Why a plate?

Michelangelo Public and Private invites us into the artistic process behind some of the most astonishing works of art ever created – the Sistine Chapel frescoes. Through preparatory drawings – quick figure sketches to capture a pose, analytical studies of outstretched limbs, a highly finished portrait that will be incorporated into a populous narrative – we watch Michelangelo making decisions that lead to the finished work.

It is easy to understand why these preparatory drawings – the artist’s first ideas – are at the centerpiece of the Michelangelo exhibition. But what about some of the other objects? A grocery list; inlaid wood doors; a medal? The Casa Buonarroti, which organized the exhibition, has a unique collection – important works by the artist, but also personal effects left to his family at his death. They are a potent record of aspects of Michelangelo’s daily life and concerns, closely intertwined with his artistic activities and richly documented in the artist’s correspondence.

One object, for example, a maiolica plate with the Buonarroti coat of arms, documents the artist’s lifelong obsession with his family’s social standing and their claim to membership in the aristocratic class. At a time when artists – especially sculptors – were regarded as mere craftsmen who worked with base materials and engaged in physical labor, Michelangelo’s personal connections through his family opened doors to him and helped him break through this barrier, paving the way for other artists.

These personal and professional concerns are discussed in a fascinating new biography – Michelangelo: The Artist, the Man and His Times – by the highly regarded Michelangelo scholar, William Wallace. Dr. Wallace will give a lecture at SAM on January 15, entitled Michelangelo: The Artist and the Aristocrat.

Chiyo Ishikawa, Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture

Plate with the Buonarroti Family Coat of Arms, Cafaggiolo Manufactory, Cafaggiolo Manufactory, 27.7 cm. Photo courtesy of Fondazione Casa Buonarroti