If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content
Current time:0:00Total duration:6:38

Michelangelo, Medici Chapel (New Sacristy)

Video transcript

we're in the claustrophobic space of the Medici Chapel in Florence this is a funerary Chapel designed by Michelangelo now it's unfinished so we don't know entirely what his vision was for this space this is now known as the new sacristy and it was made as a pendant to what has become known as the old sacristy it was designed by Brunelleschi both of these sacra seas are places where priests would dress before saying the mass and so they're part of the Church of San Lorenzo near the altar San Lorenzo was the parish church of the Medici family and there are four Medici buried in this room although it's unfinished and although we don't understand Michelangelo's conception entirely he did at least from afar oversee the implementation of this room he was the sculptor and the architect and we think he intended also to be the painter although the frescoes were never initiated this is a major undertaking for a long period of Michelangelo's life first under Pope Leo the 10th Medici Pope Michelangelo was given responsibility for projects here at San Lorenzo including the Laurentian library and then after Leo the tenth died another Medici Pope Pope Clement the seventh continued Michelangelo's work here in San Lorenzo specifically with this funerary Chapel let's describe the space it is primarily a square it has a square apps where the altar is but the space is much taller than it is either wide or long and if we compare this to Brunelleschi's old sacristy it seems as though Michelangelo's add another layer of height but like other architecture here at San Lorenzo by Michelangelo there's a feeling of the strength and power of architectural forms that are normally decorative Michelangelo is using architecture almost as if it were sculpture it is expressive as opposed to functional there are so many blind windows it creates a real sense of confusion and ambiguity what leads out what doesn't and at least one art historian suggested the idea of purgatory a place where you maybe can get out but you're not sure there's a sense of entrapment we move from a feeling of an earthly realm which is ambiguous and dense through a level which is intermediary and then a top area which has circles and semicircles and begins to suggest through those kinds of perfect shapes the heavenly and that makes sense in a funerary Chapel which is about the possibility of salvation and the resurrection and in fact the subject of the fresco that was supposed to be here was the resurrection we have four allegorical figures night and day who framed the effigy of Giuliano de Medici and dawn and dusk who framed the effigy of Lorenzo de Medici let's take the figure of night this is a female figure who is twisted in an impossible way her back arm comes forward across her torso her forward arm moves back behind her this is a very elegant but almost unnatural position we think about Michelangelo we often think about the height of the Renaissance and perfect proportion of the human body and yet here we see a body that is elongated it's as if there are extra vertebrae and extra ribs in her torso the leg itself is impossibly elegant because then she's much more highly polished and finished than the figure next to her although it is important to remember that we don't really know how much Michelangelo intended to leave unfinished the male figure is day but he seems more to be receding than to be moving forward his head is hiding behind that massive shoulder now between them and above we have one of the deceased we have Giuliano to me one of the most beautiful figures in all of art history this is a period of Michelangelo's art where he's looking for ideal beauty and elegance and yet expressing that through these almost impossible positions of the body look at that neck it's so long and so graceful and like so many of Michelangelo's sculptures before this we have this sense of potential movement he's about to stand up the figure of de complements the figure of night her back arm comes forward his front arm moves backward his back leg comes forward and we similarly see opposition's in the figures of dawn and dusk on the wall with Lorenzo de Medici that idea of dawn and dusk at that moment of transition is a reminder that this entire room is about transition it's about matter and spirit changing and that's beautifully expressed by the figure of Lorenzo Michelangelo apparently took great pains to sculpt a figure whose face would remain in shadow and he seems very different than his Juliano on the opposite wall one of the ways that that opposition has been disgusting is that Lorenza represents the contemplative life versus juliana was a representation of the active life we think about the subject of this to the passage of time I even day dawn and dusk the days of our lives that lead toward our deaths as something that erodes life and yet those very figures also seem to be eroded there's a sense of their passivity their inactivity they seem very strong but unable to raise themselves unable to act even though they are the very forces that bring down Giuliano and Lorenzo we know that poetry was part of Michelangelo's working method and in fact his opponents directly associated with this chapel Michelangelo wrote day and night speak we with our swift course have brought the Duke Giuliano to death it is just that he the Duke takes revenge for this and the revenge is this that as we have killed him he has taken the light from us with his eyes closed has locked our shut which no longer shine on earth within what he have done with us while alive you