Italian Trips

... tips & tricks to Italy travel.
  Italy Maps
  Italy Hotels
  Italy Travel Guides
  Pics & Posters

The Medici Chapel, Tomb of Giuliano de'Medici (1519 - 1534)

Tomb of Giuliano De'MediciMichelangelo was a son of Florence and his work draws many admirers to Tuscany. Some of the most interesting sculptures are in the Medici Chapel in the New Sacristy at San Lorenzo.

Lorenzo the Magnificent commissioned the chapel as a memorial for two of the younger Medici. One section was created to honor Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino, the son of Lorenzo the Magnificent.

This article focuses on the section that was designed for the grandson of Lorenzo the Magnificent - Giuliano de' Medici, Duke of Nemours.

Michelangelo was commissioned to created these tombs at the age of 45. This was a dark period in the life of the artist.

The political turmoil in Florence, which eventually forced him to leave the city, was painful for Michelangelo. David had been created as a tribute to the principles of political freedom that were being threatened.

The death of his mentor, his father and his brother during this time add to the melancholy expressed in the work produced for these tombs.

Two figures, the statues of Night and Day, are seated on top of the sarcophagus of Giuliano de' Medici.

Day is a powerful man in his prime. His reclining muscular body is twisted into a pose that shows tension and Michelangelo's Day faceenergy. Compared to the male figure of Twilight on the tomb of Lorenzo, he seems full of energy and ready to overcome any enemy, even death. Yet his unfinished face shows sockets that suggest blindness. The debate among art historians concerning this issue fills volumes.

Did Michelangelo simply leave this statue unfinished in a rush to escape from Florence? Is there hidden meaning in the dominant male figure, ready to face any physical attack, but blinded to the one attacker that no man can vanquish? No one will ever know if this a work in progress or a representation of the vanity and futility of life.

detail of Night with owlNight is a pensive woman. Her attitude seems to convey a mixture of grief and acceptance. The statue of Night folds upon itself with the right arm crossing the updrawn left leg. The right leg is extended downward and the left arm is pulled back. There is a conflict of protest and resignation here. Picture a young child fighting sleep with all every mental resource, while the tired body welcomes the rest.

There is also something protective in the circle formed by the arm-torso-leg position. The owl sitting in the shadow of the bent knee closes the space that would permit access. Michelangelo chose his symbols carefully. In the medieval world the owl was seen as a symbol of doom, magic and death. Throughout Europe, the owl was identified with Lilith and witchcraft. Why is this symbol placed in the position of protection offered by the leg? Is death being protected by Night or are they paired and protecting each other?

Mask From Michelangelo's NightAnother symbol which Night leans against is a mask. The Florentines were famed for the masks they produced even during Michelangelo's time. Used both in festivals and on ordinary days, the mask often hid the wearer's identity during immoral activities. In pagan roots of this symbol, Death and rebirth are frequently given visual form in the mask. In a primitive rite of passage, an earlier identity ceases to exist, and is symbolically replaced with a new and entirely different identity. A complex symbol, this can be interpreted as a hope for renewal or a casting off of youth and life.

The statue of Giuliano de' Medici is so highly idealized that it bears little resemblance to the person. This statue probably represents the life of activity - political and physical - in contrast to the contemplative life represented by the Lorenzo statue. Michelangelo saw these as two distinct characteristics of the human spirit. The perfect features and the muscular pose of the young man are a counterpoint to the limp hands laying across the scepterarmor decoration from Giuliano Tomb in his lap. The impossible angle of the neck turns the head to gaze with blank eyes at some distant point. These traits are representative of the young Giuliano whose weak grasp of power saw the end of the Medici dynasty in Florence. The only fierceness in the ensemble is in the decoration covering the heart of the young man. This wizened, bearded face may have been an attempt to connect the grandson with his illustrious grandfather.

When Michelangelo finally left Florence in 1534, many figures were unfinished. The work continued, but without the master's hand. Many of the carvings were haphazardly arranged in the work area and were not assembled in their present positions until Vasari's arrangement in 1563.

Elsewhere on the Web

MICHELANGELO di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni

Poster describing the Digital Michelangelo Project

Tomb of the Medicis

The Transfiguration of Death: The Medici Chapel


Art Al Fresco - A Virtual Tour of the Piazza della Signoria

Video Feature: The Movies That Move Us To Tuscany


Sponsored Links


All contents copyright © 2003 - 2011