Michelangelo: Selected Scholarship in English.
The five volumes that comprise Wallace's edition of Michelangelo: Selected Scholarship in English represent a much needed anthology of works on this celebrated artist, bringing together a wealth of material that for all but those with ready access to large research libraries may be difficult to obtain. Beyond its obvious merits as scholarly compendium, its greatest strength resides in its ability to confront the problematics of interpretation. Arranged chronologically by subject, the 100 articles chosen by the editor are perhaps most valuable for the light they shed on the status of art historical research, making clear that discourse on the master remains, for the most part, firmly rooted in tradition.
From the start (volume 1: Life and Early Works), we are faced with one of the most intractable problems in the history of art: the myth of Michelangelo. As we now know, Michelangelo, who achieved unprecedented fame in his own lifetime, was exceedingly self-conscious about his public image both in relation to his contemporaries and to future generations. Dissatisfied with Vasari's account of his accomplishments in the first edition of the Vite (1550), he engaged one of his followers, Ascanio Condivi, to record a more "truthful" version of his life story. This report, along with Vasari's own expanded reduction (1568) has, until recently, gone virtually unquestioned, providing much of the information on which our understanding of Michelangelo has been based. Take, for example, Kenneth Clark's article, "The Young Michelangelo," first published in 1961. Repeatedly, Clark accepts as fact the statements made by both Vasari and Condivi, fostering, rather than exploring, Michelangelo's need for self-fashioning. In the thirty-five years since the original publication of Clark's essay, such biographical data as that provided by the artist's contemporaries still remains far from fully understood. Major inroads into the myth of Michelangelo have, of course, been made by such scholars as Paul Barolsky, David Summers, Katherine Weil-Garris Brandt, and William Wallace. It is unfortunate, however, that so few younger students of the master seem willing to tackle this difficult problem or appear ready to examine his achievements in terms of newer, revisionist strategies; almost nowhere in these volumes do we find articles that would fit comfortably under the rubric of the new art history.
Yet another historiographic phenomenon addressed by the series is the fact that English-language scholarship lays heavy emphasis on Michelangelo the painter, especially his work on the Sistine ceiling to which volume two is dedicated. As Wallace points out, fully one-fifth of all the articles in English concern the Sistine, a situation that existed even before its restoration dramatically returned it to the public's attention. Interestingly, almost all of the articles on this monumental creation take an iconographic approach, a result perhaps of Erwin Panofsky's continuing influence on English-language scholarship. While the legacy left by Panofsky is indeed a valuable one, providing as it does a solid framework for interpretative analysis, it often exists at the expense of less traditional approaches such as those that focus on creative process or viewer response. Reception theory does, however, implicitly make its presence felt particularly in John W. Dixon, Jr.'s "The Christology of Michelangelo: The Sistine Chapel" (volume 2) and "The Medici Chapel as a Resurrection" (volume 3); in Philip Fehl's, "Michelangelo's Crucifixion of St. Peter:. Notes on the Identification and the Locale of the Action"; and William Wallace's "Narrative and Religious Expression in Michelangelo's Pauline Chapel" (volume 4). Each of these essays not only benefits from its willingness to study Michelangelo's creations in situ, but makes use of such contextual study to explore the master's approach to image-making, demonstrating how the intended interaction between viewer and work was considered by Michelangelo to be an integral part of the image's meaning.
It is, however, volume five that presents the most elucidative and alluring view of the artist in its entirety. Essays in this last book of the series express the range of Michelangelo's activities, treating his interest in drawing, poetry, and art theory with equal sensitivity. What is especially appealing about many of these articles is their acceptance of the more elusive and controversial aspects of the master's art, his quest for identity, and his often troubled relationships with others. Of particular interest are Paul Barolsky's "The Metamorphoses of Michelangelo," John Paoletti's "Michelangelo's Masks," James Saslow's "A Veil of Ice between My Heart and the Fire': Michelangelo's Sexual Identity and Early Modern Constructs of Homosexuality," David Rosand's "Michelangelo Draws: Communication and Revelation," and John Arthos's "Michelangelo."
For each of the volumes, Wallace has selected essays that represent a dynamic mix of viewpoints, thus offering the reader a wide range of scholarship on each of Michelangelo's major monuments. As expected, such prominent scholars as Erwin Panofsky, Charles de Tolnay, Johannes Wilde, Rudolf Wittkower, Frederick Hartt, Edgar Wind, and James Ackerman are well represented. Conspicuously absent are Leo Steinberg, Michael Hirst, and John Pope-Hennessy, all of whom declined to be included in the series.
As Wallace points out, the articles that comprise Michelangelo: Selected Scholarship in English are "important and/or representative contributions, rather than the 100 best." As such, they represent an excellent starting point for those just getting acquainted with the master, while at the same time serve as a valuable reference tool for even the most accomplished of specialists. But far from providing the last word on the artist, the essays in this collection exist as part of a long and continuing tradition and represent a beginning, rather than an end, to our questions about the most celebrated artist of all time, Michelangelo Buonarroti.
PAULA CARABELL Arkansas State University
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 1997|
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