Casa Buonarroti is the house-museum in Florence dedicated to Michelangelo and his descendants, who lived here by embellishing the house. It is located in via Ghibellina 70, on the corner with via Buonarroti.
Buonarroti house is a museum and a monument, a place of memory and of celebration of the genius of Michelangelo and, at the same time, a sumptuous baroque display and exhibition of the rich art collections of the family, the Casa Buonarroti offers one of the most interesting visitor experiences among the many museums of Florence. It offers the unique pleasure of seeing two famous reliefs in marble, masterpieces of the young Michelangelo: the Madonna of the Stairs, and the Battle of the Centaurs.
History of the building
The building was a property owned by the sculptor Michelangelo, which he left to his nephew, Leonardo Buonarroti. The house was converted into a museum dedicated to the artist by his great nephew, Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger. Its collections include two of Michelangelo’s earliest sculptures, the Madonna of the Stairs and the Battle of the Centaurs. A ten-thousand book library includes the family’s archive and some of Michaelangelo’s letters and drawings. The Galleria is decorated with paintings commissioned by Buonarroti the Younger and created by Artemisia Gentileschi and other early seventeenth-century Italian artists.
Michelangelo and the origins
Michelangelo was not born here, but in Caprese in the province of Arezzo, when his father Ludovico di Leonardo, albeit Florentine, had moved to fill a public office. It is not even the only residence inhabited by Michelangelo in the city, which were more than one, but here, in 1508, he had purchased three small neighboring plots belonging to the Bonsi. The news is incorrect that Michelangelo, at the time residing in Rome, never used this house: he was in fact present, on his return from Bologna, at the time of purchase, and had the opportunity to see it and stay there, together with his grandson Leonardo, during the work season in San Lorenzo (1516-1534). In 1514the property had been enlarged by another neighboring fund of the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova, purchased by the sculptor.
That Michelangelo resided here testifies to the documents with which he rented the accessory houses and, in 1525, one of the two main houses of the complex; moreover in the declaration linked to the institution of the 10th grand ducal, in 1534, Michelangelo denounced, among other things, “a house located in via Ghibellina, which is for my living”. From 1539the main building was no longer given in rent, indeed from the correspondence of the artist we note the interest in a better accommodation of his relatives, in particular of his nephew Leonardo, son of his younger brother Buonarroto, towards whom the artist fed all hopes of continuing the lineage. Interested in his marriage to a woman of the patrician city, Michelangelo suggested before finding a more “honorable” residence, then agreed to use the money that he made available to his nephew to renovate the houses already in possession.
Only in 1553 did Leonardo find Cassandra di Donato Ridolfi as his wife, who a year later became pregnant, to the great joy of the artist, now elderly and resident for some time in Rome. Again a son was born in 1554, but a third son, or the character who would renew the family luster, would have been born only four years after the artist’s death in 1568, being significantly called Michelangelo “the Younger”.
The era of Michelangelo the Younger
Upon Leonardo’s death in 1599, the properties on that stretch of via Ghibellina (also called “via Santa Maria”) had been further increased and the transformation of the buildings into a single building had to be started: the artist’s death had in fact brought a very conspicuous legacy to the family. Leonardo’s sons, Buonarroto, the eldest, and Michelangelo, the minor, therefore shared the possessions: the first was the “new” construction, the other the old family home that had not been affected by the recent renovation, and which was soon enlarged with the purchase of an additional adjacent fund. From 1612 Michelangelo the younger began the construction of the palace as seen today, of which a rare remains,.
The young man used a project that included two drawings by Michelangelo himself and in the interior decoration he celebrated the famous great-uncle widely with a precise decorative program.
Matters pertaining to subsequent
Michelangelo the Younger died childless in 1647, and all the family inheritance passed to the younger of his nephews Leonardo, son of Buonarroto, and surviving his older brother Sigismondo. Leonardo, who had an absolute veneration both for the “old” Michelangelo, and for the work of his “young” uncle, at his death in 1684 had drawn up a particularly explicit testament (1678) regarding the maintenance of the gallery, the monumental rooms and of the artistic and book collections of the family, establishing particularly coercive clauses, which concerned the loss of birthright rights and other family income in the event of change of use of the rooms, alienation, dispersion,.
