Think “Michelangelo” or “Michelangelo artwork“, and one likely envisions his Sistine Chapel ceiling, or statues like the Vatican’s Pieta or David in Florence.
Comparatively unknown, though, are these four Michelangelo paintings:
- The Torment of Saint Anthony
- The Manchester Madonna
- Holy Family (Doni Tondo)
And one is in the United States!
Torment of St. Anthony
Purchased in 2009 by the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, The Torment of St. Anthony is the sole Michelangelo painting in any American collection.
Given that it’s also one of the few finished Michelangelo paintings, The Torment immediately became one of the most famous paintings in any U.S. art museum.
Ascanio Condivi, Michelangelo’s student and subsequent biographer, recounts that Michelangleo was inspired to create a painted based upon an etching by Martin Schongauer titled The Temptation of Saint Anthony.
Condivi adds that Domenico Ghirlandaio, the owner of the Schongauer engraving and an established Italian Renaissance painter in his own right, was stunned at the brilliance of Michelangelo’s creation.
No surprise at that – but Michelangelo was 12 or 13 when he painted The Torment!
Michelangelo Buonarotti. The Torment of Saint Anthony, c. 1487–88. Tempera and oil on panel, 18 1/2 x 13 1/4 in. Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth
The Madonna and Child with St. John and Angels (The Manchester Madonna)
Started roughly a decade later, this Michelangelo artwork shows Christ pointing to a passage in a book being held by the Virgin Mary; below her, a pair of angels studies the scroll.
The contents of the book and scroll, an attribute of St. John, likely foretell Christ’s future life and sacrifice. On the left are a pair of unfinished angels blocked in with the green paint typically used by Renaissance painters to create flesh tones.
Even unfinished, it’s a gem.
Michelangelo Buonarotti. The Virgin and Child with St. John and Angels (Manchester Madonna), 1497. Tempera on wood, approx. 41″ by 30″. National Gallery, London
Holy Family (Doni Tondo)
This circular painting, or tondo, was fashionable in Renaissance paintings of Florence.
Doni Tondo was believed to have been painted to celebrate the marriage of Agnolo Doni and Maddalena Strozzi, and is one of the most famous Michelangelo paintings.
The viewer gets to decide whether the Virgin is taking the Infant from St. Joseph, or instead handing Jesus to him.
Behind the wall is a young St. John, who will ultimately announce the
coming of Christ.
While the meaning of Doni Tondo isn’t certain, the presence of St. John alludes to Christ’s birth and baptism.
Michelangelo Buonarotti. Holy Family (Doni Tondo), ca. 1504-05. Oil tempera on wood, approx. 47″ diameter. Uffizi, Florence.
Michelangelo portrays here a lifeless Christ being carried to his tomb.
Art historians disagree over the identities of those carrying the dead Son of God, a situation confounded by the unfinished state of this artwork.
Saint John the Evangelist, usually shown in red with long hair, may be the figure on the left carrying Christ. The others may be Nicodemus; Saint Joseph of Arimathaea, who gave up his tomb for Jesus; and Mary Magdalene, the kneeling figure to the left.
It is believed this Michelangelo work was intended for the tomb he was designing for his patron, Pope Julius II; neither the painting nor the Pope’s tomb was ever completed, however.
Some art historians have questioned if this is indeed a Michelangelo painting.
A preparatory sketch in the Louvre shows a figure resembling the kneeling woman on the left, lending credence to a Michelangelo attribution.
As the National Gallery observes in its analysis of Entombment, one easily forgets how closely related the visual arts were in the Renaissance — painting, sculpture, and architecture were intertwined, and artists frequently practiced all disciplines.
The Entombment, about 1500-01. Oil on wood, 5’4″ by 4’11”. National Gallery, London.
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