The achievements of the great artist Michelangelo Buonarroti are as numerous as they are famous. The genius of this Renaissance painter, sculptor, architect and poet was responsible for such masterpieces as The Last Judgement on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the magnificent David, which is housed in the Accademia Gallery in Florence, among countless others.
Not all his art, however, was on such a grand scale. When he wasn’t working on commissions from princes, popes and cardinals, the great Michelangelo devoted himself to creating drawings, mainly in chalk, as gifts for friends and lovers. These works, which became known as "presentation drawings", are among the few remaining Michelangelo drawings still in existence today. We should be immensely grateful that they have survived to be appreciated by posterity, because if it were up to the man himself there would be nothing left to see! Michelangelo, for reasons we can only guess at, famously burned much of his work prior to his death in 1564 - the vast majority of his drawings were destroyed.
Some of these presentation drawings form the basis of an unmissable exhibition currently showing at The Courtauld Gallery in Somerset House. The Courtauld has, among its many treasures, the magnificent Il Sogno (The Dream), and it is this work that forms the centerpiece of the exhibition. The drawing features a nude youth, reclining on a globe, surrounded by earthly vices such as avarice, lust and sloth. A winged creature is descending from heaven to rescue the youth from this den of sin. There have been many interpretations of the meaning of this drawing, although a consensus has never been reached.
Il Sogno is one of a number of drawings Michelangelo gifted to his friend, and the rumoured object of his affections, Tommaso dei Cavalieri. Others, including The Rape of Ganymede and The Punishment of Tityus (on loan from Her Majesty the Queen and The British Museum respectively), along with selected letters and poems, have been brought together from collections around the world to create one of this year's must-see exhibitions.
So get yourself along to Somerset House on the double - the exhibition comes to an end on May 16th. And while you are there, don't forget to take in gallery's world renowned collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art, which includes masterpieces from Renoir, Monet, Degas and Cezanne - also a must-see!
The Courtauld Gallery, Somerset House
18 February - 16 May 2010