His son Michelangelo, author of a precious description-inventory of all family goods, died childless in 1697. The three surviving brothers decided to assign only the care of the palace to Filippo: senator, auditor, academician from Crusca, president of the Etruscan Academy of Cortona in perpetuity, made the family home a renowned center of city culture, enriched by its large archaeological collections. With the death of his brothers, without descendants, he recomposed all the adjacent properties into a single complex, which he passed on to his only son Leonardo, who in turn had four children, including the well-known Filippo, which took part in the events of the French Revolution. After Leonardo’s death in 1799, none of his children were in town to take care of the inheritance, and during the delicate period of the French occupation, the house was temporarily entrusted to the hospital officers of Santa Maria Nuova, who drew up a precious inventory.
In 1801 the Buonarroti returned to the palace, in particular to the Filippo branch and then to his son Cosimo, who carried out a restoration between 1820 and 1823, where the staircase and the loggia on the first floor on the courtyard were unfortunately lost. From the reports of the time it is known that the twenty years of expropriation and abandonment of the house had been disastrous: with the exception of the Gallery and the monumental rooms, the other rooms were in severe degradation, and that only with the restorations was a dignity restored to the house, which returned to being inhabited by Cosimo and his wife, Rosina Vendramin.
It was Cosimo himself, probably also fulfilling the will of his wife who passed away in 1856, who in 1858 established the building and the art collections contained in it in the Moral Body (in fact documents a memory already placed on the front of the building and today interior), laying the foundations of that active Museum of Casa Buonarroti which still today manages the property as a Foundation.
The arbitration of Grand Duke Leopold II had silenced the claims of the children of the sisters of Cosimo, who had initially claimed parts of the family inheritance in the building in via Ghibellina, later renouncing it.
In 1950 the building underwent a partial and in any case important restoration promoted by Giovanni Poggi and a city committee, with the exception of the second floor, which had already housed the Florentine Topographical Historical Museum and which was later used as apartments for housing private. The house was reopened to the public on May 26, 1951, and it had to wait until 1964, to coincide with the fourth centenary of the artist’s death, to see the building affected by a more radical intervention promoted by the Ministries of Education and Public Works and directed by the architect Guido Morozzi, with internal adaptation works for the museum and for the foundation that led (despite the projects developed in previous decades to enrich the front deemed too simple in relation to the richness of the interior) to enhance the essentiality of the prospect. In the interior, now completely freed from tenants, on this occasion, on this occasion, the sixteenth-century entrance hall (until then divided by partitions and corridors) and, on the top floor, a beautiful loggia already buffered.
During the flood of 4 November 1966, the structure unfortunately suffered extensive damage, making further interventions promptly carried out by October of the following year to affect both the external elevations and the internal land spaces.
The building, organized on three floors for an extension of eight axes, was born from a series of unions, which reached their present form starting from 1612. The prospect shows the windows framed by stone models, resting on equally appealing Stone. On the door of via Ghibellina is a bust depicting Michelangelo, by Clemente Papi and Lodovico Caselli, from 1875, modeled on a famous portrait of Daniele da Volterra now at the Bargello. On the corner is a shield with the Buonarroti coat of arms (blue, the twin in a gold band; with the stitched head of Anjou, lowered under the head of Leo X).
Around 1612, an important building site opened in the interior aimed at defining a cycle of celebratory frescoes, which ended twenty-five years later (1637), in particular involving the Gallery and the three subsequent rooms, with the involvement of the major artists then active in Florence., including Empoli, Giovanni Bilivert, Cristofano Allori, Domenico Passignano, Artemisia Gentileschi, Pietro da Cortona, Giovanni da San Giovanni, Francesco Furini and Jacopo Vignali. The cycle exalts Michelangelo through the most significant episodes of his life (Gallery), then goes on to celebrate other characters of the family (room of the Night and the Day), and to glorify the city of Florence through the representation of his saints (camera degli Angioli) and his illustrious men (library).
Among the collections of Casa Buonarroti there is one of great value, but which is still much less well-known than the others owing to its complex history: the archaeological collection. It is made up of around a hundred and fifty pieces, of very different origins, ages, types, techniques and dimensions.
The credit for having assembled such a varied and important collection must go chiefly to two members of the Buonarroti family who used to live in the house, Michelangelo the Younger and Filippo. The latter was responsible for the most conspicuous enlargement of the collection, especially where the Etruscan section is concerned. After being housed in the rooms of Casa Buonarroti for a long time, it was transferred on deposit to the newly-formed Museo Archeologico of Florence in 1882. In 1965, at the behest of the director of Casa Buonarroti Charles de Tolnay, a few of the more precious pieces were returned to the museum on Via Ghibellina. But the many often rare and beautiful pieces that remained on deposit at the Museo Archeologico were not brought back to Casa Buonarroti until 1996. The exhibition and related catalogue are due to Stefano Corsi (1964- 2007). This room is dedicated to his memory.
Derivations from Michelangelo
The contents of this hall testify to the popularity of Michelangelo‘s graph- ic, pictorial and sculptural ideas over the course of the sixteenth century.
Almost all the works on show here come from the Florentine state collections and entered Michelangelo at different times, largely through the efforts of Giovanni Poggi (1880-1961), an expert on Michelangelo and for many years the Superintendent of the Florentine Galleries.
Buonarroti family Collections
The direct descendants of Michelangelo, who lived in the building for centuries, collected works of art of different genres and from differ- ent periods. The main additions to the collections can be ascribed to Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger (1568-1647). This room houses those pieces that cannot be moved for reasons of conservation (the fine collection of della Robbias) and the ones whose exact location in the seventeenth century is not known (paintings and china).
Titian‘s painting is an important acquisition dating back to Rosina Vendramin (1814–1856), the wife of Cosimo Buonarroti (1790–1858), the family‘s last direct descendant. The sculpture by Emilio Zocchi (1835–1913), on loan from the Monte dei Paschi di Siena bank, is the best-known portrayal of the subject of the young Michelangelo sculpting a faun‘s head, which the author repeated several times.
For static reasons, due to the weight of the work, it was necessarily exhibited on the ground floor rather than in the first-floor room devoted to Michelangelo in the 1800s.
The sequence of rooms on the left of the atrium of the Casa Buonarroti is used, since 1984, for temporary exhibitions. Until 1990, the exhibition space consisted of three rooms, to which was added in that year a fourth room, recovered by restoring part of the most ancient area of the House, escaped any previous restoration and dating back to the times of Michelangelo. The first three rooms were certainly interested in the interventions to which, in the first half of the seventeenth century, submitted the Palazzo Michelangelo the Younger: it remains a testimony in the nobility of the spaces and especially in the beautiful fresco by Jacopo Vignali – on the ceiling of the first room – depicting Jacob‘s dream.
The exhibitions are held annually, on topics related to Michelangelo and the cultural, artistic and memorial heritage of the Casa Buonarroti. The theme is closely related to the institutional aims and the scientific research programs of the House, and it is very vast. In fact, he allowed him to tackle, among other things, some directly Michelangelesque problems (the artist‘s youth in the garden of San Marco, or his architectural commitment to San Lorenzo and San Pietro); the myth of Michelangelo in the nineteenth century (from the centenary of 1875 to the evocative comparison with the art of Auguste Rodin); family collecting, through exhibitions that start from the most prestigious pieces of the House (the discovery of the “light painting” deriving from the predella by Giovanni di Francesco; the human and artistic drama of Artemisia Gentileschi, starting from her canvas in “Gallery”).
The complex decorative program of this and the following three rooms (Camera della notte e del dì, Camera degli Angioli, Studio) was drawn up by Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger. The theme of this first room, decorated between 1613 and 1635, is a eulogy of Michelangelo, in the form of a singular pictorial biography realized by the most important artists then at work in Florence, including Empoli, Passignano, Artemisia Gentileschi, Giovanni da San Giovanni, Matteo Rosselli and Francesco Furini.
Most of the ten canvases on the wall represent meetings between Michelangelo and popes and sovereigns. The canvases on the ceiling depict scenes of the death and apotheosis of the artist, surrounded by allegories of his qualities. The monochromes refer to episodes from his life that are taken as examples of his virtues. The decoration is completed by three sculptures: an effigy of Michelangelo by Antonio Novelli (1600-1662) and personifications of the active and contemplative life by Domenico Pieratti (who died in 1656).
The numerous Latin inscriptions were supplied by the scholar Jacopo Soldani (1579-1651). The floor, made of glazed polychrome tiles from Montelupo, was laid in 1616 and it is the only floor of the period in the Casa. The inlaid decorations of the wooden doors were made by Benedetto Calenzuoli to designs by Pietro da Cortona (1596-1669), who was Michelangelo the Younger‘s guest in 1637 and in 1641-1642.
Up until 1875 the Battle of the Centaurs was exhibited in the Galleria, beneath the large picture by Ascanio Condivi (1515-1574) based on a cartoon by Michelangelo that Michelangelo the Younger had bought as his great ancestor‘s own work.
Room of night and day
The decoration of this room, which dragged out for years, was commenced in 1624. The following year Jacopo Vignali frescoed the ceiling with the Eternal Father separating Light from Darkness and personifications of Night and Day, which give the “chamber” its name, and the upper part of the walls with a frieze in which pairs of putti hold coats of arms of families related to that of the Buonarroti.
Work resumed several years later with the construction of the “Scrittoio”, where Michelangelo the Younger used to retire to study. The wooden section of this small room was executed in 1629 by Francesco da Sant‘Andrea a Rovezzano and the paintings by Baccio del Bianco, who at the same time paint- ed the graceful mock doors on the walls in oil. The decoration of the room was completed in 1637-1638, with the depiction of members of the Buonarroti family and events connected with them by various artists, including Pietro da Cortona, who portrayed Buonarroto being made a count palatine by Pope Leo X.
On the walls are:
set Giovanni di Francesco‘s masterpiece
the Scenes from the Life of Saint Nicholas of Bari, a marble Cupid, begun by Valerio Cioli (1529-1599) and finished by Andrea di Michelangelo Ferrucci (died in 1626);
the portrait of Michelangelo painted by Giuliano Bugiardini (1475-1555);
the portrait of Michelangelo the Younger by Cristofano Allori (1577-1621).
The bronze head of Michelangelo is the work of Daniele da Volterra.
Room of the angels
This room was used as a chapel from 1677 onward. The frescoes on the walls, painted by Jacopo Vignali between 1622 and 1623, represent the saints and the blessed of the city and territory of Florence advancing in procession, with John the Baptist at their head, from the church militant to the church triumphant.
The inside of the cupola and the ceiling are decorated with frescoes by Michelangelo Cinganelli (circa 1558-1635) depicting St. Michael Archangel with angels playing music and singing hosannas, from, which the room takes its name (“Chamber of the Angels”). Above the altar table, made by Francesco and Tommaso da Sant‘Andrea in Rovezzano in 1627, is set an intarsia by Benedetto Calenzuoli based on a cartoon by Pietro da Cortona and representing the Madonna and Child.
Beneath the altar, the reliquary of St. Agatha, donated to Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger by Sister Innocenza Barberini on March 1, 1638. In the niches, on large seventeenth-century consoles, stand a bust of Michelangelo the Younqer, the masterpiece of Giuliano Finelli, and portraits of Cosimo Buonarroti and his wife Rosina Vendramin, painted by Aristodemo Costoli between 1850 and 1857. The other niches house a relief of Saint Jerome by Luca della Robbia the Younger, a sixteenth-century bronze copy of Michelangelo‘s Madonna della scala (for centuries the marble relief was on show in this room), and a Head of an Old Man, thought at the end of the seventeenth century to be a “very fine work by Guido Reni.”
The decoration of this room, also conceived by Michelangelo the Younger, dates from the years 1633-1637. On the ceiling, Cecco Bravo painted the personification of Fame.
On the walls, Cecco Bravo again, Matteo Rosselli and Domenico Pugliani painted effigies of illustrious Tuscans, grouped into different categories:
opposite the entrance, poets and writers;
on the left, astronomers, mathematicians, seafarers, physicists, physicians and herbalists;
on the right, orators, jurists, historians and humanists;
above the entrance, philosophers and theologians.
Beneath the frescoes runs a row of cabinets, inlaid with festoons of fruit, flowers and leaves in ivory and mother of pearl. The cabinets alternate with two benches and six showcases, which display some records of the family collections. Especially interesting is the showcase displaying the thirty-five medals against poisons made by Francesco Buonarroti, Knight of Malta, as a gift for his brother Michelangelo the Younger. The material used for these medals is a stone from St Paul‘s Grotto, which owes its name to the legend according to which St Paul was bitten by a viper upon landing in Malta within this very cave – yet emerged, miraculously, unscathed.
In this small room Michelangelo the Younger had assembled a substantial group of works with classical subjects, though not always of ancient origin. The pieces now on show formed part of the original furnishings: a fine wooden frieze from the beginning of the sixteenth century, recently attributed to Baccio d‘Agnolo; an arm carved from marble, probably from a Roman copy of Myron‘s Discobolus; an oval of black marble with two heads, given to Michelangelo the Younger by Costanza Barberini and a “small Apollo” in marble.
On the back wall we can discern a much-detoriorated mural painting that simulates a terrace. Presumably, a space to be used as a boudoir – hidden by a specially-made door that still exists today – had been carved out by the window.
Madonna of the Stairs and Battle of the Centaurs
This room houses the two reliefs carved by Michelangelo in his early youth, which are the true and most widely-recognized emblem of the Casa Buonarroti. Michelangelo the Younger had put them on display in the seventeenth-century rooms of the piano nobile: the Battle in the Galleria, under the large picture of the Epiphany by Ascanio Condivi, attributed at the time to Michelangelo; the Madonna in the Camera degli Angioli, which also contained, and still contains, a bronze replica of the relief. In 1875, Casa Buonarroti was one of the principal symbols of the celebrations for the fourth centenary of the birth of Michelangelo that were staged in Florence. One byproduct of the event was the moving of the Battle to the room, in which it can still be seen today, while a memorial tablet was installed underneath the Epiphany.
The Madonna, on the other hand, remained for a long time in the Camera degli Angioli, where its presence was still recorded in 1896. Yet photographs taken at the beginning of the twentieth century show Michelangelo‘s two reliefs in the same room, where they were displayed for several decades alongside pieces from the family collections and nineteenth-century curios. In the early 1950s, with the rooms filled with what was often a motley selection of objects, or one laid out with any regard to without quality or content, the need for new solutions started to become apparent. The efforts were focused on just this room. A study of the various attempts that have been made to give the correct prominence to the two reliefs, from the fifties down to the present day, is of great interest, in part because it allows us to grasp the uncertainties and difficulties that postwar culture continued to encounter in its efforts to come to grips with the art of Michelangelo.
Michelangelo and the San Lorenzo factory
For many years, this room housed two majestic Michelangelesque projects for works intended for the Fabbrica di San Lorenzo in Florence, neither of which were ever realised. The great wooden model for the facade of the church of San Lorenzo stood for a long time in the vestibule of the Biblioteca Laurenziana: it probably came from Michelangelo‘s house in Rome, as we infer from a letter written by the artist to his nephew Leonardo in 1555, stating that it would be sent to Duke Cosimo I in Florence. The work was moved to Casa Buonarroti in the late 1800s. The townhouse on via Ghibellina had the privilege of housing and exhibiting the River God – Michelangelo‘s enthralling preparatory “model” for sculptures to be placed as further adornment of the ducal tombs in the New Sacristy – for over fifty years. Once the property of Ammannati, to whom it had been given by Cosimo I, the large-scale model was donated to the Accademia delle arti del disegno in April of the year 1583 and remained unacknowledged for so long that its attribution to Michelangelo wouldn‘t become a subject for debate until the early 1900s.
After being appointed director of Casa Buonarroti, Charles de Tolnay managed to obtain the loan of the work from the proper office in December of the year 1965 and displayed it in the museum, thus finally underscoring its considerable value after years of oblivion. Recalled by the Restoration Office of the Superintendence for the Historical and Artistic Heritage of Florence in December of the year 1986 for preservation work, it subsequently returned to Casa Buonarroti with the warning that such a fragile sculpture should not be moved or handled in any way. The same preservation problems required major restoration work to be carried out by the Florentine Opificio delle Pietre Dure and performed in loco; this work was completed in the spring of 2017. Following its display during an important temporary exhibition in Florence, the sculpture was never returned to Casa Buonarroti, where only a panel is left to commemorate it.
