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Lorenzo the Magnificent's Garden

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In 1489 Michelangelo, not even 15 years old, started the school called Garden of Lorenzo the Magnificent and Pierfrancesco de' Medici, located in the Medici palace in front of the Monastery of San Marco. It was not really a School or Academy in the literal sense of the word, but a place that kept a rich collection of sculptures, drawings, books and antique objects, gathered by Lorenzo and before him, by Cosimo and Piero de' Medici.

Here, young artists learned the skills of the daily life, copying old models and working under the guidance of the old sculptor Bertoldo di Giovanni.

By living in this environment, Michelangelo had the chance to meet important figures of the literary and humanistic scene of those times:  Pico della Mirandola, the poet Angelo Poliziano, the philosopher Marsilio Ficino and Cristoforo Landino (Dante's annotator), all of them united by the love for Plato and Platonists and by the praise of the old as model of perfection. Inside this group of intellectuals that gravitated round the Magnificent, the Neo-Platonist philosophy was developed, which declared the supremacy of the spirit over matter, glorified the speculative life and taught faith in the beauty of the visible universe.

This doctrine became a fundamental piece of Michelangelo's artistic and poetic culture, even so that the scholar Erwin Panofsky said that "Michelangelo could define himself as the only genuine Platonist among all the artists that the Neo-Platonism influenced".

In the School of San Marco, the artist had the opportunity to copy statues, the heads and the old marbles displayed in the Garden as well as assimilate the fundamental lessons of the classic style and proportions. He became very skilful in counterfeiting models, going along with his master in a sort of "forger's game". This nonchalant speculation had however some famous "victims": in 1496, Cardinal Raffaele Riario called the twenty-one-years-old Michelangelo to Rome because he had bought a Cupid as antique, but had eventually found out that it was a work by the young artist. Riario wasn't naive, he was a great benefactor, an enthusiast of antiques who used to display his collection of antique pieces in the monumental Palazzo della Cancelleria (Palace of the Chancellery), built on the plan of Baccio Pontelli from 1488, definitely using classic lines. But for Michelangelo, the antique was never only a repertoire to imitate, but a world where he could get inspiration in an absolute personal way, an ideal source from where he could develop his ideas and imagination. During this period he carried out his earlier works as the Madonna of the Steps from 1490 to 1492 and the Battle of the Centaurs from around 1492.
Lorenzo the Magnificent died in 1492 and so Michelangelo left the Medici Gardens.

A. Cocchi.

Trad. A. Sturmer



Tags:Michelangelo, garden, training, Renaissance, Alessandra Cocchi, A. Sturmer, .


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Andrea del Verrocchio. Bust of Lorenzo dei Medici. 1480. Polychrome terracotta. Washington National Gallery.


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