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Sunday, January 9, 2011

After the Greeks were conquered by the Romans many Greek art works, in the form of copies or originals, were taken to Rome. These art works were lost, discarded or ignored after the disintergration of the Roman Empire. However with the growth of Christianity in the west, with Rome as its centre, and consequent emergence of a christian art gradually awakened interest in Greek solutions to artistic problems.


One area of common ground between christian artists and artists of antiquity was the desire to give visual form to cultural narratives. Artists of antiquity, considering visualization of legendary/mythical narrative and a christian artist using biblical sources share similar artistic problems (jewish and muslim artists never visualised from sacred texts). Greek and christian narratives share similar features. Both are concerned with humanity and with human actions.In both gods take human form. Christian art was open to influence from antique art through the common ground of narrative but shaped by a christian outlook.


Michelangelo's contact with antique sculpture and thought began after his introduction, in 1490, to the house of Lorenzo De Medici. At this time a group of scholars associated with Lorenzo were studying and reviving interest in Greek and especially Platonic thought.Toward the end of the 15th century Greek literature was being translated and between 1475 and 1500, amongst others, Homer,Aristotle,Isocrates and nine plays of Aristophanes were published.



However prior to 1506 Michelangelo's work appears rather as series of recurring interests and themes. The nude, the figure, the antique and the christian seem shaped by theme or each other rather than narrative. Small figures of saints in marble Petronius and Proculus (the christian) "The Battle of the Centaurs"(the antique). Even the "Pieta" of 1498-1499 while both are figures from the Bible they are not drawn from particular narratives but are rather expressions of christian sentiment using biblical figures in thematic relationship. They are, perhaps, closer in approach to antique works like "Eirene and Plutos. The figures perform symbolic and philosophic functions.








Even in a work with an identifiable narrative source, "The Battle of Cascina"(now known only from copies of his cartoon) Michelangelo's interest in the nude is chosen in prefence to other possibilities. By choosing an incident from the day before the actual battle. It shows soldiers surprised by a false alarm while bathing in the river Arno.


A similar view could be expressed in a discussion of "David". The only work before 1506 drawn from Old Testament sources. "David" appears similar to the "heroic" Greek nude, althletic and over life-size and shares the concern with observed naturalism and canons of proportion. In order to acheive this, overt references to biblical narrative are played down. The nudity of David and the selection of a moment before/after the killing of Goliath rather than during gives the resemblance to antique form. "David" could be said to present a "biblical hero" using antique models.

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