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Michelangelo’s masterpieces come to Boston

Two thousand thirteen is the year of Italian Culture in the United States and Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts is one organization that’s undoubtedly on board with the initiative.

Not only did the museum welcome the Roman bronze sculpture “Brutus” on January 18, but now the institution is also preparing to honor Michelangelo in a new exhibition.

Cleopatra (photo courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

Cleopatra (photo courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

Michelangelo: Sacred and Profane, Master Drawings from the Casa Buonarroti” opens on April 21 and comprises 26 drawings from the great Renaissance artist, all on loan from the Casa Buonarroti in Florence.

Prior to arriving at the MFA, the works will conclude their stay at the Muscarelle Museum of Art at The College of William & Mary in Virginia, where they have been on display since February 9.

Although Michelangelo is renowned for his sculptures and paintings, Helen Burnham, the MFA’s Pamela and Peter Voss Curator of Prints and Drawings, emphasizes the significance of this new exhibition.

“The first thing to keep in mind is that drawings in general are shown very rarely because they’re light sensitive,” she says.

“But for Michelangelo, they’re an essential and fundamental part of his working methods and they will allow the viewer insight into how his mind worked. That’s quite an extraordinary thing when you think of a genius of his stature.”

“Michelangelo: Sacred and Profane” takes its name from subjects presented in the artist’s figure drawings.

Madonna col Bambino (photo courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

Madonna col Bambino (photo courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

On the one hand, there is the religious depiction “Madonna with Child,” which Burnham calls “an extraordinary masterpiece drawing worthy of an exhibition in its own right;” on the other hand, there is a two-sided sheet with images of Cleopatra, who is described as “profane and worldly.”

In addition to figure drawings, this special exhibition also features works that mark Michelangelo’s immense contribution to the world of architecture.

Among the selected drawings of military buildings and churches — a mere highlight of the extensive collection held by the Casa Buonarroti — are three sheets that depict the famous Basilica di San Lorenzo in Florence, including plans for a façade that was never constructed.

The exhibition of this varied collection of drawings, according to Burnham, represents a unique opportunity for the people of Boston, as many of the selected works have not previously been displayed in the United States.

05.-Study-for-the-Porta-Pia-in-RomeFurthermore, only 12 of Michelangelo’s drawings are held in public collections in the country, including three in the Bay State. The Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum is home to one titled “Pietà,” while Harvard University’s Fogg Museum boasts another two drawings.

And as for Burnham, she is looking forward to being part of this notable exhibit and putting the 26 masterpieces on display for visitors from Boston and beyond to admire.

“I’m thrilled to see them as soon as they get here,” she says.

“That’s one of the pleasures of being a curator. It’s like Christmas morning when you open the boxes and see these fabulous and rare works that have arrived. That’s a thrill for me, and it’s great to be able to focus very intensely on Michelangelo and share some of that enthusiasm with the public.”

About Briana Palma

Briana Palma is a writer and editor who splits her time between Boston and Dublin, Ireland. Her work focuses on travel, art and lifestyle, and as an Italian-American, she especially enjoys writing about all things Italy. Briana's work has appeared in a number of print and digital publications, including Italy Magazine, the Sunday Business Post Magazine, Outsider and U.S. Airways. For more information, visit www.brianapalma.com.