Why LeBrooy Believes the von Praun Models are Originals

Source:"Michelangelo Models", Paul LeBrooy, Creelman & Drummond, Vancouver, Canda, 1972, pp 132-135

Additional reasons why the great majority of the models in the von Praun Collection are original models by the hand of Michelangelo

If all the models in the von Praun Collection are copies of lost original models by

Michelangelo and are not therefore directly from the Master's hand, it is very

surprising that not one of these supposed original models by Michelangelo exists

today to substantiate this theory, which was first compounded by Burger and Steinmann

in 1907.The theory was completely discounted by Thode in 1913, by Meier- Graefe in

1924 and by Goldscheider in 1962. According to Thode, the majority of the terracotta

models are of such perfection that they could only have been created by one of the

greatest of artists Michelangelo himself and not by a copyist of his original models.

It is also surprising that so few of Michelangelo's small models have survived to

this day (only those shown in Figs. 7 and 10, according to de Tolnay's opinion not

too long before his appointment as Director of the Casa Buonarroti), especially in

view of the esteem in which they were held in Michelangelo's own day and

subsequently. With the exception of the terracotta model in the British Museum (Fig.

171), it is indeed significant that outside of the von Praun Collection no other

similar models of terracotta have ever changed hands in any art dealings of the past.

It is not unreasonable to suppose that more than two models have survived, and that

to those few that are today generally considered as genuine, should be added all, or

at least a large percentage, of the forty models originally in the von Praun

Collection, a collection formed shortly after the death of Michelangelo and kept

intact for the most part until the Christie's sale of 1938. Can as much be said with

respect to the history and the authenticity of other models by Michelangelo? Sir Eric

Maclagan in his Burlington Magazine article of 1924 (Vol. XLIV) states on p. 15: "The

models in the Casa Buonarroti are not very easy to study, and so far as I know no

catalogue of them, except the list by Dr. Thode, has ever been published." A number

of the models in the von Praun Collection have a small hole in them in order that

they could be hung by a string and studied by Michelangelo from all angles. If these

models were copies of the original statues or even of lost original models, it is

very doubtful that the copyist would have placed these holes in them.

The clay models from the von Praun Collection show distinct differences in tone and

colour which varies from a light yellow, to ochre and to a reddish dark brown. The

reason for the colour variation is that the models were created at different times

and at different places. If the owner of an original Michelangelo model had wished to

pro- duce copies in order to sell them to art dealers, he would have produced the

copies at the same time and in the same clay material, and the then fired objects

would all have been of the same colour. Such is not the case, however, with the

models from the von Praun Collection.

It should not be forgotten that Paul von Praun was a contemporary of Michelangelo (he

was sixteen when Michelangelo died) and that he started his collection in Bologna,

which was one of the principal centres of art in Italy at that time. Praun, being

wealthy and well educated, was in a favourable position to be advised by the best

artists of the day, such as his close friend the sculptor Giovanni da Bologna (a

former student of Michelangelo's), and undoubtedly would have known the difference

between a copy and an original model by Michelangelo. Von Praun was one of the

greatest art collectors of his day and he was, in fact, an advisor in art to kings

and to many of the nobility of his time.

If anybody had been desirous of faking a model by Michelangelo, it is almost certain

that he would have faked a complete model, such as one of the "Phases of the Day". It

is most unlikely that anyone would have faked a study of an individual part of the

proposed complete statue, as for example, "the right hand of'Dawn" (Fig. 17). Studies

in wax and clay of individual parts of the human body not only fit into the normal

pattern of Michelangelo's work method, but there also exists a similar pattern or

trend in drawings by the Great Master.

Professor Lehnert speaks of deviations between the models and the final finished

statuary. In this category he includes the "Mask" and the "Owl" of the "Night" in the

von Praun Collection which, he points out, differ substantially in the finished

marble. He remarks on the fact that the left hand of "Giuliano" in clay holds an

article other than the rod of the statue, and that the clay arm of "Christ" is

resting on a support other than that shown in the marble statue of the "Pieta". The

model of the "Day" wins Lehnert's support primarily because its face and head are

perfectly executed, whereas the face and head of the marble statue were left

unfinished. The same circumstance applies in the case of the model of the "Night", as

its left hand and lower arm are perfectly executed, but left only as a stump of

roughhewn marble in the Medici Chapel figure. Contemporary sources state that the

Master chipped away and completely ruined the left arm of the marble "Night" in his

attempt to alter it.

The painting "Sight", by Jan Brueghel the "Elder" now in the Prado Museum dated ca.

1617, shows four small models by Michelangelo (Fig. 144). Two of these models are for

the "Night" and for the "Dawn", while the other two are models for the two slaves for

the "Julius Monument", namely the "Dying Captive" and the "Heroic Captive". It is

only in the Paul von Praun Col- lection that these four models are recorded (Murr's

Catalogue, p. 241) as having existed together in one collection, and therefore there

is every reason to believe that these four models are the original inspiration for

the inclusion of four Michelangelo models in the Brueghel painting. It is very

possible that the four models in the painting were taken from drawings of the four

models in the von Praun Collection, which were done during the course of Brueghel's

short visit to Italy in 1596—after moving early in his life to Antwerp, he never left

there except for that trip to Italy. The painting is one of a series of five panels

depicting imaginary landscapes, architecture, and interiors with collections of

paintings by Rubens and other artists, and with sculptures and busts, in addition to

numerous other man-made objects which Brueghel was fond of portraying so as to

display his skill and virtuosity in a single painting or series of paintings.

