- Place of origin:
ca. 1516-1519 (made)
Michelangelo, born 1475 - died 1564 (sculptor)
- Materials and Techniques:
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Medieval & Renaissance, Room 64, The Wolfson Gallery, case 19
The small wax figure is a sketch model for the unfinished marble of the Young Slave in the Accademia in Florence, designed for the 1516 scheme for the tomb of Pope Julius II, who died in 1513. This scheme was the third of six produced for the problematic project, which, when it was commissioned in 1505, was planned as a large free-standing structure with more than 40 life-size or larger statues, and was intended for St Peter's in Rome. The existing, greatly reduced tomb was finally erected in San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome, in 1545. This model differs from the unfinished marble in several details, suggesting that the artist refined the design at a later stage.
Michelangelo made a large number of drawings and models in wax, clay and terracotta in connection with both his painting and his sculpture. He destroyed many of his preparatory works, but the growing interest in the creative process and his extraordinary celebrity led several of his contemporaries to collect his drawings and models. One such collector was the painter and biographer Giorgio Vasari, a great admirer and friend of the artist. In his Life of Michelangelo he described what he claimed to be the sculptor's working method: a small model of wax or other firm material was immersed in water and gradually raised to reveal more of the figure as the carving of the marble progressed.
Dark red wax on a metal armature rising from a cylindrical wood base. Standing, the upper part of the body is inclined to the right and the left arm is raised with the forearm covering the forehead and the hand touching the right shoulder. The right arm is held behind the back. The left knee raised and left foot standing on a rock, the right arm behind the back, the left over the head. The wax has at one time been varnished, and the surface is partly dicoloured.
Place of Origin
ca. 1516-1519 (made)
Michelangelo, born 1475 - died 1564 (sculptor)
Materials and Techniques
Height: 17.6 cm object only, Width: 5 cm, Depth: 6.5 cm max
Object history note
This object was acquired in 1854 for the Museum of Ornamental Art at Marlborough House (later becoming the South Kensington Museum and later still the V&A) by its Keeper Sir John Charles Robinson. It was one of a group of 23 sixteenth-century Italian wax models acquired in Florence as part of the Gherardini Collection. Of the 16 ascribed to Michelangelo at that time, this is the only one still generally thought to be by the hand of the master. It was part of a collection "mainly of figures, groups etc. in wax and terracotta, presumed in every case to be original preparatory sketches or studies, by the great artists whose names are attached to them, and not after-copies from their completed works". The collection includes anatomical figures, or écorché of parts or whole figures.
The object was badly damaged by an accident involving a member of the public in 1924 the details of which are fully documented in Peta Evelyn's (now Motture) Burlington Magazine Shorter Notice of 1996. Despite the extent of the damage, when the thick wire armature was bent, and the rudimentary level of wax conservation at the time, the object was successfully restored.
Historical significance: This model is the only one in the V&A's collection still attributed to Michelangelo, and one of the few surviving by the master. It demonstrates the creative process of the artist working out ideas on a small scale to be transferred ultimately to a large-scale marble, in this instance surviving in the Accademia in Florence. X-rays reveal the original central support around which the wax was modelled, together with the repair pins that were inserted following damage sustained by the wax in 1924. While Michelangelo stated that he could envisage the sculpture within the block of marble - that he would usually have chosen himself at the quarry - the survival of this and the few other models attributed to the master demonstrates his working practice, and emphasises how a composition was transformed during the design process.
Similarly, the wax and terracotta models by Giambologna in this collection demonstrate clearly how ideas were developed in three demonstrations from the small to the large scale.
Historical context note
The object is generally accepted as an autograph work by Michelangelo, created as a preparatory sketch model for his unfinished Young Slave in marble now in the Accademia in Florence (for a detailed compositional comparison see Pope-Hennessy). The marble Young Slave was designed as one of around 40 over-life-size sculptures to decorate the tomb of Pope Julius II, originally commissioned in 1505. The tomb was intended for St Peter's, but underwent several schemes before eventually being erected in a much reduced form in S. Pietro in Vincoli. The malleable medium of wax was ideal for working out initial ideas for sculpture. The artist and biographer, Giorgio Vasari described how the wax was prepared: 'to render it softer a little animal fat and turpentine and black pitch are put into the wax, and of these ingredients it is the fat that makes it more supple; the turpentine adds tenacity, and the pitch gives it the black colour and a certain consistency' (Vasari on Technique, p.148). Red was preferred by many artists, as seen here, and this was achieved by adding red earth, vermilion or red lead. Like other artists, Michelangelo must have made a vast number of such waxes, the first of which in the design process would have consisted of just a hastily modelled work, like the example surviving in the British Museum. This one was made when his ideas about the posture were already quite well formulated. Michelangelo destroyed many of his drawings and models, but his fame meant that his contemporaries began to save and collect his sketches, amongst others, as they captured the artist's creative process. According to Vasari, Michelanglo used his wax sketch models in a most unusual way, immersing them in water, and raised them bit by bit as the carving of the marble progressed.
