Tag Archives: Michelangelo

Thoughts on “The Ideal” by Charles Baudelaire

Night by Michelangelo

Never those beauties in old prints vignetted,
Those shopworn products of an worthless age,
With slippered feet and fingers castanetted,
The thirst of hearts like my heart can assuage.

To Gavarni, the poet of chloroses,
I leave his troupe of beauties sick and wan;
I cannot find among those pale, pale roses
The red ideal mine eyes would gaze upon.

Lady Macbeth, a soul strong in crime,
Aeschylus’ dream born in a northern clime—
Ah, you could quench my dark heart’s deep desiring;

Or you, Michelangelo’s daughter, Night,
In a strange posture dreamily admiring
Your beauty fashioned for a giant’s delight!

(translation: F.P. Sturm)

This poem is Baudelaire’s critique of the artistic ideal of beauty. He asserts that beauty expressed through art is unrealistic, and the result is a “dark heart’s deep desiring” for something that does not exist.

In the second stanza, he contrasts “pale, pale roses” with the “red ideal mine eyes would gaze upon.” The roses here symbolize women, the red rose being an artistic representation of the idealized female form, and the pale rose being a real woman.

Baudelaire’s argument is still valid today. We still have an ideal of what beauty should be, and this ideal is something that no amount of plastic surgery can bestow upon a person. We all have flaws and imperfections, and I think what Baudelaire is asserting here is that it is our imperfections that convey our true beauty, those unique qualities that are specific to an individual.

As long as we lust after the ideal of beauty, we will always be disillusioned, unhappy, and burdened with the longing for something we will never attain.


Filed under Literature

“Beacons” by Charles Baudelaire

Francisco Goya

Francisco Goya

This is a great poem that pays homage to the painters who inspired Baudelaire. It’s fairly long, so I am going to include a link to the poem rather than include it in this post.


Each of the first eight stanzas is dedicated to an artist and describes their artistic styles and works. The eight artists are Rubens, da Vinci, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Puget, Watteau, Goya, and Delacroix. All of these artists are described as drawing inspiration from darker sources, or “Deducing beauty from crime, vice and terror.” Just as Baudelaire was able to use the sick, evil, and decayed as fertilizer to grow his Flowers of Evil, so these artists managed to take the grotesque and perverse and create stunning works of beauty.

After acknowledging these artists, Baudelaire addresses the divine, and in a way, offers thanks for the pain, suffering, insanity, and decadence that sparked the artistic flame, igniting the beacons to shine through the darkness which is the human condition.

These curses, blasphemies, and lamentations,
These ecstasies, tears, cries and soaring psalms —
Through endless mazes, their reverberations
Bring, to our mortal hearts, divinest balms.

A thousand sentinels repeat the cry.
A thousand trumpets echo. Beacon-tossed
A thousand summits flare it through the sky,
A call of hunters in the jungle lost.

And certainly this is the most sublime
Proof of our worth and value, Oh Divinity,
That this great sob rolls on through ageless time
To die upon the shores of your infinity.

In these final stanzas, the hunter is a symbol for the artist, who is pursuing the muse. The jumgle is like the wilderness. It represents the darker and primal aspect of the artist’s subconscious mind. It is here where one must venture in order to find the most powerful sources of creative inspiration. The artist must then share the vision, acting as a beacon and a source of inspiration to other artists and humanity as a whole.

Baudelaire’s work never ceases to amaze and inspire me. He is truly one of the most original and stirring poets that I have encountered. I hope you enjoyed the post. Have an inspired day!


Filed under Literature

“Michelangelo: A Tormented Life” by Antonio Forcellino

Shortly after returning from a trip to Italy, my mother-in-law gave me a copy of Michelangelo: A Tormented Life by Antonio Forcellino. Having had the opportunity to marvel at Michelangelo’s works, I was eager to read this book and find out more about the person who created these icons of western art.

Overall, I found the book to be slightly tedious and slow at times. That said, there was still enough interesting material to allow me to make it from cover to cover. My biggest criticism, though, was the abundance of typos and grammatical errors. Having worked as a proofreader and editor, I am fully aware that an occasional error will slip past, and I am completely forgiving of that, but when a book is presented as a scholarly piece of art history and I lose count of the number of noticeable mistakes, that to me is not acceptable.

OK, now that I’ve had my cathartic moment, I’ll talk about some of the things I found interesting. I was not surprised to read about Michelangelo’s homosexual desires. Just looking at his works, you can see that he was fascinated by the beauty of the male form. I did find it fascinating to read about his internal conflicts, trying to reconcile his religious beliefs with his inner passions. I personally feel that it was this inner struggle that fueled his creative genius. There was one time that he openly expressed how he felt about men, and that was in the sonnets. Ironically, Michelangelo’s nephew’s son later changed the gender of the words in the sonnets to hide the artist’s homosexual passions (p. 9).

I think what I found the most interesting in the book was the historical background of the period. I have always had this romantic view of Florence during the Italian Renaissance, that it was a place where ideas were openly shared and explored, where the arts were supported, where there was a desire to advance humanity. That doesn’t seem to be the case. In fact, Italy during that period doesn’t seem that different to today’s world. There was lots of violence, women were not considered equal to men, and artists were exploited by the rich to create propaganda promoting the elite and powerful. Add to that the religious tensions and wars, and the horrific atrocities associated with those conflicts, and you have a world view that parallels ours. The passage from the book that really stands out for me is: “No violence is comparable with the violence generated by religious hatred” (p. 163). Well said, and sadly still true today.

I don’t think this book is for everyone. If you are interested art and art history, or if you love Italy as much as I do, then you will get something out of it. If not, I suspect you’ll toss the book aside before you finish the first hundred pages.

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Filed under Non-fiction