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Michelangelo exhibit a dry study at the High

If you're curious about what Michelangelo might have eaten for supper in the year 1518, then you must see Michelangelo: Drawings and Other Treasures From the Casa Buonarroti, Florence at the High Museum of Art. Should you want to learn more about Michelangelo, you will be disappointed. This dry exhibition is primed for a select group of art historians and cognoscenti.

The exhibition design incorporates architectural elements of the 17th-century building that houses the Italian museum dedicated to Michelangelo and his family. Selected by guest curator Dr. Gary Radke of Syracuse University, in collaboration with Casa Buonarroti director Pina Ragionieri, 47 objects from the Buonarroti family home in Florence, Italy, are meant to convey the artistic ambience that surrounded the artist. But the oddly assembled display — a few rare artifacts and several unremarkable commissioned paintings and portraits collected by family members — fails to present a memorable impression of the artist himself or the influences on his oeuvre.

Among the 24 works on paper by Michelangelo (1475-1564) are figure studies and architectural drawings. The unfinished "Madonna and Child," circa 1525, is the most satisfying visual meditation on view. "Nude Seen From Behind" and "Study for the Head of Leda" relate to sculptural projects. Spare renderings of marble blocks, doorways and building facades for architectural fabrications (often never completed) lead the way to documents of Michelangelo's work on the Sistine Chapel in Rome's Vatican City and his designs for a sacristy in San Lorenzo, Italy.

The chapel project is illustrated by a handful of penciled sketches — an arm, a face, three nude figures — and an enormous wall-mounted color copy of the famous painted ceiling. A penned self-portrait drawn next to a sonnet the artist wrote makes an interesting curiosity. The caricature and poem describe the unnatural posture Michelangelo had to assume for more than four years as he painted the ceiling in the early 1500s. There's a great anecdote in the catalog about how, after he completed that project, the artist was able to read small print or study a small object only by holding it up over his head.

Remarkably, a contemporary display laid out just beyond the Michelangelo exhibition punctuates the 16th-century artist's architectural work. Art of the Architect, curated by Atlanta-based Italian artist/architect Angela Della Costanza Turner, is a one-room exhibit of work by modern and present-day Italian architects that demonstrates the potency of the built environment. Eighteen imaginative drawings and paintings by Massimo Scolari, Arduino Cantafora, Franco Purini, Franz Prati and the late Aldo Rossi display the energy and creativity that precede the technical details of construction.

Prati's abstract cubist landscape, "North Mediterranean Night," contrasts Scolari's surrealistic watercolor, "Beyond the Sky." Pen drawings and expressive colorworks represent Rossi's sense of urban space. Industrial structures in blues and grays by Cantafora complement Purini's monotone graphic designs. Their evocative aesthetics create a vibrant counterpoint to the less inspired vision of Michelangelo that has taken most of the spotlight at the High so far this summer.

Postscript: According to the sketches and notes on "Three Different Lists of Foods" (1518), Michelangelo's dinner for two involved "two rolls; a pitcher of wine; a herring; tortelli; a salad." Spartan fare was the rule for the celebrated artist.

Michelangelo: Drawings and Other Treasures From the Casa Buonarroti, Florence continues through Sept. 2 at the High Museum of Art, 1280 Peachtree St. Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Open until 8 p.m. the first Thurs. of the month. 404-733-HIGH. www.high.org.??

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