Oct 14 2009

Michelangelo’s First Painting

Published by Sijia Sun under Michelangelo's First Painting


Michelangelo’s “The Torment of Saint Anthony” is much more than a colored version of Martin Schonaguer’s “The Temptations of Saint Anthony”. Key alternations and added elements allow Michelangelo’s painting to convey a feeling completely different than the one delivered by the engraving that it was based on.

While Michelangelo can certainly be accused of plagiarism if he is an art student today passing off his painting entirely as his own creation, it is worth noting that not one of Michelangelo’s demons is identical to its corresponding demon in the engraving. Nor are the differences results of Michelangelo’s carelessness. As observation under infrared light source revealed, Michelangelo makes various alterations, from the position of the demons’ heads to the curve of their tails and horns, to create further contrast and intensity. Meticulous scrapings and incisings are also applied (according to the Metropolitan Museum), to create clean outlines that are usually seen in engravings but rarely in paintings. Michelangelo even experiences various paint application. This all points to the great amount of effort Michelangelo puts in distinguishing his very first work of art from existing works, an effort that might have resulted in imperfections, (ex: the undesirable drying effect of paint) but makes his work unique and authentic.

One critical addition in Michelangelo’s painting is the halo behind Saint Anthony’s head, which is missing in the engraving. Michelangelo also gave the saint a more indifferent expression, which, in addition to the halo, elevated the saint’s spiritual and emotional status. Schongauer’s Saint Anthony, whose face fully expressed his suffering, cannot compare to the faith and strength Michelangelo’s Saint Anthony exhibits.

In addition, Michelangelo creates a background that strongly contrasts with the focus point of the painting. To the violent and intense scene of demons attacking a physically feeble saint, he gives the painting a peaceful background, with lushly green trees, gentle hills, a calm steam and an innocently white sail. These elaborations allow the painting to convey a more hopeful feeling, as the hills and trees reminded the viewer the pleasant things that awaited people in this world other than the evil temptations represented by the demons.

By simply dotting lines that represented the overcast sky, Schongauer leaves yet another place for Michelangelo to bring his own elements into his painting. Michelangelo masterfully created a sky that started, at the top of the painting, dark and ominous, befitting the attack of the demons, but gradually brightened as the viewers’ eyes traveled down and finally ended in a luminous horizon. This further expressed the hopeful message in Michelangelo’s painting, as it seems that the bright sunlight is fast approaching and soon going to chase away the dark creatures of hell.

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Michelangelo’s First Painting”

  1.   Fabiana Sagreraon 17 Oct 2009 at 12:42 pm

    Also, I think the only reason why he made those changes were to show that he thought he could do things better than Martin Schonaguer. Its like “I don’t like how you did this, let me make it better”. It just shows that even though he was 12 or 13 he thought very highly of himself

  2.   Fabiana Sagreraon 17 Oct 2009 at 12:39 pm

    I think that the changes were not as significant as you think. However, I do agree that the background has great potential and does change the overall feeling that you can get from the painting because the background is so peaceful.