Sebastiano del Piombo: “Pietà”, c. 1512-16. Museo Civico Viterbo © Comune di Viterbo
Source: National Gallery of Art, London
”Michelangelo & Sebastiano” explores the complementary talents, yet divergent personalities, of the two artists. It encompasses approximately seventy works – paintings, drawings, sculptures and letters – produced by Michelangelo and Sebastiano before, during and after their association. Examples of their extensive, intimate correspondence offer us a unique insight into their personal and professional lives; their concerns, frustrations and moments of glory.
In 1511, Sebastiano, a young, exceptionally talented Venetian painter, arrived in Rome. He was quickly embroiled in the city’s fiercely competitive art scene. He met Michelangelo, who was working on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, and the two quickly became friends and allies against the prodigious Raphael; another recent arrival whose star was rising with the most influential patrons in Rome. As the only oil painter in the city to rival Raphael, Sebastiano was an ideal collaborator for Michelangelo, who did not care for the medium but wanted to marginalise his younger competitor. For his part, Sebastiano profited immensely from Michelangelo’s drawings and conceptual ideas. Together they created several works of great originality and rare beauty.
Their friendship lasted over twenty-five years, far beyond Michelangelo’s long-term relocation to his native Florence (1516) and Raphael’s death (1520). It ended acrimoniously after Michelangelo’s permanent return to Rome to paint the 'Last Judgement' in the Sistine Chapel, apparently with an argument over painting technique. Their partnership unfolded during a remarkably dramatic time for Italy – one of revolution, war and theological schism, but also of great intellectual energy and artistic innovation.