Bargello Michelangelo’s Pitti and Taddeo tondo’s, Apollo and Brutus 2/3

The Pitti Tondo of Michelangelo

Entrance Bargello        The tower
Bargello entrance door Florence

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Bargello-plan (three floors of artwork)

One of the four works of art as a reaction to the work of Leonardo da Vinci

The great event in Florence was the return of Leonardo after an absence of eighteen years. In April 1501, a cardboard that Leonardo exhibited made a deep impression on the Florentines, in the words of Vasari:

‘Finally, he [Leonardo] made a cardboard on which he drew Our Lady with Anna and the Christ Child, and this work was astonishing not only among all artists, but when it was finished, for two days men and women, young and old, as if it were a solemn procession, went through the room to look at this wonderful cardboard of Leonardo, and all those people were amazed; in the face of Our Lady one found everything that could be achieved in simplicity and beauty in the representation of the loveliness of Christ’s mother’s, when one wishes to demonstrate the modesty that is so becoming of the Virgin, how she is struck by joy when seeing the beauty of her Child on her lap, while casting her intense, pure gaze to John, a little boy playing with a lamb, and Anna was smiling, overjoyed when seeing the heavenly state of her Earthly descendents, a true example of Leonardo’s ingenuity.’

Giorgio Vasari, ‘The lives of the greatest painters, sculptors and architects from Cimabue to Giorgione’, Contact, Amsterdam, 1992 part I page 297 (original edition 1568).

When the young Michelangelo Buonarroti returns from Rome to Florence, he is just beginning to make a name for himself as an artist, especially with his Pietà in St. Peter’s (click here for the story about this Pietà). Michelangelo, however, discovers that not he, but the much older, tall, handsome and charming Leonardo is the sensation in Florence.

Leonardo, with his sensational cardboard of ‘the Madonna and Child and Saint Anna’, had called up the paragone (fight). The cardboard from 1501 has unfortunately disappeared, but there are still somewhat similar works by Leonardo such as ‘the Madonna with Child and Anna’ (Louvre, Paris) or ‘Madonna with Child and Anna’ (National Gallery, London).

Leonardo da Vinci “Madonna with Child and Anna” National Gallery London
Leonardo da Vinci "Madonna with Child and Anna" National Gallery London

The art historian Goffen sees Michelangelo’s four works of art with the theme Mary and Child as a reaction to Leonardo’s widely admired and much praised cardboard.177 The subject was a popular theme that is also very often seen in Leonardo’s works and for which he received much appreciation. Both artists, Leonardo and Buonarroti, also rivalled each other in their fresco designs for a battle scene in the Palazzo Vecchio, but we will cover this when we discuss painting.

Michelangelo creates four works of art with the same subject as a response to the great success of Leonardo’s cardboard. He painted Mary with Child and Joseph in the form of a tondo (Uffizi), which we will see on the day of painting. He also made two reliefs, including the Pitti tondo (Bargello) and the Taddei tondo, which can now be seen at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. And fourthly, he carved a statue: the Madonna of Bruges. There is a fifth work that we have already discussed in Casa Buonarroti: the Madonna of the stairs. Pope-Hennessy does not consider the latter work to be from Michelangelo’s youth, as is customary, but dates it to the period after Leonardo exhibited his cardboard in Florence.178

The Taddei tondo

Here is a brief explanation of the tondo Michelangelo carved as the first of the two tondo’s, but which can be seen in London. The work is named after its client, Taddeo Taddei, an art connoisseur. Raphael, who was also strongly influenced by the work of Leonardo and later Michelangelo, lived in the house of Taddei for a while. The Taddei tondo was probably made in the same period, around 1504, as the painting for the Florentine Doni (Uffizi).

Michelangelo ‘Taddeo Tondo’ large     Jesus and John the Baptist
Michelangelo 'Taddeo Tondo' National Gallery Londen

In this work of art, just like in the Madonna of the Stairs, Mary is represented in profile. To the left of Mary, John the Baptist can be seen as a child. The young John holds a bullfinch in his hand, something that frightens the Child Jesus. In a city like Florence it was customary to keep a bullfinch as a pet. Such birds were often put in a cage and hung on rails outside the palazzi as you can still see in a fresco by Masaccio. The bullfinch is also a symbol of the Passion and Crucifixion of Christ. This, of course, implicitly refers to the future that awaits the child. This symbolism may seem a bit far-fetched, but was very common at the time and can be found in many sources. In Leonardo’s paintings with Mary and child, too, you often see references to the crucifixion.

The Pitti tondo 

The Pitti tondo was carved after the Taddei, probably around 1504 or 1505. The face of Mary is now portrayed frontally. Just like in the Madonna of the stairs, Mary sits on a square boulder: a reference to the rock on which the church is built. The Madonna in the tondo of Pitti is the first openly masculinized Maria.179 Her face, nose, eyes and mouth are exactly like those of David. Michelangelo probably used the same male model for his David and Maria. This Maria is different from his previous one, but the mood is the same. Here, too, she is introverted. Although she embraces her child with her left hand, she turns away from him. Her introverted look is further enhanced by the fact that there are no pupils. The hairline with the winged putti is a sign that Mary can see in the future. Maria reflects on the future of her son.

