Michelangelo’s Strange Attraction

As far back as he could remember the human body had had a strange attraction for him.

He could never say just what it was—he had heard others call it “beauty” and so he called it that too; though he could see that others didn’t feel the power of its charm the way he did. He could never get enough of it: when talking to someone, he would often find himself watching their hands or admiring the perfection of their ear. Everything seemed beautiful, the whole and every part, the proportions, the curves, the way one feature was bound to another. It was inexhaustably attractive, no matter what his relation to the model, what his mood or the urgency of some other matter. And it was every human body, big or little, conventionally pretty or ugly: they all were perfect in their way and they all recalled a greater perfection that he had never seen but the canons of which were inside him, mysteriously.

MICHELANGELO Buonarroti Male Nude (1505 )
Black chalk on paper, 404 x 260 mm.    Teylers Museum, Haarlem

He could never see a beautiful curve or line without wanting to draw it himself—or better still, to put it in clay or wax. It called to him, ordered him to reproduce it or record it somehow; and if he didn’t, because he was too tired or busy or lazy, he was punished by the feeling that he had missed some essential clue to the mystery, the vision.

MICHELANGELO Buonarroti    Nude Man from the Front (1510)
Chalk       Musée du Louvre, Paris

He copied the figures in paintings by famous artists and that brought him part-way. They had been good observers, some of them; but, as far as he could see, they had all quit too early in their studies.

Michelangelo’s copy of a fresco by Massaccio

There were hazy spots or downright errors in all the paintings—all of them. He decided to go to the town morgue, repellent as the idea was at first, and begin studying cadavers, dissecting them, drawing in notebooks for reference exactly what he saw. He simply had to understand the body completely: it wouldn’t do to slur over a doubtful area. He knew that if his drawing or his statue was to have any chance of casting the magical attraction of the real body it would have to be right even under the flesh.

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1 Response to Michelangelo’s Strange Attraction

  1. Ion Danu says:

    Reading the last paragraoh I almost thought you write about Leonardo… but Leonardo (even if did plenty of anatomical drawings) did not admired the human body as unconditionally as Michelangelo; in fact, I remember that he noted that only the strongness of sexual instinct can overpass the UGLINESS of sexuals organs in women… It’s his words (or idea) not mine…

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