Commissioned along with Leonardo da Vinci in 1504 to paint a battle scene on the wall of the Great Council Hall in Florence, Michelangelo jumped at the chance.
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In his depiction of the 1364 Battle of Cascina, a decisive Florentine victory against the Pisans, he chose the ambush at the beginning.
Surprised while bathing in the Arno, naked men are leaping from the water, struggling to find clothes and armor. Graceful backs, smooth buttocks, muscular arms and legs entwine in one great intimate pile of sensual masculine flesh.
Michelangelo was intoxicated with the male body and became the first major painter to transfigure the erotic into art.
Neither finished his fresco, but the preliminary drawings and cartoons have been copied many times, reshaping cultural history.
I spoke with Jonathan Jones, author of “The Lost Battles: Leonardo, Michelangelo and the Artistic Duel That Defined the Renaissance,” on the following topics:
1. Medicis Overthrown
2. Leonardo’s Mona Lisa
3. Michelangelo’s David
4. Competitive Florence
5. Missing Cartoons
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(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)