History of Art: Lecture II: Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael
Rivalry was the immediate consequence of a great challenge involving not only .. The comparison between Michelangelo and Raphael, and the discussion of. Lib: History of Art: Lecture II: Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael. Indeed, it is only in our own time that this distinction has acquired so much importance In this way, Art is expelled from its living connection with the spiritual life as a whole . One of the simplest ways of looking at it is as a generational difference. DaVinci was born in , Michelangelo 23 years later in , Raphael 13 years later.
This competition caused signif- icant developments in the artistic styles of both Raphael and Sebastiano, urging the painters to an extraordinary artistic confrontation. Rivalry was the immediate consequence of a great challenge involving not only the skill of the painter, but also technical innovations, new methods of design,1 unprecedented effects of light and color, and, finally, an intense quest for original, new aesthetic ideals and artistic expressions.
Sebastiano del Piombo, Polyphemus, Rome, Farnesina. Courtesy of Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei. Two perspectives shed light on the reasons and effects of this unique competition: Many scholars have viewed their respective con- tributions to the collaboration as unequal. Beginning with Vasari, the role of Michelangelo has been exalted, whereas that of Sebastiano has been characterized as a mere executor. A certain person from Viterbo, I know not who, much in favor with the Pope, com- missioned Sebastiano to paint a dead Christ, with a Madonna who is weeping over Him, for a chapel he had caused to be built in S.
That work was held by all who saw it to be truly most beautiful, for the invention and the cartoon were by Michelangelo, although it was finished with great diligence by Sebastiano, who painted in it a dark landscape that was much extolled, and thereby Sebastiano acquired very great credit, and confirmed the opinions of those who favoured him. For these figures — according to Vasari — Michelangelo provided his friend Sebastiano with a cartoon that is now lost.
While Sebastiano was executing these works in Rome, Raffaello da Urbino had risen into such credit as a painter, that his friends and adherents said that his pictures were more in accord with the rules of painting than those of Michelangelo, being pleasing in color, beautiful in invention, and charming in the expressions, with design in keeping with the rest; and that those of Buonarroti had none of those qualities, P1: And for such reasons these admirers judged that in the whole field of painting Raffaello was, if not more excellent that Michelangelo, at least his equal; but in colouring they would have it that he surpassed Buonarroti withouth a doubt.
These humours, having spread among a number of craftsmen who preferred the grace of Raffaello to the profundity of Michelangelo, had so increased that many, for various reasons of interest, were more favourable in their judgment P1: But Sebastiano was in no way a follower of that faction, since, being a man of exquisite judgment, he knew the value of each of the two to perfection.
The mind of Michelangelo, therefore, drew towards Sebastiano, whose colouring and grace pleased him much, and he took him under his protection, thinking that, if he were to assist Sebastiano in design, he would be able by this means, without working himself, to confound those who held such an opinion, remaining under cover of a third person as judge to decide which of them was the best.
In his second edition, Vasari subtly, yet significantly, changes his picture of the dynamics among Michelangelo, Sebastiano and Raphael. In this revised scenario Michelangelo gains an admirer, while his role as a envious conspirator against Raphael is remarkably subdued. They were unaware that, whatever the art, the quality of ease is the main criterion of excellence, and also the hardest to attain.
Raphael, prince of painters, was reaching the climax of his social position, and his influence, authority, and friendship with Leo X were continually increasing. He could also rely on outstanding supporters, that is, poets and literati of the papal court. If the latter is the God of Nature, the former is the God of Art: That one is the God of Nature, while you were the God of Art.
In a letter to Michelangelo, dated 7 September 0, Sebastiano tried to convince his associate to seek the commission for the decoration of the Sala di Costantino. Also the artists who P1: On the other hand, in comparing Michelangelo to Raphael, Vasari ad- mitted that the painter of Urbino, for his part, was well aware that in the representation of the human figure he could never attain the perfection of Michelangelo. Thus, according to Vasari, Raphael resolved to surpass Michelangelo in other aspects of the art of painting, namely, in color, com- position, invention, light effects, landscapes — wherever he could highlight his pictorial talent.
