Three Lives Of Michelangelo: Lectures by WU expert showcases lifetime of work

Lydia McKelvie | Contributing Writer

Professor William Wallace is an internationally renowned scholar on Michelangelo and his contemporaries, and after having written over 90 essays, chapters and articles and seven books on the subject, he does not plan on stopping anytime soon.

Wallace was recently invited by the Interdisciplinary Project in the Humanities to give a three-part lecture series titled “Three Lives of Michelangelo,” broken into three sections: “Entrepreneur,” “Aristocrat” and “Octogenarian,” following the life of Michelangelo and his numerous and diverse works as they were shaped by his worldview and circumstances. It was not just a lecture to learn about the work, but about the artist himself, in order to inform the study of his work.

Extremely well-attended, this lecture series showcased the best of Washington University’s thriving Art History and Archeology department, complete with immense community support. The lecture was typical of a Professor Wallace lecture in that it was fun, engaging and managed to sneak in the profound when you didn’t expect it to. It made you look at art, in this case the art of Michelangelo, differently. It made it awe-inspiring and alive.

No stranger to publication, Wallace’s new book, tentatively titled “God’s Architect,” served as a basis for the “Octogenarian” lecture, which focused on the last years of Michelangelo’s life. These years were “the busiest and most creative” of his life, according to Wallace, in which the artist was “the supreme architect of the largest and most important building project in the world”—Peter’s Basilica in Rome—under the appointment of Pope Paul III.

“The artist who had painted the Sistine Chapel, and who had carved the Bacchus, the Pieta, David and Moses, hadn’t he done enough?” Wallace asked the audience.
Michelangelo certainly felt that he had. But, as Wallace put it in his lecture, “One does not say no to the Pope.” Thus, Michelangelo became, as he believed himself to be, “God’s Architect” and set about the immensely important and difficult design of a project he knew he would not live to see completed.

Art that lives well beyond the artist: It’s a concept that art historians and aficionados alike recognize. Whether they are regarded during the lifetimes of the artists or not, art has an ability to reach people across the confines of time, place or context. When art is so dynamic, the study of art is an inherently dynamic discipline with room for growth and change across generations.

As Wallace said succinctly, “There’s never a last word written. Every generation has new ways of seeing and new questions to ask.”

When asked by an audience member if he plans on continuing this rigid Michelangelo-oriented track of study, Wallace replied with a laugh, “Yes, there’s more to learn, even on Michelangelo…You can never really exhaust a person,not if they are interesting!”

This certainly would describe Michelangelo. His works are seemingly endless—as an Art History student myself, I frequently found myself asking, “Wait, did he make that too?”

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening at Washington University and beyond.