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Michelangelo Exhibition at Nashville’s Frist Center Offers Rare Opportunity to See Renaissance Master’s Work in the U.S.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Marking the first time works by Michelangelo have ever been exhibited in Nashville, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts proudly presents Michelangelo: Sacred and Profane, Masterpiece Drawings from the Casa Buonarroti, on view from October 30, 2015, through January 6, 2016. The Casa Buonarroti, the artist’s family home in Florence, Italy, possesses the largest and most important collection of the artist’s drawings in the world, and many of its greatest works will be on view.

Michelangelo Buonarroti. Madonna and Child, ca. 1524. Black chalk, red chalk, red wash, white heightening and ink. 541 x 396 mm. Casa Buonarroti, Florence, inv. 71F
Michelangelo Buonarroti. Madonna and Child, ca. 1524. Black chalk, red chalk, red wash, white heightening and ink. 541 x 396 mm. Casa Buonarroti, Florence, inv. 71F
The exhibition offers an intimate view into the mind of Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564), one of the most influential figures in the history of Western art. The rich and varied selection of twenty-six drawings – ranging from rapid sketches to presentation drawings – attests to the High Renaissance master’s accomplishments as a sculptor, painter, architect, and military engineer. The works span almost six decades, from around 1504, when Michelangelo was a mature artist of nearly thirty, until a few years before his death. They show the incredible diversity of his projects and the dynamics of a career spent largely working for ambitious popes in Rome and Florence.

“These drawings illuminate how Michelangelo worked and thought, his extraordinary range and technical brilliance, as well as his playful attitude toward ancient architecture,” says Frist Center Curator and Renaissance scholar Trinita Kennedy. “During his long career, he used pen and ink and red and black chalk on paper to generate ideas and communicate them to his patrons, friends, and assistants. He deliberately destroyed many of the drawings, including the large-scale cartoons for the Sistine Chapel frescoes, so the remaining sheets are exceedingly rare and valuable. ”

Michelangelo’s powers to evoke the sacred are fully displayed in the large and deeply moving drawing Madonna and Child (ca. 1524) which is one of Michelangelo’s most admired images. The sculptural figures are rendered in a fascinating mixture of techniques that includes underdrawing in black chalk and flesh tones in the child’s arm in red chalk. Michelangelo’s Study for the Head of Leda (ca. 1529), a mythological subject, is equally beautiful. He made it in preparation for the panel painting Leda and the Swan (destroyed in the seventeenth century) commissioned by Duke Alfonso d’Este of Ferrara in 1529, and completed in 1530. Red chalk proved to be the ideal medium for conveying Leda’s delicate features and allure.

Michelangelo’s legacy as an architect was no less monumental than his stature as a sculptor and painter. The Casa Buonarroti, from which highlights have been chosen, holds the most extensive and significant collection of Michelangelo’s architectural drawings. The important ecclesiastical designs chosen for display include several plans too ambitious and costly to be realized: the San Lorenzo façade, the rare book room of the Laurentian Library, and the church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini in Rome. Like his older contemporary Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo was called upon to invent fortifications. He responded with fantastic drawings of bastions equipped with pincers like giant crabs.

These visionary drawings gain impact from their notable dimensions, which range in height and width from twelve to fifteen inches, and a few are even larger. Impressive in their own right, the works provide dynamic links to a better understanding of Michelangelo’s interdisciplinary virtuosity. “Our knowledge of Michelangelo’s life, career, and working methods is infinitely richer thanks to these sheets that have survived the past five centuries,” says Ms. Kennedy.

Exhibition Credit

This exhibition was organized by the Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College of William & Mary in Virginia in partnership with Fondazione Casa Buonarroti and Associazione Culturale Metamorfosi.

Exhibition Catalogue

This exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with essays by Aaron H. De Groft, Adriano Marinazzo, Pina Ragionieri, and John T. Spike.

Sponsor Acknowledgment

The Frist Center for the Visual Arts gratefully acknowledges the Friends of Italian Art.

The Frist Center for the Visual Arts is supported in part by the Metro Nashville Arts Commission, the Tennessee Arts Commission, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Additional information is available by calling 615.244.3340 or by visiting