Miscellany Monday – Comics by Michelangelo??

“These rough sketches, which are born in an instant in the heat of inspiration, express the idea of their author in a few strokes, while on the other hand too much effort and diligence sometimes saps the vitality and powers of those who never know when to leave off.” –Giorgio Vasari

sistine-chapel-ceiling

The Sistine Chapel ceiling was painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512. Giorgio Vasari wrote that “…when the work was thrown open the whole world came running to see what Michelangelo had done; and certainly it was such as to make everyone speechless with astonishment.”1 The original Italian even more so than the English translation emphasises the importance of Michelangelo and his art: “…questo bastó per fare rimanere le persone trasecolate e mutole” 2 and Vasari appears to make Michelangelo into a god-like character, someone who alone would make the world run toward the Sistine Chapel and make them contemplate the impact and importance of the painting/ceiling.

As an Art History student at university, I studied extensively the paintings of Michelangelo within the Sistine Chapel. While living in Rome I use to get up early, and take two buses to Vatican City to get there before all the tourist just to get into the Sistine Chapel before the crowds. There I would lie on my back in the middle of the cold, hard, polished floor attempting to soak in a nano-grain of Michelangelo’s brilliance. If allowed, I stayed there for hours, but unfortuantely, my quiet haven would turn into a sardine can and I would get strange looks as German, French, and Japanese visitors walked around me (and the guards asked me to move).

Who would have thought I would ever, EVER, think that the masterpiece that is the Sistine Chapel ceiling is in actuality a comic. (I feel faint now that I have said that aloud.)

According to Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud writes that comics is “juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce as aesthetic response in the viewer.” 3 And a comic is just what the Sistine Chapel ceiling and thousands of other masterpieces are….comics.

scan0001

According to Michelangelo, very little painting was done in the chapel before the over-all composition and the cartoons were ready. In a letter to his banker, Giovanni Fatucci, in 1523, Michaelangelo complained about having to leave Florence in 1508 for Rome. Working on the Battle of Cascina for the town hall, he wrote, I “have already done the cartoon, as is known to all Florence, so that the money seemed to me half earned.”4 Yes! Michelangelo said cartoons.

I wondered when I read that long ago, why artists called the preliminary drawings for frescoes -cartoons- and now I know why. This art is comics.

________________________________________

1 Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Artists, trans G Bull, Penguin Classics 1983 (1568), p 360.

2 Giorgio Vasari, Le opere di Girogio Vasari VII, ed G Milanesi , Florence 1881 (1568), p 186.

3 Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics, The Invisible Art, Harper Perennial, 1993, p 9.

4 Seymour 1995, p 111.

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