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Tomb of Giuliano de’ Medici
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mwilson's picture

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Ah, Michelangelo… the artist behind such momentous works as David, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and his impeccable Pieta.

As a young, highly sought after artist in Italy, Michelangelo accepted his talent as a reality and believed that anything he created was divine and flawless. In other words: mistake is not in this artist’s vocabulary. If mistakes are not an option, then what’s up with the lady in this statue?

She’s part of a large tomb built for Giuliano di’Medici. Giuliano was a nephew of Popes Leo X and Clement VII, so this commission was kind of a big deal, even if Michelangelo didn’t treat it that way. After putting 14 years of work into the project, he took off for Rome and never gave the unfinished tomb a second thought. Nobody really knows the meaning behind any of the figures of the tomb, but the best guess is that “Night” is supposed to contrast “Day”, who is depicted as going away just as life “went away” from Giuliano.

To be honest, though, this woman looks a little manly. If it wasn’t for the water balloons stuck to either side of her chest, Night could be a contestant on the next season of RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Many art historians have speculated that “Night” looks so manly because Michelangelo was gay and, being unfamiliar with the female form but very well acquainted with men’s bodies, thought that slapping some melons on a man would be good enough to make a female’s figure. It’s also been speculated that maybe Michelangelo never bothered to finish her boobies or even just used a sculpture that he had laying around from another project.

One theory behind this botched boob job is pretty intriguing, though: maybe Michelangelo meant to give “Night” some creepy cleavage. Seeing as how Michelangelo thought of himself as the sun, the moon, and the sky, it’s unlikely that he would make such a huge mistake with these hooters.Several medical professionals who moonlight as art fans noted that this particular statue, unlike any of Michelangelo’s other female works, is showing signs of late-stage breast cancer. It would appear that Michelangelo meant to depict women as the bringer of death. 

Breast cancer was a known cause of death during the Renaissance, and Michelangelo repeatedly wrote that he saw women as “unworthy of a wise or virile heart." It’s not too far fetched to think that the man who put penis-shaped acorns on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel would also carve cancer into a woman’s marble breast.

Be it a trick of the light, trouble with the female anatomy, or the harbinger of death, there’s something about this work that keeps tourists, historians, and doctors alike comeing back every year to pack Giuliano’s tomb and keep humming the tune of Aerosmith’s “Dude”. It's so popular in fact, that the Pushkin museum acquired this plaster cast replica. 

Sources

Sources

  1. H. W. Janson and Dora Jane Janson, History of Art (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1985).
  2. "Michelangelo, Medici Chapel (New Sacristy)," Khan Academy, October 7, 2016, , accessed August 21, 2017, https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/renaissance-reformation/high-ren-....
  3. James J. Stark, M.D. and Johnathan Katz Nelson, Ph. D., "The Breasts of "Night"," New England Journal of Medicine, November 23, 2000, , accessed August 22, 2017, http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM200011233432118#t=art
  4. John Landor , "THE QUESTION OF BREAST CANCER IN MICHELANGELO'S "NIGHT"," Source: Notes in the History of Art 25, no. 4 (Summer 2006): 27-29.
  5. Rictor Norton, "The Passions of Michelangelo", Gay History and Literature, updated 14 June 2008

Comments (1)

Lorna Wright

Did Michelangelo ever even see a naked woman? I seriously wonder. It always just looks like he pasted oddly shaped boobs onto an otherwise masculine body.