Artibus et Historiae no. 69 (XXXV)2014, ISSN 0391-9064
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WILLIAM E. WALLACE - Michelangelo, Luigi del Riccio, and the Tomb of Cecchino Bracci (pp. 97–106)
In January 1544, Michelangelo’s closest friend, Luigi del Riccio, lost his young nephew, Cecchino Bracci, who died at the tender age of fifteen. Devastated, Del Riccio begged Michelangelo to design a tomb which was carved and installed in Santa Maria in Aracoeli in Rome. Considering the depth of the well documented friendship between Michelangelo and Del Riccio, the Bracci tomb deserves closer attention. Generally, it is considered little more than a marginal work in Michelangelo’s oeuvre. Although he designed the monument, Michelangelo’s authorship is barely acknowledged, and the actual execution of the tomb is assigned (on slim evidence) to his assistant, Francesco di Bernardino Amadori, known as Urbino. However, Michelangelo’s special relationship with Luigi del Riccio prompts two questions: How could the artist not have been deeply invested in the project? And, are preconceptions about Michelangelo standing in the way of more fully appreciating this work?
The tomb features a Medici Chapel-style sarcophagus above which is a square niche with Bracci’s life-size portrait bust, flanked by inscriptions and the family coat of arms. The tomb is decorous, not ostentatious. It is an appropriately modest memorial befitting a person barely on the verge of manhood and whose main accomplishment in life was his youth. Modest creations, however, are not what we expect from Michelangelo, and partly for that reason, the Bracci tomb is easily overlooked. On the other hand, it was no small matter to be honored with a tomb by Michelangelo and buried in Santa Maria in Aracoeli, one of the most venerable churches in all of Rome.
Michelangelo was an artist who always observed decorum; he was not always an artist of terribilità. If one considers the Bracci memorial within its genre and humble purpose, then we can better appreciate Michelangelo’s achievement. Within limited parameters and with a refined sense of decorum, Michelangelo has created an affecting memorial.