The Genius of Victory was sculpted by Michelangelo for one of his many projects for the tomb of Pope Julius II, who was Pope from 1503 until his death in 1513.
The famous Prisoners statues also belonged to that project.
Pope Julius II was known as the “Warrior Pope,” as he was very active in making the papacy the most dominant military and political force in Italy.
In 1505, Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to create the Pope’s tomb for his final resting place.
The original idea was to create a freestanding tomb seven meters wide, eleven meters deep, and eight meters high, with about 40 statues. However, due to a lack of funding and people convincing the pope that it was bad luck to have his tomb built while he was still alive, the project was delayed. After the death of the Pope, the project became gradually less ambitious. As a result, the final tomb includes substantially fewer statues and is no longer freestanding. The tomb can be found in the San Pietro in Vincoli Church in Rome.
The statue of Victory may have been started as early as 1519, but it remains unknown whether it was originally planned as part of the tomb.
Today, the most reliable dating for this statue is 1534. The strong manneristic features (exaggerated contortions and complex movements) link this figure to the Prisoners.
The sculpture is almost 9 feet tall (2.61 meters).
It is thought to have been intended for one of the lower niches of one of the last projects for the tomb, perhaps that of 1532 for which the Prisoners, now in the Galleria dell’Accademia of Florence, were also made. On the other hand, the monument may have been coupled with a similar pair of fighters, a clay model in the Casa Buonarroti known as the Hercules-Samson.
With the famous statue unfinished, the Victory forms an interesting footnote in history: left in the artist’s studio after his final departure from Florence in 1534, it became the property of his nephew Leonardo Buonarroti, who first tried to sell it in 1544 without obtaining the necessary authorization from his uncle. Then, at the suggestion of Daniele da Volterra, he tried to place it on Michelangelo’s tomb in Santa Croce (1564), but Giorgio Vasari, who was redesigning the church’s interior, was against it being used there. Vasari suggested giving the statue to Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici, as in fact happened that year.
If the Prisoners from Julius’ tomb ended up in Buontalenti’s Grotto in the Boboli Gardens, while the Victory came to decorate the Salone dei Cinquecento of the Palazzo Vecchio. It was placed along the wall, among the statues of the Labors of Hercules by Vincenzo de’ Rossi and others.
In 1868, three years after the opening of the National Museum of the Bargello, the statue was included in the collection of Florentine sculptures gathered in the museum. It was returned to the Palazzo Vecchio on November 6, 1921, and is now placed in a niche in the modern center of the back wall of the room, where, since the time when Florence had been the capital of Italy (1865), the 19th-century statue of Savonarola had stood (now in Piazza Savonarola). Only in recent years has the Victory been restored to its former position along the right wall.
Description and style
In this work the artist wanted to symbolize man’s struggle and suffering. The Genius of Victory is an allegory of victory overlooking the defeated. For this reason, the Victory depicts a vigorous young man, standing with a crown of oak leaves and holding a sling, overlooking an old sagging and wrinkled man on the surface of the stone.
The oak leaves in the crown of the standing man refer to the emblem of the house of Della Rovere (which literally means “of the oak tree”), a noble Italian family that produced two popes.
The body is twisted in an extreme way, but Michelangelo makes it look like a comfortable position.
The knee of the young man seems to push hard onto the head of the old man.
It depicts the winner who dominates the submissive loser with great agility, with one leg that blocks the body of the captive, who is folded and chained. The young man who is the genius is beautiful and elegant, while the dominated man is old and bearded, with a flabby body and a resigned expression.
The surfaces are treated expressively to enhance the contrast between the two figures: the young polished to perfection, the old rough and incomplete, still retaining the impression of the heavy stone from which it was made.
“Far easier on the eyes was Michelangelo’s breathtaking Genius of Victory, which stood to the right, dominating the central niche in the south wall. At nearly nine feet tall, this sculpture had been intended for the tomb of the ultraconservative pope Julius II—Il Papa Terribile—a commission Langdon had always found ironic, considering the Vatican’s stance on homosexuality. The statue depicted Tommaso dei Cavalieri, the young man with whom Michelangelo had been in love for much of his life and to whom he composed over three hundred sonnets.” (Dan Brown, Inferno)
According to tradition, Michelangelo depicted in the face of the statue the features of his lover Tommaso dei Cavalieri, a young Roman nobleman known by Michelangelo in Rome in 1532, to whom he dedicated many poems in which he expressed his love for him, and from whom he drew inspiration for some of his other works. Michelangelo was 57 years old when he met Cavalieri, who was 23 at the time.
They remained lifelong friends, even though Cavalieri married in 1538 and had two children.
Michelangelo was born in 1475 in Caprese, in Tuscany.
He is considered one of the greatest artists ever and was considered the best artist of his time. He is probably most well known for his sculptures (think about the David and the Pietà) and his frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, such as the Creation of Adam and The Last Judgment.
Part of his childhood was spent in Florence. When he was 6 years old his mother died. For the better part of his life he cared above all for his father and his four brothers; it was only for a short period of time, when he was in his sixties, that he began to engage in serious relationships, such as the one with Tommaso dei Cavalieri.
Therefore, we can understand that he would do this in protest against the conservative attitude of the Pope… like our Dante Alighieri, Michelangelo was very proud and stubborn…
This post was originally published in August 28 2013 and has been updated and enriched on January 16, 2018.