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Visual & Performing Arts
English (U.S.)
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Short paper. Michelangelo on Flemish Art. Two to three pages essay (Essay Sample)


Write a two to three page (500-700 word) commentary on the excerpt below. The quotation
comes from Francisco da Hollanda’s Four Dialogues on Painting, which was first published in
1548. In it, Michelangelo says some things about Northern European painting. Note: It is not
absolutely certain that Michelangelo spoke these words, but da Hollanda attributes them to
him. In other words, this presents a mid-sixteenth century idea about how an Italian artist –and
more specifically, Michelangelo—would have viewed Northern European art.
In your short paper, you should do two things:
1) explain what you think Michelangelo is saying, how he assesses contemporary art of the
2) explain how you think a Northern artist would respond to him. (You can pick a particular
artist or keep the identity of your Northerner generic.)
You can address both of the above in equal measure. Please do not do any research. You can
draw from what you have learned in the course. That said, any sources that you do consult and
cite (either directly or in paraphrase) need to be footnoted.
Your paper does not need a thesis statement, but of course, it should present fairly well
developed ideas in a coherent manner. The usual formatting guidelines apply: double spaced,
12 point font, and 4 cm margins.
The excerpt:
“‘Flemish painting,’ slowly answered the painter, ‘will, generally speaking, Signora, please the
devout better than any painting of Italy, which will never cause him to shed a tear, whereas
that of Flanders will cause him to shed many; and that not through the vigour and goodness
of the painting but owing to the goodness of the devout person. It will appeal to women,
especially to the very old and the very young, and also to monks and nuns and to certain
noblemen who have no sense of true harmony. In Flanders they paint with a view to external
exactness or such things as may cheer you and of which you cannot speak ill, as for example
saints and prophets. They paint stuffs and masonry, the green grass of the fields, the shadow
of trees, and rivers and bridges, which they call landscapes, with many figures on this side
and many figures on that. And all this, though it pleases some persons, is done without
reason or art, without symmetry or proportion, without skillful choice or boldness and,
finally, without substance or vigour. Nevertheless there are countries where they paint worse
than in Flanders. And I do not speak so ill of Flemish painting because it is all bad but because
it attempts to do so many things well (each one of which would suffice for greatness) that it
does none well.’”
As attributed to Michelangelo, by Francesco Hollanda.
Excerpt from Francisco da Hollanda, Four Dialogues on Painting [orig. pub. 1548], Aubrey F. G.
Bell, trans., Copyright ©1928 Oxford University Press


Michelangelo on Flemish Art
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In 1548, Francisco de Hollanda wrote down a conversation in his De Pintura Antigua between Vittoria Colonna and Michelangelo in which they were discussing the art from the North. After reading the excerpt in which Michelangelo expresses his viewpoint on Flemish painting, I can confidently say that Michelangelo disliked Flemish painting. His critique of Flemish art is very harsh. This is made evident in the way in which he speaks about Flemish art, saying that it is done without proportion or symmetry, without reason or art, without substance and vigor, and without boldness or skillful choice.  

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