Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Divine Rivalry: Michelangelo vs Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo Da Vinci was the original Renaissance Man, a man ahead of his time , the most diversely talented man ever and perhaps the most intelligent.The illegitimate son of a 25-year-old notary, Ser Piero, and a peasant girl, Caterina, Leonardo was born on April 15, 1452, in Vinci, Italy, just outside Florence. His father took custody of the little fellow shortly after his birth, while his mother married someone else and moved to a neighboring town. They kept on having kids, although not with each other, and they eventually supplied him with a total of 17 half sisters and brothers..

Growing up in his father's Vinci home, Leonardo had access to scholarly texts owned by family and friends. He was also exposed to Vinci's longstanding painting tradition, and when he was about 15 his father apprenticed him to the renowned workshop of Andrea del Verrochio in Florence. Even as an apprentice, Leonardo demonstrated his colossal talent. Indeed, his genius seems to have seeped into a number of pieces produced by the Verrocchio's workshop from the period 1470 to 1475. For example, one of Leonardo's first big breaks was to paint an angel in Verrochio's "Baptism of Christ," and Leonardo was so much better than his master's that Verrochio allegedly resolved never to paint again. Leonardo stayed in the Verrocchio workshop until 1477 when he set up a shingle for himself.
In search of new challenges and the big bucks, he entered the service of the Duke of Milan in 1482, abandoning his first commission in Florence, "The Adoration of the Magi". He spent 17 years in Milan, leaving only after Duke Ludovico Sforza's fall from power in 1499. It was during these years that Leonardo hit his stride, reaching new heights of scientific and artistic achievement.
The Duke kept Leonardo busy painting and sculpting and designing elaborate court festivals, but he also put Leonardo to work designing weapons, buildings and machinery. From 1485 to 1490, Leonardo produced a studies on loads of subjects, including nature, flying machines, geometry, mechanics, municipal construction, canals and architecture (designing everything from churches to fortresses). His studies from this period contain designs for advanced weapons, including a tank and other war vehicles, various combat devices, and submarines. Also during this period, Leonardo produced his first anatomical studies. His Milan workshop was a veritable hive of activity, buzzing with apprentices and students.
Adoration of the Magi, the unfinished painting of Leonardo

Vitruvian Man

Alas, Leonardo's interests were so broad, and he was so often compelled by new subjects, that he usually failed to finish what he started. This lack of "stick-to-it-ness" resulted in his completing only about six works in these 17 years, including "The Last Supper" and "The Virgin of the Rocks" and he left dozens of paintings and projects unfinished or unrealized (see "Big Horse" in sidebar). He spent most of his time studying science, either by going out into nature and observing things or by locking himself away in his workshop cutting up bodies or pondering universal truths.
Madonna Litta


The Last Supper
Grotesque Heads

Virgin of the Rocks

Madonna of Yarnwinder

Between 1490 and 1495 he developed his habit of recording his studies in meticulously illustrated notebooks. His work covered these main themes: painting, architecture,science, mathematics, the elements of mechanics,music, engineering, botany and human anatomy. These studies and sketches were collected into various codices and manuscripts, which are now hungrily collected by museums and individuals (Bill Gates recently plunked down $30 million for the Codex Leicester!).Queen Elizabeth II has largest collection of Leonardo's notebooks in Windsor Castle.
Crossbow Machine

Helicopter

Hydraulic Machine

Tank

Human Organs
Organ Gun
 

Back to Milan... after the invasion by the French and Ludovico Sforza's fall from power in 1499, Leonardo was left to search for a new patron. Over the next 16 years, Leonardo worked and traveled throughout Italy for a number of employers, including the dastardly Cesare Borgia. He traveled for a year with Borgia's army as a military engineer and even met Niccolo Machiavelli, author of "The Prince." Leonardo also designed a bridge to span the "golden horn" in Constantinople during this period and received a commission, with the help of Machiavelli, to paint the "Battle of Anghiari."
About 1503, Leonardo reportedly began work on the "Mona Lisa". On July 9, 1504, he received notice of the death of his father, Ser Piero. Through the contrivances of his meddling half brothers and sisters, Leonardo was deprived of any inheritance. The death of a beloved uncle also resulted in a scuffle over inheritance, but this time Leonardo beat out his scheming siblings and wound up with use of the uncle's land and money.