An inventory taken in 1799 mentions the “second painted drawing room, adjoining the Chamber with fireplace”: the reference was to this room and the eighteenth-century landscapes that adorn three of its walls. Covered with whitewash in the nineteenth century, the frescoes were brought back to light during the restoration work carried out in Casa Buonarroti in 1964. At present this pleasant room is used to screen the video La Casa Buonarroti a Firenze, made by Claudio Pizzorusso in 1994. The video is the first in the series on the “Museums of Tuscany” produced by the Università per Stranieri, in Siena.
Michelangelo in the Nineteenth Century
The Casa Buonarroti houses a vast range of documentation on Michelangelo and the nineteenth century, made up of significant testimonies and works of artistic value, some of which are assembled in this room, relating both to the myth that grew up around the artist in that century and to the celebrations staged in Florence in September 1875 to mark the fourth centenary of his birth. The plaster busts were brought to the house for that occasion, with the declared intent of embellishing its entrance hall. The Casa Buonarroti, which had been made a body corporate in April 1859, played an enthusiastic part in the celebrations: the bronze bust of Michelangelo made by Clemente Papi was installed over the entrance, the family‘s coat of arms set on the corner of the building and all the drawings by Michelangelo in the collection of the Casa Buonarroti put on show. Finally a great stone eagle, believed at the time to date from, the Roman era, which now stands in the middle of the adjoining small room, was set up in the courtyard. But the most ambitious project, the graffito decoration of the facade, proved impossible to carry out. Here we can see its detailed preparatory drawing, donated to the Casa by its authors.
The external aspect of the building is quite simple, only the portal stands out, surmounted by a bronze bust, a copy of the portrait of Michelangelo made by Daniele da Volterra and preserved in the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence.
The main reason for interest is the beautiful collection of works by the illustrious sculptor collected over the centuries by his descendants, starting from his brother’s children (Michelangelo never had children). In addition to a little-known archaeological collection with various materials, a bust of Michelangelo by the friend Daniele da Volterra is on display on the first floor; in addition there are the two busts of Cosimo Buonarroti and Rosina Vendramin, of Aristodemo Costoli.
In the following rooms on the first floor, one is dedicated to the wax and bronze models used by the artist (including that of the abandoned project of the Hercules in Piazza della Signoria, later created by Baccio Bandinelli), while in another they are exhibited the drawings of the museum’s vast collection rotate. In the noble rooms, frescoes were executed in the seventeenth century that enhance the life and works of Michelangelo (particularly striking is the Gallery or the study of Michelangelo the Younger), or there are works that document the influence of Michelangelo’s style on subsequent artists. Also on display is a model of the harness which served to move the David from Piazza della Signoriaat the Accademia Museum in 1872.
The Michelangelo works certainly stand out, in particular two interesting youth works to understand the stylistic evolution of the master: the refined bas-relief of the Madonna della Scala, the first documented work, from 1490 – 92, inspired by Donatello, and above all the Centauromachy or Battle of the centaurs, carved at just 16 years old.
The inspiration for this work is given by the bas-reliefs of the Roman sarcophagi, but the very strong dynamism is a typical novelty of Michelangelo. Already in this early work the knowledge of anatomy is remarkable and the preference for moving figures stands out, which give off a great expressive force.
Also on display is the torso of a river divinity (metal casting) and a wooden model of Michelangelo’s project for the facade of the basilica of San Lorenzo, a project never made.
On display in this room are several portraits, on loan from the Florentine Galleries, which, though executed in different periods, ranging from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, all derive from the prototype of the famous portrait painted in Rome around 1535 by the Florentine Jacopino del Conte (1510-98). The finest example is the panel located above the showcase. This painting was donated to the Uffizi by the Strozzi family in 1771, when it was considered a self-portrait by Michelangelo. Immediately afterward, however, the authorship of Michelangelo was rejected. Nowadays historians ascribe it directly to the workshop of Jacopino del Conte.
