Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Michelangelo and Bernini: Poetry Verses Drama.

Michelangelo. David, 1501-1504.

Bernini. David, 1623-1624.

Michelangelo. Moses, 1513-1515.

Bernini. St Longinus, 1638.

Michelangelo. Pieta, 1498-1499.

Bernini. Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, 1652.

I fell in love with the work of Michelangelo Buonarroti at an early age, and in love with the human form earlier still. A boy's preoccupation with the heroic figures in comic books led to my discovery of the fantasy drawings of Frank Frazetta, whose mastery of the human form led me directly to Michelangelo - his drawings first of all and, ultimately, his sculpture. I was awed by his confident David, quietly standing in contemplation a moment before facing Goliath, the beautiful line of the gesture flowing through the form; relaxed power in every muscle. It was years before I was aware that any other sculptors existed.

And then I found Gian Lorenzo Bernini. I readily admit to being seduced by the movement in Bernini's sculpture, the glorious drama of it. His David was caught in the midst of the action, impassioned determination chiseled upon his face. Was the gestural line flowing through his figure any less beautiful? It certainly reverberated with more energy.

And, therein, lies the difference between Michelangelo and Bernini: one was an introvert, the other an extrovert, and this difference in character shone through in each man's work. Was one a better sculptor than the other? It comes down to a matter of taste. Poetry or drama; implied action or explicit action. You can see this dichotomy in all the works compared above. Michelangelo's poetic calm verses Bernini's dramatic theatre.

At the end of the day, they were two of the greatest sculptors who ever lived. With Bernini I can see the man's mind at work; his dramatic thought process as he labors to entertain us. But, with Michelangelo, I catch a glimpse of the poetic workings of his soul. He bares a measure of himself that Bernini could not. And its radiance never ceases to move me.

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