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From the Hands of Michelangelo

Michelangelo in Pueblo
Dio Fluviale Photo courtesy of the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center

Before Michelangelo’s “David” was iconic, or even completed, it was a model — scaled much smaller than the finished piece and unpolished. The famous artist would make a smaller version of the envisioned piece and then build his sculptures into much larger works of art.

Beginning October 10, the Sangre De Cristo Arts Center will feature six replica models Michelangelo used to sculpt some of his most recognizable pieces: “Nudo Virile” (David), “Torso Virile” (Louvre Slave), “Dio Fluviale” (River God), “Due Lottatori” (Two Wrestlers), “Nudo Femminile” (Female Nude), and “Crocifisso” (Crucifix) in “Touched by the Hands of God: Michelangelo’s Models.”

The replicas, also known as bozzetti, are identical to the original models that are too fragile to move from the Museo Buonarroti in Florence, Italy, which Michelangelo bought in the early 16th century but never occupied. He left the house to his nephew and it was later transformed into a museum. The models were found behind a walled-up closet and had likely been there for hundreds of years.

Michelangelo in Pueblo
Dio Fluviale Photo courtesy of the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center

The bozzetti, which were created to work out any major problems before delving into the actual sculpture, were created to be delicate and malleable. Nearly five centuries later the models are understandably kept under close watch and never leave Museo Buonarroti.  

But the Harry and Karly Spell Foundation of Oregon, Illinois, has found a way to cast the delicate models and share them across the world.

“When considering casting a bronze from an old clay model the risk is much too great of destroying that which is not replaceable. Specifically, considering making rubber molds from the priceless Michelangelo models at Casa Buonarroti, has been unthinkable,” the foundation website says. “For the first time, it is possible!”

Harry Spell took a laser scan of the bozzetti — which did no damage to the originals — and from there cast the models from bronze using the digital scan. The process is not completely different from what we think of 3-D printing today, but the laser scan provides exact detail from the originals. Right down to Michelangelo’s thumb prints.  

“There is a lot of quality control here,” said Sangre De Cristo Arts Center Executive Director Jim Richerson. “It’s fine art casting.”

Spell uses a traditional five-step lost wax process.

“This process is fundamentally a five step sequence, alternating between positive and negative

iterations,” Spell wrote in the exhibits booklet. “In brief, model, rubber mold, wax copy, ceramic shell mold and bronze casting.”

“It’s really sharing the fundamentals of art appreciation and those exclamations of humanity.” – Jim Richerson, Executive Director

Essentially, “he took this work (the bozzetti) back into the physical realm,” Richerson said.

The recreation of the models are very representative of what was happening at the time of the Italian Renaissance. “(It) was a celebration of art and science. Through something virtual he (Spell) has recreated something physical,” Richerson said.

The bozzetti are a modern mix of art and science.

Richerson featured the show while working at the Peoria Riverfront Museum in Peoria, Illinois. When the opportunity opened up to host the bozzetti in Pueblo, Richerson said it was a must.

“It’s really sharing the fundamentals of art appreciation and those exclamations of humanity,” he said. “How many people would ever have the chance to see these? Even if you go to

Florence, the Museo Buonarroti isn’t going to be one of the places you go unless you’re there for an extended period of time.”

Michelangelo in Pueblo
Due Lottatori Photo courtesy of Sangre de Cristo Arts Center

The exhibit is featuring a timeline of world events that were taking place during the time the casts would have been made — the Italian Renaissance timeline as well as events such as Christopher Columbus sailing the world and discovering North America and Spanish conquistadors settling parts of the Southwest.

Colonialism was a major event in the 15th century, Richerson said. Not many associate American Southwest history and Michelangelo in the same period of history, but they were.

Making those educational connections are a big part of the exhibit, he said.

Visitors can experience the models the exact way Michelangelo did. Every Tuesday the arts center is allowing visitors to touch the bronze models.

During Michelangelo’s final years he became completely blind, but it didn’t keep him from his craft. He relied on his other senses to complete his work. For instance, “Crocifisso,” one of the models in the exhibit, was completed entirely by touch.

The exhibit will be in the King Gallery at the Sangre De Cristo Arts Center from Oct. 10 through May 29. More information on the exhibit can be found at sdc-arts.org

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Written by Kara Mason

Profile photo of Kara Mason

Kara Mason is PULP's news editor. She is also the Society of Professional Journalists Colorado Pro Chapter president. Kara freelances for other regional publications, covering government, politics and the environment.

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