Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Private Meditation

Michelangelo 1475 - 1564
Christ on the Cross between the Virgin and St John
Black chalk and white lead (oxidised in places)
412 millimetres x 285 millimetres
The British Museum, London 

Michelangelo 1475 - 1564
Christ on the Cross between the Virgin and St John
Black chalk and white lead (oxidised in places)
410 mm x 278 mm
The British Museum, London 

These two drawings in The British Museum in London are late and amongst the last  drawings in a series of six which Michelangelo produced for his own meditation

The other sheets are in the Louvre, the Ashmolean and at Windsor

The catalogue of The British Museum states:

"The appearance of this group of drawings, with multiple contours and changes, in some cases leading to the near obliteration of the original motif, suggests that these sheets are autonomous works without a destination beyond themselves: as Berenson observes (1938), these are in no sense presentation drawings - no attempt has been made to 'burnish them up'.  
The very process of production was surely for Michelangelo a meditation upon Christ's sacrifice, a central preoccupation of the artist's old age also reflected in his late devotional poetry ... 
De Tolnay observes (1960) that these images derive from the 'process of the creation of inner mental images.'  
He explains their spareness, and concentration, thus:  
'The spiritual effort which begets them cannot simultaneously produce the numerous elements which go to make up a complete world.'  
Michelangelo did not use a model since his private purpose in producing the drawings did not require one. In this Crucifixion group, the very act of drawing becomes a spiritual exercise - and the resulting images, independent of any definite space, undefined towards the periphery, are images conjured by mental expenditure ... 
The various symmetry of the Crucifixion image, its complex simplicity, the isolation of the image with no extraneous detail, and the unblemished nature of Christ's body, display the function of the drawing - combined with the others in the series - as an ideal image, summoned to mind through profound meditation.  
The Crucifixion drawings thus have no destination or purpose beyond themselves: they represent the ever various meditation one the central Christian theme - ever present in Michelangelo's devout old age - of Christ's sacrifice."

The English Catholic poet Elizabeth Jennings  (1926–2001)  in the 1960s produced an English translation of the sonnets of Michelangelo. It  is still the standard version and remains unsurpassed. 

Here is her rendition of Sonnet 60:

At times, pure love may justly be equated
With fervent hope; nor need it be deceived
If by all human loves the heavens are grieved,
Then to what end was the whole world created? 
If I indeed honour and love you, Lord,
And if I burn, it is a heavenly calm
That emanates from you and makes me warm;
Such peace is far removed from all discord.  
True love is not a passion which can die,
Or which depends on beauty that must fade;
Nor is it subject to a changing face.  
That love is true and holy which finds place
Within a modest heart, and which is made,
Far above earth, a pledge of love on high.  
Sonnet LX(ii), from The Sonnets of Michelangelo, Translated by Elizabeth Jennings, 1970, Doubleday, NY, p. 97.

It has been said that Painting is a poetry that is seen and Poetry is imagery in words.

Painting has also been called silent poetry  as a painter is said to write out his feelings in silent words

For Michelangelo the distinction between Painting and Poetry did not exist.

Elizabeth Jennings took up this theme when she wrote:

‘Painting means a tremendous amount to me. If I had to choose between music and painting, I’d probably choose painting. I love to look at pictures and scenes and my favourite painter is Rembrandt, and some of the impressionists or post-impressionists, Manet and Cezanne.  
But there is something else, they were right when they said, these Renaissance people, in a way all the arts – specifically painting, sculpture, poetry and music – they are all the same eventually. All express the aspirations and the failures of human beings, though I do think, perhaps music is the highest of all.’