Michelangelo: Quest for Genius

Art Gallery of Ontario

October 18, 2014 – January 11, 2015


“I work harder than anyone who has ever lived. I’m so pressed I don’t have time to eat.”

Fortifications for the Porta al Prato in Florence

Michelangelo, Fortifications for the Porta al Prato in Florence, c.1529. Pen and ink with brown wash, 28.3 x 39.5 cm, Casa Buonarroti

Like all supremely gifted individuals, Michelangelo was driven to create. His aspirations were huge: he wanted to rival artists and architects past and present, to work for the most powerful rulers of his day, and to make works unprecedented in scale and originality. With an exceptionally long career and little need for sleep, Michelangelo was able to realize some of his most ambitious projects. Yet, over time, his ambitions outgrew him and became unmanageable, due to political conflicts and the demands of his many patrons. The eight drawings in this section show Michelangelo forging new ground in subjects ranging from military fortifications to the human body.

Like Michelangelo, Auguste Rodin strove to create works of unparalleled scale and ambition that would triumph over his competition. Rodin’s The Thinker forms a key part of the largest single sculpture of the 1800s, The Gates of Hell.

Study of a Man’s Face

Michelangelo Study of a Man’s Face, for the Sistine Chapel Ceiling, 1509-1510 Red chalk 12.5 x 14.2 cm

Thinking Big

In 1508 Michelangelo set out to make the greatest composition in the history of art: a painting of the Biblical book of Genesis on the ceiling of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel (which measures 460 square metres or 5,000 square feet). He was determined to prove that he was as good a painter as he was a sculptor.

This striking study for the Flood – featuring the head of a man who clings futilely to a tree – is one of only a few preparatory drawings that survive.

Rodin: The Thinker

Auguste Rodin, Le Penseur (The Thinker), Conceived 1880; cast early 1920s. Bronze, Height: 69.9 cm, Art Gallery of Ontario Gift of Mrs. O.D. Vaughan, 1977

Unbridled Ambition: The Thinker

“Michelangelo is my master and my idol.”

Auguste Rodin

French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840–1917), like his artistic and spiritual mentor Michelangelo, had a fierce, competitive drive and will to succeed. The Thinker originally formed the centrepiece of The Gates of Hell, which many consider the most ambitious sculptural project of the 1800s. Close to six metres in height, The Gates of Hell incorporated hundreds of figures. Although it was never cast in bronze during the artist’s lifetime, posthumous casts now exist in Paris, Philadelphia, Tokyo, Zurich and elsewhere.

In The Thinker, Rodin used the human body to express the power of thought and imagination. Originally condemned as an “enormous brute, a gorilla,” Rodin’s Thinker has since become one of the world’s most admired sculptures.

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Background image: Michelangelo, Study for the Porta Pia in Rome, c.1561. Black chalk, pen and ink with brown wash, white heightening. 47.0 x 28.0 cm Casa Buonarroti