That is why the divine Michelangelo was so called. A proposal with the triptych by Giuliano Amidei

In Michelangelo’s birthplace in Caprese, Valtiberina, the room where the genius was born houses a triptych by Giuliano Amidei. A work that gives us a suggestion: the possible story of how Michelangelo’s parents chose the unusual name for their son.

We are in the sancta sanctorum, they tell me, as soon as you enter the last room of the Palazzo del Podest in Caprese, a serious and square stone building on which the shadows of the Valtiberina mountains stretch. Here, in this bare and harsh space, between cold and damp, a twenty-four-year-old girl of poor health, Francesca, gave birth to her second son on March 6, 1475: the titan Michelangelo was born in this castle hidden among forests whipped by the wind and covered with snow. , next to the office of his father Ludovico, who, in order to guarantee some financial serenity to an ambush family, had accepted the position as podcast for Chiusi and Caprese. Far from his beloved Florence, far from the comforts, of managing a village with a few houses in exchange for a salary of five hundred lira for a semester, less than one-fifth of what the podesters in the rich and coveted cities paid.

The time was over when the Buonarroti nobility held the highest public offices in the Florentine state: the decline of the family had forced the thirty-year-old Ludovico to move between these remote mountains to fill a secondary role, giving him the opportunity to add income to the family budget and not to lose touch with the state administration. Ludovico and Francesca had given the child a name that was rare in Florence, and which, moreover, until that moment, no one in the family had ever brought: strange fact, since the traditions of the Florentine aristocracy required the unborn children to go to capture the name of an ancestor. In the poor room where the divine Michelangelo was born today, there is a triptych by Giuliano Amidei to remind us why the relatives had decided to give the little one the unusual name, to commemorate the painful episode from which a name , which was destined to resonate in the world and in the history of the tribe. . Or at least, this is the suggestion it gives us.

a well-preserved work that clearly reflects the lesson of Piero della Francesca, another native genius from these places: in the center sits an impressive Virgin with Child on a marble throne, flanked by two angels. The child carries the coral twig that mothers of good families put around the necks of their babies because it was meant to protect them from disease. But also a reference to the blood that Christ has shed on the cross, like the red spot on the nose of the inevitable golden finch: we see the little bird tied to Jesus’ finger with a thin thread, interested in a cherry, which the angel on the left holds. sacrifice. In the rooms, the figures of Saints Martino and Romualdo are seen on the left, Benedict and Michael on the right. The figure of the Blessed Father’s blessing, with the book bearing the alpha and omega, stands out in the apex that transcends the central panel, while over the sides, in the two rounds, the figures of the announced angel and the announced virgin may be observed. In ancient times, the triptych adorned the church of the monastery of Saints Martino and Bartolomeo in Tifi, a village not far from Caprese: the old Camaldolese monastery, mentioned for the first time as early as 1057, was founded by the same saint Romualdo. Conservation needs suggested in the early 2000s the relocation of the triptych from the abbey church to the Palazzo del Podest in Caprese.

Giuliano Amidei, Madonna and child with Saints Martin, Romualdo, Benedetto and Michele (C.1460; tempera on wood, 196 x 213 cm; Caprese Michelangelo, Museum of Michelangelo’s Birthplace, Palazzo del Podest)

