Stunning Sculpture And Powerful Paintings At This National Gallery Exhibition

Michelangelo & Sebastiano, The National Gallery ★★★★☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 64 months ago

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Stunning Sculpture And Powerful Paintings At This National Gallery Exhibition Michelangelo & Sebastiano, The National Gallery 4
A replica of Michaelangelo's famous Pieta as the Virgin holds Christ in her arms.

A mother cradles her dead son in her arms. She gazes lovingly and disconsolately down upon his body. Though the weight of his body should be difficult for her to bear she doesn't show any sign of strain as she laments the loss of her child.

It's this personal and relatable moment that makes Michelangelo's Pieta such a powerful sculpture. Gazing upon it we forget it's the Virgin and Christ — it's a mother, devastated by the death of her son.

The original is in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome and was never going to travel, but there's a perfect replica of it here at the National Gallery's current exhibition, and it is equally as striking.

The judgement of Solomon by Sebastiano. © National Trust Images / Derrick E. Witty

In another room, Christ raises Lazarus from the dead. While there is a cast of characters in a painting filled with movement, it's Christ's calm and commanding stance that draws the viewer to him.

It's a powerful painting by Sebastian del Piombo and one of his finest in this show.

The story of Michelangelo and Sebastiano is a fascinating one with the two men meeting and collaborating on several works, including some in this exhibition.

They teamed up to oppose the talent of Raphael and became close. But later in life they had a falling out and Michelangelo would then discredit Sebastiano's work and it all ended acrimoniously. This show tells that story through some fantastic artworks.

The two statues of Christ are highlights of this exhibition.

Two highlights of this exhibition are two colossal statues of Christ, which dominate the room they stand in. One is a Michelangelo original, the other a cast, but they both look remarkably naturalistic and must have inspired a great deal of awe at the time. Even today as we gaze up at these magnificent statues, we feel humbled.

One more highlight for us is the reproduction of the Borgherini chapel in Rome, complete with recessed wall. It looks flawless and is a very innovative way to bring this fresco painted by Sebastiano into this exhibition. Christ is tied to a pillar as men from all directions cock back their arms to whip him. While above this scene is the Transfiguration as Christ appears to his disciples.

The dual scene is designed to showcase the corruption of the Church today in the lower half, and what it may become in the top half bathed in heavenly light.

This recessed facsimile of a church fresco is very impressive.

In art there has always been hesitation in using replicas and facsimiles, so it's a brave decision by the National Gallery to rely on advanced technology and casts to recreate important works. Looking at the impressive results in this exhibition, we think it was the right decision.

Michelangelo was the superior painter of the two, but his works are harder to source so we end up with more Sebastiano on display — though the show has plenty of preparatory sketches by Michelangelo. Despite this lack of Michelangelo originals, what we're left with is a wonderful exhibition filled with stunning works.

Michelangelo & Sebastiano is on at the National Gallery until 25 June. Tickets are £18 for adults.

Last Updated 15 March 2017