Michelangelo intended to exalt the young painter from Venice to the detri- ment of Raphael. Nonetheless, Sebastiano possessed his personal merits: He only skimmed off them, as it were, the uppermost and human layer. Indeed, in many respects he rather gives us the impression of an adventurer, albeit one endowed with colossal genius. He bears his whole Age within him; and out of this feeling of his Age as a whole, his creations arise.
We shall present them not in chronological but in a freely chosen order, for in Leonardo the main point is to see how he creates out of a single impulse, and for this reason the chronological sequence is less important. An altogether different nature, though possessing the characteristics of the Renaissance in common with him, was Michelangelo. If we can say of Leonardo that he bore the whole forces of his time within him and for this very reason often came into disharmony with it and remained misunderstood, just because he understood it in its depths, in the forces that only found their way to the surface during later centuriesof Michelangelo, on the other hand, we may say: What was the Florence of his time?
It was, in a sense, a true concentration of the existing order of the world. This Florence he bore within him. Unlike Leonardo, he did not stand remote from political affairs. The complicated political events around him — and the whole world-order of that time played into these politics — entered again and again into the soul of Michelangelo. And when again and again he went to Rome, he bore his Florence with him, and painting and sculpting a Florentine element into the Roman setting.
Leonardo bore a universal feeling into the works he created; Michelangelo carried a Florentine feeling into Rome. As an artist he achieved a kind of spiritual conquest over Rome, making Florence arise again in Rome. Thus Michelangelo entered intensely into all that was taking place through the political conditions in Florence during his long life. We see this in the succession of his life-periods.
As a young man, when his career was only just beginning, he witnessed the reign of the great Medici, whose favourite he was, and by whose favour he was enabled to partake in all that the Florence of that time could offer to a man's spiritual life. Whatever of ancient Art and artistry was then available, Michelangelo studied it under the protectorate of the Medici; and it was here that he produced his earliest work.
Indeed, he loved his protector, and grew together in his own soul with the soul-nature of the Medici. But presently he had to realise that the sons of his patron were of quite a different kind. He who had done so much for Florence — out of an ambitious disposition, it is true, yet cultivating largesse and freedom — died in ; and his sons proved themselves more or less common tyrants.
Michelangelo had to experience this change in comparatively early youth. Whereas at the beginning of his career the mercantile spirit of the Medici had allowed free play to Art, he must now witness this mercantile spirit itself masquerading as a political spirit, and striving towards tyranny.
Yes, he witnessed on a small scale the rise in Florence of what was afterwards to take hold of all the world. It was a terrible experience for him, and yet not unconnected with the whole surrounding world of the new Age. It was now that he first went to Rome, and we may say: In Rome he mourns the loss of what he has experienced as the true greatness of Florence. We can even recognise how the plastic quality of his work is connected with this great change in his feelings: Into the very line we notice what the political changes in Florence had brought about in his soul.
Any one who has a deeper feeling for such things will see in the Pieta in the Vatican a work which in the last resort is born out of the mourning soul of Michelangelo — Michelangelo mourning for the city of his fathers. Then, when better times returned and he went back to Florence, he stood once more under a new impression. He felt uplifted in his soul, — Freedom had entered into Florence once again. He poured out this new feeling into the indescribably great figure of his David.
It is not the traditional David of the Bible. Its colossal character is connected with this very feeling. Again, when he was summoned by Pope Julius to decorate the Sistine Chapel, now in a far fuller sense than before, he bore his Florence with him into Rome.
What was it that he bore with him? It was a whole world-conception, of which we can say that it shows the rise of the new age, just as truly as we can say, on the other hand, that in the works of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, representing the creation of the World and the great process of Biblical history, we have the twilight of an ancient world-conception.
