Michelangelo Sculptures

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

Tondo Taddei

Tondo Taddei (ca. 1503; diameter 40 inches)

The Tondo Taddei (at the Royal Academy, London), and the Tondo Pitti (at the National Museum of the Bargello, Florence) are the only two roundels (circular relief sculptures) carved by Michelangelo, produced when he was in his late twenties. Vasari asserted that Michelangelo created both tondos at about the same time as his lost bronze David and his St. Matthew.

It is clear that the master left these two reliefs in a state of incompleteness. However, whether he intentionally preferred to leave them in a highly suggestive state, or whether his numerous engagements prevented him from carving them deeper and then finely polishing them, will forever remain unknown. We do know that he refused to work piecemeal in isolated areas; rather, he carefully followed his preparatory drawings and controlled his cutting layer by layer, from the first down to the second, and then third layers until the full composition emerged.

In consideration of the exquisite finishing of the surface of the Pieta of the Vatican, the Madonna at Bruges, the Bacchus, the David, and the Moses, some scholars are inclined to believe that, with enough time at his disposal, he would have fully finished these tondos in greater detail.

However, in the Tondo Taddei the roughness of the background serves to highlight the exquisitely modeled figures of the Madonna and the Christ Child as they emerge from the marble. Yet, Christ’s feet and left hand still appear imprisoned in the clinging marble. To the left, the infant Saint John balances the composition but the lack of definition makes him appear to be emerging from a fog of stone, thus accentuating his role as a subordinate figure, as if half seen in a dream.

Provenance of The Tondo Taddei by Michelangelo

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

Tondo Taddei

Selected Reference Literature:
Condivi, Vita di Michelangelo Buonarroti…1553; Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, 1550; 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.

The reception of Michelangelo’s David in 1504 was received with great gratitude and appreciation from the Florentines. But Michelangelo had completed several other important works during this time including the sculptures of: the Bruges Madonna with the Christ Child, the Tondo Pitti, and the Tondo Taddei. Michelangelo was on his second sojourn in Florence during the creation of the Tondo Taddei, taking a break from his Roman patrons. It was at this time that Michelangelo was using the subject of the Holy Family and the Virgin and Child in several of his works; including the Pieta in St. Peter’s.

Michelangelo worked on the Tondo Taddei between the 1503-1505 and was made as a gift for Taddeo Taddei, a “discriminating patron and collector.” The piece was carved from marble and the inspiration came from the “emotionally charged” Holy Family, which Michelangelo painted for the Doni Family in Florence around 1503.

Robert Coughlan explains that:

“The Tondo…is a circular form like outsize medallions, [which] are a Florentine specialty. The Taddei Tondo was carved in high relief, and it was common place for the pieces to be named for the families that commissioned them.”

In an article by Walter Pater he writes of the Tondo Taddei that:

“Michelangelo secures that ideality of expression which in Greek sculpture depends on a delicate system of abstraction, and in early Italian sculpture on lowness of relief, by an incompleteness, which is surely not always undersigned, and which trusts to the spectator to complete the half-emergent form.”

Michelangelo’s relief, the Tondo Taddei, is considered by many to be unfinished. Several pontifications on this theory were collected and one opinion is that:

“Within Michelangelo’s Oeuvre these two round reliefs represent his ‘small sculptures’, the stress [is on] the ‘genre-like’ treatment of the Taddei Madonna and the fact that it was ‘intended for a room in a bourgeois home.”

The composition of the marble relief puts a boy on the left portion of the Tondo, which is characterized by John the Baptist who is near a christening bowl at his hip. The bird that is seen in John’s hands, which startles the Christ child is a goldfinch, which is a symbol of the Passion of Christ. The use of the goldfinch as a symbol of the Passion in a depiction of Christ as a child is an element that foreshadows the future of the innocent Christ child. In the common knowledge of the time the

“Goldfinch is supposed to be fond of feeding on thorns and thus recalls Christ’s Crown of Thorns.”

The Christ Child who is frightened by the goldfinch in John’s hands, almost cognizant of what is to be his fate,

“Seeks refuge in the lap of his mother who sweetly holds back the young St. John with her hand.”

Charles de Tolnay writes that:

“The correspondence between the form of the Tondo and the rounded silhouette of the group filling it is more developed…and he works from the circumference towards the middle, accentuating the edge of the circle with the bodies of the Virgin and St. John, and uniting them with the diagonal of Christ’s figure.”

The Madonna in this relief:

“Sits relaxed, in profile, her head inclined upon a slender, finely modeled neck, her hair entirely covered by a kerchief. She faces the little St. John…the Christ child, startled at the fluttering bird that seeks to escape confinement, flees to his mother’s lap, tripping over her left leg.”

To address the curiosity of the Virgin’s gaze and her apparent lack of focus on the Christ child or St. John; Georg Brandes describes her appearance as:

“A sublime and dreamlike quality hinting that the [Virgin’s] thought are elsewhere…She looks at St. John, but does not see him, any more than she does her frightened son, whom she fails to clasp in her lap. She is part of a loftier world, the true world of Michelangelo. Yet the playful figures of the children show that among the artist’s imperfectly developed potentialities the light touch was not missing.”

In 1823 the Taddei Tondo was bought by Sir George Beaumont in Rome, and after his death, and the death of his wife, it was presented to the Royal Academy in London in 1830.

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