Michelangelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel, his sculpture “David” in Florence, and his “Pietà” at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome are among the most admired works of art in the world. Over the centuries, Michelangelo’s life has been the subject of many biographies, but it was not until John Addington Symonds’ “The Life of Michelangelo Buonarroti,” in 1893, that a biographer had complete access to the artist’s family archives.
The Buonarroti material was to be available to the public with the passing of the last family member, but even when that event occurred, material from the archives remained closely guarded by the Italian government.
Predisposed to Symonds for his scholarship on Renaissance art, the government gave Symonds access to the Buonarroti archives in the 1880s, the first independent scholar so honored.
Symonds produced the first documented biography of Michelangelo. His expertise as a historian and critic gives added depth to this biography, and it is here that the public first learned that translations of Michelangelo’s poetry had been altered to mask the artist’s sexuality.
Yet this great work has largely been forgotten by students of Michelangelo.
In this new two-volume edition, Yale University art historian Creighton E. Gilbert reintroduces Symonds’ masterful study. In his introduction, Gilbert discusses the historical context in which the biography appeared and provides a sketch of Symonds’ life as a historian and art critic who worked rigorously to promote the contributions of gay artists and scholars. Gilbert then proceeds with an appreciation of “The Life of Michelangelo Buonarroti” for its scholarly and literary merits.
—University of Pennsylvania Press
Originally published on May 9, 2002