The Art History Newsletter

What Makes a Genius?

by | 22 July 2010 | Awards, Books, Renaissance

A Virginia newspaper, The News Leader, profiles UVA professor Cammy Brothers, whose book Michelangelo, Drawing, and the Invention of Architecture recently won the Charles Rufus Morey Book Award from the College Art Association and the Alice Davis Hitchcock Book Award from the Society of Architectural Historians:

Michelangelo stands apart from his contemporaries. But is he a genius, as his historical legacy would have us believe? … Brothers counters the commonly held notion of genius as a function of spontaneity, which Michelangelo himself set forth. He encouraged the idea that he never studied with anyone, and that his gifts just came to him naturally. Brothers argues, “What we see in his drawings – and the same can be said about Leonardo – is that there is actually evidence of tremendous labor. There is a huge amount of work that goes into anything he comes up with and the drawings document that in a way that the finished works cannot.” The drawing evidence also counters the idea of genius as having an endless supply of ideas that “crop up in a spontaneous manner.” Michelangelo kept his drawings as an archive “from which he keeps drawing. He goes back to old ideas revising them and repurposing them,” she said. In the book, Brothers focuses on two aspects of Michelangelo’s work – the relation between the drawings he made of the human figure and his architecture, and what these drawings, considered together, reveal about Michelangelo and his way of thinking. Looking at different aspects of an artist’s work together is rare for art historians. In Michelangelo’s case, that means they would be examining either his paintings, sculptures or architecture, Brothers said, but rarely two or three of those genres together. Another rarity is to study architectural drawings removed from the investigation of what they reveal about the built architectural work … “What is unusual about my work is that I was interested in the drawings for their own sake, in terms of what they reveal about Michelangelo’s way of thinking,” she said … Brothers’ next project will focus on the work of Giuliano da Sangallo.