Michelangelo ‘Pitti tondo’ large       Face of Mary
Michelangelo 'Pitti tondo' Bargello

On the left in the background, barely worked out, a small John the Baptist is still visible. The way Michelangelo handled his chisel can still be seen beautifully when you stand close to the Pitti tondo. His chisel marks show that the young Buonarroti is strongly influenced by his teacher in the field of painting: Ghirlandaio. Domenico Ghirlandaio used short diagonal and alternately placed stripes in his drawings with which he modelled.180 This can be seen with Buonarroti as with the face of Mary in the Pitti tondo. For example, he places the chisel diagonally right next to Mary’s chin. If he chisels at an adjacent part of the chin – which is in a different direction from the front of the marble block – the diagonal carvings change direction (see picture above with mouseover).

The Apollo of Michelangelo

Vasari describes this statue as follows:

[…] Michelangelo, to appease Baccio Valori, began and almost finished a three-spoon high marble figure of an Apollo pulling an arrow out of his quiver; today it is in one of the rooms of the Prince of Florence, and even if it is not entirely finished, it is something very special.’

Giorgio Vasari, ‘The lives of the greatest painters, sculptors and architects from Cimabue to Giorgione’, Contact, Amsterdam, 1992 part II, p. 236 (original edition 1568).

The Apollo was made around 1535 and was often mistaken for a David. If you look at what is under the right foot of this figure and see that this work is ‘not entirely finished’, this interpretation is obvious.181 If we go to the halls of Donatello and Verrocchio later on, you will see what was usually at David’s feet. Moreover, it was thought that there would be a pendulum in the right hand. Still, according to Pope-Hennessy, this sculpture is indeed an Apollo who is just grabbing an arrow from his quiver on his back. To be on the safe side, the Bargello catalogue has given this figure a double name: the David-Apollo. The statue was made in the same period as the statues of the New Sacristy. What is striking about this figure, and Michelangelo expanded on this more strongly later, is that there is a clear rotation around a central axis in the figure. This is very noticeable when we walk to Michelangelo’s Bacchus and then back to his Apollo. The same applies even more so when we compare the Apollo with the statues of Donatello, like the St. George, the original of which we’ll see later (we’ve already looked at the replica in the recess of the Orsanmichele).

Michelangelo ‘Apollo’ large size
Michelangelo 'Apollo' Bargello
Michelangelo Apollo front and back
Michelangelo 'Apollo' Bargello


This turning of the body around an axis is even more elaborated in Michelangelo’s ‘Victorie‘, which was carved only a few years later. We look at the Victorie when we enter Palazzo Vecchio. Now we are still looking at a bust of Buonarroti in this room.


The Brutus of Michelangelo

The Brutus is based on a Roman classical bust of Carracalla. In this classic bust, the face is also turned to the right. On the pedestal of this statue stood a remarkable inscription that can still be read today on the 17th century copper tag: ‘At the time of working on this statue of Brutus, the memory of the latter’s crime woke up and this prevented him from continuing’.

Photo: Salvatore Isela 

Michelangelo ‘Brutus’ large size     Detail face
Michelangelo 'Brutus' Bargello
The unfinished bust was made during politically turbulent times.182 Michelangelo’s historian and friend, Donato Giannotti, asked Michelangelo on behalf of Cardinal Ridolfi to carve a bust of Brutus. Buonarroti agreed to this because he did have some sympathy for the republican standpoint of his friend. Republican in Florence meant that the city had to be governed by its own citizens and not by a monarch as was the case at the time. The Duke Alexander de Medici was murdered in 1536 by Lorenzo de’Medici, also called Lorenzaccio. Needless to say, this murder was considered a purely republican act; Florence was thus freed from the grip of the monarch.
The comparison with Caesar and Brutus is obvious. Caesar, the dictator, was murdered by his adopted son and senator Brutus. This act had to protect Rome from domination by a tyrannical emperor. Later, in 1545, this viewpoint was overturned. In Giannotti’s ‘Dialogues’ you can read why Dante banished Brutus to the depths of hell. A murder, also for a good cause, is and remains a serious crime. Michelangelo also changed his mind, which is why the inscription may well have been added later. Michelangelo gave the portrait bust of Brutus, just like the Pietà we saw in the Opera del Duomo, to his pupil Tiberio Calcagni. Probably because he no longer saw Brutus as a hero, but as a murderer. He would give away the Pietà for a completely different reason. After all, this sculpture does not meet the highest commandment of the Renaissance artist, namely: art must be naturalistic.

Let’s take a look at three more statues, all clearly inspired by a statue of Michelangelo: the ‘Victory‘. We will see this statue of Buonarroti in the Palazzo Vecchio. In the Vecchio we also discuss the influence of this statue on the following statues: ‘Victory‘ (Ammanati), ‘Honour crushes deceit’ (Danti) and lastly ‘Florence conquers Pisa‘ (Giambologna). Finally, we will take a brief look at some of Cellini’s sculptures and in particular the preliminary studies for his Perseus, a statue that we will take a closer look at and discuss at the Loggia dei Lanzi in Piazza della Signoria. We now go up the stairs to the first floor and walk to Donatello’s hall (see map number 10) and go back in time.

Bargello courtyard and stairs Roed, Jörgen ‘Courtyard of the Bargello’ detail 1808-1888
The courtyard and stairs of the Bargello
Roed, Jörgen ‘Courtyard of the  Bargello’ detail 1808-1888 whole      Giulia Cecchi ‘The stairs and the courtyard  Bargello’ c. 1890
Roed, Jörgen 'Courtyard of the  Bargello' detail 1808-1888
Bargello courtyard large size
Bargello courtyard Florence

Photos: staceybunch and no1lyq