Madonna of the stairs

(1489-1492; Florence, Casa Buonarroti)
   This work, executed by Michelangelo while training in the Medici household, illustrates his admiration for Donatello. Not only does it recall Donatello's Pazzi Madonna (1420s-1430s; Berlin; Staatliche Museen), but it also uses the older sculptor's relievo schiacciato technique. Michelangelo also looked to ancient statuary and particularly funerary stelae, a proper choice as his scene foreshadows the future death of Christ. As in the ancient examples, Michelangelo's relief is permeated by a quiet, somber mood. In the foreground, the Virgin, here presented as the "Stairway to Heaven" by her juxtaposition to the stairs, partially covers the Christ Child with her mantle to denote the future wrapping of his body with the shroud in preparation for burial. In the back-ground, wingless angels spread the shroud in anticipation of the event. Executed by Michelangelo while in his teens, the Madonna of the Stairs demonstrates that he already was capable of rendering anatomy and drapery folds accurately and that his interest in challenging himself to render complex poses began at an early age.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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