One of the most famous artists ever known since th

e 16th century is a manby the name of Michelangelo Buonarroti. He has composed art that is both
breathtaking and unmatched in such skills as painting, sculpture,
architecture and poetry. Some of his most famous works of sculpture that
he composed are standing in the Medici Chapel in Florence, Italy even
today. I would like to speak of a particular piece contained in the Chapel
entitled Tomb of Giuliano de’ Medici. First I would like to say a few
words concerning Michelangelo’s financial status for materials and his
visions for the figure.

According to the book entitled, Michelangelo: The Complete Sculpture,
Painting, and Architecture; “Michelangelo was an aristocratic artist
working for the pope and had a nearly unlimited budget in the 1520’s.

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Michelangelo also had a legendary ability to judge the quality of a block
of marble; it was even said that he could see the figure imprisoned in
it.”(Pg.213) I think that this quote from author, William E. Wallace,
shows a very interesting background in Michelangelo’s finances and genius.

He had made numerous life-size statues with handpicked blocks of marble.

Wallace also states that some experts believe Michelangelo’s financial
backing helped contribute to the beauty of his work. I was not sure how to
take that comment at first, but after looking at many of Michelangelo’s
sculptures, I think the fact that he was particular about the quality of
block which was used shows that he was a master that wanted to depict
figures that were unequivocally beautiful, muscular, and harmonious.

The Tomb of Giuliano de’ Medici is an example of Michelangelo’s
mastery of both muscular figures as well as composition. The piece was
worked on from 1519 through 1534. The piece contains three figures.The
elevated central figure in the piece is Giuliano de’ Medici. The niche in
which Giuliano sits is very small, which I believe make the figure look
much larger to the viewer.The two figures, which lie below the niche of
Giuliano, are entitled Night and Day. These figures are a bit over life
sized due to their extremely defined, muscular builds. “They appear”,
according to Olsen’s Italian Renaissance Sculpture, “to be sliding off the
curved, split lids, giving the illusion that the sarcophagus will open to
release the soul of the deceased.”(Pg.129).I will speak more about these
figures, but I would first like to speak more about Michelangelo’s original
plan, and the similarities/differences that I saw in the principals of
design.

According to McHam’s Looking at Italian Renaissance Sculpture,
“Michelangelo may have intended to put statues in the two niches beside
Giuliuno, and frescos in the lunettes.”(Pg.187)I believe that the two
niches and the lunettes were included as architectural elements. I don’t
think that a master such as Michelangelo would leave a piece that he wanted
to do more with. Why spend over a decade on a piece and not do what you
set out to do? I believe that putting figures in the other niches would
take away so much from the central figure, Giuliano. If he had intended to
put frescos in the lunettes, than why did he choose to have Night and Day
hanging off of the sarcophagus, almost completely covering the lunettes
which were to be painted? It is thought that Michelangelo left Florence
because of changes in political ideals, but I cannot imagine Michelangelo
leave such a piece unfinished, unless of course if he was in immediate
danger.

The “Tomb of Giuliano de’ Medici” has three figures set up forming a
somewhat triangular design, just as Massacio’s, The Holy Trinity.And the
I believe that this is a significant aspect to look at because both works
were in Florence, Italy. I would be very surprised if Michelangelo had not
seen Massacio’s painting prior to beginning his work on the Tomb of
Giuliano de’ Medici. The Holy Trinity was done in a side aisle in the Sta.

Maria Novella Gothic Church. It, too, contained a triangular design with
Christ crucified on the cross toward the top of the composition, then below
on either side, John the Evangelist and the Virgin Mary, and below them,
the donor portraits.Although Massacio’s work was done in a Gothic
Church, he chose to use a more Roman influence as far as the arch and the
columns. Michelangelo also included Roman architecture. These works cannot
tell me if Michelangelo meant to have these elements in common with
Massacio, but I think that this shows that even a master artist such as
Michelangelo may design work from ideas and principals of other artists.

Both works do have their differences. Michelangelo’s subject matter
is one of a secular nature. It was done to honor Giuliano, who was not a
godly or even mythological figure, but rather, a wealthy man of a well-
known banking family who died in 1516. This showed a step in a somewhat
different direction for Michelangelo because most of his previous work was
either of a religious or mythological character by nature, even though he
would never abandon non-secular work.

I think that Michelangelo’s specific talent, although their are
numerous, was how he completely revived and even broadened the human form.

In the Tomb of Giuliano de’ Medici Wallace describes the body of Night as
follows: “The strangely muscular, masculinized body of Night is bent in
impossible contortions; nonetheless, she maintains an air of perfect
serenity. Poised ambiguously between sleep and wakefulness, she is more
divine than human, more flesh than marble.”(Pg217) I think that this quote
defines how Michelangelo’s nude sculpture was unequivocal. He made the
figures look as though they were alive enough to walk up behind and startle
and, at the same time you did not want to because they looked too powerful
and somehow above you in this world.

The figure of Giuliano de’ Medici is very Roman-looking. According
to McHam, “Giuliano wears pseudo-Roman armor referring to the 1513 ceremony
that granted him Roman citizenship.”(Pg215) I also noticed that the hair
of Giuliano is in somewhat tight curls and looks very idealized, like the
hair used in Ancient Roman times. The face also looks as though it is
probably not a portrait. I compared this piece to an almost identical
piece which is just on the opposite wall entitled “Tomb of Lorenzo de’
Medici,” both made by Michelangelo. Both Giuliano and Lorenzo have a type
of face that has inclinations of Roman facial features, which are perfectly
proportioned and beautiful. Michelangelo also makes Night and Day have the
same type of idealized face.

The bodies of Night and Day are very smooth and realistic, although
they are larger than life size in proportion and in musculature. According
to Olsen, “Night is in a troubled sleep. Her body is from a male model (as
was a typical practice), while her breasts, which appear pasted on male
pectorals, reveal that Michelangelo had little knowledge of female anatomy
(although her abdomen suggests she has borne children). He also wanted to
balance the sizes of Night and Day. If Night was done in proportion of
woman to man, it would weaken the composition. Day is based on the Torso
Belvedere, who is earthbound and his face is unfinished to convey that the
day is yet forming.”(Pg128) I think that having these two figures sliding
off the lid of the sarcophagus represents the resurrection of Giuliano, as
if he is pushing the sarcophagus lid opened even as these massive figures
sit upon it.

After looking at many pictures of the Tomb of Giuliano de’ Medici, I
realized that this piece is extraordinary in several ways. It combines
architecture and sculpture with an Ancient Roman influence. It also has a
very ordered composition that is both a powerful message of resurrection,
and representation of the figure in an intensely realistic and beautiful
way. Michelangelo is definitely a master that may never be matched in
capturing the human form. Throughout all of the pieces that he has done, I
think that the Tomb of Giuliano de’ Medici is definitely a piece that
should be considered a huge accomplishment in his career.