Why the "art experts" believe the Von Pron models are real

Source:"Michelangelo Models", Paul LeBrooy, Creelman & Drummond, Vancouver, Canda, 1972, pp 128-131.

To some Michelangelo critics the hall- mark of authority as to whether or not a model

was actually created by the hand of Michelangelo is the re-worked surface of a wax

model (Figs. 4 and 159), or the corroded surface of a terrasecca model (Figs. 7 and

10), which gives them a roughly-finished and in some cases broken appearance. On the

other hand, the well preserved terracotta models by Michelangelo have been regarded

by some of these critics as copies because they do not have the surface texture that

they consider should be evident in original models. It should be noted that where a

critic believes that there are only a very few models by the hand of Michelangelo

exist ing today, this reasoning cannot be justified due to the lack of what he would

have considered to be authentic terracotta models with which to make a comparison.

The wax and terrasecca models by Michelangelo have deteriorated to a marked degree,

due to climate and temperature changes, since they were made. The terracotta models

by Michelangelo, however, do not seem to have been affected by the passage of time to

any great extent. It should therefore be obvious that it is actually easier to

establish the authenticity of a terracotta model by Michelangelo than one made by him

in wax or in terrasecca.

Michelangelo's biographer Herman Grimm {Leben Michelangelos, 1879, Vol. I, p. 488,

and Vol. II, pp. 552 and 553) made an intensive study of the Haehnel-von Praun

Collection of models and came to the conclusion that they were authentic. Julius

Grosse, in his work, Ernst Julius Haehnel's Literary Relics, 1893, says on p. 60 that

the famous models of the "Phases of the Day" are the original models by the hand of

Michelangelo and that the figure of the "Evening" is missing. Carl von Liitzow,

writing in 1876, regarded the three models of the "Phases of the Day" to be genuine

and said:

"The treatment of these sketches carries in all parts the stamp of originality.

Nothing can be found therein which "would suggest the nervous accuracy of a student

or a copyist, or the calculated arbitrariness of a forger. It is the first

incommunicable pouring-out of the imagination of the Great Master.

"Michelangelo made only small sketches (not medium sized models) and then he went

directly to work on the marble block without the aid of any further auxiliary


Henry Thode, writing in 1913, [Michelangelo, VI, Berlin) on the

Collection after having carefully examined the individual models over a considerable

period of time, was in a position to know and then deny Burger's opinion, as well as

that of Steinmann, both published in 1907. As already stated, the latter's was based

solely on the photography of that time and was the quoted reference basis ofde

Tolnay's opinion in 1948 {The Medici Chapel, Vol. Ill, p. 155, note 9).

It was not until 1913 when, after a lengthy study and after overcoming a pre-

conceived doubt which had been perhaps influenced by Burger's negative opinion of

1907, that Henry Thode came to the strong conviction that most of the models in the

Haehnel Collection were by the hand of Michelangelo and by no other hand-Burger

thought that some may have been by Tribolo.

Henry Thode in his "Michelangelos Tonmodelle aus der Haehnel'schen Sammlung", wrote

with regard to the models in the Haehnel Collection:

"A thorough and repeated examination of the models that have kindly been put at my

disposal by their present owners, Fraulein Anna Haehnel and Frau Ehse Walter Haehnel

in Dresden, has convinced me that we see in most of them genuine studies from the

Master's hand, and being genuine they are of great importance and very valuable,

although in the beginning one may not - have the courage to believe their genuineness

with regard to the fact that only a very few of Michelangelo's models have been

preserved. Not only their manifold particularities and, as far as they are

preparatory work for well known statues, differences from these exclude for my part

any doubt, but even more so and in a very decisive manner, also the singular

character, full of vigour, the incomparable knowledge of the human body, the

intensity of the view, the mighty feeling for the form as well as the masterful

execution. It is for me out of the question to speak of copies here where each

singular form is directly felt up into the smoothest, most unnoticeable swellings,

and yet the structure of the organic whole is completely uniform. Nobody who

copies-Burger thinks of Tribolo-would be able to do so with such a combination of

greatness and fineness and with such a conclusive authority on life's expression. One

can feel the finger of the creator as he animates the clay with the slightest

pressure, and one can feel with such an excitement and such a delight, as it is only

possible with the creation of one of the greatest artists.

