Michelangelo Gems Many Won't See

March 27, 2018
Glimpse into Michelangelo's paintings at Palazzo Buonarroti, Florence
Buonarroti palazzo in Florence is home to some Michelangelo gems many won't see.

If you're feeling it's time for a bit of a break from Florence's stellar galleries of artistic treasures by Renaissance master painters and sculptors, consider seeing just one more museum. That's right, one more -- as long as it's among the Tuscan city's tinier museums, which are too often overlooked in tourists' packed itineraries but inspire without overwhelming.

One such tiny but brilliant star in Florence's firmament of Renaissance wonders is Casa Buonarroti, a 17th century palazzo near Santa Croce Basilica that Michelangelo Buonarroti's heirs turned into a homage to the artist in the century after his death. The foundation that runs Casa Buonarroti (Buonarroti House) describes it as a "museum and monument, place of memory and celebration of Michelangelo's genius." The description is no exaggeration.

Walking through the two stories of the compact palazzo that are open to the public, visitors can see Michelangelo sculptures, including a marvelous celebration of an entwined pair of two well-muscled bodies, "Due Lottatori" (Two Wrestlers), as well as stone carvings like his dynamic, intense "Battle of the Centaurs."

But even more precious is the opportunity to admire some of the artist's sketches. Michelangelo's perfectionist pride caused him to burn many of his sketches and illustrations before dying in Rome in 1564, according to the chronicler of artists' lives, Giorgio Vasari. True or not, relatively few of Michelangelo sketches -- masterpieces in themselves -- survive, despite his long and prolific artist production. At one point his nephew, Leonardo, paid handsomely to buy what he could find of the sketches on the Roman art market.

Later, family descendants took to framing some of the designs and displaying them in what would become known as Casa Buonarroti, but that left the sketches ripe for damage. A few decades ago, the Uffizi Galleries retrieved them and restored them before returning them to Casa Buonarotti, which now puts a few of their 205 sketches in its possession on display on a rotating basis. Seeing the "sketches of the day" is worth a visit in itself.

As befitting a tribute to one of the world's greatest artists, Michelangelo's descendants engaged some of the best artists working in Florence to decorate the drawing rooms. Among those executing a series of painted panels in the main rooms' ceiling are Pietro da Cortona and Artemisia Gentileschi, a rare female painter to achieve acclaim in her times.