There is every indication that Rubens' three sketches (Fig. 62) after Michelangelo's

"Night", presently in The Hague, were not drawings of the marble figure in the Medici

Chapel and that the model for the "Night" from the von Praun Collection and now in

the Victoria and Albert Museum was the actual model from which Rubens made the

sketches. There also exists the possibility that von Praun, who lived at the time of

Michelangelo and Tintoretto and who also possessed drawings and paintings by

Michelangelo and by Tintoretto, may have purchased some of his Michelangelo models

directly from Tintoretto, as the latter is known to have possessed a number of small

original Michelangelo models, among them a clay sketch of "Hercules and Cacus". The

story of Antonio Mini and his possession of two large boxes full of terracotta models

by Michelangelo is also well-known. When Mini died in France, all his Michelangelo

treasures disappeared except for a few models which Leonardo da Vinci's friend.

Rustic!, brought back to Florence. Perhaps these few models found their way into the

von Praun Collection which was formed about this time (see reference to the Canadian

Collection, p. 223 of the 4th edition of the volume, Michelangelo: Paintings,

Sculptures, Architecture, by Goldscheider).

As has already been pointed out, both the Murr Catalogue of the von Praun Collection

and Henry Thode state that Paul von Praun bought in Bologna (directly from the heir

and nephew ofVasari) the balance of the Vasari Collection of drawings which the heir

had brought from Rome to Bologna at the end of the sixteenth century.

Vasari, who was a contemporary of von Praun, owned small models by Michelangelo (clay

sketches for the head and the arms of "Cosmas") and as reported by Murr and Thode

many drawings, and very possibly a number of paintings by the great masters in the

Vasari Collection, found their way into the von Praun Collection. It is therefore

conceivable that one or more of the clay models by Michelangelo in the von Praun

Collection were originally in the Vasari Collection.

Michelangelo left Florence before he completed the Medici Chapel monuments. The fact

that the face of the figure in the model of the "Day" (now in the Houston Museum) is

complete, as is its head of the antique Herculean-type, proves that the small clay

model is older than the marble figure in the Chapel. According to Henry Thode, the

stupendous head of the "Day" by itself is sufficient to prove the genuineness of the

von Praun model, as well as of all the others which are so very similar in their

execution. Thode further states that: "...none of Michelangelo's imitators, even the

most endowed, would have been able to create anything like it; one has only to

compare statues ofRaffaele da Montelupo or ofMontorsoli, or even ofGiovanni da

Bologna." Additional proof of authenticity is the fact that the left hand of the

marble figure of the "Night" in the Medici Chapel is partially shortened and has been

left incomplete by Michelangelo, whereas the lovely terracotta model of the "Night",

now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, shows a left hand which is complete in all


On April 20th, 1562, Allessandro Vittorio, the sculptor and former student of

Michelangelo, is reported to have bought the small clay model for "The Left Foot of

Day" by Michelangelo. It is very unlikely that this famous sculptor would have bought

a falsification. Herman Grimm (Leben Michelangelos, 1879, Vol. 2, pp. 552 and 553)

was of the strong opinion that the terracotta model for the left foot of "Day" in the

Haehnel-von Praun Collection was the same model that Vittorio had previously pur-

chased from the Bologna art dealer, Nicolo Zolfino, for three Venetian skudi.

In his 1924 publication on the terracottas from the Haehnel Collection, Professor

Julius Meier-Graefe says:

"Today it would be difficult for anyone with a well-founded veneration for

Michelangelo to ima- gine that the Titan who created the collossi of the Medici Tombs

being contented with diminutive versions of his vision. Yet even the work of a

Michelangelo probably begins with modest dimensions. Just as there were drawings for

the sublime works of San Lorenzo—drawings which spell out in detail what is to our

imagination an insoluble complex—there were small-scale models, auxiliary studies,

fragile details. It may be painful for the veneration, which has expanded into the

mythical, to be reminded of these paths of creation to the finished work."

Perhaps one of the reasons why certain art historians have rejected some or all of

the Michelangelo models from the von Praun Collection and many or all of them in the

Casa Buonarroti Collection (see Addendum) is that they are still overawed by the

sublimity and energy of Michelangelo—a genius above all other geniuses. In his own

day he was considered divine. Vasari wrote in his Lives of the Artists:

"This master, as I said in the beginning, was certainly sent by God as an example of

what an artist could be. I, who can thank God for unusual happiness, count it among

the greatest of my blessings that I was born while Michelangelo still lived, was

found worthy to have him for my Master, and was accepted as his trusted friend."

The hero worship expressed by Vasari has been continued over the centuries. To

conceive of Michelangelo working on difficult details of his monumental marble

statues, like a virtuoso practising scales on the piano, disturbs the image.

Nevertheless, his genius is in no way diminished by the admission that he also used

his ingenuity.