dividing Water from Heaven

First Day of Creation

Delphic Sibyl


                   The Last Judgement can be seen on the on the sanctuary wall (at the far end) which he had painted in his later years:  

Sistine Chapel

The above image is licensed by its author, Patrick Landy (FSU Guy (talk)) under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

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¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Michelangelo used the technique called cangiante (derived from the Italian word cangiare, meaning ‘to change’) often in his paintings.¬† Cangiante is the technique of changing from the local¬†hue¬†to a different hue in highlight areas or in shadow areas. This is done when the local hue (when it is dark)¬†cannot be made light enough¬†for highlight areas or when the local hue (when it is light) cannot be made dark enough for shadow areas without the resulting color¬†getting muddied or dull. This might have come about¬†because the¬†pigments available at that time were¬†severely limited (and many artists even made their own paints); but it is still an interesting technique used even now.¬†In ‘Prophet Jeremiah’, the yellow of the tunic is changed to red in the shadows. In the image below this, the white sleeve has gold shadows in it.

Prophet Jeremiah



                  He had worked in extremely uncomfortable conditions standing on a scaffolding with his head tilted backwards, here`s a humorous sonnet he had written describing his condition along with an illustration:

I’ve grown a goitre by dwelling in this den‚Äď
As cats from stagnant streams in Lombardy,
Or in what other land they hap to be‚Äď
Which drives the belly close beneath the chin:
My beard turns up to heaven; my nape falls in,
Fixed on my spine: my breast-bone visibly
Grows like a harp: a rich embroidery
Bedews my face from brush-drops thick and thin.
My loins into my paunch like levers grind:
My buttock like a crupper bears my weight;
My feet unguided wander to and fro;
In front my skin grows loose and long; behind,
By bending it becomes more taut and strait;
Crosswise I strain me like a Syrian bow:
Whence false and quaint, I know,
Must be the fruit of squinting brain and eye;
For ill can aim the gun that bends awry.
Come then, Giovanni, try
To succour my dead pictures and my fame;
Since foul I fare and painting is my shame.

Michelangelo's illustration to his sonnet



Art during the Renaissance Period – Part 4 (Michelangelo Buonarroti ‚Äď Sistine Chapel ceiling(Creation of Adam))


Creation of Adam (Before Restoration)

                In 1505, Michelangelo was commisioned by Pope Julius II to build his papal tomb. It was to be a massive project , he had designed a three-story monument which would have contained over 40 marble  sculptures. But due to mounting money shortages, he was constantly interrupted to work on other tasks, and as a result the tomb took over 40 years to complete and even than not to his satisfaction. During this time, from 1508 to 1512, he worked on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, though he had a dislike for painting. He was commissioned to paint the 12 apostles, but he expanded the vision to include almost 300 figures, covering over 5000 square feet in frescos, in the end omitting the apostles altogether, saying it would have been a waste of space! It is a monumental work, much more than any artist could single handedly, accomplish in one lifetime. The frescos depict scenes from the Book of Genesis in the centre panel, and on either side of these are figures of prophets and sibyls who foretold the coming of the Messiah, also are scattered smaller figures of cherubs and ignudi.

              The Creation of Adam must be the most famous of these frescoes, with the hands of God and Man having an iconic status. It is the fourth or the sixth (depending on which side you count from) of the frescoes in the central panel, depicting the scene where God breathes life into Adam, the first man. Adam is in a reclining position on top of a hill stretching his left hand , somewhat passively, towards God. The right hand is masterfully foreshortened, as Adam rests on it, head shown sunk  in his shoulders.  God is shown a bearded man, arriving in swirling robes along with angels. His right hand is stretched towards Adam, with more purpose and energy. His left hand is around (what is thought of as) the yet-to-be-born Eve. This gap between the hands that Michelangelo had left, the fingers about to touch but yet not have made the contact, its a stroke of his genius. It generates so much tension and anticipation in the viewer, that it is a favourite with many critics to describe this scene as God imparting the spark of life to the first man. ( similar to how a huge electric charge can be transmitted through the thinnest of cables)    

