Christ of The Minerva – Juliana Harn

21 Apr



Artist: Michelangelo Buonarroti

Medium: Sculpture made of marble

Date: 1519-1521 A.D.

Location: Santa Maria Sopra Minerva Church in Rome

Dimensions: 80.75 inches high (approximate)

In June of 1514, Roman patrician Metello Vari commissioned Michelangelo to sculpt a “figura di marmo d’un Cristo grande quanto el naturale, ignudo, ritto, cor una croce in braccio, in quell’ attitudine cheparra al detto Michelagnolo’.” In other words, stating that he would make a sculpture of a standing, naked figure of Christ holding a cross. The sculpture was designed for a chapel in the Dominican church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome, and Michelangelo’s contract stated that it had to be finished and delivered within four years. Christ of the Minerva, or the “Risen Christ” had no title during Michelangelo’s lifetime, and since has been referred to as both of the aforementioned titeles.

While Michelangelo was working in Rome on the block of marble he had chosen, a large black vein (an imperfection) emerged in the marble, directly where he was sculpting Christ’s face. So Michelangelo, scrapped that roughed-out figure, and was left in its incomplete state in his Roman workshop when he returned to Florence in 1516. Instead of starting the project again, right away, he stopped work on the “Risen Christ”, and instead continued work on another project of his, the San Lorenzo facade. However, records show that Michelangelo felt grief and guilt because this project of the “Risen Christ” was delayed. So Michelangelo ordered a new marble block from Pisa, which arrived on the first boat, and the Christ that he sculpted out of that is the one we see today in the church of the Minerva. This second version, Michelangelo carved from Florence in 1519-20.

When the Christ of the Minerva was finally finished in March 1521 A.D., it was transported to Rome and was installed at the left pillar of the choir in the church it had been commissioned for, by Michelangelo’s assistant Pietro Urbano. Experts have noted that the work reveals certain “weaknesses of execution,” which is due partly to the clumsy intervention of this assistant Pietro Urbano, to whom Michelangelo assigned the weighty task of taking the sculpture to Rome and finishing it there. Urbano did a finish to the feet, hands, nostrils, and beard of Christ, that many friends of Michelangelo described as disastrous. Thankfully, some final amending and rectifying touches were added by Federico Frizzi soon after. However, later in history, nail-holes were pierced in Christ’s hands, and Christ’s genitalia were hidden behind a bronze loincloth, by the church, who deemed it too provocative. Because there have been many changes to Michelangelo’s sculpture over the last few centuries, many are disappointed to see that differs from that which Michelangelo originally created.

Michelangelo intended to convey ideas and symbols through this sculpture. The most noted symbol the promise of “physical resurrection in a perfected body”, since Michelangelo originally sculpted the figure of Christ without any injuries or nail holes, showing the perfection of the resurrected Christ.

As always, what makes this sculpture stand out among the others is Michelangelo’s brilliance and talent. With Christ of the Minerva, it is especially seen with his use of contraposto, and his attention to detail regarding Christ’s physique. If one looks closely at the sculpture, the elaborate, detailed chest and upper abdomen muscles that Michelangelo was so famous for are clearly visible. These detailed and unique sculptural characteristics distinguish Michelangelo as an artistic genius, and distinguish his masterpieces from art created by his contemporaries and other talented artists.


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