Michelangelo would insist that he was a sculptor; but like most Renaissance masters, he would create paintings as well. Most of his painted works are in the form of frescos, in which paint is applied directly to wet plaster on a wall or ceiling, as in his renowned frescos for the Sistine Chapel.
Of his paintings on canvas only four are known. Two of these are unfinished and one of them was long in question, a remarkable painting of The Torment of Saint Anthony. This painting was recently purchased by the Kimbell Art Museum and even more recently, has been determined to be the work of Michelangelo’s hand by scholars at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The painting is also notable in that it is the first and only painting by Michelangelo in an American collection. It will be part of the Kimbell’s permanent collection, and will go on display at the Metropolitan Museum of art in New York on June 15, 2009 (though I can’t find reference to this on the Met’s own site).
This article on The Guardian shows some detail views of the work, as well as some infrared and x-ray images that reveal changes Michelangelo made as he created the painting (above, lower right).
The painting is in oil and tempera on a wood panel, and is painted after an engraving by Martin Schongauer, Saint Anthony Tormented by Demons (image above, lower left), which Michelangelo had access to and made a color drawing of, as well as this painting.
The story of the torment (or temptation) of Saint Anthony has always been a juicy subject for artists, in that it gives them free license to let their imagination go wild with hallucinatory visions of the tormenting demons. Many great artists have found it fertile ground. There is an article on culture xy about the subject, with interpretations by Bosch, Matthias Grünewald (see my post on Matthias Grünewald), Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí and Salvator Rosa that includes Schongauer’s engraving.
Michelangelo’s version brings Schongauer’s spiky Bosch-like demons to life with rich colors and vibrant textures, as they accost Anthony, their twisted forms a whirl of rage and threat; and their leathery wings lifting him into the air from the edge of a precipice and suspending him above a detailed landscape rendered in hazy atmospheric perspective.
Perhaps the most notable thing about Michelangelo’s The Torment of Saint Anthony is that it represents the artist’s earliest known work, painted when he was twelve or thirteen.