Italian Renaissance Art: "Poetry and Power"

By: Carly Hill, Staff Writer • Apr 21, 2012 • 0 Comments

A goiter it seems I got from this backward craning

like the cats get there in Lombardy, or wherever
—bad water, they say, from lapping their fetid river.
My belly, tugged under my chin, 's all out of whack.
     Beard points like a finger at heaven. Near the back
of my neck, skull scrapes where a hunchback's lump would be.
I'm pigeon-breasted, a harpy! Face dribbled—see?—
like a Byzantine floor, mosaic. From all this straining
     my guts and my hambones tangle, pretty near.
Thank God I can swivel my butt about for ballast.
Feet are out of sight; they just scuffle around, erratic.
     Up front my hide's tight elastic; in the rear
it's slack and droopy, except where crimps have callused.
I'm bent like a bow, half-round, type Asiatic.
     Not odd that what's on my mind,
when expressed, comes out weird, jumbled. Don't berate;
no gun with its barrel screwy can shoot straight.
     Giovanni, come agitate
for my pride, my poor dead art! I don't belong!
Who's a painter? Me? No way! They've got me wrong.

-Michelangelo on painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel


Artist, Christopher Mir, says of art from the Italian Renaissance, “Probably the ultimate Renaissance artwork is the Sistine Chapel.  No one has come close to that level of poetry and power before or since.”

The Sistine Chapel is the most famous chapel – located in the Apostollic Palace in Vatican City – the official residence of the Pope.  Artists who were involved in this masterpiece were Michelangelo, Sandro Boticelli, Pietro Perugino, and more.  Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the chapel.  The ceiling itself measures 40 x 30 feet, with the center of the curve being 60 feet above the floor creating a space of 5,000 square feet.

The poem above was written by Michelangelo, Italian sculptor, painter, architect, poet, and engineer – unanimously considered one of the greatest artists of all time.  Despite his myriad of talents, he considered himself a sculptor, and didn’t see himself as an artist, as you can see in his poem.  He made it known that he did not want to paint the Sistine Chapel, but he was required to by the Pope.  It took him about 4 years – between 1508 and 1512 to complete the work.  His painting theme being the Creation of Mankind, the temptation and fall of Adam and Eve, the flood, etc. – taken from the Book of Genesis – the subject matter being the doctrine of humanity’s need for salvation as offered by God through Jesus.

Michelangelo completed the poem of his agony in the task, after finishing his work.  Michelangelo painted the ceiling standing up on a flat, wooden scaffold that he designed himself.  You can see from his description how painful it was to stand in the same position with his head pointing upward for hours on end. 

Giotto was another key Italian Renaissance figure.  Mir says, “Giotto was the first major innovator of painting in the early Renaissance.  He and Massaccio created realistic 3D space on a2D surface in a convincing way.  They started incorporating perspectival strategies and volumetric rendering of forms – as well as believable atmosphere.  All of this contributed to a profound shift in the way painters in the western tradition approach the craft.”

Giovanni Villani wrote that Giotto was “king of painters” who drew all his figures “as if they were alive.”  Many Byzantine artists of his time copied their style from well known pictures, but Giotto painted figures that were drawn from real life.

His greatest work is the decoration of Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, which he finished in 1305.



Happy Latiquing!