Creation of Adam

Hands of God and Adam


                 Dr. Frank Lynn Meshberger, from Indiana, was the first person to notice that the part of the painting containing God and the angels appeared to be an anatomically accurate picture of the human brain, including the frontal lobe, optic chiasm, brain stem, pituitary gland and the major sulci of the cerebrum. In 1990, he published his theory in the Journal of the American Medical Association where he argues that there appears to be communication present despite the gap between the depicted Adam and God, just as neurons transmit biochemical information across synaptic clefts.

cross section of the Human Brain




                    If  we compare the above two images, we can see that the back of the angel (below God) lies on the Pons, and his hip and leg on the spinal cord.  The other angel below God, has a bifid (divided into two) foot, like the two lobed pituitary. His other leg is flexed at the knee, the thigh along the optic nerve, knee  the optic chiasm and  leg on the optic tract. Its clearer if you compare God`s image to the image of the lateral cross section of the brain here at this link: 

                  Looking at these images, I struck me all of a sudden, of the Mother`s (Mirra Alfassa) explanation of the Creation of  Man according to the Bible. She had said that it is a story (put in a child-like manner) not of the physical creation of man, but of the  coming down of the mind onto earth. If we look at the painting, we can see that Adam is already alive, with eyes open, reaching out to God; so it cannot be that Michelangelo was showing that God was giving life (breath) to man, he is showing  the scene where God is bestowing the intellect or intelligence to Man. (so the story is not such a departure from Darvin`s theory of evolution, after all!) It seems amazing that not only had Michelangelo dvelved into such matters so deeply, but had also used those insights in his works.


Continued in my next post….


Art during the Renaissance Period – Part 4 (Michelangelo Buonarroti ‚Äď David)


Michelangelo`s David -detail of face


¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Michelangelo began work on another famous work of his at the age of 26 in Florence. The statue of David is a marble sculpture of the Biblical hero, David; it¬† stands at the imposing height of 17 feet in the Accademia di Belli Arti, Florence, Italy. This statue is also portrayed differently from the way it had been done before. Donatello had portrayed David (as an adolesecent) at the moment after his combat with Goliath, appearing victorious over a foe much larger and stronger than him. Michelangelo`s David has much more force, he is a youth into adulthood, and is depicted before the combat, at the moment when he has just decided to take up the challenge. This is an important moment because this moment in particular, shows his courage in deciding to fight someone who is armed and stronger than he, with only a slingshot at his disposal.¬† His strength comes from the inner conviction of being in the right. His body is still relaxed in the contrapposto pose, but that he¬†has made the decision to fight, we can see from his furrowed brows, intense (but slightly uncertain) gaze, taut tendons in the neck and¬†the nerves standing out on¬†his right¬†hand as he clutches the stone. He strikes Goliath with the stone in between his eyebrows, fells him down and slays his head with his sword. He succeeds in his task through his spiritual strength, intelligence and skill rather than through brute force. In his writings, Michelangelo describes his warrior-hero: “Eyes watchful…the neck of a bull…hands of a killer…the body, a reservoir of energy. He stands poised to strike.”

Michelangelo`s David

Marble sculpture, 17 feet tall,  housed  in the Accademia di Belli Arti, Florence, Italy

Michelangelo`s David


The above image is licenced by David Gaya  under the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts.

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aktuell 17:05, 30. Apr. 2005 Duumnagelbild f√∂r Version vun‚Äôn 17:05, 30. Apr. 2005 1.200√ó1.600 (173 KB) David (Michelangelo’s David Author: David Gaya License: {{GFDL}} Category:Michelangelo)


Donatello`s David

Bronze statue, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, h.158 cm

Donatello`s David


This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license by by Patrick A. Rodgers

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Continued in my next post….

Art during the Renaissance Period – Part 4 (Michelangelo Buonarroti – Piet√†)


               Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonrroti Simoni is a contender for the title of the archetypal Renaissance man, after Leonardo da Vinci who is universally regarded as so. A Renaissance man is someone who has gained knowledge in and has achieved proficiency in a great variety of subject areas, including those in physical development, social accomplishments and in the arts.

