Tomb of Giuliano de' Medici Sculpture by Michelangelo

Though never finished, the tomb of Giuliano de' Medici in the Medici Chapel is the only one of Michelangelo's great architectural-sculptural projects to be realized in a form approaching completion.

Michelangelo's Tomb of Giuliano de' Medici
Michelangelo created the tomb of Giuliano de' Medici
(20 feet 8 inches x 13 feet 9 inches) for the Medici
Chapel
of San Lorenzo in Florence.

Built between 1520 and 1534, it is widely held to be one of Michelangelo's most stunning achievements.

Giuliano, Detail of Michelangelo's Tomb of Giuliano de' Medici
Giuliano detail from Michelangelo's tomb of
Giuliano de' Medici.

The pose of the central figure on the tomb of Giuliano de' Medici, arms resting at his sides and legs comfortably apart, and its open composition suggest a cheerful duke, generous in both mind and spirit. In fact, the figure holds in his hand several coins, as if an intended gift. Light plays freely on his beautiful face, yet the figure is lacking in energy and seems to wilt under the burden of the Roman armor. Michelangelo did not intend for this sculpture, nor that of Lorenzo, to be a recognizable portrait of the duke, but instead an ideological tribute through its enhanced beauty and dignity.

Night, Detail of Michelangelo's Tomb of Giuliano de' Medici
Night, as portrayed on the tomb of Giuliano de' Medici.

The only one of the four allegorical figures reclining on the sarcophagi in the chapel to be clearly identified by her attributes, Night is accompanied by an owl, a mask, and a clutch of poppies. A moon is on her diadem. Her muscular body reflects Michelangelo's habit of working from a male model even for his female nudes. In fact, several of the artist's sketches for Night, using a male model, are still preserved.

Night Detail from Michelangelo's Tomb of Giuliano de' Medici
Detail of Night from the tomb of Giuliano de' Medici.

Michelangelo imbued the figure of Night in the tomb of Giuliano de' Medici with dramatic intensity by contrasting the serenity of her face with the contorted pose and the muscular realism of her torso.

Night Detail from Michelangelo's Tomb of Giuliano de' Medici
Detail of Night from the tomb of Giuliano de' Medici.

The masterful detail evident in the portrayal of Night on the tomb of Giuliano de' Medici has earned its status as the most admired of the four figures on the Medici sarcophagi.

Day, Detail from Michelangelo's Tomb of Giuliano de' Medici
Day, as portrayed on the tomb of Giuliano de' Medici.

As in the sculpture of Dusk on the tomb of Lorenzo de' Medici, Michelangelo has given this figure a haunting expression by adopting an unfinished surface for his face and contrasting it with the highly polished finish of the rest of his body. Seen through a veil of marble, his pained expression takes on a haunting quality.

The muscular development of Day surpassed even the rippling might of David or Moses, yet the figure appears to grow weary from the mass of his own body, echoing the tired dejection seen in the sculptures of the dukes.

See the next section of this article for information on the tomb of Lorenzo de' Medici, which also resides in the Medici Chapel.

To learn more about Michelangelo, art history, and other famous artists, see: