Review: Michelangelo and Sebastiano Exhibition

What’s more interesting than the works of two incredible Renaissance artists? A peek into the culture of High Renaissance rivalry. 

Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564), known for his paintings in the Sistine chapel, met Sebastiano del Piombo(1485-1547) in Rome, 1511. They became close friends, lasting 25 years, until they basically turned into an old couple and Michelangelo disowned Sebastiano. The brainchild(ren) of the two artists during their glory years, however, was just short of divine.

Don’t let the paintings fool you: the Renaissance was as competitive as the high school in Mean Girls. And Regina George? The one and only Raphael. While Michelangelo was well respected, critics seem to have preferred Raphael’s style more, and part of the reason why Michelangelo approached Sebastiano seems to have come from a place of calculated alliance.

Artistically, the path of how the two artists developed their style and contributed to each other’s growth is an interesting narrative set up by the exhibition’s curator, Matthias Wivel. We see the drawings that came to be the paintings, from the angle of the arms to the shadows on their bodies, and the compromises made between two creative minds.

The Pieta and The Raising of Lazarus, two key works in the exhibition that showcase their collaboration, accompanied by letters of correspondence paint a vivid image of the career of the Renaissance artist and the considerations that went into creating these masterpieces.

The exhibition is only one narrative of their story.  While it has been criticized for diminishing the individuality of Sebastiano and it’s selection of artworks, for an exhibition of this size it accomplishes what it sets out to do — the rest is up to interpretation.

For amateur art historians this is a great entrance into the Renaissance, and for the experts, it’s a chance to see some drawings from the Queen’s Royal Collection. Michelangelo and Sebastiano isn’t just about the art. It’s about the climate of Renaissance politics and culture, and an opportunity to learn about the actual lives of the artists.

The exhibition runs until 25 June, £16 for adults and £8 for students. Book online here.

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