Portrait of Cecilia Gallerani by Da Vinci


Annunciation

Mona Lisa, the world's most famous painting and property of French Government.

The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne
Giorgio Vasari, in the enlarged edition of Lives of the Artists, introduced his chapter on Leonardo da Vinci with the following words:
"In the normal course of events many men and women are born with remarkable talents; but occasionally, in a way that transcends nature, a single person is marvellously endowed by Heaven with beauty, grace and talent in such abundance that he leaves other men far behind, all his actions seem inspired and indeed everything he does clearly comes from God rather than from human skill. Everyone acknowledged that this was true of Leonardo da Vinci, an artist of outstanding physical beauty, who displayed infinite grace in everything that he did and who cultivated his genius so brilliantly that all problems he studied he solved with ease".


From 1513 to 1516, he worked in Rome, maintaining a workshop and undertaking a variety of projects for the Pope. He continued his studies of human anatomy and physiology, but the Pope forbade him from dissecting cadavers, which truly cramped his style.Following the death of his patron Giuliano de' Medici in March of 1516, he was offered the title of Premier Painter and Engineer and Architect of the King by Francis I in France. His last and perhaps most generous patron, Francis I provided Leonardo with a cushy job, including a stipend and manor house near the royal chateau at Amboise.Within Leonardo's own lifetime his fame was such that the King of France carried him away like a trophy and was claimed to have supported him in his old age and held him in his arms as he died.
Francis I of France receiving the last breath of Leonardo da Vinci, by Ingres

Although suffering from a paralysis of the right hand, Leonardo was still able to draw and teach. He produced studies for the Virgin Mary from "The Virgin and Child with St. Anne", studies of cats, horses, dragons, St. George, anatomical studies, studies on the nature of water, drawings of the Deluge, and of various machines.Leonardo died on May 2, 1519 in Cloux, France. Legend has it that King Francis was at his side when he died, cradling Leonardo's head in his arms.


Michelangelo Buonarroti the Italian Renaissance sculptor, painter, architect and poet.Michelangelo was arguably the most famous artist of the Italian Renaissance, and inarguably one of the greatest artists of all time.Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni was born on March 6, 1475, in Caprese, Italy. His father worked for the Florentine government, and shortly after his birth his family returned to Florence, the city Michelangelo would always consider his true home. Michelangelo was irritable, arrogant, and impatient, his perfectionism and expectations drove away many potential friends, and even provoked one would-be friend to hit him in the nose, crushing it "like a biscuit."

Florence during the Renaissance period was a vibrant arts center, an opportune locale for Michelangelo’s innate talents to develop and flourish. His mother died when he was 6, and initially his father initially did not approve of his son’s interest in art as a career.At 13, Michelangelo was apprenticed to painter Domenico Ghirlandaio, particularly known for his murals. A year later, his talent drew the attention of Florence’s leading citizen and art patron, Lorenzo de’ Medici, who enjoyed the intellectual stimulation of being surrounded by the city’s most literate, poetic and talented men. He extended an invitation to Michelangelo to reside in a room of his palatial home.

Michelangelo learned from and was inspired by the scholars and writers in Lorenzo’s intellectual circle, and his later work would forever be informed by what he learned about philosophy and politics in those years.While staying in the Medici home, he also refined his technique under the tutelage of Bertoldo di Giovanni, keeper of Lorenzo’s collection of ancient Roman sculptures and a noted sculptor himself. Although Michelangelo expressed his genius in many media, he would always consider himself a sculptor first.Michelangelo was working in Rome by 1498, when he received a career-making commission from the visiting French cardinal Jean Bilhères de Lagraulas, envoy of King Charles VIII to the pope.The cardinal wanted to create a substantial statue depicting a draped Virgin Mary with her dead son resting in her arms— Pietà—to grace his own future tomb. Michelangelo’s delicate 69-inch-tall masterpiece Pieta, featuring two intricate figures carved from one block of marble continues to draw legions of visitors to St. Peter’s Basilica more than 500 years after it’s completion.


