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Michelangelo and the Medici Popes

Weekend All-Day Lecture/Seminar

Saturday, August 28, 2021 - 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. ET
Code: 1J0110
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Michelangelo project drawing for the façade of Sagrestia Nuova (New Sacristy)

After finishing the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, Michelangelo began working for two of his childhood friends from the Medici household who had gone on to become Popes Leo X and Clement VII, respectively. Both would employ Michelangelo on various projects in Florence such as the façade of San Lorenzo, the New Sacristy, and the Laurentian Library. Rocky Ruggiero, a specialist in the Early Renaissance, examines one of the most productive, yet frustrating periods of Michelangelo’s artistic career—fulfilling his commissions from the Medici popes.

1011 a.m.  A Star is Born: Young Michelangelo and Lorenzo il Magnifico de’ Medici

Michelangelo began his artistic career at 13 in the workshop of the Florentine painter Domenico Ghirlandaio. After just one year, his talents captured the attention of Lorenzo il Magnifico De’Medici, the de facto ruler of Florence, who invited the young artist to join his sculpture school, as well his own household. It was here that Michelangelo was befriended by Giovanni and Giulio de’Medici, who would both go on to the papacy.

11:15 a.m.12:15 p.m.   Michelangelo, Leo X, and the Façade of San Lorenzo

Michelangelo’s first commissioned work for the Medici popes was the façade of the Medici church of San Lorenzo in Florence. It was the artist’s first attempt at architecture and would result in a revolutionary design. After two years of searching for the best marble in Carrara with which to realize the façade—and building roads to transport it to Florence—Pope Leo X suspended the project in order to put Michelangelo’s talents to work on a funerary chapel known as the New Sacristy.

12:151:15 p.m.  Break   

1:152:30 p.m. The New Sacristy: A Funerary Chapel for the Medici Dukes

For the New Sacristy of San Lorenzo, Michelangelo designed one of the most innovative Renaissance-style interior spaces. Projected as a companion piece to Brunelleschi’s Old Sacristy at the same church, the New Sacristy served as a funerary chapel for the brother and nephew of Pope Leo X and includes Michelangelo’s celebrated statues Night, Day, Dawn, and Dusk that symbolize the inexorable march of time.

2:454 p.m.  Michelangelo, Clement VII, and the Laurentian Library

While Michelangelo was busy at building the New Sacristy, Pope Clement VII commissioned him to design and build a new library at the church of San Lorenzo. Meant to house the extraordinary Medici collection of books and manuscripts, Michelangelo produced one of the most radical examples of Renaissance architecture, celebrated as the harbinger of the mannerist style. From the breathtaking staircase in the entrance vestibule known as the ricetto, to the handsome reading tables, stained-glass windows, inlaid terracotta floors, and carved wooden ceiling, Michelangelo handled all aspects of the design of the extraordinary building.

Ruggiero, who divides his time between Italy and the United States, has lectured on Italian art and architecture for American university programs in Italy for the past 20 years, including those of Syracuse, Kent State, Vanderbilt, and Boston College.

World Art History Certificate elective: Earn 1 credit*

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*Enrolled participants in the World Art History Certificate Program receive 1 elective credit. Not yet enrolled? Learn about the program, its benefits, and how to register here.

This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.