In the words of Giorgio Vasari: “Di Michelagnolo non ci è altri ritratti che duoi di pittura, uno di mano del Bugiardino e l‘altro di Iacopo del Conte, et uno di bronzo tutto rilievo fatto da Daniello Ricciarelli” (‘Of Michelagnolo there exist but two painted portraits, one by the hand of “il Bugiardino” and the other by Iacopo del Conte, and one in bronze relief made by Daniello Ricciarelli‘). All three of these portraits are on display in the Casa Buonarroti Museum: the portrait by Jacopino del Conte in this room, while the Camera della Notte e del Dì hosts the painting by Giuliano Bugiardini – dating back, according to recent studies, to 1522, it places Michelangelo at 47 years old – and Daniele da Volterra‘s renowned bronze bust.
The museum preserves the richest collection in the world of sketches by Michelangelo and his school. The most important piece is the River Torso, life-size and intended to serve as a model for a statue never made for the New Sacristy, but the two wrestlers or the female nude are also suggestive.
Vasari tells us that, prior to his death at Rome in 1564 Michelangelo had burned “a large number of his own drawings, sketches and cartoons so that no one should see the labors he endured and the ways he tested his genius, and lest he should appear less than perfect.” It is partly because of the artist‘s desire for perfection that his graphic work is so rare and valuable: even Leonardo, his nephew and heir, was obliged to pay a high price for a group of his drawings that came onto the Roman market after Michelangelo‘s death. These were probably the ones that Leonardo would donate to Cosimo I dei Medici around 1566, together with the Madonna della scala. When, in the second decade of the seventeenth century, Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger decided to devote a series of rooms in the family house on Via Ghibellina to the memory of his great ancestor, the Madonna della scala and part of the drawings given to the Medici were returned by Cosimo II.
Many of the drawings were collected in volumes at the time, but the ones that were considered most beautiful were framed and hung on the walls of the new rooms: for example, Cleopatra in the Scrittoio, one of the designs for the facade of San Lorenzo in the Camera della Notte e del Dì and the small cartoon for a Madonna and Child in the Camera degli Angioli. The collection of Michelangelo‘s drawings owned by the Buonarroti family was the largest in the world at the time, and it remains so today, with its over two hundred sheets, in spite of the serious inroads that have been made into it. In fact, the first loss came at the end of the eighteenth century, when the revolutionary Filippo Buonarroti sold some drawings to the painter and collector Jean-Baptiste Wicar; and the second in 1859, when Cavalier Michelangelo Buonarroti sold more of them to the British Museum.
Cosimo Buonarroti the last direct heir of the family, died in 1858. He had been the owner of the greater part of Michelangelo‘s papers and he left them, to the public in his will, along with the house on Via Ghibellina and the objects contained in it. From that time on, the collection of drawings remained on display in frames and showcases, and it was not until 1960 that they were rescued from this predicament, which had resulted in considerable damage to the sheets. Taken to the Gabinetto dei Disegni e delle Stampe of the Uffizi, they were restored and brought back to Casa Buonarroti in 1975.
As the demands of conservation make it impossible to place the graphic works permanently on show, only small samples of the collection are displayed in rotation in this room.
Among the various art collections that make up the holdings of the Casa Buonarroti, the group of michelangelesque models is not only extremely precious, but also difficult to be explored: we do not even know the primary provenance of these works. The earliest records only date from 1664, when Filippo Baldinucci gave Leonardo Buonarroti a “model” which he believed to be by the hand of Michelangelo himself. Twenty years later, an inventory of the goods in the Casa Buonarroti recorded that a few models were kept in the “Scrittoio”, a small study off the Room of Night and Day. All memory of these models was probably lost with death of a later Leonardo Buonarroti, the owner of the Casa from 1733 to 1799; an inventory from the end of the 1700s does not even mention the “Scrittoio”, which was then thought to be a closet. We can thank Rosina Vendramin, the wife of the last member of the Buonarroti family, Cosimo, for the rediscovery of the models, which took place in about the mid-1800s.
Today, the ten work constitute the largest group in the world, of small sculptures attributed to Michelangelo and his circle. Carried out in various techniques and materials (wax, terracotta, wood, gesso) these models follow the career of the artist from his youth until his old age, with both original works and derivations. Within this group there are also authentic masterpieces, highly appreciated by scholars, like the Two Wrestlers or the small wooden Crucifix, intense work of the old age of the Maestro.