Pieta by Michelangelo (in St.Peter's Basilica), Michelangelo, created a highly supernatural feeling,the beauty of its lines and expression leaves a lasting impression on everyone. This famous work of art depicts the body of Jesus on the lap of his mother Mary after the Crucifixion, the sculpture is made of marble.The Pietà is widely regarded as the Vatican's greatest artistic treasure and the only art work on which Michelangelo signed his initials.

Michelangelo returned to Florence and in 1501 was contracted to create,from marble, huge male figure David to enhance the city’s famous Duomo, officially the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. He chose to depict the young David from the Old Testament, heroic, energetic, powerful and spiritual, and literally larger than life at 17 feet tall.The sculpture, considered by scholars to be nearly technically perfect, remains in Florence at the Galleria dell’Accademia, where it is a world-renowned symbol of the city and its artistic heritage.
David, Michelangelo's most famous sculpture.
Vasari described it as "certainly a miracle that of Michelangelo, to restore to life one who was dead," and then listed every ancient colossal statue he had ever seen, concluding that Michelangelo's work excelled "all ancient and modern statues, whether Greek or Latin, that have ever existed."
Even today it is still the best sculpture ever constructed.
The eyes of David with a warning glare.

In 1505, Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to sculpt him a grand tomb with 40 life-size statues, and the artist began work. But the pope’s priorities shifted away from the project as he became embroiled in military disputes and his funds became scarce, and a displeased Michelangelo left Rome (although he continued to work on the tomb, off and on, for decades).However, in 1508, Julius called Michelangelo back to Rome for a less expensive, but still ambitious painting project: to depict the 12 apostles on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, a most sacred part of the Vatican where new popes are elected and inaugurated.

 “See Michelangelo’s work, and you never need to see any other.”
Giorgio Visari
The Last Judgement , a supreme work of art

Sistine Chapel Wall, Michelangelo's masterpiece fresco.Central to the ceiling decoration are nine scenes from the Book of Genesis

Creation of Adam , the paiting that made Michelangelo the rival of Leonardo
Creation of Sun and Moon
Johann von Goethe said it best: “Without having seen the Sistine Chapel one 
can form no appreciable idea of what  one man is capable of achieving.”

Doni Tondo
Instead, over the course of the four-year project from 1508 to 1512 at Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo painted 12 figures—seven prophets and five sibyls (female prophets of myth)—around the border of the ceiling, and filled the central space with scenes from Genesis. Critics suggest that the way Michelangelo depicts the prophet Ezekiel—as strong yet stressed, determined yet unsure—is symbolic of Michelangelo’s sensitivity to the intrinsic complexity of the human condition. The most famous Sistine Chapel ceiling painting is the emotion-infused The Creation of Adam, in which God and Adam outstretch their hands to one another. His paintings have a sculptural quality to them, as if he had created the sculpture in his mind and then painted that.
 Prophet Ezekiel on Sistine Chapel Wall
Michelangelo as a chief architect of St Peter's Basilica designed the dome and other parts of Basilica, he also decorated the interior of Basilica with his artworks along with Bernini  to make it the most beautiful building of the world

"The first burst of the interior(St Peter Basilica), in all its expansive majesty and glory: and, 
most of all, the looking up into the Dome; is a sensation never to be forgotten."Charles Dickens, 1846

Tomb of Pope Julius II , central figure is that of Moses.It took Michelangelo 40 years to finish this masterpiece.
The Entombment
The Crucifixion of St Peter, last fresco by Michelangelo.A small self portrait of Michelangelo himself is belived to be found in the painting. Maurizio De Luca, inspector and chief restorer of the Vatican claimed that he had identified Buanorroti as the figure wearing a blue turban among one of three riders in the top left of the fresco.

Michelangelo continued to sculpt and paint until his death, although he increasingly worked on architectural projects as he aged: His work from 1520 to 1527 on the interior of the Medici Chapel in Florence included wall designs, windows and cornices that were unusual in their design as well as proportions and introduced startling variations on classical forms.Michelangelo also designed  the iconic dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome (although its completion came after his death). Among his other masterpieces are Moses (sculpture, completed 1515);Doni Tondo, The Last Judgment (painting, completed 1534); and Day, Night, Dawn and Dusk (sculptures, all completed by 1533).

