The famous steps of the MET gradually emerged past Central Park as frigid winds and temperatures blew its visitors in. Up the staircase, to the left, past three exhibits of antiquities, Tiffany stained glass and a small café area lies Michelangelo Buonarroti’s works. ‘Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer’ was a herculean undertaking that crossed international borders, required specialized equipment to install and a signature from Queen Elizabeth. Some of the works are over 500 years old. No small detail was spared.
Contemporaries, luminaries of Michelangelo are also shown alongside of him. Like every good exhibit the show progressively educates the visitor on how the artist developed their craft. One of the Italian master’s first carved pieces ‘Young Archer’ rests in the opening of the exhibit. Portraiture drawings line one wall as his early drafts line another wall. He took inspiration from Masaccio’s ‘Expulsion of Adam and Eve’. Duplicate replicas in red chalk reveal the divine master’s acute ability to copy. The exhibit is dimly lit and crowded. Throngs of people navigating, blocking, taking pictures of his work. The first drawings are ok. They have a bespoke quality to them. The MET has done everything in its power to preserve the drawings, encased in glass, but the ‘Young Archer could have easily been touched if one so dared to do.
The second room is filled with more drawings. Drafts of architecture. Drawings of moldings. He utilized paper that had already been drawn on. Drawings on drawings, he was not one to waste such a precious commodity. The drafts are curious and do not feel 500 years old. They seem like a modern day student could have drawn them. Lines are not quite so perfect, but they are bold. They curve, but he continues to draw on. Figures, draped and always in contrapposto. There are no lifeless forms here. Each figure is moving, twisting, turning. Knees bend up, arms are extended, torsos bend and curve. The figures are calm in approach and bulky in form. They dustily draw up from the paper, scenes of grandeur. ‘The Fall of Phaeton’. ‘Mary with Jesus and John the Baptist.’ The lines always seem to be elevating upwards, graceful, controlled.
The next room houses busts of Caracalla and another Roman emperor. The white Chinese marble cut and polished to perfection stand in stark contrast to the etches and drawings. The marble busts are beautiful, powerful, domineering and glowing under the spot light. Imagining, understanding that each plane was done by hand on such an unforgiving material humbles you. Dedication, resolve, ingenuity and great skill combined in effort.
Rooms filled with Michelangelo’s work. A beautiful torso sticks out to you. The grace of the lines. Sublime. Although some of the works possess their own oddity, imperfection, one could easily take for granted the over all effect of the exhibition. One is awash in Michelangelo. His script, his writing is laid before you. A wooden model of a dome commissioned reveals the range and flexibility of his craft. The wooden dome is unremarkable, but it is precise and there are two of them. The piece de resistance is a scale replica of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. One realizes how devoid of color the whole exhibition is upon the immediate amazement of this enterprise. Although the original in the Vatican City is something to behold, the replica worked on one’s imagination. The ultimate vehicle for wonder and delight.
The exhibit closes with more of his paintings and a colorful prayer book. The light of the store at the end of the exhibit emerges. A soft close appropriate for the Italian masters graceful yet powerful approach. He is deserving of the title ‘Divine’ as his works unknowingly and gently elevate your inspiration.