"The above, however, is a judgment based merely on sentiments that are subjective and

which can therefore not be regarded in most cases as conclusive, although in reality

such a jugment is in many questions of art's history decisive in the end; and if

other positive proof cannot be found, one is allowed to build an argument based on

their origin, although this may not be a strong one. The well known art connoisseur

Paul von Praun (1548- 1616) who lived in Bologna and started his art collection in

1576, was advised in his art purchases in that city by the best artists. Since 1616

his collection was the pride of Nuremberg as the 'Art Cabinet' famous under his name.

However, it is not known from whom he bought the models, but at the time this

happened-not too long a time after the death of Michelangelo-he was well in a

position to learn of their origin and genuineness with the help of his artist

friends. The selectivity and the fame of his collection, for which he managed to

acquire amongst other objects a great number of the famous drawings which Vasari had

collected, shows with what great care he acted.

"It may further be noted that after Paul von Praun's death no further purchases have

been made for his 'Art Cabinet', which means that the models must have been acquired

all by himself."

Professor George Lehnert was of the opinion that the models in the Haehnel Collection

were creations of the Master or alternatively, where a seam in the clay is

detectable, they are the first and sole copies of original wax models made by him. He


"The overall style, the movement, the treatment of the skin, certain peculiarities

like the typical shape of the hands, the fingers and fingernails, all these facts

make it clear that these models are the works of Michelangelo. This is especially

significant with respect to the three main, the 'Day', the 'Night' and the 'Dawn'.

"It is impossible to think that these models, attributed to Michelangelo, were made

by some- one else. These models coincide in their particular peculiarities and in

their overall expression, that they are the works of the Great Master. Besides those

marked points in which they differ from other models, it is definitely established

that they are working models of the master sculptor. These deviations make it very

clear that these models were the actual working models which Michelangelo used to

create his beautiful monumental works in statuary. A faker who might have gone out of

his way to make slight changes in the models, in order to make them appear as if they

were study models of the Master, usually would have a rude awakening. That is to say,

a faker would have made such gross errors in the models that an art connoisseur would

have detected the fake right away. These deviations in the here- mentioned models

which the Master used for his final monuments, are proof that they are the real and

genuine models."

In 1924 Meier-Graefe published a very large portfolio of forty photographic

engravings of the models in the Haehnel Collection, and he was convinced of the

genuineness of the Collection. Ludwig Goldscheider, who has made the study of

Michelangelo one of the specialities of his distinguished career as an art historian

and author, went to Canada from Britain in 1962 for the specific purpose of examining

the Canadian Collection of Michelangelo models. Goldscheider, who undoubtedly has a

far greater knowledge of models by Michelangelo than any other of the all-too- few

living experts on Michelangelo's works, is of the opinion that there are at least six

models in the Vancouver Collection by the hand of the great Master-he is silent with

respect to eleven models which compose the balance of the Collection. The six models

by Michelangelo in the Vancouver Collection are well illustrated and thoroughly

discussed in his book, A Survey of Michelangelo's Models in Wax and Clay, published

by The Phaidon Press in 1962. According to Goldscheider, out of the fifteen to

eighteen models by Michelangelo extant in the world, approximately one-third (six)

are in the Canadian Collection.

In the "Commentary" of the catalogue of the Canadian Collection of models by

Michelangelo, when six of the models were privately exhibited in Montreal in 1963,

Ludwig Goldscheider says:

"There are two reasons why so few of Michelangelo's models have come down to us. One

is that such sketches in wax and clay perish easily, the other that Michelangelo

himself destroyed many of them. We know that in 1518, when he gave up his house in

Rome, all the cartoons and drawings which were still there, were burned by his orders

and that a few days before his death he asked that all 'sketches' in the house should

be destroyed. This was carried out and only three cartoons and a number of

architectural designs escaped destruction. One can safely assume that his hatred of

all sketches did not exclude the models in clay and wax. Why did Michelangelo act in

such a manner? Was it his desire that other artists should not learn his methods from

his sketches? We find the answer in Vasari (VII, 270):

'I know that shortly before his death Michelangelo burned a great number of his

drawings, models, and cartoons {disegni, schizzi, e cartoni), so that none might see

how hard he had worked and in which ways he had tried out his genius.'

