Drawings reveal genius of Michelangelo

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The Independent Online

The fresco in the Sistine Chapel depicting the biblical story of God breathing life into the first man, Adam, is one of the most famous in Western art.

For the first time in this country, the preparatory drawings in which the artist Michelangelo delineated Adam and sketched the outstretched finger of God are to be brought together.

The works, the first from the British Museum, the other from the Teyler Museum in Haarlem, the Netherlands, will be among the highlights of the first Michelangelo exhibition at the British Museum, London, for 30 years.

It will be the largest display ever assembled of the Italian painter and sculptor's drawings, including nearly a sixth of the known works. The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford is lending some of its small collection.

Experts believe it may be the first time most of these works have been re-assembled since the break-up of the artist's studio upon his death in Rome in 1564.

Announcing details of the exhibition, Michelangelo Drawings: Closer to the Master, yesterday, Hugo Chapman, one of the world's most distinguished Italian Renaissance scholars, said: "Drawings are the thread that links all of his activities. If we had only known him as a draughtsman, we would still hail him as a genius.

"The only way we can really understand Michelangelo and the course of his career is though his drawings. We can't ask for [the statue of] David or ask the Pope to dismantle the Sistine Chapel."

In addition to the preparatory works for the Sistine Chapel, the show will include studies for the figure of Day from the Medici Tombs and Michelangelo's final drawings of the Crucifixion.

For the figure of Day, there are multiple drawings of his shoulder, a body part it is impossible to see on the final sculpture in the Medici Tombs, the last resting place of the great Florentine rulers.

Mr Chapman said. "What we're looking at is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the drawings he must have done."

The British Museum has around 90 drawings by Michelangelo, the biggest holding outside the Italian collection once owned by his own family. They include pieces such as a drawing of a young man, Andrea Quaratesi, a young Florentine from a banking family, he tutored. Some drawings apparently show Quaratesi's inadequate attempts to copy his illustrious tutor. Most of the British Museum Michelangelos were once owned by Sir Thomas Lawrence, a British portrait painter. All of them were offered both to the nation and to the king when Lawrence died in 1830, but no money was then available for purchasing his impressive collection.

Neil MacGregor, the director of the British Museum, said one of the reasons for the Michelangelo exhibition was to highlight what it owns, much of which is relatively unknown to the general public. The museum is hoping that about 150,000 visitors, the same number as saw its Persian exhibition, Forgotten Empire, will visit Michelangelo Drawings. It opens on 23 March and runs until 25 June. The admission price will be £10.