Torrigiano, the Man Who Broke Michelangelo’s Nose
Felipe Pereda is the Fernando Zóbel de Ayala Professor of Spanish Art at Harvard University. He has worked on Iberian late medieval and early modern image theory and artistic culture with particular emphasis on the status of sacred images and the impact of confessional and interconfessional polemics on the arts of this period. His books include El atlas del Rey Planeta (3rd. ed. 2003) and Images of Discord: Poetics and Politics of the Sacred Image in 15th-century Spain (Harvey Miller, 2018). He has recently published on artists such as Sebastiano del Piombo, Luis de Morales, Ribera or Murillo. His latest book, Crime and Illusion: The Art of Truth in Golden Age Spain (Harvey Miller, 2018), approaches naturalism in relation to early modern debates on religious truth, empirical evidence, and philosophical skepticism.
In his biography of the Florentine sculptor Pietro Torrigiano, Vasari introduces his life with a long discourse on pride, speaking of its excesses and of its dangers. The Aretine describes Torrigiano as full of ambition—a talented, courageous artist who designed with buona maniera and fierezza, but whose encounter with Michelangelo transformed his arrogance into envy. Interestingly enough, when Vasari later describes the ominous episode that would leave Michelangelo’s nose broken, he uses the same term: con tanta fierezza did Torrigiano punch Michelangelo, that he left the mark of his envy on his rival’s face, per sempre. The encounter with Michelangelo marked not only Torrigiano’s life but his art. Documentary evidence, the testimony of contemporaries like Cellini, and—more than anything—Torrigiano’s own work, testify to the permanent impact of the event and to his ultimately tragic competition with his “divine” compatriot. The goal of this project is twofold: first, it seeks to reconstruct and to give an account the life of Pietro Torrigiano, in between myth and history; second, it will analyze his terracotta works, and particularly his late Sevillian sculptures, from the perspective of his travels. Finally, this project will look into the after-life of Torrigiano’s work and his legend. On the one hand, it will trace how his works were developed to a new genre of art in the Iberian world called imaginería that was practiced well into the eighteenth century; on the other, it will demonstrate how Torrigiano’s “promethean” myth survived him and later came to flourish in the Age of Romanticism—even as art history marginalized his work and dismissed his story as pure myth at the same time. In this sense, this project is about how art history killed Torrigiano, and how it needs a metaphorology to recuperate him.