Artibus et Historiae no. 62 (XXXI)

2010, ISSN 0391-9064

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CHRISTOPH LUITPOLD FROMMEL - Michelangelo’s Resurrected Christ: The First Version of the Sculpture and the Young Bernini

It was probably already in 1512 that the young Roman patrician Metello commissioned Michelangelo to carve a statue of resurrected Christ for the funerary chapel of his aunt Marta Porcari. Michelangelo started to work on the sculpture in 1514 but quickly abandoned it, when he came across a black vein near the nose. The statue has been re-discovered only recently and is interpreted as an earlier version of the statue for S. Maria sopra Minerva, executed by Michelangelo around 1519/1520. Michelangelo’s drawing, now in Munich, seems to be a preparatory sketch for this earlier version, as it still takes into account the slightly flatter block of marble, originally destined for the figures of Prisoners in the tomb of Julius II, and less expansive gestures. The altar to which the statue belonged was dedicated to Resurrection, and in both versions the shroud indeed falls down to show Christ completely naked, as it was the case only in the moment of the Resurrection. Still in the early seventeenth century the block had been substantially re-worked, and at that so clumsily that Michelangelo’s nephew sold the sculpture for the mere value of the material to Marques Giustiniani. This patron of Caravaggio and of many other talented artists, seems to have commissioned the young Bernini, who in 1618 had volunteered to do the job, to finish the sculpture slightly later, and apparently destined it for the chapel of his family, located in the vicinity of Michelangelo’s Christ. Bernini changed the disposition of the left arm and decidedly distanced himself from Michelangelo’s artistic language, in that he employed his own idiom which was closer to nature, modelled on Hellenistic sculpture, and apparently influenced by Caravaggio and the religious sentiment of the Caracci. It would seem that Bernini wanted to match Michelangelo whose statue would have been visible from the same standpoint in the church. Yet, Giustiniani must have had doubts about Christ’s total nudity and decided to keep the statue in his palace. It was only after his death that the figure found its way into a church whose construction was begun by Giustiniani, located in his estate in Bassano Sutri north of Rome.

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