fin de siecle art

Michelangelo and Mucha?

Michelangelo was without a doubt one of the most influential artists in the history of Western Art. His paintings and sculpture had a pronounced impact upon the work of his peers and successors for several generations. This can be clearly seen in the work of Raphael…

Sebastino del Piombo…

Daniele da Volterra…

Giulio Clovio…

Pellegrino Tebaldi…

Vincenzo Danti…

Francesco Salviati…

Rosso Fiorentino…

Bronzino…

Allesandro Allori…

Tiziano Vecellio (Titian)…

Tintoretto…

Juan Fernández Navarrete…

Frans Floris…

Hendrick Goltzius…

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio…

Domenico Zampieri…

Sir Peter Paul Rubens…

The Rococo and Neo-Classicism witnessed a decline in interest in Michelangelo’s work which would have been seen as too dramatic… even “vulgar” for the tastes of the time. With the onset of Romanticism, there was a “Ri-conoscere”… a rediscovery and acknowledgement of Michelangelo’s genius. We clearly see the Italian Renaissance master’s influence in the works of Delacroix…

Théodore Géricault…

Henri Fuseli…

William Blake…

Jean–Baptiste Carpeaux…

Auguste Rodin…

Michelangelo’s influence continued well into the 20th century. The grandiose superhuman forms… and the explosive movement or dynamism of Michelangelo’s figures can be seen echoed in the work of many Modernist artists… including Aristide Maillol…

Henri Matisse…

Diego Rivera…

Fernand Henri Léger…

Max Beckmann…

… and on through Lucian Freud…

… and contemporaries such as Daniel Ludwig:

I never thought in the least, however, of Alphonse Mucha as one of those artists that was influenced by Michelangelo… in any shape or form. That was until today. In my own paintings I am currently making extensive use of pattern and decoration. Gustav Klimt and Alphonse Mucha… as well as Botticelli, this stunning painting by Robert Burns:

… Phoebe Traquair…

and other artists are among those I frequently look at. As I browsed through a book on Mucha today I was suddenly struck by these two paintings:

As I looked at these two paintings I was suddenly struck by how much they seem to echo Michelangelo’s Libyan Sibyl:

Mucha’s print, Topaz, from the series on Gemstones even seemed to pick up on Michelangelo’s use of color in the draperies. Reversed…

… the similarity seems even more obvious. 

Of course it could all just be coincidence… the parallels that I see could all but be in my mind’s eye. But then again… thinking on Michelangelo… I was struck by another manner in which his paintings share a resemblance to the graphics of Mucha. Both artists have little interest in placing the figure in a believable realistic space. Unlike Raphael, Titian, Leonardo, or most other painters of the late Renaissance, Michelangelo has little use for landscape or background. He remains a sculptor in the sense that the human form… its motion or gesture… is all. Where Rembrandt speaks through the face… and the suggestion of emotions comes through facial expression…

… Michelangelo speaks through the gestures of the human body… almost as if he were a choreographer and his super-human figures dancers:

Mucha shares this expression through the movement of the human body with his great Renaissance predecessor. I have long been struck by the manner in which Mucha’s works convey movement… almost the elegance of dance… albeit far more “feminine” than that of Michelangelo. Of course he employs far more decorative elements… patterns, flowers, draperies, and halos…

Certainly, I would not begin to suggest that Mucha is anywhere near the same level of artistic genius as Michelangelo. What I am suggesting is that I see a shared interest in expression through the movement of the human body first and foremost… something that I strive for in my own work as well.