Michelangelo Sculptures

9th Sep 2010Posted in: Michelangelo Sculptures Comments Off on Tondo Pitti

Tondo Pitti

Tondo Pitti (ca. 1504-5; diameter 31 inches)

In the Tondo Pitti group (commissioned by Bartolomeo Pitti), any formal frame is ignored and this outline is slightly oval. The Madonna and Child are simpler and more clearly formed than in the Tondo Taddei. With her left hand she embraces the infant Jesus, who leans his whole weight against her, bracing his head with a bent arm resting on the open book (which symbolizes wisdom) lying on her lap.

The Madonna is seated on a low block of stone, filling the entire composition. But owing to the slightly oval format, and to her head breaking the tondo’s edge, she does not appear to be crowded. Her features are more sharply defined here than those of Michelangelo’s earlier Madonnas. Full locks of hair frame her angular face, with its deep dimples and more prominent chin. She wears an unusual ornamental head covering — the first in a series later employed by the master — which heightens the expression of watchfulness in her face.

As in the Tondo Pitti, the approaching figure of Saint John also plays a subordinate role and is unfinished. He appears to have caught the Madonna’s attention as she looks back over her shoulder.

Provenance of The Tondo Pitti by Michelangelo

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarotti Simoni
(Florence 1475 – 1564 Rome)

Tondo Pitti

Selected Reference Literature:
Condivi, Vita di Michelangelo Buonarroti…1553; Giorgio Vasari, Lives of
the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, 1550; Georgia
Illetschko, I Michelangelo, 2004; Nathaniel Harris, The Art of
Michelangelo, 1983; Charles de Tolnay, Michelangelo: Sculptor,
Painter, Architect, 1975; Robert Coughlan, The World of Michelangelo
1475-1564, 1972; Brandes, Georg. Michelangelo: His Life, His Times, His Era, 1963; Bull, George. Michelangelo: A Biography, 1995; Murray, Linda. Michelangelo, 1980.

Michelangelo returned to Florence from his time spent in Rome, to take one of the most important commissions of his illustrious career; The David.

“Michelangelo returned to Florence at the request of his father due to the economic hardship that had fallen on the family. “In the spring of 1501, the artist was back home, after an absence of four years. He returned as one who, with a single masterpiece, had proved that at the age of twenty-six he could lay claim to being the foremost sculptor of his country and age, even though at the time a superhuman like Leonardo da Vinci was still living and working.”

His commission of the David for the city of Florence dominated his second sojourn in Florence. But there were several other pieces that he created at this time, including the Tondo Pitti, which is also referred to as the Pitti Madonna. The Tondo Pitti was commissioned by Bartolommeo Pitti and was created at about the same time as the Tondo Taddei and The Doni Madonna. These pieces all show Michelangelo’s preoccupation with the subject of the Virgin and Child, but these pieces demonstrate a much freer treatment of the centuries old subject.

Much like the Tondo Taddei, the Tondo Pitti was a piece intended ‘for the home’ and not for the grand civic audience, like the David or the Pieta in St. Peter’s. Many consider this piece to be unfinished but the validity of this argument is more widely disputed than with the Tondo Taddei. It is suggested that Michelangelo left the work seemingly unfinished simply because he liked it that way and,

“The unworked details give them a suggestive power which might have been lost in a more polished version.”

Michelangelo’s composition places the Madonna seated on a stone, its forward edge projected toward the viewer, while the figure of the Madonna seems to in a crouching position. In her lap is a book, that she was reading, until the Christ child interrupted her, as he places his elbow, supporting his head onto her book. The child St. John peers over the Virgin’s shoulder, none of the subject making eye contact with one another.

“Michelangelo has employed a simple device to unique effect. He has given the upper edge of the marble disk, a concavity to set off the relief. The circular rim cannot contain the proud, tragic head of the Madonna, which breaks through and rises above it…Michelangelo conveys a feeling that the Madonna’s sublime inner life cannot be confined by everyday limitations, but heedlessly and unconsciously bursts them.”

To address the centrality of the Madonna in the Tondo Pitti, Georg Brandes says:

“Not only is she the main figure; but Michelangelo has concentrated in her all his sense of nobility. Wound about her brow is a broad royal band ornamented with the angel’s head with wings spread wide. As usual, she also wears a kerchief. To underline her dominance, Michelangelo has employed a simple device to unique effect.”

The composition of the marble tondo carved in high relief, is described by Robert Coughlan:

“In the Pitti Madonna Michelangelo set focus of his composition in the center of the circle: all the contours gently curve away from it.”

George Bull also comments on the composition, saying:

“The Virgin’s head, covered in a helmet-like head cloth (as in the other roundels), projects above the edge of the circle, and the figure of the child Baptist emerges faintly from the rough, unfinished background. The Christ Child leans as if sulkily on an open book on the lap of the Virgin, who dominates the scene, seated on a block, with a look of sudden, sad revelation.”

Bull goes onto describe the cultural and spiritual landscape of Florence during the time he completed this work.

“Michelangelo’s work reflects both the Christian iconography and also the inherited artistic traditions of his time…but Michelangelo found himself, in Florence in those early years of the cinquecento, amazingly free to pursue his own ideas in the work he was given. The free hand he was allowed in interpreting the wishes of his patrons was further empowered by the less inhibited, more reflective searching religious mood in Florence after the humiliation and death of Savonorola…”

According to Georg Brandes:

“The Tondo Pitti marks the main line of Michelangelo’s actual development. He had been set the modest task of doing a Madonna for the home of a citizen. He invested it with a scene of lofty power, though the relief is no bigger than the Battle of the Centaurs.”

The Tondo Pitti, originally done for the private home of Bartolommeo Pitti, is now in the Museo Nazionale in Florence.

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