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

Sacrifice of Noah

1509
Fresco, 170 x 260 cm
Cappella Sistina, Vatican

In the centre of the background, Noah officiates at the sacrifice on an altar seen cornerways on. Giving thanks to the Lord for his salvation from the waters, the patriarch is wearing the same blood-red tunic that he wore when he was tilling the vineyard in the background of the Drunkenness of Noah. The work of assistants has been detected in the figure of Noah's wife on the right, surrounded by rigid outlines and modeled in a cursory manner, and also in the one of the youth on the left who, lighting the fire under the altar with a torch, shields his face from the heat with his hand.

The figures of the youth dragging the ram and the one taking the viscera of the animals were painted by Domenico Carnevali around 1568, after the original figures were lost as a result of the detachment of the intonaco caused by instability in the structure of the wall.

Noah's Offering has frequently been compared to classical scenes of votive offerings or sacrifice. And rightly so. But here a new element enters and points towards the future. It is the elliptical composition, partly hidden in the shape of a rhomb, which recurs later (especially in the cartoon by Raphael for a tapestry depicting the death of Ananias, finished a few years after the Sistine) and which was adopted by many artists. This typical Baroque motif has two focal points; unity is divided between two separate poles. The sons of Noah as two athletic acolytes are very much in evidence, while the main celebrant, bending over the sacrificial hearth, is inconspicuous in the background. The unrest of gesticulating bodies detracts from the spirit of the sacred rite.




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