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Visualizing the Invisible in Michelangelo's Drawings at Casa Buonarroti

Sketches of figures

Ancient ink is not a “pleasant” pigment. It creates holes in the paper due to its acidity (here we see holes in the page in AB,IV,22 and AB,I,69) and fades after prolonged exposure to the light. In this case however the sheet can be lit with ultraviolet light and the drawing made to reappear, thereby restoring greater legibility to it, and with the right re-calibration the original colour can be restored to the image.
Sheet 51 F from the Casa Buonarroti, to a large extent ruined, represents one of those sheets on which Michelangelo's collaborators appear to have worked. However the small sketch with the figure of a man in the act of bending down, photographed on the right edge of the sheet, so alive and quickly sketched, recalls a similar figure placed at the edge of a preparatory sheet for the lunettes of the Sistine Chapel (Ashmolean Museum, inv. no. 1846.50), in the act of putting a lead on the dog of an old wanderer with a stick. If this comparison is correct we must admit that this small sketch, unrelated to the surrounding drawings, was done before the collaborators reused the sheet.
On the other hand it is very difficult to interpret the drawing highlighted by ultraviolet light in sheet 52 F, well reproduced in the Corpus of Tolnay but barely legible in subsequent reproductions. Here, between two studies of legs unlikely to be authentic, we see a seated and draped figure which seems to have been lightly painted with the tip of a pen and very diluted ink. Though the attribution of this figure is not very clear, neither are its subject nor the attempt to assign a date. While awaiting confirmation, we cautiously put forward the evocative hypothesis that we are looking at the fluorescent impression “printed” by contact with the sheet that contained the original drawing, still anonymous to us and then lost or not yet tracked down.


Casa Buonarroti, inv. 51 F, Studies of a winged male figure, uncertain date; pen and ink (246 x 204 mm); visible light.

Casa Buonarroti, inv. 51 F, Studies of a winged male figure; rendering of the detail under UV light.

Casa Buonarroti, inv. 51 F, detail with Sketch of a male figure; UV light.

Casa Buonarroti, inv. 51 F, detail with Sketch of a male figure; rendering with altered colour shown in visible light.

Casa Buonarroti, inv. 52 F, Studies of legs and trace of a draped female figure, uncertain date; black chalk, pen and ink (260 x 195 mm); visible light.

Casa Buonarroti, inv. 52 F, Studies of legs and trace of a draped female figure; rendering of the detail under UV light.

Casa Buonarroti, inv. 52 F, detail with "Draped female figure"; UV light.

Casa Buonarroti, inv. 52 F, detail with Draped female figure; rendering with altered colour shown in visible light.




© KHI in Florence | 13.07.2020 12:52:28