Michelangelo's Work Methods


"Michelangelo has a most retentive memory, such that though he has painted thousands of figures, he has not made two alike or in the same pose. Indeed, I have heard him say that he never draws a line without recalling whether he has previously drawn it before, and if so he will erase it. His imaginative capacity is strong, which contributes to his dissatisfaction with his finished works, as he states they do not meet the original idea fashioned in his mind."

From Life of Michelangelo, Ascanio Condivi

The Life of Michelangelo, 2nd Edition - Ascanio Condiv - AMAZON


"Michelangelo carved a wooden Crucifixion for the Sto. Spirito in Florence, a church where he was well acquainted with the prior. The prior kindly provided him with a room for the study of anatomy via corpses. This gave him great pleasure, and advanced his knowledge more so than any other study previously." Life of Michelangelo, Ascanio Condivi.

"Through dissection Michelangelo studied every known animal, and did so many human dissections that it outnumbers that of those who are professional in that field. This is a considerable influence that shows in his mastery in anatomy that is not matched by other painters." Life of Michelangelo, Ascanio Condivi.

"From handling and dissecting corpses over such a long time, Michelangelo developed such a distaste for it that his stomach would not let him eat or drink with any satisfaction or joy. When he had finished with this practise of study, Michelangelo had collected such a thorough knowledge of the form and movement of human shape that he made in his mind an idea for the writing of a treatise. In this regard he spoke often with Messer Realdo Colombo*, the surgeon and anatomist and Michelangelo's particular friend. Michelangelo's theory about bone structure, the appearance of the body and its movement, he desired to be written with the assistance of some learned man, so that it would benefit all those who would work in sculpture and painting." Life of Michelangelo, Ascanio Condivi.

* Realdo Colombo was Michelangelo's own doctor. He published a volume on anatomy in 1559, De re anatomica libri XV. It is considered by Michelangelo scholars that Condivi's notes on Michelangelo's theories of anatomy were given to Vincenzo Danti, who published the first (and only edition) of a proposed 14-volume book set on anatomy in 1567 titled Trattato delle perfette proporzioni. In the Life of Michelangelo Condivi book translated by Alice Sedgewick Wohl (Penn State Press, 1976, 2001) she writes that this book contains the "...the central thesis... that 'perfect proportion' is based on the use of the parts of the body as revealed through anatomy rather than on measurement - - a concept related to Michelangelo's objection to Durer's theory of proportion on the grounds that it does not take into account 'the movements and gestures of human beings.'"

*Note: The above quotations from Condivi's Life of Michelangelo are my own paraphrases based upon the Wohl text & my other readings of Michelangelo.

"O anatomical painter, beware, lest in the attempt to make your nudes display all their emotions by a too strong indication of bones, sinews, and muscles, you become a wooden painter." - Leonardo Di Vinci

Kenneth Clark wrote of this passage that 'Leonardo has understood the true purpose of Michelangelo's anatomical display is the expression of emotion, but has seen in it the seeds of mannerism.'

Quoted, page 50, in Michelangelo: Painter, Sculptor, Architect, by Howard Hibbard, Copyright 1974.

Michelangelo Articles:

Michelangelo Work Methods

Michelangelo's Racantation of the use of the nude in art

Michelangelo and Amannati's Renunciation of the Nude in Art

Book Review: Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling - Ross King

Michelangelo News Page 2

Michelangelo News Page 3

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