Michelangelo lived till almost 90 and wrote near the end: “I live here in Florence in great toil and great weariness of body and have no friends of any kind and don’t want any, and haven’t time to eat what I need.”

His last drawings were all of the Crucifixion. The above, owned by the ROYAL COLLECTION TRUST, is one of them. From their description:

“A drawing of Christ on the Cross, with St John the Evangelist and the Virgin Mary. At the base of the cross is an indication of a third figure crouched, presumably Mary Magdalene. On the verso, a drawing of a left leg, and a triangular outline.

In the last years of his life Michelangelo drew the Crucifixion repeatedly (see also RCIN 912761 and 912774), as a sustained and profoundly felt spiritual exercise. In addition to the two drawings at Windsor, there are four other complete drawings of the subject in London (two), Oxford and Paris, together with several fragments, preparatory sketches and copies of lost drawings.

These very late drawings, together with two (or possibly three) sculptures of the Lamentation or Pietà, differ radically from Michelangelo’s earlier works, in which the body of Christ on the cross, or after death, is depicted as undefiled, even heroic. Those earlier works asserted Christ’s triumph over death; the later drawings and sculptures emphasise instead his sacrifice, and the death and dissolution of his material body.

In these drawings Michelangelo depicts the Crucifixion not as a narrative scene but as a symbol, and what began as a carefully drawn composition gradually became more indefinite as he repeatedly reworked the outlines of Christ. Here the torso of Christ is finely modelled, though the face is uncertain and the legs are in several distinct positions. This is not due to imprecision of touch in Michelangelo’s old age: his reworking of the figure of Christ gave an entirely deliberate effect of indeterminacy, capturing the dissolution of the body as the soul leaves the material world at the moment of death and passes into a different realm…A few lines between the Virgin and St John may be first indications of Mary Magdalene embracing the base of the Cross. There is also a patch of red chalk on Christ’s feet, placed too precisely to be accidental and surely added by Michelangelo as blood.”

I was pointed to the drawings by a wonderful book: Christopher Neve’s Immortal Thoughts: Late Style in a Time of Plague (2023). Of Michelangelo’s old age, he writes:

“A simple faith in God seems to him the only change of redemption and through purification, of ultimate salvation. He still knows much of Dante by heart…

Let me know mine end and the number of my days. Very soon it will be February 8th, 1564 [the day Michelangelo died]. Do not attempt to guess what is running through Michelangelo’s head in these last five drawings.

All are of the crucifixion [sic]. Four include Mary and Saint John. Each drawing is blotched and marked, full of revisions, alterations, corrections, and patently incomplete. In two the vertical of the cross has been changed using a ruler, apparently at a late stage, to a slight tilt, the better to express the dead weight of the body. For in these drawings Christ is dead…Mary and John are in despairing attitudes. In one, Mary holds her head with both hands. In two others the distraught figures approach the body of Christ but cannot touch it. Their feet heavily grip the ground and their clothes are either absent or or so rudimentary as to accentuate their nudity by wrapping round it. The body of Christ himself is beautiful beyond all belief, full of hollows, the agonized muscles of the chest and stretched stomach, which are at the centre of each drawing, conveyed miraculously by a sort of smoke of changing indication within the form.

Do not say: This is drawing by an old man’s shaky hand. For it is drawing by one of the greatest sensibilities there has ever been, at its wits’ end.” pp 35-38.

Continuing with our Lenten reflections…I’ve been thinking how we Catholics have the confessional. Why then do some of us, including, starting with St. Augustine, choose to “confess” to the whole world?

14 Replies to “I BURN FOR YOUR PEACE”

  1. Thank you Heather! I’m enjoying a morning home and dove into a lenten study that uses CS Lewis’ Screwtape as the foundational reference. Its been revealing – my own 40 days. Hope you are well!

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Fantastic…Lent is rich…hope you’re well, too.

  2. wow

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply


  3. What is more sorrowful, the drawings or Michelangelo’s longing?

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Exactly…I highly recommend the book I referenced: Immortal Thoughts by Christopher Neve, a series of reflections on the last years/works of painters from Rembrandt to Giorgio Morandi that Neve, himself a (British) painter and critic, was inspired to write duing COVID lockdown…

  4. Cynthia Merrill says: Reply

    We are so thankful that you are willing to be “confessional “ in the sense of sharing your daily walk with the Lord and in that way helping to illuminate a bit more our own steps as we attempt to draw closer to God, especially in a world that mostly doesn’t even acknowledge the presence of an interior life.
    It took me awhile to relate to the Divine Mercy Chaplet and I still can’t read the Diary of St Faustina but the imagery draws me and little by little I have embraced it. We are so fortunate that our Church heroes are so varied and unique and yet as you say about the Mass, everyone is welcome.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Beautiful, Cynthia, thank you! Right, the diary left me cold but who cares? If it’s helped tons of others, wonderful: take what you like and leave the rest as we say in recovery…There are many rooms in my Father’s mansion precisely because we all have such different sensibilities…and the Lord knows we are CONSTANT need of mercy. Re the contemplative life–it’s the air I breathe and is always a bit of a shock to realize everyone doesn’t breathe it…so if there is any value in sharing a bit of it, acknowledging and encouraging those similarly inclined or interested…thanks be to God.

    2. So grateful as well for Heather’s willingness to share her journey….I always feel less alone after reading Heather’s work.

  5. What immediately caught my attention on your blog page is the beautiful thumbnail of you with your arms crossed right along side of this rendering with John the Baptist’s arms crossed similarly.
    Another wonderful post and youtube visit…. thank you.

  6. Molly Walchuk says: Reply

    As usual and always—- thank you Heather!
    Love, prayers,peace,

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Bless you, Friend!!

  7. Being perpetually at my wits end, I feel for the Master in his old years…

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Yes…in these last few weeks before Easter, I ponder what was going through his heart and mind as he approached the Crucifixion…


Discover more from HEATHER KING

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading