Michelangelo and Marian Theology

Fenichel, Emily Anne, Department of Art, University of Virginia
Summers, David, Department of Art, University of Virginia
Barolsky, Paul, Department of Art, University of Virginia
Fiorani, Francesca, Department of Art, University of Virginia
Weber, Alison, Department for Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, University of Virginia

Michelangelo scholarship has traditionally focused on the artist's images of the male nude and the artist's biography. By contrast, the artist's depictions of women have been largely overlooked. This project represents the first comprehensive study of the artist's Madonnas: a subject that spanned decades and media. In situating them in their contemporary religious and visual contexts, I demonstrate that Michelangelo's images of the Madonna have much to tell us about the artist's religious understanding, his contemporary religious milieu, and likewise provide a vital means for exploring his expert manipulation of visual imagery. The first chapter treats Michelangelo's early Madonnas, particularly their theological and iconographic connections to the pagan, prophetic women known as sibyls. These so-called "sibylline" Virgins give visual form to Mary's prophetic nature as explored in the books of Wisdom and Isaiah. The second chapter provides, for the first time, a liturgical and devotional context for Michelangelo's Rome Pietà. This work, commissioned by a French cardinal for his tomb monument, was part of a larger ensemble of worship and death. The third chapter seeks the presence of the Virgin Mary in the Sistine Chapel by examining the most understudied of places: the lunettes. The families pictured in the lunettes, as the Ancestors of Christ, not only announce the coming Savior, but also his Immaculate mother, which closely conforms to contemporary Franciscan theology. The fourth chapter re-examines Michelangelo's gifts for Vittoria Colonna in the context of her devotion to the Madonna and the practice of mediation. Inspired by his friend and spiritual guide, Michelangelo's Florence Pietà is an early attempt by the artist to combine art and meditation. The fifth and final chapter argues that ii Michelangelo, through his relationship with the Jesuits, combined his devotional and artistic practice in his late drawings and sculpture. Ultimately, it was the Virgin who Michelangelo repeatedly contemplated and meditated upon as he faced death.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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