Exhibition review – Michelangelo & Sebastiano

A confession: my favoured art forms are books, theatre, films….and occasionally dance.

Not that I don’t appreciate art in its purest and most literal form, but I’m more likely to read a book to immerse myself in a cultural landscape, than rush to a city’s art gallery.

Nevertheless, I was very grateful to the lovely folks at TripFiction for passing over their invitation to the new Michelangelo & Sebastiano exhibition at the National Gallery.

Detail from Sebastiano del Piombo, 'The Visitation', 1518-1519. Paris, Musée du Louvre, Département des Peintures (Inv. 357) © RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre) / Hervé Lewandowski

It was a real privilege to attend the press launch, a day after Prince Charles had a private viewing but the day before the doors open to the public (March 15 to June 25, 2017). And the exhibition’s curator, Matthias Wivel, was on hand to give a level of insight not even achievable from the excellent audio guide.

The NG provides the first ever exhibition devoted to the creative partnership between Michelangelo (1475-1564) and Sebastiano del Piombo (1485-1547). Some of the works on show have not previously left their own collections for centuries, so this really is a rather special display.

Sebastiano, a talented young Venetian painter, arrived in Renaissance Rome in 1511. He met the older Michelangelo, who was working on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, and the two artists became friends…and tactical allies against rival Raphael.

Sebastiano was the only oil painter in the Eternal City who could challenge Raphael, and was therefore the ideal collaborator for Michelangelo, who didn’t care for the medium of oil.

Sebastiano profited from his friend’s ideas, and together they created several works of great originality and rare beauty. Away from the canvass, their friendship flourished and a real bonus is the display of original letters between the two artists.

But after 25 years of artistic collaboration and personal friendship, the relationship soured so badly that arrogant Michelangelo rubbished Sebastiano’s legacy in the years following the younger man’s death.

The exhibition deftly charts their stories in 6 separate rooms, from early hope to eventual acrimony. But they left a remarkable joint legacy, and the NG has presented a dazzling portrait of both artists.

The Raising of Lazarus by Sebastiano del Piombo, incorporating designs by Michelangelo. Photograph: National Gallery:

Image result for the raising of lazarus sebastiano del piombo

 

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