Michelangelo and Sebastiano at the National Gallery
An extraordinary exhibition of the art of Michelangelo and his protégé Sebastiano del Piomo is on at the National Gallery. The showcase spans a period during which the two artists collaborated and the Italian master put his own career on hold to create sketches and layouts for Sebastiano’s commissioned pieces.
Including creations by both artists, the exhibit is comparative while illustrating Michelangelo’s influence on the younger painter. Michelangelo was a visionary genius known for his brilliant and vibrant depiction of anatomy, considered one of the greatest artists of all time. In addition to drawings and other original pieces, a few of his most eminent works have been recreated for display: replicas of frescoes from a Roman chapel, casts from the Vatican and, perhaps his most famous sculpture, the magnificent Pieta. Even as a copy, it is draw-droppingly beautiful, its lines flowing with such sensuality it breathes emotion, as if it is alive.
Michelangelo’s drawings on show include The Study of the Virgin and Child (red chalk), Studies of Children – anatomical drawings of babies – and The Resurrection of Christ (black chalk on paper), with a Christ that is expressive, energetic and powerful. His tempera on wood, The Virgin and Child with Saint John and Angels, draws the eye in with its fervour, voluptuous, sweeping lines, and with the child looking directly at us.
Following are mostly paintings by the Venetian-born Sebastiano. They are not as powerful as Michelangelo’s, whose influence is clear, but are more subtle. Del Piomo painted in both oil and fresco whereas his fellow creator made mostly frescoes and large sculptures; he disdained oil, stating it was not a manly medium.
Sebastiano’s The Lamentation Over the Dead Christ contains two huge figures in the foreground with a muted background landscape. Not as raw and sensual as Michelangelo’s, it has a more spiritual essence. His Portrait of Pope Clement shows strong character, with the subject at close range, filling the frame, as the Pope looks away as if in deep thought.
Possibly the Venetian’s most beautiful painting in the collection is his Christ Carrying the Cross, with its exquisite depth of emotion – a passion not seen in his other work. Jesus seems to nearly descend from the canvas; the viewer can feel his pain. With luminous reflection on fabric – the painter’s hallmark use of light – and dark colour emphasising Christ’s distress, the mood is spiritually solemn.
A superb, fascinating exhibition, Michelangelo and Sebastiano should not be missed.
Photos: Daniel Donovan
Michelangelo & Sebastiano is at the National Gallery from 15th March until 25th June 2017, for further information or to book visit here.