"But it is, of course, against reason to assume that all the original models are lost

and only copies preserved. The originals have always been known as such by tradition,

and good care was taken to save them from destruction.

"Some thirty years ago Michelangelo's finest drawings were always regarded with

suspicion, and if their style was in some way unusual they were called 'copies'. But

this pedantic and contrac- tive method is now discredited, owing to the work of

Johannes Wilde, Barocchi, and other students. Michelangelo research has returned in a

certain degree to Thode's opinions so far as the drawings are concerned, but his

attitude towards the models has not yet been vindicated.

"There is no definite consensus about the models. Forty years ago the large

terracotta model of a 'River God' in the Florence Accademia was not accepted as an

original by C. Frey and A.E. Popp, the best 'Michelangelo experts' of their time.

Frey called it 'too poor in quality'. Popp attributed it to Ammanati. Today, however,

there is no one who would doubt the authenticity of this grand model. On the other

hand, the small wax model for a 'River God' (in the British Museum) is still doubted.

Not by Wilde, who accepts it as one of the only two genuine models in England, but by

Charles de Tolnay, who considers it as 'weak in execution and not in the style of

Michelangelo'. Neither does he regard as genuine a particularly fine, though not

softly modelled terracotta torso in the Casa Buonarroti. 'This model', he says,

'which is of high quality, does not show the texture of the original models of

Michelangelo'. As Tolnay's monumental work is the greatest contribution to

Michelangelo literature since the days of Justi and Thode, his judgments have an

over- powering influence even in cases where they can be contested.

"If the provenance of a model can be traced as far back as the time of the late

Renaissance, one should always hesitate to deny the authenticity of such a piece.

There are only two ancient collections of wax and clay sketches by Michelangelo - the

Paul von Praun Collection in Bologna and the Buonarroti Collection in Florence. Some

of the models there are originals, others are copies produced by the 'garzoni de

Michelangelo'. The Buonarroti Collection owns now six genuine models- another two

were sold and belong to the British Museum. The models, which were in the von Praun

Collection between 1590 and 1598, were catalogued in 1913 by Thode when they belonged

to the Haehnel heirs in Dresden. His list enumerates thirty-three pieces, of which, I

believe, at least six are authentic. They are now in the Vancouver Collection."

The von Praun Collection was in total, or at least in part, composed of models that

are authentic according to the convictions of many famous art authorities of the

past. A list of authorities would include Herman Grimm, writing in 1879 {Leben

Michelangelos) and in 1880 (Jahrbuch der Koniglichen Preussischen Kunstsammlungen);

Meier-Graefe, in a special publication along with a very large volume of forty

photo-engravings published in Berlin in 1924 under the title Michelangelo. Die

Terrakotten aus der Sammlung Haehnel, and such other notable art critics as

Avenarius, Pfister, Springer, Gottschewski, Lutzow, Hampe; Professor Haehnel, of

course, who wrote several articles on the subject, and the art historian, Christophe

Theophile Murr, the cataloguer of the von Praun Collection. All these art authorities

are united in their opinion that the terracotta models in the Haehnel-von Praun

Collection, or at least certain specified parts of it, are by the hand of

Michelangelo. Kurt Pfister in his "Die Terrakotten Michelangelos" article of 1924


"At least a considerable part (of the Haehnel Collection of models) can be expected

to have been created by Michelangelo's own hand. Not only is the origin of the works

first class; Paul von Praun acquired the Collection in 1598 in Bologna probably from

Vasari's heirs and at a time close to the death of Michelangelo. Also the conception

and the execution speak quite against the assumption that this is the work of

students for the purpose of study or forgery. The fragments not only show the

anatomical details to be copied and carried out by Michelangelo in marble, but

individual ones also show the rhythmic motives which portray the genius-like

inspiration of the moulder and which of necessity often lose some of their

originality in the completed marble work."

Generally speaking, besides Professor Goldscheider, the most authoritative of all the

writers on models by Michelangelo is Henry Thode, a renowned art historian, Professor

at Heidelberg, and author of six books and numerous articles on the Renaissance and

on Michelangelo in particular.