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216 × 138 mm
264 pages
70 illustrations, 55 in colour
15 May 2017
Renaissance Lives

Michelangelo and the Viewer in His Time Bernadine Barnes

Today Michelangelo’s painting and sculpture is seen most often in museums, while his archi­tectural designs have been left incomplete or modified by others so that some are barely recognizable. But his art was made to be viewed in churches, homes and political settings, by people who brought their own needs and expectations to his work. Paintings and sculptures were rarely seen in isolation; instead they were seen as part of rituals and ceremonies. Viewers of Michelangelo’s time would experience the work under specific lighting conditions and from particular positions. They would move through spaces and past sculpture, and they might make comparisons to other objects nearby.

In this engaging book, Bernadine Barnes brings together new research to show how Michelangelo’s art was seen in its own time. The original setting is reconstructed for works that have been moved, modified or left incomplete. Michelangelo’s consideration of his audience changed throughout his career: sometimes he produced work for conventional religious settings, and at other times he was given unprecedented freedom by open-minded patrons. This book brings the viewer back into the development of Michelangelo’s work, and gives emphasis to the differences between viewers in specific settings.

Michelangelo lived in a time when the development of prints and published art criticism changed the nature of the viewing public in ways that foreshadow our own media culture. This book encourages today’s viewers to take a fresh look at Michelangelo’s work.

‘[Barnes's] lively and clear prose is certainly appropriate for non-specialists; however, Barnes’s emphasis on Michelangelo’s process of thematization offers even to specialists a provocative model for reconsidering the artist’s corpus . . . In the course of examining the many ways in which viewership shaped Michelangelo’s designs throughout his career, Barnes’s study presents all of the artist’s major works in roughly chronological order. The book also presupposes little knowledge of the Renaissance, and clearly explains basic terms such as tondo and cangiante with lucid prose and 70 illustrations (55 which are in color). Nonetheless, in her rich development of the theme of artistic thematization, Barnes’s nuanced depiction of Michelangelo’s intellect also makes the book a worthwhile read for scholars of the Italian Renaissance.’ – Sixteenth Century Journal

‘This book is not only worth reading, it has the necessary ingredients to remind contemporary Michelangelo scholars of a desirable style of writing and research that places clarity of expression and concepts above the conceit of cleverness. One needs only to peruse Charles de Tolnay’s magisterial five-volume series (published 1943–60) on Michelangelo to discern this point. The scope of Barnes’s inquiry, both chronologically and thematically, is ambitious. The clarity of her prose is crystalline . . . Of the many sensations Barnes’s book arouses, the predominant effect is one of satisfaction. With ample color images and silky prose, Barnes accomplishes a difficult feat. She provides a broad overview of Michelangelo’s art perceived through the lens of the viewer in Michelangelo’s time, simultaneously presenting fresh perspectives that even Tolnay would admire. The book is scholarly and accessible. But perhaps most importantly, it is simply a pleasure to read.’ – CAA Reviews

‘With this illuminating monograph, Bernardine Barnes offers at once a full professional biography of Michelangelo Buonarroti, a survey and history of his works from commission through creation to reception, a study of the artist’s understanding of vision and his use of perspective, and a profound sense of the viewer in his day. Michelangelo emerges from the pages of this rich volume as an  artist with palpably deep and wide-ranging concerns about the reception of his creative production, from installation and physical viewing through interpretation and afterlife. Barnes addresses them all in this comprehensive study . . . it is a distinct pleasure – here as elsewhere – to see Michelangelo’s works through Barnes’s uniquely sensitive and well-trained eyes. Michelangelo and the Viewer in His Time is a scintillating and welcome addition to the field.’ – Renaissance and Reformation

‘Barnes presents a lucid, readable, and jargon-free account of Michelangelo’s art with a particular emphasis on understanding it in light of his viewers. The book provides a concise, reliable history of Michelangelo’s major works and the Renaissance context in which it was produced. Well illustrated, with many color plates, it is a welcome addition to the Michelangelo literature and students will be well served by this up-to-date and reasoned approach.’ – Victor Coonin, The James F. Ruffin Professor of Art History, Rhodes College

‘How did individuals and society at large respond to Michelangelo’s art? This is the central question explored in Bernadine Barnes’ refreshingly original examination of Michelangelo’s life, works, and varied audiences. Barnes leaves aside the heroic but fictionalized story of Michelangelo the lone genius to focus on the private individuals and viewing public who were highly attentive to how the artist’s creations were seen and displayed, praised and criticized.’ -- William E. Wallace, Washington University in St. Louis

‘This important book builds upon Barnes’ earlier research to integrate the Renaissance viewer more fully into study of Michelangelo’s art works. Compiling evidence from multiple sources – including contracts, prints, contemporary accounts, iconography, technical studies, and site analysis – it offers a lucid reconstruction of the material conditions of artistic creation and reception. This approach, which also understands audiences to occupy variously ideal, real, pious, intimate, fixed and shifting viewpoints, situates Michelangelo’s enduring achievements more securely in time and space.’ – Kim Butler Wingfield, American University

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Bernadine Barnes is Professor of Renaissance Art History at Wake Forest University, North Carolina. Her previous publications include Michelangelo’s Last Judgment: The Renaissance Response (1998) and Michelangelo in Print (2010).