                Besides being a master sculptor, the art of which he loved the most; he was also a great painter, architect, poet, engineer and a deeply religious man, well versed in scriptures. Michelangelo was also an exponent for the principle of disegno in art.The term Disegno in Italian translated literally means simply drawing or design but it has more complex layers of meaning to it. Apart from drawing skills and the ability to establish tonal relationships, the term also encompasses the intellectual ability to create or conceive of an idea or vision and the imaginative and inventive skills (Michelangelo invented and drew all the human poses from his head without the need for models) necessary to execute it in an original and novel way. This is what justifies the elevation of art from a craft to a fine art, on par with other arts such as literature and poetry. And this is what gave the greatest of the artists their almost Divine stature even in their own times. To put it in another way, true art is something much more than that which is beautiful to look at, it is that which has the living force of a lofty and pure idea behind it.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Born on 6th March, 1475 in Caprese, Tuscany, Central Italy, he was sent to live in the town of Settignano, where his father owned a marble quarry and a small farm, with a stonecutter and his family. This was when he was at the tender age of six, after the death of his mother. Giorgio Vasari, himself an artist, but more famous for his biographies of great artists in and before his time quoted Michelangelo (who was his friend) as saying “If there is some good in me, it is because I was born in the subtle atmosphere of your country of Arezzo. Along with the milk of my nurse, I received the knack of handling chisel and hammer, with which I make my figures.” He enjoyed copying figures from paintings and reliefs in¬†churches and after persuading his father, he started to work, at the age of 13, as an apprentice to painter Domenico Ghirlandaio. He¬†later studied sculpture under Bertoldo di Giovanni while attending the Humanist academy which the Medici had founded along Neo Platonic lines. His art and thinking came to be influenced by the prominent philosophers of the day. During this time, he sculpted the reliefs Madonna of the steps and Battle of the Centaurs. He then¬†returned to his father`s town where he was permitted to make anatomical studies on corpses from the Church`s hospital.

               A few years and sculptures later, at the age of 22, and in Rome, he received a commission for his most famous work of Pietà. I have had the good fortune to see quite a few of his masterworks, it is always quite an experience, breathtaking to say the least, to see masterpieces in the original, but this is true specially of sculptures as they are meant to be seen in the three dimensions. In his highly original Pietà, (housed in St. Peter`s Basilica in the Vatican city) he has solved the compositional difficulty of placing the grown up figure of the Christ on his mother`s lap without it looking awkward, a problem which had not been satisfactorily solved in other artists` versions of Pietà and Lamentation of Christ. He did this by forming a pyramidal composition and making the figure of Mother Mary bigger than that of the Christ. It is not immediately noticeable that she is larger because it is such a stable and harmonious composition. The  beautifully arranged folds of the drapery lead the eye upward towards the lifeless body of the Christ which offers no resistance as his Mother holds him in her lap, leaning backwards a little in order to balance his weight, but with head turned towards him. We can see how he had already, at such a young age, perfected his knowledge in the human anatomy, from his life like depiction of the muscles, nerves and bones on the body of the Christ; the fold of flesh of his upper arm, underneath Mary`s right hand really makes it look like this scene is coming alive before us. Michelangelo has chosen to portray this poignant moment from a spiritual perspective. He does not show us the grief stricken Virgin and the Christ with the wounds of the Passion, like it had been done before. Rather, he shows us the Virgin`s majestic acceptance of her immense Sorrow, the Son is also shown as having peacefully accepted his fate. The scene looks even more poignant to us because of her calm forbearance. His  Pietà also differs from others` in that the Virgin is shown to be very young, around 20, as opposed to the 50 or so years that she must have been at the time of Christ`s death. He argued with his critics that age could not mar the features of such a Blessed One. The purity of this image leaves the viewer with strength and courage to face his own battles in life.     


Michelangelo`s  Pietà                                

(Carved in Marble, 6 feet tall and housed in the Basilica of St Peter in the Vatican city)

   Michelangelo's Pieta


   The above image is licenced by Stanislav Traykov under the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts.

