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Michelangelo was an artist who worked on projects in various disciplines. One of the commonalities that relate each of his works in the different fields together is that they all start with a drawing. Whether designing a tomb, planning a colossal sculpture, or beginning a fresco, they all begin with the initial sketches.
These sketches by Michelangelo represent the earliest stages of the artists’ process. Before starting the finished work Michelangelo would sketch what was to be painted or sculpted. Often, these sketches are of single figures that will make up the finished composition. In order to get the anatomical detail that renaissance painters, and especially Michelangelo are known for, they would work with models. Seeing the models in the various poses would show the artist how the body moves, muscles are defined, and all the parts of body relate to each other in contorted poses.
What makes these unique from the works the artist intends for people to see is that the drawings are very often not finished works. As can be seen in Michelangelo’s study for the Creation of Adam, it is a study of the torso of what would become Adam painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The drawing shows a figure without a head, and no definition of one arm or leg. Scattered about on the same paper is repetitive representations of aspects of the figure. You can see the hands drawn multiple times as Michelangelo studies the positions. The only part of the figure with any real detail is the torso, and it becomes obvious that Michelangelo was drawing this purely for him to see and to prepare for the final work.
It is often hard for a modern day viewer to see one of Michelangelo’s sketches and not see them as masterpieces in their own right. After all, they sell at auctions for millions of dollars. However, it is very likely that Michelangelo would be, at the least displeased, and probably upset that his studies are even being seen today. The very nature of the works suggest that; being produced on paper which becomes brittle over time, they have a much shorter life span than paintings or sculpture, which speaks to lack of importance the artist gave to them.
Occasionally Michelangelo would produce finished drawings. As is the case for Head of an Ideal Woman, also known as Study of a Head. The amount of detail shown in the woman’s hair and helmet indicate that this was not just a preliminary sketch for another work, but was intended to be a piece in it’s own right. Many of the drawings not done as sketches, but as final drawings, were given to friends as gifts.
Whether the initial sketch or finished drawing, the medium Michelangelo used would be familiar to people today drawing. Both the Study of Adam and the Head of an Ideal woman use chalk on paper. It is also common to see sketches using pen and ink on paper or charcoal – all mediums that artist’s and students still use.