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Renaissance Studies

A «Festschrift» in Honor of Professor Edward J. Olszewski

Edited By Jennifer H. Finkel, Michael D. Morford and Dena M. Woodall

This Festschrift is dedicated to Edward J. Olszewski and was created by his former PhD students in gratitude and honor of a professor whose innovative and comprehensive research spans the Renaissance and Baroque periods. His research provided much insight to the arts, issues of patronage, conservation, and context. The text includes an array of topics conceived by each author while studying with Olszewski. His intense seminar on Michelangelo was the catalyst for many articles: Jennifer Finkel introduces new ideas regarding the proposed sculptural plan for the façade of San Lorenzo; Dena M. Woodall provides keen insight on the representations of genii on the Sistine Ceiling; Karen Edwards proposes the early creation of the figura serpentinata in Michelangelo’s own drawings and paintings; and Rachel Geshwind offers a new interpretation of his use of color symbolism in the Sistine Chapel. This seminar, and another on Mannerism, involved provocative discussion of the competitors of Michelangelo, where the foundation was laid for the much needed re-examination of Baccio Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus in Michael Morford’s article, which introduces the probability of Machiavellian influence, and Christine Corretti’s interpretation of Cellini’s Perseus and Medusa as the symbol of Cosimo’s I ideas of justice and the influence of women in his life. Olszewski’s own research on patronage, especially of the Ottoboni, mirrors Henrietta Silberger’s article on the collecting habits of Livio Odescalchi. Finally, Holley Witchey provides a personal experience in authenticating works of art in collections (a topic of interest for Olszewski) and ends her essay with a series of important questions for each of us to ask ourselves.


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Looking at the Overlooked: Michelangelo’s Genii on the Sistine Chapel Ceiling DENA M. WOODALL 61


Dena M. Woodall Looking at the Overlooked: Michelangelo’s Genii on the Sistine Chapel Ceiling Despite the extensive writings on Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling, scholars often overlook twenty-four figures, the genii, wingless companions who inhabit the prophets’ and sibyls’ massive thrones. When discussed in scholarship, the genius figures are generalized or dismissed without any elaboration. Their treatment as mere decorative elements, attributive objects, or simply companion putti for the seers requires revision. This essay reviews references to the genii in literature and subsequently analyzes the icono- graphical significance of the genii and how they contribute to the meaning of the seers, both contextually and compositionally, as part of the overall scheme of the Sistine ceiling. I examine religious and philosophical dis- courses that are credible sources for the genii as well as influential pictorial and sculptural antecedents. These authoritative texts associate the genii with the prophets and sibyls, not only in Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling design, but also in the works of other Renaissance artists. The Literature on the Genii Michelangelo’s biographer, Ascanio Condivi, briefly described the band that surrounds the narrative panels of the Sistine ceiling in 1553, including the “plane resembling a parapet, with its corbels below and with other little pilasters above against the same plane, on which prophets and sibyls are seated.”1 Probably due to architectonic importance, he elaborated on the bases where “imitation sculptures of little nude children in various poses, which like terms2 support a cornice, that surrounds the whole work.” Nota- bly, he acknowledged...

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