Yesterday, on my way to see the Francis Bacon’s retrospective at the MET I stopped and watched Michelangelo’s first painting that is now being featured there:
It is really a beautiful little painting -this is, if you are into mortifying demons!- that brought to my mind some of the strange creatures we often encounter in Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings. The strategy to create these demons seems to be the same: mixing known creatures to create fantasy ones. If we think about it that is the strategy behind most mythical creatures, like griffins, sphinxes, chimeras, etc. These demons in Michelangelo's painting -and in Bosch’s paintings- simply seem lie aberrations on nature, ill-formed beings. But something really cool happened when I then went and walked through all the galleries holding Bacon’s paintings. The first painting in the show is a torso (Head I):
Knowing that Bacon used to work from photographs, I recognize the fanged mouth in the portrait as the mouth of a baboon that was over-imposed to a human head. This is the same baboon Bacon then painted a few years after painting Head I:
Notice how the mouth is in the exact same position. In fact, Bacon re-painted this very same mouth in several other paintings, including Head II. Right there, it hit me: Bacon and Michelangelo were using the same strategy to craft theyir ‘demons’. Look at this detail from Michelangelo’s ‘Torment of Saint Anthony’:
The whole animal seems like a butterfly-winged baboon, but even the position of the opening mouth showing its fangs in a menacing way resembles Bacon’s Study for a Baboon. This detail is merely anecdotal, but it serves to underline the whole strategy of composing creatures by adding parts taken from different sources, as in some sort of collage, is very similar in both Bacon and Michelangelo. It is in fact a classic strategy to craft monsters that we can see both in ancient paintings and contemporary movies.
I thought this was extremely cool. That’s why I am sharing it here.