Tuesday, 22 Jul, 2008 Offbeat

Portraits and Writings Reveal Michelangelo as Ugly and Unclean


Portraits and Writings Reveal Michelangelo as Ugly and UncleanThe series of extremely rare modern portraits and writings, presented on the show in Florence, showed that one of the greatest artists of western civilization, Michelangelo Buonarroti, was an ugly and unclean man.

The name of the exhibition, which will take place until the end of July at the museum of the Casa Buonarroti, is "The Face of Michelangelo". It unveils some facts about the "beauty" of the genius artist. Facts show that Michelangelo did not use himself as a model when he sculpted David, who meant to represent male beauty.

Undoubtedly art historians were aware of the fact that the famous artist was really not that handsome, but this exhibition is the first of its kind to focus on Michelangelo's physical image and on rumors regarding the artist's terrible personal habits and lack of hygiene.

"Movies have always portrayed Michelangelo as an attractive, good-looking man. On the contrary, he wasn't handsome at all. Most of all, he was perfectly aware of his ugliness and did not want to be portrayed. Indeed, he left no documented self-portrait," said Pina Ragionieri, the exhibition curator and the director of Casa Buonarroti, a house bought by Michelangelo back in 1508.

The exhibition also offers Michelangelo's portraits painted by some contemporary artists and an unsympathetic description written by Giorgio Vasari, who was an art historian and a painted during the 16th century. All of the works presented at the exhibition can explain why Michelangelo hesitated to pose for portraits.

The artist was disfigured when a student broke his nose when Michelangelo was 17 years old. In addition he had small eyes, big ears, thin lips and beard. Even so, after the death of the artist, the image of the genius improved over the centuries. Portraits made after his death illustrated Michelangelo dressed in elegant clothes and with a penetrating look. The ugliness of the artist disappeared.

""These images are testament to myth and do not necessarily show the person as he looked in his lifetime. The individual assumes a more refined face, more elegant clothes, more courtly accoutrements, or a more stately pose," said Lynn Catterson, the art historian at Columbia University.

During his life, Michelangelo did not appear as a refined man. As a matter of fact, the artist smelled awfully bad. Giorgio Vasari wrote: "he wore stockings of dogskin constantly for months together, so that when he took them off the skin of the leg often came away with them."

""The fact that Michelangelo wasn't either handsome or particularly considerate about his personal care isn't so important. One should look at his letters and poems. They are his real, inner self-portraits," said Ragionieri.

There is only one self-portrait of the artist known to historians. The portrait was scratched into the margin of one of the artist's poems. The illustration looks like a caricature of Michelangelo, drawn when the artist worked on frescoes of the Sistine Chapel in Rome.

"This portrait reveals much about Michelangelo -- that he is right-handed and that, in his artist's mind, bodies need no clothes, including his own. Moreover, the drawing reveals Michelangelo's sense of humor since the figure he is drawing is not one of the massive heroic participants from the stories of Genesis that would ultimately populate the ceiling, but rather, one with cartoon-like features including huge eyes and hair standing straight up on ends," said Catterson.

The complete version of the exhibition will travel to New York City and will also be presented at Syracuse University in the period between August 12 and January 4, 2009. It will include a number of works that were never seen in the United States before.

Source: Discovery.com.

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