Long before Cole Porter wrote his brilliant and witty tune, another (earlier) artistic genius explored the themes of “Night and Day.” Michelangelo Buonarroti—premier Florentine Renaissance giant—sculpted a pair of imposing marble nudes which he draped upon the tomb of Giuliano de’ Medici (Duke of Nemours) in the Basilica di San Lorenzo in Florence. Created between 1520 and 1534, Giuliano’s tomb resides within the Medici Chapel, also called the “New Sacristy.” Some consider this work the highlight of Michelangelo’s prowess (I still vote for “David”). Though not quite complete, it is one of the rare Michelangelo projects that approached completion.
“Night”—portrayed in the form of an ample female nude—was carved between 1526 and 1531. It is the most completed of Michelangelo’s sculptures in the Medici Chapel. Snuggled within the spaces around the woman’s form are several symbols relating to the night: on her diadem one can find a crescent moon; an owl perches under her knee; a grotesque mask at her wrist symbolizes dreams; and a basket of poppy pods under her left foot symbolizes the narcotic, sleep-inducing properties of the flower’s opioids. And, despite the fact that the artist used a male model to pose for his figure, many a Florentine man fell in love with the figure—and many a lovesick poem was penned to sing her praises.
“Night,” as seen in the photo above, is one half of a pair of bookends made by Armor Bronze in the 1920’s. The bronze cladding is patinated and gold-painted to create just a suggestion of Michelangelo’s grandeur. Please click upon the photo to learn more about them.
Tomorrow comes the “Day.”
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