Michelangelo answered this question succinctly: “Drawing is the root of all knowledge.” For an artist who communicated almost exclusively through the depiction of the human body, drawing from live models (and cadavers too) was a vital exercise. It was a way to understand and memorize forms, to experiment and to brainstorm. As one of his contemporaries put it: “It is easier to change things in drawings than in finished works.” Michelangelo drew incessantly. He ultimately produced thousands of quick sketches and more detailed drawings. He guarded these jealously. Shortly before his death, he tossed many in the fire to prevent others from stealing his ideas.
Did you know?
In Michelangelo’s time, paper cost less than 1/14th the price of its predecessor, vellum (animal hide).
Michelangelo couldn’t stop drawing. He drew on any piece of paper close at hand and didn’t hesitate to sketch on both sides, and over older drawings. Despite the widespread availability of cheap paper (as revolutionary a medium in his time as the Internet in ours), the artist was frugal, and a recycler.
Michelangelo’s drawings are more than 500 years old.
The artist’s drawings form a continuous record of his activities.
Michelangelo never sold his drawings. He guarded them as trade secrets in his studio and only gave them away as gifts – some to powerful people and others to artist friends.
The artist’s drawings were rare and highly valued in their day. A new, finished drawing generated excitement across Rome. Even the Pope would seek it out.
About 600 of Michelangelo’s drawings exist today.