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Study of a Man’s Right Arm
Michelangelo (Michelangelo Buonarroti)
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Michelangelo (Michelangelo Buonarroti)

Caprese, Arezzo, Tuscany, 1475 - Rome, 1564

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Study of a Man’s Right Arm

Second quarter of the XVI century. Pencil on yellow paper

This sketch was probably made for the right arm of one of the less prominent figures among the Blessed in Michelangelo’s Last Judgement, namely the man at the upper left edge of the fresco who bends forward immediately above the seated turning woman. His right arm reaches down at full stretch, with the forefinger fully extended, as here, and the line of the upper arm running into the shoulder, as here. In execution, Michelangelo slightly reduced the drawing’s torsion, and partly covered the elbow with the hand of another figure, but the closeness of the relation is evident. In the drawing, the arm is slightly turned as it hangs, so the bottom of the elbow shows rather than the side. The back of the hand twists in the opposite direction, implying a considerable (perhaps impossible) torsion of the forearm -a contrapposto effect- the tension of which is transmitted even to the slight crook of the index finger which, as it curves, bends back in relation to the hand.

Pope Clement VII (Medici) commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Last Judgement, probably in 1533, and after his death in September 1534 the project was continued by his successor, Paul III (Farnese). Michelangelo’s fresco was intended as an offering of repentance and an act of expiation on the part of the Roman Church for the Sack of Rome in 1527, widely seen at the time as God’s punishment of Papal corruption. The altar-wall of the Sistine Chapel was previously decorated with a number of separate frescoes at different levels, including an Assumption of the Virgin by Perugino over the altar. As finally carried out, the Last Judgement occupies the entire area of the wall and is conceived in sculptural terms, as a vast high relief.

In the Last Judgement, several other figures are represented with the arm held straight, as in the present drawing. Why Michelangelo chose to paint an arm held in so unnaturally stiff and cadaverous a posture is mere guess-work. One reason may have been to create a foil for an opposite movement elsewhere in the body - a lit, or turn, or some more contorted movement, the action of which would benefit by contrast with a limb held straight. Other examples in the Last Judgement fresco of the arm posed rigid include the left arm of the figure generally identified as Adam, seen upper left, where the limb is held vertically alongside his body so that, as he leans forward to catch a glimpse of the commanding figure of Christ to his side, the movement of his thorax gains emphasis. Further over to the left, the woman who saves the soul of the younger woman kneeling in front of her coaxes her charge with her left arm stretched straight down. Then, below, is the right arm of the trumpeting angel, lower center, located not so far from the demon, who blast on his horn with his right arm extended along much of its length (Text drawn from Turner, N.: From Michelangelo to Annibale Carracci. A century of Italian drawings from the Prado, Art Services International-Museo Nacional del Prado, 2008, pp. 52-53).

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Technical data

Related artworks

Study of a man's right shoulder, breast and upper arm
Pencil on yellow paper, 1536 - 1541
Inventory number
D001733
Author
Michelangelo (Michelangelo Buonarroti)
Title
Study of a Man’s Right Arm
Date
Second quarter of the XVI century
Technique
Pencil
Support
Yellow paper
Dimension
Height: 165 mm.; Width: 35 mm.
Provenance
Bequest of Pedro Fernández Durán y Bernaldo de Quirós, 1931

Bibliography +

Turner, Nicholas y Joannides, Paul, Some drawings by Michelangelo and his circle in the Prado, Boletín del Museo del Prado, XXI, 2003, pp. 10-11.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Catálogo de dibujos, V, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2004, pp. 52, 313.

Turner, Nicholas, From Michelangelo to Annibale Carracci. A century of Italian drawings from the Prado, Art Services International, Chicago, 2008, pp. 52,313.

Other inventories +

Inv. Legado Pedro Fernández Durán, 1931. Núm. 2464.

Exhibitions +

De Miguel Ángel a Annibale Carracci. Un siglo de Dibujos Italianos en el Museo del Prado
25.10.2008 - 26.07.2009

Un siglo de dibujos italianos en el Museo del Prado. De Miguel Ángel a Annibale Carracci
Madrid
23.11.2004 - 13.02.2005

Update date: 02-05-2019 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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