Medici Lecture 6-7 Notes.docx

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Harvard University
History of Art and Architecture
History of Art and Architecture 11
Neil Levine

HAA11 Lectures 6/7: Michelangelo and the Medici Chapel in Florence, Italy Today, architecture is almost entirely computer-aided design Although there are some women architects today, gender equality is lacking, and in the Renaissance there were no women architects Michelangelo made paintings, sculptures, and architecture, flowing between the media Florence is urban, dense, crowded; tight, inward-looking, compressed site (unlike Ise and Chaux) The location is a constraint that an architect has to work with Brunelleschi made a church for the Medici family as well as a cathedral The Medici family hired Michelangelo to build a funerary chapel to honor many of their male ancestors Brunelleschi created a very orderly, organized structure to the aisles and columns of the church (a grid related to the dimensions of the human body) Architecture is based on (Vitruvius’) ideal forms (square and circle) in relation to the ideal, unattainable human body (perfect proportions with respect to all sorts of body parts and an organic, tight relationship) The chapel has a simple form, with a cupola over a cubic room with triumphal arches on either end The cupola creates a sense of universe due to the white light coming in through the opening The Medici family (who at this point included two popes), the patron of Michelangelo’s chapel, dealt with elite architecture (superlative stratum of society, not mainstream, public) Different context than the world that is accessible to all Michelangelo crosses the boundary between knowledge and the work of art in order to make it more accessible One end has an altar, surrounded by bays articulated by serene stone (creating a vertical grid that responds to Brunelleschi and the grid of the floor; creating order and proportion in his building) Facing the altar in the square space was supposed to be the tomb of Lorenzo the Magnificent, but he didn’t quite finish; the only thing that Michelangelo truly finished was the Sistine Chapel ceiling (nonfinito) Two symbolic figures, dawn and dusk, face each other on a white marble sarcophagus; above these sculptures is a pensive marble figure inside the niche, wanting to escape this small space The dome of the Pantheon (temple of all Gods) is called to mind when one sees the cupola of the cubic Medici chapel (the temple of the “gods” of the Medici family); Brunelleschi also had a smaller dome in his original church Because the space is very small, compressed, the sculptures appear to spill out in the space when seen head on, but when seen from the side, everything is thin, squashed (a hidden quality of compression, translated and understood in a bodily way); an eloquent way to relay the tightness of the dead body in the sarcophagus As a viewer, one becomes the center of the space, the darkest thing in the square because the center is empty, unarticulated Furthermore, everything is blank: windows, stares of the sculptures, walls; makes everything reflect back to the viewer in the center of the space Michelangelo’s chapel creates a welcoming space for visitors to merge with the architecture, get close to the sculptures and sarcophagi, a sense of “your space is my space” (which is very unlike the norm) Michelangelo takes his plan of having a central monument in the center of the space and “explodes” it out to the walls so that the viewer can go around the room and be in the center He was more an artist of the human body than sculptor/architect dichotomy The marble contains “veins” across it that creates a sense of liveliness that he exploits Michelangelo’s pensive seated “corpse” creates the idea of monumentalizing people seated comfortably (Abra
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