Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Florence 2012 Journal: Analysis of the New Sacristy

Further analysis of the New Sacristy in San Lorenzo

The new Sacristy in the Capella Medicee of San Lorenzo as already explained, serves a triple function and was left unfinished. Although the Medici’s didn’t have the extent of power they would have liked after the death of the two Dukes buried here, they were still considered nobles. Thus, they called upon Michelangelo (his works were clearly that of a status symbol) to execute their New Sacristy. Their belief was that time may well pass, but fame will not.

Michelangelo had originally planned for a mausoleum type structure to occupy the space. The Duke of Nemours, Duke of Urbino, Lorenzo the Great and his brother were to be placed at either side of the square tomb monument in the middle of the room.

As it stands now, the tombs of Lorenzo and his brother are situated opposite the altar. The Duke of Nemours and Duke of Urbino are placed at either side of the room. Although the wall space in the middle never reached completion and is therefore plain, Michelangelo was in keeping with the wishes of the Medici in that Lorenzo and his brother are placed underneath the patron saints of the house of Medici (St. Cosmus and St. Damien). This serves as an allusion to the former acting as family patrons themselves, which also explains their placement directly opposite the altar and either side of the Virgin Mary.

If facing the altar, the tomb of Giuliano or otherwise known the Duke of Nemours is situated on the right (Fig. 2). He was famously fond of Leonardo Da Vinci and was the brother of Pope Leo X. His statue on top of the tomb shows him with a weapon in hand, referring to his ‘active role’ that is contrasted with Lorenzo’s tomb statue showing his ‘passive role’ (mentioned below). The other statues placed directly on top of the sarcophagus portray day and night; the night figurine is shown with a mask and owl to her side and the day figure has its back turned to us and as claimed by Umberto Baldini, ‘the figure is believed to derive from the Belvedere Torso (Fig. 3). [1]

Opposite from Giuliano stands the tomb of Lorenzo, the Duke of Urbino. (Fig. 1). He was the nephew of the Duke of Nemours. Lorenzo’s statue is contemplative and depicts him as resting his elbow on what is believed to be a money box; scholars believe this implies his role as a guardian and portrays him the more passive of the two Dukes. Like Giuliano’s wall tomb, there are also two statues placed in a similar way atop the sarcophagus. These two however, represent dawn and twilight. Their iconography is not concrete, however what was found in the Archivio Buonarroti seems to consolidate the belief that they are in fact dawn and twilight. In studying this document which is presumably a plan for the tomb, John Pope-Hennessey concluded that: ‘below running across the sheet, in the positions occupied by the Allegories, is a conversation between the Times of Day of the Sarcophagus’.[2] In simple terms, Michelangelo had written ‘times of day’, or something to that effect, on top of the sarcophagus in the plan. Now considering that the subject matter of both ‘night’ and ‘day’ had already been used on the other tomb, it is a natural assumption that the remaining two statues would therefore be ‘dawn’ and ‘dusk’. While it is arguable that they could have well been the same, it is unlikely because Vasari notes that Michelangelo ‘wished for all parts of the world‘ to be depicted in the New Sacristy.[3] Therefore, it is feasible to assume that the ’Times of Day’ statues make the following set: Dawn, Day, Dusk, Night. Rather than: ‘Day, Night, Day, Night’.

By 1519 the Duke of Urbino (1492-1519) and Duke of Nemours (1479-1516) had both died. With these deaths, the so called ’opportunity’ for the Medici to obtain Papal power dwindled. They no longer had the two Dukes of whom were close to the Pope. Luckily however, before their death the Medici’s made use of their position in persuading the Pope to reinstate the position of their family in Florence in 1512.

[1] U. Baldini, The Sculpture of Michelangelo (Rizzoli International Publications, 1984), 56. The Belvedere Torso is a limbless and headless Classical statue, believed to date around 2 AD. It is signed by an unknown Athenian sculpture ’Apollonios Son of Nestor’. The comparison between the ‘day’ figure and the Belvedere torso is made because Michelangelo was known to be very impressed and intrigued by this piece.
[2] E. Balas, Michelangelo’s Medici Chapel: A New Interpretation (Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society), (Amer Philosophical Society, 1995), 72.
[3] E. Balas, Michelangelo’s Medici Chapel: A New Interpretation (Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society), (Amer Philosophical Society, 1995), 70.

No comments:

Post a Comment