The Ignudo as proto-capriccio


The range of interpretation accorded Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ignudi (figure 1) is disconcertingly comparable with that applied to Giorgione's La Tempesta, utterly contrasting though the imagery is in almost every respect. In both cases the artist's conception has sometimes been taken to be free of iconography and even of standard subject. Alternatively, various references have been proposed, sometimes to abstruse literary or theological texts. Fanciful or even (in the case of Michelangelo) unconscious self-portrayal has provided an alternative thread of interpretation. A key factor in both sets of interpretations is the valence of the nude — might these be cases in which the prominent inclusion of the nude does not straightforwardly connote the ideal? Might these nudes partake of qualities we could call realistic even while retaining some reference to an abstract or ideal realm? Giorgione's female nude has intermittently been seen, since its earliest mention by Marcantonio Michiel, as a gypsy (though idealizing references to the type of Charity have received much attention too); Michelangelo's ignudi in their seated yet contorted poses have been taken to signify lesser levels of spiritual existence (though, here too, more idealizing significations have also been proposed). Neither artist presents us with what Kenneth Clark would have dubbed a naked figure; yet in neither instance is anything approximating a heroic, self-consciously proud, or statuesque attitude taken.


Art and Art History

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Word and Image: A Journal of Verbal/Visual Enquiry


Taylor and Francis

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Copyright 1998 Taylor and Francis