An exhibition has opened in London that no dreamer - or lover of Renaissance art - within range will want to miss. It features a series of drawings that Michelangelo created for a younger man he admired. They are on display at the Courtauld Institute Gallery until May 16.
The centerpiece is Michelangelo's Il Sogno ("The Dream"), bequeathed to the gallery in 1978.
It depicts a naked young man, thought to represent Tommasso de Cavalieri, the artist's adolescent inamorato, being roused from sleep into dreaming by a winged spirit. This beautifully captures the essence of how in dreaming, we wake up.
A beautiful naked youth is perched on an open-fronted box. He leans back against the sphere of the world. Inside the box are theatrical masks, suggesting a variety of pleasures and guises. In a bow to the beliefs and allegorical tastes of the age, figures in the background represent six of the seven deadly sins – Gluttony, Lechery, Avarice, Wrath, Envy and Sloth. This might lead us to suppose that the central figure represents Prude, being awakened from his state of delusion by the winged angel swooping down from above.
But there's a lot going on behind the surface allegory. This is a very sexy picture. A man and woman are depicted in sexual embrace, the man's organ exposed, An other couple, only partially dressed, are kissing, with the woman on top. The artist included a huge erect phallus held by a hand emerging from the clouds. Someone who once owned this drawing made an effort to erase the penises. In the Courtauld exhibition, their prominence is made clear by a print made from the original drawing.
Study these pictures, and you'll understand why Michelangelo insisted that drawing is "the fount and body of painting and sculpture and architecture and of every other kind of painting and the root of all sciences."
Michelangelo was a poet and writer as well as an artist, and his drawings are interspersed with many lines in his fine calligraphic hand. One of his poems speaks to the source of creation, as to God, with wonderful truth and passion:
Signor, nell´ore streme, stendi ver´me le tue pietose braccia, tomm´a me stesso e famm´ un che ti piaccia
"Lord, in my hour of need, hold out thy compassionate arms to me, take me from myself and make of me one pleasing to thee."
“This splendid book… transcends disciplines and provides an agenda for the role that dreams can play in ensuring human survival.” — Stanley Krippner, PhD, coauthor of Extraordinary Dreams and How to Work with Them