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.
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.
article focuses on the section that was designed for the grandson
of Lorenzo the Magnificent - Giuliano de' Medici, Duke of
was commissioned to created these tombs at the age of 45.
This was a dark period in the life of the artist.
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.
death of his mentor, his father and his brother during this
time add to the melancholy expressed in the work produced
for these tombs.
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 energy.
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.
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.
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
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?
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 scepter
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
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.