When Michelangelo left Florence for Rome in 1534, the Medici tombs were unfinished, but there was never any question of another sculptor being brought in to finish them. They were already icons of artistic perfection, which it would be sacrilege for anyone else to touch. That eminence they retain to this day. The two seated Medici dukes and the reclining figures of Night, Day, Dawn, and Dusk are among the most famous sculptures in the world, endlessly copied and universally recognizable.Yet however familiar these images are, this superb collection -- 160 pages of exquisitely printed photographs by a master photographer -- makes it a revelation to see the originals. We are able to appreciate their forms and dwell on their details in an unprecedented way. Particularly now, since the tombs have been cleaned and restored, it is possible to imagine Michelangelo's chisel at work, and to marvel afresh at the sheer physical power that for his contemporaries made him almost superhuman.
Accompanying essays by Bruno Santi, Director of the Medici Chapel from 1982 to 1992, and by the art historians Antonio Paolucci and James Beck, provide the historical background to the Chapel, essentially the Medici family's mausoleum, and explain how the concept changed over the fifteen years when Michelangelo was working on it. Originally envisaged as commemorating four members of the family, including Lorenzo the Magnificent, with a huge freestanding tomb, it was eventually confined to only two -- who might now be totally forgotten but for their monuments. The little building that contains them is as important in the history of Mannerist architecture as the figures are in that of sculpture: indeed, noother location, not even the Sistine Chapel, captures the essence of Michelangelo's genius so intensely
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