Michelangelo: Quest for Genius

Art Gallery of Ontario

October 18, 2014 – January 11, 2015


Unfulfilled Projects and Dreams

Church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini in Rome

Michelangelo Plan for the Church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini in Rome, 1559-1560 Black chalk, pen and ink, white heightening and washes 41.7 x 37.6 cm Casa Buonarroti

Surprisingly, perhaps, Michelangelo’s most famous projects (the Sistine Chapel and the statue of David) represent only a small part of his artistic output. Most of his projects were never fully realized. The drawings here reveal something of this secret world of unfulfilled dreams – projects that were cancelled due to a lack of funds, a Pope’s death or an abrupt political change. A few projects never went beyond exploratory musings, with no finished product in mind.

Auguste Rodin’s Herculean efforts on his enormous The Gates of Hell were frustrated and his clay original was never cast in bronze during his lifetime. Its intended location – a museum of decorative arts in Paris – was never built.


Madonna and Child

Michelangelo Madonna and Child, c.1524 Black chalk, red chalk, red wash, white heightening and ink 54.1 x 39.6 cm Casa Buonarroti

Supreme Mastery

No known painting or sculpture was developed from this exceptional drawing. Yet it stands on its own as proof of Michelangelo’s unique ability to express the human form and deeply felt emotion through a range of media. While he sketched the Madonna loosely, leaving many changes visible, he finished much of the Christ child with exceptional virtuosity.

Michelangelo returned repeatedly to the theme of maternal love. Here, typically for him, the Madonna appears distant, a possible reference to his mother’s early death when he was just six years old.


Adam and Eve

Left: Auguste Rodin, Adam, Conceived 1881; cast before 1929 Bronze, Height: 182.9 cm. Art Gallery of Ontario, Purchase, 1929

Right: Auguste Rodin, Eve, Around 1883 Marble, Height: 76.2 cm. Art Gallery of Ontario, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Frank P. Wood, 1928

Never Completed: The Gates of Hell

Rodin never saw his grandiose plans for The Gates of Hell realized in bronze. In fact, the work’s intended home, a new museum of decorative arts in Paris, was never built, in part because of constant changes of government. Today, posthumous bronze casts of the immense doors exist in several locations around the world.

The Gates of Hell, the most complex project of Rodin’s career, was inspired in part by Italian Renaissance poet Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy, and in part by Michelangelo’s immense painting of The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel. The sculpture’s hundreds of sensuous figures, tortured and in pain, seem to reflect the artist’s own life – both his troubled career and the sufferings of his private life. Though Rodin had numerous relationships, he never found a soulmate.

Two Extra Figures

Rodin’s original concept for The Gates of Hell included bronze figures of Adam and Eve placed to either side. Eve was inspired by the sculptor’s visit to the Sistine Chapel in 1876.

Rodin employed as many as 50 studio employees to produce versions of his sculptures in different sizes and media. While The Gates was never cast in bronze in Rodin’s lifetime, many versions of its individual figures were produced – including the AGO’s marble Eve – and these works spread the artist’s fame around the world.

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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