Writing about two of the most discussed artists in history is a brave undertaking... author Bette Talvacchia discusses the motivations behind her captivating new book The Two Michelangelos, as well as the discoveries and challenges in the writing process...
Figure 1: Michelangelo, The Creation of Adam, Sistine Chapel, Vatican. Courtesy of Vatican Museums and Galleries, Vatican City/Bridgeman Images.
Figure 2: Caravaggio, The Calling of Saint Matthew, Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA, Museum purchase, 1941.1. Courtesy of Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts, USA/Bridgeman Images.
Writing a book about two of the most discussed artists in history might seem like a daunting undertaking—or even a foolhardy one. However, I had been thinking about these artists and studying their work for so long that the project turned out to be welcoming, compelling, and tremendously enjoyable. The structure emerged from joining two traditionally separate art historical areas of study—the Renaissance and Baroque periods—into a united investigation. I marshalled the intriguing instances of visual evidence showing how the young Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio cared deeply about the legacy of his namesake, Michelangelo Buonarroti. From there, I delved into the historical details that produced the creative environment of the Early Modern period in Italy. I became more and more convinced of the impact of Michelangelo’s inescapable inheritance on Caravaggio’s art and career. Particularly, I explored how the Florentine master’s accomplishment became both a resource and an adversary for the young Lombard artist as Caravaggio developed his career in Rome. The design of the book, featuring a generous number of excellent color reproductions, brings together works by both artists, encouraging the reader to focus visually on the suggested interactions. The very design of the book supports the argument of the text; this is another exciting aspect of the project for me.
Figure 3: Michelangelo, Bacchus, Bargello Museum, Florence. By permission of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism.
Figure 4: Caravaggio, Bacchus, Uffizi Galleries, Florence, Inv. 1890 no. 5312. By permission of the Ministry of Culture.
Figure 5: Michelangelo, Ignudo from the Sistine Ceiling. Courtesy of Vatican Museums and Galleries, Vatican City/Bridgeman Images.
Figure 6: Caravaggio, Saint John the Baptist, Palazzo Corsini, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome (Barberini). Courtesy of the Gallerie Nazionali di Arte Antica, MIBACT - Bibliotheca Hertziana, Istituto Max Planck for the History of Art/Enrico Fontolan.
A series of unforeseeable and unwelcome challenges to the book came from the COVID-19 pandemic, even though I was lucky enough to remain healthy. I strictly complied with the lockdown, especially during the distressing weeks when New York was hit so hard by illness. I used the enforced isolation to enter completely into the process of writing. It was a startling luxury to be free of extraneous distractions, at the same time that the process became a means of remaining positive throughout the grim reality of the toll taken by the virus. I was fortunate to be able to counter the solitude by conducting my research virtually, with the help of the New York Public Library. The interaction with these wonderful librarians not only sustained me, but allowed me to complete the project, providing electronic access to all the necessary materials. The uniqueness of the situation, along with the deeply captivating subject, combined to make this a singularly meaningful book for me. I hope something of this will be perceived and shared by all its readers.
-- Bette Talvacchia, 2021
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