Following Michelangelo’s arrival to Florence in 1501, the newly founded Republic created many artistic commissions of the city. Michelangelo spent four years in the city busy with commissions, starting with the commission of the “David.” In 1503, even before the “David” had been completed, Michelangelo was commissioned by the Opera of the Cathedral to carve the twelve apostles. Although there is sketches intended for the other statues, St. Matthew was the only statue to be partially completed, before Pope Julius II summoned Michelangelo in 1505, to design the his own tomb.
In the Lives of Others, Giorgio Vasari discusses Michelangelo’s only completed Apostle figure, St. Matthew, saying, “Rough as it is, this is a perfect work of art which serves to teach sculptors how to carve a statue out of marble without making any mistakes, perfecting the figure gradually by removing stone judiciously and being able to alter what has been done as and when necessary.” As the sculptured stands 271 cm tall, made of marble, it seems to look like a relief at first glance. With this, it seems very easy to refute what Vasari says on “St. Matthew.” Only the front half of the sculpture is carved, as if Michelangelo, like a painter, were only interested in the frontal view. Many would argue that many mistakes are made in the sculpture, and it seems as though he carved ignorantly away, like a beginner, without worrying about the depth of the features and how they would look from another angle. When looking towards the front of the sculpture, one would guess that Michelangelo felt that the backside of St. Matthew would somehow take care of itself, which doesn’t correspond to Vasari’s claim that Michelangelo “perfected the figure gradually removing stone judiciously.” Vasari uses the term “judiciously” to describe the work of “St. Matthew,” as if Michelangelo was meticulously altering the stone piece by piece. Many disagree with this...
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