From the 1530s on, Michelangelo wrote poems; about 300 survive. Many incorporate the philosophy of Neo-Platonism--that a human soul, powered by love and ecstasy, can reunite with an almighty God—ideas that had been the subject of intense discussion while he was an adolescent living in Lorenzo de’ Medici’s household.

After he left Florence permanently in 1534 for Rome, Michelangelo also wrote many lyrical letters to his family members who remained there. The theme of many was his strong attachment to various young men, especially aristocrat Tommaso Cavalieri.

When the Medici returned to power, he spent nearly twenty years working for them designing their tombs and the Medici Chapel. Julius II also wanted Michelangelo to carve statues for his tomb. He originally wanted 40 marble statues, but only three were completed. The next ten years were spent in Rome working for Pope Paul III. It was during this time he painted The Last Judgment and started the construction of the dome in St. Peter's Church.

Scholars debate whether this was more an expression of homosexuality or a bittersweet longing by the unmarried, childless, aging Michelangelo for a father-son relationship.Michelangelo died after a short illness in 1564 at 88, surviving far past the usual life expectancy of the era.

Divine Rivalry:Leonardo VS Michelangelo
Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.Even today the accomplishments of Michelangelo Buonarroti and Leonardo Da Vinci seem super human.

Nobody knew better than him the value of art, the need to preserve the memory of great artists. You feel the emotion, the hushed awe, when he describes seeing pieces of Michelangelo's drawing of the Battle of Cascina in the house of a gentleman in Mantua: "They seem to the eye things divine rather than human." And yet, of all people, it was Giorgio Vasari, author of The Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects (1568), the unrivalled chronicler of the Renaissance, who obliterated every trace of one the most extraordinary projects in Renaissance art.

In the 1560s, Vasari redecorated the Council Hall of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, replacing what survived of the most ambitious and tantalising public art commission of the Renaissance. This included two masterpieces that - even as legends, glimpsed through descriptions, copies, a handful of surviving preliminary sketches - have haunted art ever since. At the beginning of the 16th century, in this same room, side by side on the same wall, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti were hired to paint vast battle scenes in direct competition with one another.One thing can be said for Vasari's replacement paintings: they won't induce Stendhal syndrome, the illness caused by aesthetic excitement that afflicts several visitors to Florence every year. Vasari was a vivid writer but a flat painter. Today the vast walls of the long, rectangular hall are vapid. In a city so rich in beauties, the Council Hall, known today as the Salone dei Cinquecento, isn't even a contender.

So it's a perverse pursuit, in a city with visible masterpieces from Michelangelo's Medici tombs to Brunelleschi's dome, to go looking for what is not there. It feels a little melancholy, standing in the Palazzo Vecchio speculating on what might have been, peering at Vasari's frescos as though we could look through them, when we might be next door in the Uffizi, gorging on Botticellis. But, since the 16th century, people have been obsessed with the lost battle paintings of Michelangelo and Leonardo: artists from Raphael to Rubens; art historians including Kenneth Clark, who called these lost pictures "the turning point of the Renaissance"; the company Editech Art Diagnostics, which is to scan the wall under Vasari's paintings in an attempt to find traces of Leonardo's Battle of Anghiari.
It might sound crass to talk as though the decoration of the Council Hall was a point-scoring competition between two such lofty minds as Leonardo and Michelangelo, but that was how contemporaries saw it. Leonardo was in his early 50s and renowned throughout Europe when he was commissioned in 1503. He had just painted the Mona Lisa. "His fame had so increased," writes Vasari, "that all persons who took delight in art - nay, the whole city of Florence - desired that he should leave them some memorial work."
The Battle of Anghiari  , a lost painting of Leonardo da Vinci.  At times referred to as "The Lost Leonardo", which some commentators believe to be still hidden beneath one of the later frescoes in the Salone dei Cinquecento (Hall of the Five Hundred) in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence.Some say that if found again , it would become the best painting of all time.
 Leonardo, who loathed war as "a most beastly madness", depicted a group of horses and riders furiously fighting. He abandoned the project a year after he started, probably because a new experimental technique for frescoes failed. But some of his preparatory studies remain, as well as other artists' copies of the original fresco.

