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Michelangelo, The Last Decades

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Michelangelo – The Last Decades

2 May- 28 July at the British Museum, Joseph Hotung Great Court Gallery

ICI London is pleased to support this major new exhibition which explores the art, faith & friendships of the Renaissance master’s final years

A landmark new exhibition at the British Museum will explore the final three decades of the Renaissance master Michelangelo’s illustrious life and career. Michelangelo: the last decades (2 May – 28 July 2024) will delve exclusively into this significant – and arguably most demanding – period of the artist’s life, focusing on how his art and faith evolved through the common challenge of ageing in a rapidly changing world. The monumental, over two metres high Epifania (about 1550–53) will be displayed for the first time since its painstaking conservation which began back in 2018. The only complete surviving cartoon (a full-scale preparatory drawing, from the Italian word for a large sheet of paper) by Michelangelo, it is among the largest Renaissance works on paper, and one of the great treasures of the British Museum collection. For the first time in over four centuries, Michelangelo: the last decades will reunite the Epifania with the painting made from it by Michelangelo’s biographer, Ascanio Condivi. The work, loaned from Casa Buonarroti, Florence, is a fascinating example of how the elderly Michelangelo used his skill in drawing to create models for others to paint.

More info and tickets HERE

Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564) left Florence for Rome in 1534, never to see his native city again. This move marked the beginning of a dramatic new chapter which would fundamentally shape his experiences as both an artist and as a man. The popular perception of Michelangelo focuses on the famous works of his youth: the David (1501–04), for example, or the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Michelangelo: the last decades will introduce visitors to the remarkable variety and inventiveness of his late career, which saw him still working four days before his death in 1564, aged 88.

The exhibition will look at the way Michelangelo redefined the iconography of religious art to create hugely influential compositions of key moments in Christianity, such as the Crucifixion, the Lamentation and the Last Judgment, at a time when the Catholic church was being challenged as never before.   Numerous other works from the British Museum’s unrivalled collection of Michelangelo drawings will also be shown for the first time in almost two decades, including preparatory drawings from the Last Judgment, which chart how Michelangelo invented a fresh vision of how the human form would be refashioned at the end of the world. Such was the boldness of his innovation that his painting was fiercely criticized and then censored. Michelangelo: the last decades will also look beyond the artist to reveal his personality. Through a diverse array of his poems, letters and artistic designs, the exhibition will provide rare insights into the artist’s engaging interaction with his innermost and most trusted circle.

Generous loans from the British Library include lively letters to his young nephew that show Michelangelo had an irritable side, easily sparked to annoyance. Meanwhile, poems and drawings directed to his aristocratic friends, Tommaso de’ Cavalieri and the poet Vittoria Colonna, provide evidence of his passionate and deeply felt attachment to them. One exquisite work created as part of this correspondence, lent by His Majesty The King from the Royal Collection, is The Punishment of Tityus (about 1532) showing an eagle tearing out the liver of a bound naked man, gifted to Tommaso as moral guidance for the young man.

The intensity of Michelangelo’s faith strengthened as he aged. On show will be one of the most moving examples of his meditation on Christ’s death and his own mortality: a group of drawings of the Crucifixion, made during the last ten years of his life. Through them we witness an elderly artist turning to the act of drawing as a means of spiritual meditation – variations on a single theme to explore his feelings about mortality, sacrifice, faith, and the prospect of redemption.

Images credits: Left) Daniele da Volterra (1509–66), portrait of Michelangelo Buonarroti. Black chalk on paper, about 1550–55. Teylers Museum, Haarlem, the Netherlands.
(Top right) Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564), the Resurrection of Christ. Black chalk on paper, about 1532.
(Bottom right) Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564), design for a window. Black chalk over compass incisions, with wash and lead white on paper, late 1540s, reworked 1563. © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.

  • Organizzato da: British Museum
  • In collaborazione con: ICI London