Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Ideal Form: Michelangelo's Debt to the Ancient Greeks.

Michael Whynot. Torso Study after Greek sculpture, 2013. Red chalk.

Torso of Satyr. Ancient Greek.

Michelangelo. Last Judgement.

Torso Belvedere. Ancient Greek.

Michelangelo. Sistine Chapel study for Adam.

Michelangelo. Study for an Ignudo.

Michelangelo. Study for Haman.

The idea of beauty is the fundamental idea of everything. In the world we see only distortions of the fundamental idea, but art, by imagination, may lift itself to the height of this idea. Art is therefore akin to creation.  (Leo Tolstoy)

The artist is not a reporter, but a Great Teacher. It is not his business to depict the world as it is, but as it ought to be.  (H.C. Mencken)

Michelangelo understood the human form - understood its movement, its grace, its beauty. And, insofar as its depiction in drawing, painting and sculpture is concerned, one might almost believe that he had invented it. But he did not.

The Greeks discovered that naturalness of gesture over two thousand years ago; Michelangelo simply rediscovered it.

It seems we, as artists, periodically loose sight of this naturalness of form we call beauty or grace. Or, perhaps, there are simply very few artists who can perceive it; and, fewer still, who are able to utilize it freshly in their own work.

Many artists can copy a great work of art, but how many can successfully explore variations on that original concept? How many can expand upon and improve the concept - making it their own? This was Michelangelo's genius: his ability to understand ideal form and to be able to produce new variations of the two thousand year old concept from imagination alone.

And Michelangelo's exploration of those variations took the form of drawing - for, as brilliant as his sculpture and painting was (and it has rarely been equalled), it was through his drawings that he was able to wander along this path and discover new poses and forms, expanding our understanding of, and appreciation for, the beauty of the human form.

Michelangelo understood that the copying of nature was not the purpose of art. He embraced the idea of an ideal form that the ancient Greeks were seeking. He heard the call of perfection whispered across a two thousand year void and he repeated it aloud for those of us who would choose to listen.

I would like to include a link to the blog: The Best Artists. for a recent post comparing several of Michelangelo's works and the ancient Greek sculptures that inspired them. While I have been aware of Michelangelo's study of ancient Greek sculpture, I had not noticed the close correlation of some of his poses. An interesting post.