The triptych Tifi is one of the rare tables known by Giuliano Amidei, a Camaldolean monk of Florentine origin who enjoyed painting and miniature. Indeed, the observation of some descriptive details, especially the very fine transparencies of the veil from the Madonna and the child’s cloak, or the floral decorations of St. Michael’s armor or the ornamental motifs of the throne, the rendering of the dragon’s scales, the virgin’s rings (never seen with such charged fingers!) reveals the abilities of an artist who was more miniaturist than painter. The figurative culture is the one in Florence in the middle of the 15th century, where Giuliano Amidei must in all probability have trained: the amplifier and the solid volumes are those of Piero della Francesca, the angels flanking the Madonna seem almost a quote from Christ’s baptism today at the National Gallery in London, the plump and ruddy faces are reminiscent of Filippo Lippi’s painting, the bright and vibrant colors refer to Beato Angelico’s visions. We are, of course, talking about a modest work, no matter how fascinating: a “woody modeling,” as art historian Giovanna Damiani wrote, “characterizes the holy monks both in the face, with large and dazed eyes, and in clothing, furrowed by deep and regular folds like organ pipes “, and then the Pierre-Franciscan experience is rejected again after a somewhat naive spontaneity, evident in the not very random attempt to give a regularity to the forms and in the even less successful one of spreading a uniform and crystalline light on the persons’ faces. therefore, in the often realistic rendering of certain details, obviously satisfied, it is necessary to find the qualities of this triptych, the work of a painter whom Damiani defines as the “pleasant provincial interpreter” of Piero della Francesca.

At the time Michelangelo was born, the triptych of Giuliano Amidei, as we can imagine, was executed in the sixties of the fifteenth century, perhaps already shown to the believers who entered the church in the monastery of Tifi. The artist had painted it at the behest of the abbot Michele da Volterra, whose name is mentioned in the inscription occupying the lower frame of the work: this explains the presence of St. Michael, next to the saint dedicated by the monastery, to his founder, and to the saint who wrote the rule, who was also respected by the kamaldols. And maybe Michelangelo’s parents knew that picture. Of course, we do not know, and we probably never will. There are some elements that, although not sufficient to bind the work to Michelangelo with indissoluble ties, still manage to let the imagination of visitors to the great artist’s birthplace travel without losing touch with reality.

it was Alessandro Cecchi, Michelangelo scholar and director of Casa Buonarroti, who reconstructed the possible story of the origin of the name of the future sculptor in the catalog of the exhibition on Buonarroti, held at the Palazzo Ducale in Genoa in 2020. It all started . from an event that was miraculous. “It seemed like [Michelangelo] in particular, it was preserved by Heaven “, wrote his descendant Filippo Buonarroti in 1746:” when the mother, when she was pregnant with him, fell from her horse during the journey and was dragged for a while and was not upset. Francesca was on her way to Caprese when she fell from her horse and was dragged a few meters: yet she came out of the accident unscathed. And with her also the child she was pregnant with.

The episode was also painted by the great Florentine painter Francesco Furini in one of the two monochromes of the Camera della Notte and D of Casa Buonarroti, as Francesca’s fall from a horse has been part of family mythology for centuries. A story, therefore known by all Michelangelo’s scholars. Cecchi, however, tried to suggest a possible and precise temporal location: “The accident,” wrote the scholar, “probably had to take place on September 29, 1474, when Ludovico moved with his wife from Florence to the podestial seat allotted to him.” with residency, from the end of September, in Caprese “. September 29, the day of the Holy Archangel: perhaps it was thanks to the grace he received from the saint that the child was named in his honor. Now it is true that art history is not the science of the impossible, and any risky hypothesis must be rejected without hesitation. The art history of the discipline of the plausible, and it is not said that Messer Ludovico di Leonardo Buonarroti Simoni and Madonna Francesca di Neri del Miniato del Sera during their six-month stay in Caprese have not on one occasion seen the triptych of Giuliano Amidei, who admits that it really was painted before 1475. And so sometimes, it remains within the bounds of the plausible, it is also nice to fantasize about what may have been. And if all goes well, imagine Michelangelo’s parents intending to honor the image of the saint who had given birth to their son under a happy star. The same image that can be admired today in the building that for a few months was their home, Michelangelo’s birthplace.

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Federico Giannini

The author of this article: Federico Giannini

Art journalist, born in Massa in 1986, graduated in Pisa in 2010. I founded Windows on Art with Ilaria Baratta. In addition to these pages, I write about Art and dossier come on Left. Follow me on Twitter:

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