Leonardo was commissioned to paint a vast wall painting of The Battle of Anghiari, a scene from the 15th-century wars between Florence and Milan. Then, in December 1504, a far younger Florentine was commissioned to paint The Battle of Cascina, which took place between Florence and Pisa in the 14th century, on the same wall of the Council Hall.

In May 1504, the same month that Leonardo revised his contract with the Signoria of Florence to put back the completion date of The Battle of Anghiari, Michelangelo's statue of David was installed outside the Palazzo Vecchio. Leonardo, inconceivably, had a rival.
Vasari is explicit that this was a contest. He emphatically says that Michelangelo was commissioned "in competition with Leonardo". With competition came paranoia, hatred. Michelangelo had little time for Leonardo - according to Vasari, he made his dislike so clear that Leonardo left for France to avoid him. For his part, Leonardo made bitchy remarks in his notebooks on the "wooden" qualities of Michelangelo's painting.

Manchester Madoana, unfinished painting by Michelangelo

There was far more at stake than artistic rivalry. The council hall was the centre of a new, more populist idea of the Florentine Republic, which, after the expulsion of the Medici in 1494, was restored with a far greater commitment than ever before to speaking for the entire city. The rebirth of the Florentine Republic was a moment of intense self-rediscovery for Florence; after a century in which the city had become more like a conventional princedom, it was reasserting republican government. Brilliant minds gave their all to the struggle to recreate the Republic - one of Piero Soderini's close allies was Machiavelli. Historians used to believe, that Machiavelli was instrumental in commissioning Leonardo to decorate the Council Hall.
St. Jerome in the Wilderness , unfinished painting by Da Vinci

What is certain is that Leonardo and Michelangelo both had new hope for their city. They had been working far from Florence, in Milan, in Rome. Now they returned. Were they republicans? Michelangelo created the Republic's most seductive work of political art, a powerful symbol of manly, energetic, watchful, clear-eyed heroism: David, hero of the weak against the strong, of Florence against tyrannical powers.

Preliminary drawings survive of men and horses by Leonardo; there is a copy, attributed to Rubens, taken from an earlier copy, of the central scene of his painting, known as The Battle of the Standard. For Michelangelo, the main visual source is a painting now in Holkham Hall, Norfolk, by Bastiano da Sangallo, a copy of Michelangelo's Battle of Cascina. Even from these fragments, we can see why contemporaries regarded the Battles of Anghiari and Cascina as the key works of their time - and why they have haunted the representation of war ever since.

Leonardo and Michelangelo, for all their different ages, different styles - Leonardo soft, shadowy, ambiguous; Michelangelo sublimely decisive - and their enmity, had one thing in common. Neither liked to finish anything. By the time Leonardo was commissioned to paint the Council Hall, everyone knew this about him; what no one knew was that Michelangelo - who had been prodigious - was to become dilatory and difficult. In fact, Michelangelo's abortive work on The Battle of Cascina marks the beginning of the pattern of non-completion that was to mark his life. You might even speculate that he learned this from Leonardo.
Battle of Cascina, the unfinished work of Michelangelo(the sketch was never painted by Michelangelo)

Leonardo, on this occasion, got a lot further than Michelangelo. He took a long time to finish his cartoon and we know, from sketches of men and horses that survive, how passionately he engaged with it; the horses as tense and confrontational as the men, the men as bestial as the animals - warriors have their mouths snarlingly open, as if they want to bite flesh. Leonardo made a unique machine, a wooden elevator, so he could move up and down the wall in comfort. But, as with the Last Supper, technical ingenuity got the better of him. Leonardo used a method - apparently based on a recipe in the ancient Roman writer Pliny the Elder - to enable him to paint the wall in oils. The mixture didn't work - he may have been cheated on materials; the upper part dried dark and the lower parts disintegrated.

