Michelangelo's 'Madonna and Child'

Michelangelo, Madonna and Child, c. 1524. Black chalk, red chalk, red wash, white heightening and ink. Collection of the Casa Buonarroti, Florence, inv. 71F.


Most people don’t know the Buonarroti family. But they do recognize its most famous son: Michelangelo. Regarded by some as the Renaissance’s most famous artist, he was the equivalent of a rock star in his day.

“He made a very good living so he was able to take care of his family for several generations until the family died out in the 19th century,” said Gilbert Vicario, chief curator at the Phoenix Art Museum.

He is the one overseeing the Sacred and Profane — a rare exhibition of 26 drawings from Michelangelo’s one-time home, now study museum, Casa Buonarroti.

The Phoenix Art Museum is the exhibit’s last stop before it returns to Italy at the end of March. There is still time to see the show before it leaves.

Born March 6, 1475, in Caprese, Italy to a banking family, Michelangelo apprenticed with a painter and later expanded his study to sculpture. Most of his life was spent in Rome where he created some of his most well-known works, including the massive Last Judgment painting in the Sistine Chapel and the exquisite Pietà inside St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

The Sacred and Profane is different in that it showcases Michelangelo’s drawings, many of which did not survive to present day.

“The Casa Buonarroti has 200, so this show represents about 12 percent of what’s there,” Vicario explained. “The drawings that are in this show, some of them relate to projects he did in Rome, where everything else was done in his studio in Florence.

“He used to burn a lot of them,” Vicario added; particularly ones with which he was not satisfied.

Michelangelo was known for being a perfectionist. (A trait well demonstrated by Charlton Heston as the artist in The Agony and the Ecstasy.) The drawings that have survived are ones that Michelangelo was apparently pleased with, Vicario said.

On view are several famous figure studies and a large collection of architectural drawings. There is the iconic Madonna and Child and the evocative “Head of the Madonna.”

In addition to being a painter and sculpture, Michelangelo was a designer of buildings. A good portion of the show exhibits his designs for various buildings throughout Italy, including the Plan for the Church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini in Rome.

The collection of the Sacred and Profane shows a mortal’s attempts at the divine or as Vicario describes it: “It’s another way of saying heaven and earth; the sacred and the spiritual and the godly, and then the mortal, the human,” he said.

Michelangelo sought to make the divine visible through emotional and natural works of art.

This show offers residents of Phoenix and Arizona at-large a rare chance to see works of this giant in art history.

Sacred and Profane will be on exhibit until March 27 at the Phoenix Art Museum, 1625 N. Central Ave. General adult admission is $15 with discounts available for seniors, students and children. Admission to the Michelangelo show is included in the general admission price.

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