Thus Michelangelo carries with him a whole world to Rome, — carries with him something that could never have arisen at that time in Rome itself, but that could only arise in Florence: You will find further explanations on these things in earlier lectures. These inner connections could only be felt and realised in Florence.
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What Michelangelo experienced through all the spiritual life that had reached its height in the Florence of that time, cannot, in truth, be felt today, unless we transplant ourselves through Spiritual Science into former epochs.
Hence the usual histories of Art contain so many absurdities at this point. A man can only create as Michelangelo created if he believes in these things and lives in their midst.
It is easy for a man to say that he will paint the world's creation. Many a modern artist would credit himself, no doubt, with this ability, — but one who has true feeling will not be able to assent. No one can paint the evolution of the world who does not live in it, like Michelangelo, with all his being. But when he returned once more to Florence, he was already driven, after all, by the new stream, which — to put it bluntly — replaces the sacramental by the commercial character.
True, he was destined still to create the most wonderful works, in the Medici Chapel. But in the background of this undertaking was an element which could not but inspire him with melancholy feelings.
The purpose was the glorification of the Medici. It was they who mattered, — who in the meantime had become powerful, albeit less in Florence than in the rest of Italy. Then once more the political changes drove him back.
The betrayal of the Malatestas, their penetration into Florence, drove him back again to Rome. And now he painted, as it were, into the Last Judgment, the protest of a Florentine, the great protest of humanity, of the human individual against all that would oppose it. Hence the real human greatness of his Last Judgment, the greatness which it undoubtedly breathed forth, as it proceeded from his hand. For now, also, parts of it have been completely spoiled.
But he still had to undergo experiences which entered very, very deep into all the impulses of feeling in his soul. How many events had he not experienced, how much did they not signify for the development of his picture of the world: For the things I have indicated were of great importance to him.
They may be taken abstractly today, but in the soul of Michelangelo they worked without a doubt as very deep soul-impulses. But we must add that I have mentioned the fact that he witnessed, too, the great change which came over Florence through the appearance of Savonarola. This was a protest within the life of the Church against what was characteristic of that time in Christianity.
So free an Art as was developed in Leonardo and in many others like him could only unfold in this way inasmuch as the ideas of Christianity were lifted out of their context and taken by themselves. I mean the ideas connected with the Mystery of Golgotha — the conception of the Trinity, of the Last Supper, of the connection between the earthly and the spiritual realms, and so forth. All these conceptions, lifted right out of the moral element, assumed a free imaginative character which the artist dealt with at his pleasure, treating it like any worldly subject, with the only difference that it contained, of course, the sacred figures.
These things had been objectified, loosed from the moral element; and thus the Christian thought, loosed from the moral element, slid over by and by into a purely artistic sphere. All this took place quite as a matter of course, and the gradual elimination of the moral element was a natural concomitant of the whole process.
Savonarola represents the great protest against this elimination of the moral element. Savonarola appears; it is the protest of the moral life against an Art that was free of morals, — I do not say, void of morals, but free. Indeed, we must study Savonarola's will if we would understand in Michelangelo himself what was due to Savonarola's influence. But this was not all. You must imagine Michelangelo as a man who in his inmost heart and mind could never think in any other than a Christian way.
He not only felt as a Christian; he conceived the order of the World in mighty pictures, in the Christian sense. Imagine him placed in the midst of that time, when the Christian conceptions had, as it were, become objectified and could thus slide so easily into the realms of Art. Such was the world in which he lived. But he experienced withal the Northern protest of the Reformation, which spread with comparative speed, even to Italy; and he also witnessed the great and revolutionary change which was accomplished from the Catholic side as a counter-Reformation, against the Reformation.