Model of a slave, dark red wax on a metal armature rising from a cylindrical wood base
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Williamson, Paul, ed. European Sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1996. 191p., ill. ISBN 1851771883.
Evelyn, Peta, 'Broken and Repaired':Michelangelo's wax slave in the Victoria and Albert Museum, Burlington Magazine, Dec 1996, vol CXXXVIII, No.1125, pp.809-812 [departmental archive W41]
Pope-Hennessy, J assisted by R. Lightbown, Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1964, II, pp.421-23, cat.no.444
Joannides, P, Two bronze statuettes and their relation to Michelangelo, Burlington Magazine, 1982, vol. CXXIV, pp.3-8
Maclagan, E, The wax models by Michael Angelo in the Victoria and Albert Museum, Burlington Magazine, 1924, vol. XLIV, pp.4-16
Avery, C, Finger prints of the artist. European Terra-Cotta from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections (exh. cat.), Washington, 1981, p.18
Thornton, D and J. Warren The British Museum's Michelangelo Acquisitions and the Casa Buonarroti, Journal of the History of Collections, 10, no.I (1998), pp.9-29 (departmental archive Id 262) fig.6 and note 39
Gaborit, J-R Michel-Ange Les Esclaves, collection solo (30), Département des Sculptures, Louvre, 2004, p.43, fig.25
The Genius of the Sculptor in Michelangelo's Works (Exh. Cat.) Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1992, p.222
Catalogue of a Collection of Models in Wax and Terracotta by various ancient Italian Masters known as the Gherardini Collection now being exhibited at the Museum of Ornamental Art at Marlborough House, London, 1854
LeBrooy, P J, Michelangelo Models formerly in the Paul von Praum Collection Vancouver, 1972, pp.19, 125
Mariacher, G, Storia dell'Arte in Italia - La Scultura del Cinquecento, Turin 1987, p.98
Avery, C, Florentine Renaissance Sculpture, New York, 1970, pl.138 and p.185
Raggio, O, Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum, Art Bulletin, vol.L, 1968, pp.102
Thode, Michelangelo, iii, 1912, pp.264, 284; iv, 1909, p.156, No.xvi; vi, 1913 p.282, No.601
Brinckmann, Barock-Bozzetti, i, 1923, pp.36-7
Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance, 1932, p.363
Laux, Michelangelos Julius Monument, Berlin, 1943, pp.62, 68, 72
Tolnay, Michel-Ange, 1951, p.241
Inventory of Art Objects Acquired in the Year 1854. In: Inventory of the Objects in the Art Division of the Museum at South Kensington, Arranged According to the Dates of their Acquisition. Vol I. London: Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., 1868, p. 18.
Maclagan, Eric and Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Italian Sculpture. Text. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1932, p. 129.
Wittkower, R. Sculpture. Process and Principles . London, 1977, p. 129, fig 1 and pp. 128-129.
Trusted, Marjorie, ed. The Making of Sculpture. The Materials and Techniques of European Sculpture. London: 2007, p. 24, pl. 26.
Echinger-Maurach, Claudia Michelangelos Grabmal für Papst Julius II, Munich, 2009, p. 53.
Labels and date
By MICHELANGELO BUONARROTI (1475-1564)
ITALIAN (Florence); about 1516-19
This is a sketch model fo rthe unfinished marble figure of the Young Slave (Academia, Florence), designed for the 1516 scheme of the tomb of Pope Julius II (b.1443, elected pope 1503, d.1513) in S Pietro in Vincoli, Rome. This scheme was the third for this problematic project which, when it was commissioned in 1505, was intended to include over forty statues of life-size or above. The existing, much reduced tomb was finally erected in 1545. [December 1995]
By MICHELANGELO BUONARROTI (1475-1564)
ITALIAN (FLORENCE); about 1516-19
This is a sketch model for the unfinished marble figure of the Young Slave (Accademia, Florence), designed for the 1516 scheme of the tomb of Pope Julisu II (b.1443, elected Pope 1503, d.1513) in S. Pietro in Vincoli, Rome. This scheme was the third for this problematic project which , when it was commissioned in 1505, was intended to include over forty statues of life-size or above. The existing, much reduced tomb was finally erected in 1545. [April 1992]
By MICHELANGELO (b.1475; d.1564)
ITALIAN (FLORENTINE); first quarter of the 16th century.
The sketch-model was made in preparation for the unfinished marble statue of the Young Slave (Accademia, Florence), carved by Michelangelo in connection with the 1516 project fo rthe Tomb of Pope Julius II. The carving of this and fo the three companion figures seems to date from 1519. The model differs from the unfinished marble (i) in the position of the lower part of the left leg, (ii) in the definition of the left foot and ankle, and (iii) in the shoulders and back, which are uncarved in the marble and roughly indicated in the model.