By the time he was 37, Michelangelo was finishing up painting the Sistine Chapel.
Um, reading that kinda made me wonder what I’ve done in my life.
I was at the Michelangelo: Sacred and Profane exhibition at Phoenix Art Museum with my mom and art-history-major aunt looking at a collection of his drawings. They were drafts, really, studies for later works, mostly in thin lines of red or black chalk – but still breathtaking.
These permanent works-in-progress normally reside in Casa Buonarroti in Florence, Italy, but 26 of them are on tour and have made a stop in Phoenix.
Usually, when you see artwork, you see the final product. It is a complete thing: a painting, a sculpture. It’s easy to forget it didn’t just leap fully formed from the artist’s head.
In these drawings, you see so much more of the process – an arm sketched in multiple positions, geometric lines that determined the position of a face, an architectural drawing on the back of a letter.
Maybe like the Renaissance equivalent of cocktail napkin sketches, or, as Cammy Brothers of the Wall Street Journal put it: “Masterpieces on a Shopping List.”
After circling through the exhibition, I felt a bit better. Even this great idealist had projects that had to be simplified due to budget constraints. And works that were never completed. And more ideas than he had time for.
Even Michelangelo started with rough drafts.
The Michelangelo: Sacred and Profane exhibition will be at the Phoenix Art Museum through this Sunday, March 27.