Michelangelo’s Unfinished Slaves

Medardo Rosso, sculpture

Sculpture by Medardo Rosso

I’m getting closer to being able to define the approach I want to take with these figure sculptures. A large part of this process is finding multiple references to get more specific with how I want to articulate the form. At this stage, I’ve referenced Medardo Rosso’s head sculptures, the figure casts from Pompeii, and today I started thinking through Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures of slaves.

Pompeii figure casts

These unfinished marble sculptures are incredible for what they reveal about Michelangelo’s work process; it’s like seeing a three-dimensional equivalent of a preliminary drawing where all of the evidence and mistakes are bare and exposed. Even in their incomplete state, the form quietly emerges out of the marble in a manner that is both mysterious and powerful. There are practically no details in these sculptures, yet they command a weight and sense of mass and movement that is beyond their actual physical weight.

left: St. Matthew, middle: Bearded Slave, right: Young Slave by Michelangelo

In relation to the sculptures I’ll be working on, Michelangelo’s unfinished slaves are an excellent example of the kind of the articulation I’m thinking about: form that slowly emerges and remains at times elusive and ambiguous. I want the sculptures to focus on an internal sense of structure, with a highly textured surface with devoid of highly articulated details. The form is at times undefined, inviting the viewer to want more.

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3 thoughts on “Michelangelo’s Unfinished Slaves

  1. Your description of these beautiful sculptures is so well said – so artistic and descriptive. It was a joy to read. Thank you!

  2. Such a metaphor for human development. Well-expressed. Thank you from someone who’s only art course in life was an Art History 1.0 course taken at List Auditorium, next to RISD.

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