Michelangelo never got past the drawing stage. But what a drawing, everyone agreed. He took over a room in the Hospital of the Dyers in Florence, and drew a full-sized cartoon in superb detail. Everything about it was startling. Leonardo depicted the very heart of battle, an agonising, horrific entanglement of human and animal bodies, but Michelangelo drew war's margins, a moment of bizarre ordinariness, when Florentine soldiers, bathing naked in the Arno, hear the enemy coming and rush to get out of the water and put on armour.

Michelangelo's painting never reached the wall, but Leonardo's did. It's a mystery why it was painted over in 1565, by that same Vasari who wrote Leonardo's life. It was a Leonardo, which meant as much then as now. Vasari reported in 1556 that the Last Supper had deteriorated to "a muddle of blots", but it has been preserved and worshipped ever since in its ruinous state. There is more going on than meets the eye in the Salone dei Quinquecento.

In 1512, a Spanish army sent by the Holy League overthrew the Florentine Republic; Piero Soderini fled and the Medici were returned to power. Machiavelli retired to write his bleak political theory. The sense that Michelangelo was a Republican and during the exile of Medici family Michelangelo worked against them , despite all he owed the Medici and the Pope as patrons, is strengthened by the way that he again returned to Florence when the Medici were chucked out ,the Republic restored one more time in 1527. Michelangelo built defences for this last Florentine Republic; his defences failed, the city fell, the Medici came back in 1530. Michelangelo was forgiven because of his fame and not only that the Medici asked him to build a tombs at San Lorenzo known as "Medici Tombs" these tombs were made for  Giuliano de Medici  and Lorenzo de'Medici .
Lorenzo di Piero de' Medici Tomb also known as "Dusk and Dawn" in Medici Chapel (in Church of San Lorenzo)built by Michelangelo

Giuliano de Medici Tomb also known as "Night and Day" in Medici Chapel (in San Lorenzo Church) built by Michelangelo


After 1530, republicanism was finished in Florence, which became a conservative, princely city, whose art would never again be at the forefront of Europe. The Palazzo Vecchio became a Medici palace. When Vasari was commissioned to redecorate the Council Hall, he was suppressing the past, effacing signs of the Republic, of the people. Those signs included Leonardo's Battle of Anghiari.
Today you can walk around Florence seeing ghostly images of the two lost masterpieces. In the Casa Buonarroti is a very early Michelangelo, The Battle of the Centaurs, in which naked bodies twist and wrap around each other and coil and flex as the nude soldiers would have done as they clambered out of the Arno. The most intangible, yet most direct, trace of either battle painting is in the Uffizi, in Leonardo da Vinci's Adoration of the Magi. In the receding distance of Leonardo's unfinished conundrum of a painting are horsemen, engaged in combat. The warriors in Leonardo's battle painting repeated, consciously or unconsciously, those in the earlier Adoration of the Magi.Just as Machiavelli concluded from the defeat of the Florentine Republic that human affairs are irrational, so the two greatest Renaissance artists created the first modern, disenchanted images of war.

Leonardo was one of the greatest scientific genius and artist who ever lived and takes the top position as a Renaissance Man because of his mastery in many fields , i.e science , anatomy, engineering, mathematics, mechanics , botany, architecture and  arts  but yet one of the best painters of all time(Leonardo may be a better painter than Michelangelo but overall Michelangelo was a better artist). While Michelangelo is also a Renaissance Man and in my opinion the greatest artist of all time, the greatest sculptor of all time , supreme architect , poet and probably the greatest fresco painter and beats Leonardo in artistic brilliance.The only rival of Michelangelo in artistic genius is Pablo Picasso.

So, Leonardo is superior Renaissance Man than Michelangelo, but Michelangelo was a better artist than Leonardo.


3 comments:

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  2. I'm awed by the works of Leornardo and Michelangelo, and fascinated by their contemporary relationship. I agree that Michelangelo was the better artist, even in painting which he denigrated. Of the two I've always favoured Michelangelo, the perfection of his work is breathtaking ... but having read his 'Life, Letters and Poetry' I can't help but feel that although he was a passionate artist he was a fairly prosaic man. Leornardo is becoming more real to me, more well-rounded and basically a better human-being. I'm afraid to say that this prejudices my view in favour of Leornardo, although their art should transcend all such pedestrian judgements as mine.

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