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The Blue & Gray Press | August 21, 2019

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Great Lives offers glimpse into Michelangelo’s life

The Pieta by Michelangelo is currently housed in the Vatican City, Rome.

The Pieta by Michelangelo is currently housed in the Vatican City, Rome.



The Great Lives lecture series continued talks about on some of the most important characters in history on Tuesday night in Dodd Auditorium. The talk on April 23 featured Dr. William Wallace on “Writing Michelangelo’s Biography.”

Dr. Wallace, a professor of art history at Washington University in St. Louis, Miss., is one of the leading scholars of Michelangelo in the U.S. today.

Michelangelo is renowned for his Renaissance masterpieces such as the Sistine Chapel and the Pieta, located in Vatican City. In his presentation, Wallace took the audience on a journey through details of Michelangelo’s life that are unknown to most.

Wallace focused primarily on the inspiration behind his biographical novel, “Michelangelo: The Man, The Artist, and his Times.”

He explained that while he was writing the biography he aimed to put Michelangelo within his own context and wanted to portray him in a different light than the artist is traditionally seen. In earlier 19th century biographies, and in novels such as “The Agony and the Ecstasy,” Michelangelo is generally depicted as a curmudgeon and a deeply misunderstood loner.

In Wallace’s study of Michelangelo for his first book, which is about the various projects that Michelangelo undertook at theChurch of San Lorenzo in Florence, Italy, Wallace found that the artist was in fact an extraordinary businessman and entrepreneur, in addition to being a people person.

Through his research in Italy, Wallace found records of the workers that assisted Michelangelo, which Michelangelo kept himself.

He even had nicknames for certain people, a trait uncharacteristic of the artist most people think of.

Wallace insists that Michelangelo was in fact a family-oriented individual, a claim evidenced by the hundreds of letters that are in Italian archives, which were written by Michelagelo to members of his family.

In his lecture, Wallace illustrated that what struck him the most about the artist is how incredibly involved Michelangelo was in the day-to-day business of his artistic patrons.

Wallace was also interested in portraying how Michelangelo thought of himself for the sake of his biography, as well as the relationship between the artist’s personality and his creativity.

Wallace discovered that Michelangelo wanted to display himself as a nobleman, and that he actually claimed to be part of the Medici family. In addition to being arguably the most influential family in Florence at the time, the Medici’s were also extremely important patrons of Michelangelo’s work.

“Genealogy was a creative art in the Renaissance,” said Wallace, meaning that Michelangelo may have exaggerated his aristocratic ties, but in the end it was beneficial to his career. Wallace believed that Michelangelo’s belief in his noble blood definitely had influence on the way he behaved as an artist, and the way he dealt with his patrons.

Senior historic preservation major Paige Gibbons found Wallace’s talk very eye opening.

“I thought it was a really interesting lecture,” she commented. “I found Wallace to be really personable as a speaker.”