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