What is perfection? For many it shall always be an elusive and unattainable ideal. An ideal that however unreachable shall always be sought with outstretched fingers longing for the satisfaction of the utterly perfect form. For the very select few, perfection is attained but not fully recognized especially by the person who has achieved it. Michelangelo Buonarroti is one such person. A man whose goal of perfection manifested itself with every stroke of his brush and every piece of marble he chiseled away. Recently the Seattle Art Museum received several sketches and studies created by this unforgettably classical artist. This collection is considered by many to be a rarity among rarities. For in his quest for perfection, Michelangelo purposefully burned a great deal of his sketches and studies to hide any hint of imperfection in his art. What the Seattle Art Museum has now in its temporary possession are the few pieces that survived the artist’s incredibly high standards.
Stepping into the exhibit you are immediately greeted by the great master himself in the form of a portrait painted by the Florentine artist Pompeo di Giulio Caccini. The portrait is a rare glimpse of the great master in his workshop environment. As you walk in further you are immediately surrounded by the works of Michelangelo’s contemporaries, many of which imitate his own work. You will also witness Michelangelo’s studies and sketches. One of the first sketches you will see by the great artist shows the true meaning of the universality of a Renaissance man. The sketch is a design for a fortification of the city of Florence when Michelangelo became the architect for the defenses of the city against his former patrons the famed Medici family. This particular sketch shows that besides being a great artist, Michelangelo also had within him a sound military mind. He designed the fortification to withstand cannon fire and drew red lines to represent the firepower his fortification could counter against the Medici and their forces. Being a Renaissance man did not just mean you were great at art, but also at design, architecture, engineering, and of course science.
As you walk further into this marvelous exhibit, you begin to see the designs and early work for one of his most well-known masterpieces, the Sistine Chapel. Walking and observing from sketch to sketch, study to study, you can start to see the early developments of perfect art. It becomes hard not to notice the rawness and humanity of those early drawings from the simple study of a leg and foot to the grandiose paintings of God creating Adam. Nowhere is this step by step process to perfection more evident than in the middle of the exhibit. Here you will notice a miniature scaled-down version of the entirety of the Sistine Chapel and its famed ceiling. You can observe the many studies Michelangelo conducted to develop his art. After seeing all those studies and looking at a large replica of the finished product one is simply filled with awe. How does one go from drawing a simple nude to telling a story as grand as the creation of the world according to the Bible? Alas such a feeling cannot be described by mere words. Any attempt to describe this artistic epiphany will only detract from the experience. Suffice it to say you will notice that it is from humble beginnings that great art comes to its grandest and most beautiful form.
Michelangelo conveys God’s ultimate power over the world perfectly through his creation, while man’s rebellious and evil nature is told through his expulsion from Eden. It is incredible how an artist can tell such a fantastic story without having to use a single word. Sadly and unfortunately it is man’s ultimately frail nature that is retold to us at the end of the exhibit. Here at the end of a journey through a great master’s mind you will find a letter from Michelangelo to a relative thanking him for some cheeses he had sent him, and explaining to him how the letter had to be written by an assistant, for his hands had at this point failed him. He would die two months after that letter was sent. Michelangelo had lived to a ripe old age of 88. Even so, it is sad to see in this letter the decline and impending death of such a wonderful human being whom for all ages would represent the epitome of a great artist.