Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Fall 2015

Document Type

Thesis

Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors

Department

Art & Art History

First Advisor

Robert Nauman

Second Advisor

Kirk Ambrose

Third Advisor

Jason Potter

Abstract

Michelangelo Buonarroti is an immediately striking figure within history. His talent seemingly had no end, as he stretched from sculpture to architecture and everything in between. The works he created were beautiful and captivating, capturing the imagination of his contemporaries and modern viewers alike. However, the desire to simply label him as a genius is a gross underrepresentation of this human. Manifold influences contributed to his achievements, and he cannot be fully appreciated until these underlying influences are understood.

This thesis began in response to a question that arose the first time I viewed the Laurentian Library. I noticed the repetition of circles throughout all three rooms and in the plans for the never-built rare book room. Upon inquiring into the symbolism of these circles, I found a gap in the scholarship. Michelangelo was undoubtedly an incredibly intentional man, and something as innocent and as simple as a circle reflects complexities and unspoken desires. Upon a deeper investigation, it became clear that the circles were indicative of a much deeper symbolic meaning within the Library, which required a trifold approach to parsing it: Michelangelo’s classical education, his Catholic piety, and his personal humanity.

A man of conflicted loyalties, Michelangelo connected strongly to the incompatible forces of the city of Florence, the Medici, Catholicism, and his Neoplatonic education. The Library, as a secular building, affords a rare view into that internal struggle. The three rooms of the Library each represent a facet of both a Dantean philosophy of hell, purgatory, and paradise, as well as the Neoplatonic trifold progression of the human soul. This philosophical convergence in the Library exhibits Michelangelo’s covert beliefs of both the power of hell, and its permeability.

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