HISTART 351-001

Art and Poetry of Michelangelo

TTh 2:30-4:00pm
3 Credit Lecture

The life and art of Michelangelo Buonarroti offers a rich context for the study of verbal and visual invention in early modern Europe. For his contemporaries and many later generations Michelangelo exemplified the ideal artist postulated in the art literature and cultural theory of Renaissance Humanism. This seminar will examine Renaissance theories of style and invention as a means of grasping the figurative thought behind Michelangelo's rough-hewn sonnets and eloquent marble sculptures. Hence we will attend closely to a number of little-known sheets that show the artist thinking on paper, in both line sketches and fragments of verse. Central topics include Michelangelo's use of ancient classical models, such as the Belvedere Torso and the Laocoön sculpture group; his Neoplatonic theories of artistic inspiration; his preoccupation with the body as a source of visual and verbal metaphor; the intensely religious character of his devotion to craft and physical beauty; and his self-fashioning as a grouchy genius who slept in his boots. We will consider the principal themes and genres of his poetry—notably the sonnet, the madrigal and the epitaph—as well as the critical language employed by contemporary viewers of his art, such as the poet Vittoria Colonna, the biographer Giorgio Vasari, the friend Ascanio Condivi, the apologist Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo, the enemy Pietro Aretino and the critic Ludovico Dolce. In order to observe the figurative effects of his handling of materials (facture) we will make close inspections of Michelangelo's drawing techniques, his use of color in oil and fresco and his treatment of stone surfaces. In the course of the term we will study, in brief or at length, a considerable portion of his production in sculpture, painting and architecture, particularly in works commissioned for the court settings of Medici Florence and Papal Rome.


  • Michelangelo Buonarroti, The Poetry of Michelangelo, trans. James Saslow, Yale University Press, 1991. ISBN: 0300055099
  • Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Artists. Volume I, trans. George Bull, Penguin Books, 1987. ISBN 978014044500
  • Ascanio Condivi, The Life of Michelangelo, trans. Alice Sedgwick Wohl, 2nd ed. Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999. ISBN: 0271018534
  • Anthony Hughes, Michelangelo, Phaidon, 1997. ISBN: 9780714834832
  • Michael Harvey, The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing, 2nd ed., Hackett, 2013. ISBN-10: 1603848983
  • A coursepack of photocopied readings will also be required.

Estimated cost of materials: $50-$100.

HISTART category for concentration distributions: 3. Early Modern, D. Europe and the US.