He experienced the Rome of his time, — a time whose moral level may not have been high, but in which there were free and independent spirits, none the less, who were decidedly agreed to give a new form to Catholicism. They did not want to go so far as Savonarola, nor did they want it to assume the form which afterwards came forth in the Reformation. They wanted to change and recreate Catholicism by continuous progress and development. Then the Reformation burst in like another edition, so to speak, of the Savonarola protest.
Rome was seized with anxiety and fear, and they parted from what had pulsated through their former life. Michelangelo among others had built his hopes on such ideas as were concentrated, for example, in Vittoria Colonna, hoping to permeate with high ethical principles what had reached so great a height in Art. With a Catholicism morally recreated and renewed, they hoped to permeate the world once more. What Michelangelo was now to witness must have been terrible for him, for he saw the seeds of an absolute break with what had still been known to him as Christianity.
It was the beginning of Jesuitical Christianity. And so he entered on the twilight of his life.
Michelangelo, as I said, had carried Florence into Rome. With Raphael once again it was different. Here we come to that strange magic atmosphere whose presence we feel when we contemplate the minor artists of that region whence Raphael grew forth. Consider the creations of these artists — the sweet and tender faces, the characteristic postures of the feet, the attitude of the figures. We might describe it thus: Here there arose artistically somewhat later what had arisen earlier in a moralising and ascetic sphere in Francis of Assisi.
It enters here into artistic feeling and creation, and leaves a strangely magic atmosphere — this tenderness in contemplating man and Nature. In Raphael it is a native quality, and he continues to express it through his life. This is the feeling which he carries into Rome; it flows from his creations into our hearts and minds if we transplant ourselves into the character they once possessed, for as pictures they have to a great extent been spoilt.
What Raphael thus bears within his soul, having evolved in the lonely country of Urbino, stnads, as it were, alone within the time; and yet taking its start from Raphael, it spread far and wide into the civilisation of mankind.
It is as though Raphael with this element were carried everywhere upon the waves of time, and wheresoever he goes he makes it felt — this truly artistic expression of the Christian feeling.
This element is everywhere poured out over the influence of Raphael. Summing up, therefore, we may say: Leonardo lives in the midst of a large and universal understanding. An excess of resin in the varnish often causes cracking of areas of paint in the works of both masters. It was commissioned in and finished in ; now only some cut sections and a preparatory drawing remain.
He very probably also visited Florence in this period. These are large works, some in frescowhere Raphael confidently marshals his compositions in the somewhat static style of Perugino. He also painted many small and exquisite cabinet paintings in these years, probably mostly for the connoisseurs in the Urbino court, like the Three Graces and St.
Michaeland he began to paint Madonnas and portraits. Although there is traditional reference to a "Florentine period" of about —8, he was possibly never a continuous resident there. There is a letter of recommendation of Raphael, dated Octoberfrom the mother of the next Duke of Urbino to the Gonfaloniere of Florence: And because his father was most worthy and I was very attached to him, and the son is a sensible and well-mannered young man, on both accounts, I bear him great love Frescos in Perugia of about show a new monumental quality in the figures which may represent the influence of Fra Bartolomeowho Vasari says was a friend of Raphael.
But the most striking influence in the work of these years is Leonardo da Vinciwho returned to the city from to Raphael's figures begin to take more dynamic and complex positions, and though as yet his painted subjects are still mostly tranquil, he made drawn studies of fighting nude men, one of the obsessions of the period in Florence.
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Another drawing is a portrait of a young woman that uses the three-quarter length pyramidal composition of the just-completed Mona Lisabut still looks completely Raphaelesque. Another of Leonardo's compositional inventions, the pyramidal Holy Family, was repeated in a series of works that remain among his most famous easel paintings.
There is a drawing by Raphael in the Royal Collection of Leonardo's lost Leda and the Swanfrom which he adapted the contrapposto pose of his own Saint Catherine of Alexandria. But he keeps the soft clear light of Perugino in his paintings.
Michelangelo already disliked Leonardo, and in Rome came to dislike Raphael even more, attributing conspiracies against him to the younger man.