Leonardo, Michelangelo, and the Art of the Figure Michael W. Cole

Publication date:
22 Jan 2015
Yale University Press
192 pages: 229 x 152mm
20 color + 50 b-w illus.
Sales territories:

In late 1504 and early 1505, Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) and Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564) were both at work on commissions they had received to paint murals in Florence’s City Hall.  Leonardo was to depict a historic battle between Florence and Milan, Michelangelo one between Florence and Pisa.  Though neither project was ever completed, the painters’ mythic encounter shaped art and its history in the decades and centuries that followed.  

This concise, lucid, and thought-provoking book looks again at the one moment when Leonardo and Michelangelo worked side by side, seeking to identify the roots of their differing ideas of the figure in 15th-century pictorial practices and to understand what this contrast meant to the artists and writers who followed them. Through close investigation of these two artists, Michael W. Cole provides a new account of critical developments in Italian Renaissance painting.

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Read an extract from Michael W. Cole's Leonardo, Michelangelo, and the Art of the Figure on the YaleBooks blog.

Michael W. Cole is professor of art history and archaeology at Columbia University. 

‘Michael Cole’s concise study explores the encounter between Leonardo and Michelangelo in 1504-05, when both artists were at work on mural commissions for Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. Although neither painting was completed, Cole argues, the episode should be integral to our understanding of the Artists’ contrasting notions of the figure…’—Apollo, 1st February.

‘Far from rehearsing familiar lines of thought on the work of these two great artists, Cole brings to them a fresh perspective, one that places the image at the absolute centre of the investigation.’—Maya Corry, Apollo.

“How to explain the mystery that is at the heart of Renaissance art, the transformation of the stolid, block-like figures of the 14th century into sinewy, dynamic figures of infinite possibilities?  Do not expect easy answers.  Written as something close to a meditation, the author wants the reader to see the difficulty of the problem as he wends his way through its many permutations.”—CHOICE

"This slim, elegant, beautifully designed, and copiously illustrated book is an intense meditation on the concept of force in Italian Renaissance art and aesthetics. . . . The author explores the power of the figure in art and, in doing so, he offers a fresh view of various shifts of style from the early Renaissance to the High Renaissance and mannerism. . . . Cole's pregnant book . . . will command a broad readership."—Paul Barolsky, Renaissance Quarterly