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


Fresco, 390 x 380 cm
Cappella Sistina, Vatican

The melancholy, abstracted Jeremiah, more than any other figure, is a deeply moving moral self portrait. Sorrowful unto death, he rests from his spiritual vision, to reflect on the hardship and frustration of earthly existence. We share the artist's pity for this noble being, prematurely aged and steeped in the anguish of the universe who, alone among the Prophets, must carry the weight of earthly existence. His hand grasps his beard with a saturnine gesture that seems to be second nature to him. The genii of Jeremiah are the strangest of the whole series. The one to the left is feminine and, as it were, an image of the Prophet's afflicted soul, painfully conscious of the absence of pure goodness and beauty on the earthly plane, unless it be in art; and even that was all too often suspect to the zealous among Christian and Jewish communities where iconoclasm was forever lurking in the dark recesses of the mind. In short, the genius is a symbol of Platonism defeated in Michelangelo's youth by Savonarola. Platonism itself found expression in the most sublime among the ignudi on the Prophet's left. The shaping of the limbs the perfect torso and magnificent, calmly musing profile surpass, if that be possible, the Greek ideal of beauty. The monkish, hooded figure on the Prophet's right is an unmistakable allusion to Savonarola; to the summons of duty and conscience, to the injunction not to linger unduly in the realms of Greek art. That is why the ignudo above resembles a bent Atlas straining under the weight of his cornucopia, bearing a world that casts a shadow upon his shoulders.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 19 minutes):
Thomas Tallis: The Lamentations of Jeremiah