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Is The Torment of St. Anthony by Michelangelo?

Armen Hareyan's picture

Did Michelangelo make the painting of "The Torment of St. Anthony" which has recently been in the news? Writers contemporary with Michelangelo indicate he made a painting of the subject when he was around 12 or 13, and an apprentice in that artist Ghirlandaio's workshop, but it's never been agreed that this painting is the one Michelangelo made. For color photos, including excellent details, see the website of The New York Times, May 12, 2009.

Recently purchased in London for $ 2 million, the painting was cleaned at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and sold again, for $6 million or more, to the Kimbell Art Museum in Texas. The arguments about its authorship are circling around connoisseurship issues. Keith Christiansen, Curator of European Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum is particularly impressed by Michelangelesque cross-hatching. Evidently Christiansen didn't persuade others -- if the Metropolitan Museum thought this was Michelangelo's first painting as Christiansen believes, they they never would have let it go! (recession or not)

Judging from the photos: This painting doesn't "say" Michelangelo.

On the other hand, there's one aspect I detect so far that points to Michelangelo – the relatively simplified, even barren landscape. Michelangelo is interested in the human body, never mind leafy trees! His landscapes are less lush, less sensuous, more hard-edge than those of his Italian and Florentine contemporaries -- think Sistine Chapel Temptation and Expulsion. In his early, surely attributed painting of the Holy Family with the Infant St. John, he pretty well lets his monumental figures squeeze out the landscape behind them at a time when contemporary painters were glorifying the landscapes behind holy figures.

There's barely a nod to the famous Renaissance "atmospheric perspective" in "The Torment." Instead, the contours of the shore and distant hills are slick -- they look air-brushed. The waves seem pasted on. Condivi, who knew the artist, reported that Michelangelo told him he'd gone to the fish market to learn how to depict fish scales (they do indeed appear in this "Torment" and not the Schongauer engraving) -- no sign that the painter attended to what's out there in the landscape with that kind of focus.

Christiansen also sees in the vibrant, almost iridescent colors in "The Torment" a possible "prelude" to the colors in the Sistine Chapel vault. Could well be.

Is this by Michelangelo? Many experts dismiss the possibility. Christiansen, and those at the Kimbell Art Center are its strongest adherents. The treatment of the landscape, the colors, and other aspects make it a genuine possibility. The painting will go on exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum in June, before moving on to Texas in the Fall.

Yvonne Korshak

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