There’s something spine-tickling about seeing a Michelangelo sculpture in the flesh, or rather pale, silky stone. More than 450 years after his death he still tops the pops in the Renaissance Hall of Fame. Walking through museums in Florence this week, you feel his work before seeing it. There’s a tightness in the air as if it’s holding its breath. You tiptoe round his sculptures like servants round royalty. Some of his figures aren’t even the best in the room but they don’t seem to care, carrying the confidence of the greatest name in Renaissance showbiz.
Who wouldn’t love to be Michelangelo, up there at the top of his tree, bumping his head on the clouds while others flop on the bottom branches?
Apparently Michelangelo. One of his last poems suggests it was a lonely, empty place. In the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, a sonnet on old age stares sadly from the wall opposite the magnificent gawky agony of this pieta (Mary cradling the dead Jesus). Dissatisfied with the work, Michelangelo broke off the arm and left leg of Jesus.
So being the best isn’t necessarily the best. What a sad and comforting thought.
‘What has been your biggest disappointment?’ (Rosanna Greenstreet) ‘Getting exactly what I wanted.’ (Author Lionel Shriver) Guardian 7 May
Old Age by Michelangelo
The course of my long life hath reached at last,
In fragile bark o’er a tempestuous sea,
The common harbor, where must rendered be
Account of all the actions of the past.
The impassioned phantasy, that, vague and vast,
Made art an idol and a king to me,
Was an illusion, and but vanity
Were the desires that lured me and harassed.
The dreams of love, that were so sweet of yore,
What are they now, when two deaths may be mine, –
One sure, and one forecasting its alarms?
Painting and sculpture satisfy no more
The soul now turning to the Love Divine,
That oped, to embrace us, on the cross its arms.