Michelangelo, Sebastiano and a Vision that Defined the Renaissance


Michelangelo combined his genius for design with Sebastiano’s gift for colour to master the art of oil painting.

The following article, written by Amica Sciortino Nolan, appears on 1843magazine.com.

The master and Michelangelo

Sebastiano was better with colour, Michelangelo was better at drawing. Together they made a great team.

This is the story of three great cities of the Italian Renaissance, two exceptional artists and one revolutionary new medium. Michelangelo Buonarroti was from Florence, where drawing – disegno – was considered the father of all arts. Sebastiano del Piombo, ten years younger, came from Venice, where cross-continental trade brought rare minerals and pigments to artists who became masters of colour – colorito. The two men met where all roads meet, in Rome.

They were thrown together by the disruptive power of a new technique: oil painting. Italian artists had been slow to adopt this method, which had been widely used in northern Europe since the early 15th century. The quickest on the uptake were the Venetians, who used it to create a depth and lustre of colour unimaginable with quick-drying egg tempera or fresco. Sebastiano had mastered it; Michelangelo struggled. His solution was to work with the young Venetian.

“Michelangelo & Sebastiano” at the National Gallery in London is the first exhibition to explore their partnership. It began in 1511, when Sebastiano arrived in Rome, and Michelangelo was putting the finishing touches to one of the most daring commissions of his life: the decoration of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The pair hit it off. The curator, Matthias Wivel, thinks it highly likely that Michelangelo invited Sebastiano up onto the scaffolding to examine his colossal frescos and admire the ambition of the design, with its non-naturalistic colours and muscular, classically inspired figures.

Michelangelo wagered that by combining his genius for design with Sebastiano’s gift for colour, they would gain an edge in the growing market for oil painting. He was right: by collaborating they produced work that neither could have completed on their own. Continue reading at 1843magazing.com. 

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