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  • Writer's pictureRebecca Marks, MA

A Brief History of Casa Buonarroti in Florence

What is Casa Buonarroti?

Casa Buonarroti is the former house of Renaissance artist Michelangelo Buonarroti that’s now a gallery dedicated to Old Master paintings and sculptures.

Casa Buonarroti

Giovanni Dall'Orto, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Casa Buonarroti History

Once inhabited by perhaps the greatest artist in history, the man hailed as ‘il divino’ (or ‘the divine one’) by Renaissance biographer Giorgio Vasari, the Casa Buonarroti is a testament to the life and work of Michelangelo. He’s one of the most celebrated and important figures in Italian culture, creator of such seminal works as the vibrant frescoes of the Sistine Chapel and the astonishing statue of David (now in the Accademia Gallery), as well as a dazzling range of further drawings, paintings, sculptures and architectural works.

This property in which the museum is housed is a 17th-century palatial complex once owned by the Buonarroti family. Michelangelo initially purchased the buildings that formed part of the site, but subsequently moved to Rome in the 1530s and did not convert them into the family seat he had always envisioned. Although inherited by his nephew Leonardo, it was not until the 17th century, when the complex came into the ownership of his great-nephew, Michelangelo the Younger, a well-known scholar and literary figure in his own right, that it was fully realised. With the intention of creating a monument to his great ancestor, as well as providing exhibition space for other Italian artists, Michelangelo’s descendant eventually turned the family palazzo into a gallery.

Today, the museum houses a range of important works by the master, in particular the Madonna of the Stairs and the Battle of the Centaurs – two early relief sculptures from the artist’s formative years in Florence. The Madonna was famously influenced by the earlier Renaissance sculptor Donatello, and the Battle is a testament to the classical aesthetic strictly adhered to by Michelangelo all his life. Also of note within the museum’s collection are his wooden model for the façade of the Basilica of San Lorenzo, as well as his fabulous preparatory study of a river god, originally intended for the New Sacristy within the same church.

Vasari tells us that, shortly before Michelangelo died, he burned many of his drawings and sketches so as not to expose his efforts and faults. However, many still exist, and the museum possesses an archive of over 200 of the artist’s original sketches, as well as housing the richest collection of his drawings in the world. These are to be found in a special room, the display regularly rotated to preserve the fragile materials.

However, this is not all that the Casa Buonarroti has to offer. It was always intended to be a place for the promotion of other artists, since Michelangelo the Younger was an enthusiastic patron, and there are works by artists such as Artemisia Gentileschi, Pietro da Cortona, and Giovanni da San Giovanni. Moreover, the museum hosts annual exhibitions, on a variety of themes, which have met with world renown.

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