The artistic collaboration between two Renaissance master painters is celebrated in an exhibition which opened on Wednesday at the National Gallery in London, with new infra-red reflectography revealing for the first time the previously unknown depth of collaboration between the pair.
The exhibition brings together 70 works -- paintings, drawings and letters -- with loans from across Europe and the United States, many rarely seen outside their home countries.
Michelangelo (1476-1564) and Sebastiano del Piombo (1485-1547) were contemporaries in Italy at the turn of the 15th century, and despite their contrasting styles and backgrounds they worked together for 25 years in Rome.
“The exhibition is about an extraordinary friendship and creative partnership between one of the greatest artists of the Western tradition, Michelangelo and Sebastiano del Piombo, who worked very closely together,” exhibition curator Matthias Wivel told Xinhua.
The pair met in Rome in 1511, after Sebastiano moved from his native Venice.
At that time, Michelangelo was working on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, and the two quickly became friends and allies against the painter Raphael.
As the only oil painter in the city to rival Raphael (1483-1520), Sebastiano was an ideal collaborator for Michelangelo, who did not like painting, preferring to work in fresco, but wanted to marginalize his younger competitor.
The story of Michelangelo's use of Sebastiano for his own artistic ideas and the pursuance of his rivalry with Raphael is one of the great narratives of art history. Michelangelo profited immensely from Sebastiano's drawings and conceptual ideas. Together they created several works of great originality and rare beauty.
Their friendship lasted more than two decades, but ended badly after Michelangelo's permanent return to Rome to paint “The Last Judgement” in the Sistine Chapel. The disagreement between the two painters was over painting technique.
A key loan to the exhibition is Sebastiano's “Lamentation over the Dead Christ”, making a rare appearance outside its Italian home in the city of Viterbo.
This painting is Michelangelo and Sebastiano's first collaboration, and represents their combined vision. It is the first large-scale nocturnal landscape in history, iconographically original for its separation of Christ from his mother's lap.
But revealed for the first time through infra-red reflectographic techniques is the depth to which the two worked together, shown on Sebastiano's “The Raising of Lazarus”, which was also the first painting to enter the gallery's collection.
The reflectography shows that the painting was substantially and independently the work of Sebastiano, with a contribution from Michelangelo only late in the painting's creation, rather than as had been thought before that it was heavily influenced by Michelangelo.
The exhibition runs at the National Gallery until June 25.