A Rare Look at Michelangelo’s Private Papers
The secret life of marginalia, or what private poetry has to do with humanity’s greatest public art.
By Maria Popova
Besides being one of humanity’s most beloved artists, Michelangelo is also a paragon of the kind of cross-disciplinary curiosity and creativity I try to foster with Brain Pickings. But the origin and process of his creative genius turns out to be much more layered and faceted than previously thought. In Michelangelo: A Life on Paper, Princeton scholar Leonard Barkan exposes a lesser-known side of Michelangelo, looking beyond the great artistic achievements like the Sistine ceiling, the David, the Piet, and the dome of St. Peter’s to reveal, with as much intimacy as history’s most coveted artifacts will allow, a rare glimpse of Michelangelo’s unconscious.
Both a journey into the serendipity and randomness of the great artist’s curiosity and a record of his practical creative process, the lavish tome features over 200 museum-quality reproductions of Michelangelo’s most private papers and sketches. The drawings and doodles are sprinkled with bits of poetry, personal budgets, contracts, memos to self and other ephemera of the life of the mind, presenting the first study of the remarkable interplay between words and images in Michelangelo’s work.
The book is really about [Michelangelo’s] interior life. It’s an archive of the things that he put together when his mind was wandering and his hand was wandering and words popped into his head or drawings seeped out of his pen.” ~ Leonard Barkan
As a lover of language, I see as one of Barkan’s greatest feats the thoughtfulness with which he illuminates the role of the written word in Michelangelo’s creative process and the importance of marginalia in his — and anyone’s, really — artistic exploration.
Desire engenders desire and then leaves pain.” ~ Michelangelo
What makes Michelangelo: A Life on Paper all the more intriguing is that, by extending an invitation into Michelangelo’s private world of words written for his eyes alone, it raises the question of whom we create for — ourselves, as tender beings with a fundamental need for self-expression, or an audience, as social creatures with a fundamental desire to be liked, understood and acclaimed.
Published June 16, 2011