The Portland Vase, £5.00
Height: 26.000 cm
Width: 23.800 cm (both)
Prints and Drawings
Michelangelo, Elevation of the lower storey of the Julius tomb and Pieces of the lower storey of the Julius tomb, pen and brown ink drawings
Michelangelo (1475-1564) was commissioned to create a monumental tomb for Pope Julius II in 1505. This project took him forty years to complete, and caused the artist a great deal of anguish. The initial design was very ambitious and intended for the old St Peter's. The final work - much more modest in scale - was installed in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome.
Julius's powerful family kept Michelangelo under constant pressure to fulfil his obligation. Although new papal commissions contributed to the delay, Michelangelo was himself partly to blame. He was responsible for the complexity of the design, for his reluctance to delegate, and for repeatedly agreeing to contractual deadlines that proved impossible to meet.
The main drawing shown here, Elevation of the lower storey of the Julius tomb, records the pieces of the Julius tomb left in Michelangelo's Roman studio when he departed for Florence in 1516. It was made for Leonardo Sellaio, a Florentine friend who looked after the property in his absence. Michelangelo's inscription below the sketch explains that the sixty-seven pieces of the façade are laid out in one room off the courtyard, and that the remaining pieces are in another ground floor space.
The drawing on the reverse of the sheet, Pieces of the lower storey of the Julius tomb, is a graphic inventory of the architectural elements of the tomb. To help Sellaio identify the pieces, Michelangelo noted their approximate size and state of finish. Some of the sculpted reliefs sketched here are identifiable in the completed tomb: for instance, the blocks with flaming torches (upper right) are two of the four reliefs located at the top of the first storey.
H. Chapman, Michelangelo drawings: closer (London, British Museum Press, 2005)