After a five-year restoration, Michelangelo’s “Night and Day,” which is housed in the Galleria dell’Accademia of Florence, has reemerged as one of his most controversial sculptures. The work features an effeminate Night embracing a robust figure that appears to be manly Day.
“Night and Day,” Michelangelo’s newly restored sculpture, fancies woman as Night. The sculpture is a pieta, which is a statue of the Virgin Mary holding the body of Jesus Christ after he was crucified.
Sculptors have taken on the same topics throughout history, with varying results. I say definitely because they are not only different individuals, but they also lived in different periods.
During the daytime
The gap between Michelangelo’s “Night and Day” (1520) and Jacob Epstein’s 1929 version on the same subject is an excellent example of time raising its game-changing head. They’re as diametrically opposed as night and day.
The 16th-century piece, which was erected at Giuliano di Lorenzo de Medici’s tomb in Florence, is currently in the headlines after an eight-year restoration operation to repair the sculptures and free them of the ravages of time was finally accomplished.
Michelangelo depicts reclining nudes – a female for the night and a man for the day – to depict the different times of day. Her body, however, is twisted as though in anguish, despite the fact that her head is bowed down. The male’s body is likewise twisted, giving him a distressed appearance. Maybe they’re reacting to each other.
Time is of the essence.
Not that things don’t change throughout time. Epstein did what many contemporary painters have done: he delved into foreign civilizations, in this instance the Sphinx of the Old Nile. Despite this, his portrayal of night and day, like Michelangelo’s, displays a naked person facing forward with exaggerated features that create the sense of being even more naked.
Aristide Maillol is a contemporary sculptor who, like Epstein, took styles from the past and imagined a time of day with a human form.
His “La Nuit” (The Night) depicts a contemplative woman with a bowed head, similar to Michelangelo’s figure of night.
A night owl.
The Albright-Knox Museum’s exhibit notes for Maillol’s “La Nuit” mention a different influence: “the lifeless massiveness of Egyptian sculpture.” That does not seem to be the case. The fact that all three painters – Michelangelo, Epstein, and Maillol – portray night as feminine is very noteworthy.
But wait, there’s one more sculpture of a guy and female named “Night and Day,” this one by Salvador Dali, with Cubist-style sharp angles. Despite his contemporary style, his depictions of male and female are weirdly old-fashioned, with the guy flexing his biceps and the girl posing in a flirtatious kittenish manner.
When it comes to issues of the heart, though, time is an indisputable aspect. I’m thinking of the gap between Rodin’s “The Kiss” (1882) and Brancusi’s (1907) – a century apart.
Time and time again,
The narrative of forbidden love from Dante’s “The Divine Comedy: Inferno” is the inspiration for Rodin’s version. As a result, love does not endure. What you see is a lady moving forward with one of her legs wrapped over her lover’s, implying that she is taking charge — knowing how the narrative ends makes it heartbreaking.
Brancusi, on the other hand, seems unconcerned with who did what in the hug. His figures are so intertwined that they’re almost impossible to tell apart. In this case, “The Kiss” has no precedents, implying that love may transcend time without the limits of tradition.
I’ll conclude on a more upbeat tone.
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