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Continued in my next post…..¬†

Art during the Renaissance period (part 3)


                    Raphael Sanzio da Urbino, an Italian painter and architect, was the youngest of the three giants of the High Renaissance, after Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. After his intial works under the training of the Umbrian master, Pietro Perugino, he started to slowly assimilate the Florentine style of art, though he always stayed away from excess of detail. At a time when Leonardo da Vinci had completed his Mona Lisa and Michelangelo his David,he came to be greatly influenced by both their techniques while at the same time developing his own style. His clear, serene compositions, grace of his figures, the unique quality of noble sweetness of his Madonnas make his works quite distinctive from other artists.

                     This painting Madonna of the Meadow shows how he has mastered the sfumato technique in the subtle modelling of forms. He has used a pyramidal composition and the contrapposto pose for the Madonna.

                           St. Catherine leaning on her broken wheel, also in the Contrapposto pose similar to one in da Vinci`s Leda and the Swan:


                    His Triumph of Galatea is a complex composition involving a number of figures, but they are not separate, unconnected individual entities but form an inseperable whole. The nymph, Galatea, rides a shell chariot drawn by two dolphins. The three flying angels at the top form a semi-circle pointing their arrows at Galatea`s beautiful, upturned face. Another angel, at the bottom of the fresco, though not highlighted, mimics the pose of the topmost angel in a reverse manner.  A triton abducts a nymph at the left side, and two other tritons blow shell trumpets at both edges facing away from the centre.



                           Raphael completed his masterpiece Sistine Madonna, shortly before his death (he lived a short life of only 37 years). The Madonna holding her Child is flanked on either side by Pope Sixtus and St. Barbara and standing on clouds in front of a background of shadowy cherubs. The two cherubs at the bottom look completely natural and have an air of curiosity about them. The expressions of grief and horror on the gentle faces of the Virgin and Child and the pointing finger of the Pope Sixtus were not understood for a long time. In many churches, there used to be a Crucifix opposite to the altarpiece, the Madonna and Child are not looking at the viewer but reacting to the image of the Crucification. 



                       His last painting, The Transfiguration, was done just before his death and completed by his pupil. It shows a marked influence of both Mannerism and Baroque style, which were just then developing. The poses are stylised and exaggerated as in Mannerism and there is a strong light-dark contrast as in Chiaroscuro.



Art during the Renaissance period (part 2)


                     Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci was not only a polymath but also a man of exceptional physical beauty, with an attractive personality and a great singing prowess. The profound depth of his character can be guessed at from the manner in which he had compassionately tended to a dying person and then cut open the same person after his death for making anatomical studies. Apart from his scientific contributions, he also made meticulous studies and recorded his observations in writing and drawing on such varied subjects like plant growth, rock formations, atmospheric conditions, flow of water, draperies, animals, human faces and emotions etc. He was more prolific in his drawings than in his paintings though some of his paintings are believed to have been lost due to his rash painting experiments. His now world renowed fresco The Last Supper had started to deteriorate just a few years after he had completed it.

Da Vinci

Da Vinci

Da Vinci


                     Da Vinci had started painting his Mona Lisa in 1503 or 1504 and had lingered over it for four years. It portrays a  young, Florentine lady sitting in a reserved posture with her arms folded on the arm rest of a chair in front of  a painting of an imaginary landscape. Da Vinci was the first artist to understand and make use of aerial perspective in painting. He also used a technique which he called sfumato , derived from an Italian word sfumare which means evaporate or clear like smoke. It is made to look as though the viewer sees the painting through a fine veil of mist, the highlights are toned down and the darks are brightened. The outlines are blurred and the transitions from light to shade are very, very subtle. He used extremely thin layers of glazes in this technique and very fine brush strokes to get this kind of subdued, misty effect and to give the delicate translucent quality to her skin. The light falling on her face surrounded by a dark veil and hair immediately brings our attention to her face but her expression remains enigmatic. The corners of the mouth and the area around the eyes are where we unconciously look at when trying to read an emotion on a human face, and these are precisely the areas where he has left diffuse, in shadow so that we are never sure whether she is smiling or whether she is sad. The landscape of winding rivers and distant, icy mountains seems no less mysterious. He has so created a living and fascinating picture of a woman that she still looks real and continues to attract and captivate us to this day.

Mona Lisa


                 This drawing of The Virgin and Child with St. Anne and St.John the Baptist (1499-1500) is a complex composition showing the Virgin seated on the knees of her mother St. Anne holding her child whose upper body is raised and whose gaze is turned towards St. John. This drawing is in a similar manner to a painting he had completed in 1508, The Virgin and Child with St. Anne showing The Virgin, her mother and the infant Jessus playing with a sacrificial lamb while she tries to restrain him. They symbolise the cycle of life from mother to daughter to son. St. Anne points towards the heavens while looking at her daughter to perhaps remind her of the sacrifice that she must make. Da Vinci has used similar gestures in other works like The Last Supper, Virgin of the Rocks (Louvre museum), St. John the Baptist. The knees of the Virgin point towards her right whereas her body is turned towards the left creating a dynamic movement and energy at the same time establishing different planes in the picture, a pose that is called in Italian as Contrapposto. The lines of the draperies around the knees also create a rythmic movement.

Da Vinci 

Da Vinci

Art during the Renaissance¬†period (part 1)


                   Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337) was an Italian painter and architect from Florence in the late middle ages. He was the first artist to introduce perspective and foreshortening in painting, revive the concept of drawing accurately from life and the first to break away from the earlier Byzantine style of art. He had an incredible way of breathing life into his forms and inviting the viewer into his scenes. In this fresco, The Lamentation, heaven and earth are united in the grief for the loss of the Saviour; the agony is palpable in the fluttering angels, in the stricken face of the Virgin holding her son for the last time, in the group of mourners standing silently nearby. Movement is created by his use of complimentary colors and hand gestures.



                    The San Zaccaria Alterpiece is a work created by the Venetian painter, Giovanni Bellini (1430-1516) during the High Renaissance period, masterfully depicting the Sacred Conversation between the Madonna and Saints. Virgin Mary is shown on the throne beneath a golden half dome, commanding, yet sweet, with a tender gesture of her hand underneath the foot of baby Jesus (who has his hand raised in blessing), an angel playing a divine melody on the violin, St. Catherine with her broken wheel, St. Lucy with a dish of her eyes, St. Peter holding his keys and the Book of Wisdom and St. Jerome who translated the Greek edition of the Bible into the first edition in Latin. A hint of a fresh landscape peeks in from either side of the two classical, coloumns which enclose a warm, rich and mellow atmosphere enveloping the holy figures in this simple, symmetrical composition. Bellini, at the peak of his form, in his seventies shows his mastery in the oil medium after his initial years in tempera and in the Quattrocento style. He is successful in evoking a living, austere spiritual feeling in this masterpiece.       

Giovanni Bellini


                  Tiziano Vecellio or Titian was a disciple of Bellini, he was a great draftsman and was excellent in his use of color and in achieving subtle color transitions. In this oil painting, Assumption of the Virgin, he forms a composition in which he unites three different layers into a harmonious whole. The first layer is that of the earth, showing the apostles who are looking at Virgin Mary, flying on the clouds along with celebrating and dancing putti heavenwards where God and putto with the crown of the Holy Glory are shown.



                  Madonna with Saints and members of the Pesaro family was painted just a few years after Bellini had completed his `Sacred Conversation`. Titian has  moved away from the formal, symmetrical composition which always had the Madonna at the centre, and instead used a triangular composition with the Madonna at the top of the stairs creating a livelier scene with active participants. St. Peter has deposited the key on the stairs, and both he and the Madonna look down on the patron of Titian. The child Jesus locks gaze with St. Francis who draws attention to the other members of the patron`s family kneeling in the corner of the picture.



                     This tragic scene of The Crowning of Thorns was painted by him in 1545 where he has beautifully captured the stoic sufferring of the Christ before his cruel aggressors who ram down the crown onto his head.