(b. 1475, Caprese, d. 1564, Roma)

Madonna of the Stairs

Marble, 56 x 40 cm
Casa Buonarroti, Florence

This is the earliest extant work of Michelangelo. The waxy, translucent slab, like alabaster, is reminiscent of Desiderio. Carved in "rilievo schiacciato" it represents Michelangelo's exploration of quattrocento techniques. In both form and content we see the influence of Greek "stelai". The Madonna's face is in classical profile and she sits on a square block, Michelangelo's hallmark. He chose not to show the Child's face but placed him in an odd position, either nursing or sleeping and encased in drapery, suggesting protection. In the background, four youths handle a long cloth, identified either the one used to lower Christ from the cross or a shroud. Altogether the relief is much closer to Donatello's Pazzi Madonna then the intervening lyrical madonnas by Rossellino and Desiderio.