… look to the landscape …

Did Michelangelo make the painting 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 Ghirlandaio’s workshop, but it’s never been agreed that this painting is the one Michelangelo made.

A good place to see color photos, including excellent details, is the website of The New York Times.

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 some strong cross-hatching.  Evidently Christiansen didn’t persuade others — if the Metropolitan Museum thought this was Michelangelo’s first painting, 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 may point 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 earliest known painting, he pretty well lets his monumental figures squeeze out the landscape behind the Holy Family with the Infant St. John the Baptist 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, said 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 upon which this painting is based) — 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?  The treatment of the landscape, the colors, and other aspects make it a genuine possibility.  I look forward to seeing the painting directly when it goes on exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum in June, before moving on to Texas.