3 Renaissance Rascals Exposed!

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secret lives of artists.pngThis week we're lucky to have Elizabeth Lunday, author of Secret Lives of Great Artists: What Your Teachers Never Told You about Master Painters and Sculptors guest blogging with us. Every day this week, she'll be spilling the dirt on the artists you thought you knew. We'll let her take it from here:
The Renaissance is known as a time when reason triumphed over superstition and culture over chaos. Maybe—but Renaissance artists didn't always live up to that ethos. Here are three examples of great Renaissance masters at their most unreasonable:

1. Why Someone Punched Michelangelo in the Face

b.art.pngYoung Michelangelo was a genius—and he knew it. He absolutely delighted in mocking the artistic skills of his peers and would pick on his fellow students mercilessly for the slightest error in perspective or distortion of anatomy. But men in Renaissance Italy weren't known for their restraint. As the artist Pietro Torrigiano tells the story: "One day he provoked me so much that I lost my temper more than usual, and, clenching my fist, gave him such a punch on the nose that

I felt bone and cartilage crush like a biscuit. That fellow will carry my signature till he dies."

And so he did. Michelangelo's nose was squished and flattened, with a distinct hump in the middle. There is no sign however that it made him any less of a jerk.

2. Don't Push the Guy Who Could Immortalize You

b.art2.pngLeonardo da Vinci had a well-deserved reputation for his aversion to work. Everyone in Italy knew if you gave the great artist a commission, you were lucky to get your artwork several years later, if at all. He pondered, he puttered, he futzed around and he never met a deadline. In fact, his slack approach to The Last Supper is legendary. Fed up with the artist's endless procrastination (and the fact that he had made the monastery's dining hall completely unusable), the Prior of Santa Maria delle Grazie finally decided to complain to the Duke of Milan. When called to defend his actions, a calm Leonardo explained that he was just trying to find a face evil enough to represent Judas, the betrayer of Christ. However, Leonardo added, if he couldn't find the perfect model he could "always use the head of the tactless and impatient Prior." The threat quickly put a stop to the complaints.

3. Botticelli's All-You-Can-Eat Feasts

b.art3.pngThe family name of early master Sandro Botticelli, creator of the sublime Birth of Venus (ca. 1486), is actually a nickname that means "little bottle." As for who gave Sandro his name, that credit goes to Renaissance banking genius and Florentine ruler Lorenzo de' Medici who decided not only to exercise his poetic gifts but also get in a dig at the artist. Apparently, Botticelli had a bad reputation for showing up at the Medici's house every time the doors opened and eating until they kicked him out. Lorenzo wrote a witty rhyme punning on his pet artist's name, concluding "He arrives a little bottle [botticelli] and leaves a bottle full."

Come back tomorrow for more great artist stories. And be sure to check out Elizabeth's wonderful new book Secret Lives of Great Artists: What Your Teachers Never Told You about Master Painters and Sculptors.

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March 9, 2009 - 5:30am
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