I have been holding back a post on the Royal Academy’s Michelangelo Tondo because of an embargo pending the announcement of its loan – very exceptionally – to the National Gallery for its exhibition Michelangelo Sebastiano in its north galleries.
The exhibition looks at the friendship of the two artists after Sebastiano arrived in Rome from Venice in 1511, and includes the Tondo, which was donated to the Royal Academy by George Beaumont, a key person behind the foundation of the National Gallery and gave his collection to it.
The Tondo was commissioned by Taddeo Taddei, a patron of Raphael, who lived in Florence, was keen on contemporary art, and died of the plague in 1528. Vasari records how Michelangelo ‘blocked out (without ever finishing) two roundels of marble, one for Taddeo Taddei (which is to be found in his house today)…’ and he probably stopped work on it when he left Florence for Rome in 1505. It remained in Florence in the hands of Taddei’s family until it was bought in 1812 by Jean-Baptiste Wicar, one of Napoleon’s commissars, sent to Italy to loot the country on behalf of the Louvre. Not only did he acquire the tondo, but also a big collection of Michelangelo’s private papers and drawings from Corsica. It was then bought by Beaumont on his visit to Rome in 1822. He wrote to Thomas Lawrence PRA, ‘I have been fortunate enough to gain possession of an undoubted work of M. Angelo !!…You may be sure I was made to pay for this, & but for the assistance of our excellent friend Canova probably I should not have succeeded’. He boasted to Wordsworth how much he looked forward to him seeing it once it was installed in his house, 34, Grosvenor Square. It was seen and enjoyed over dinner parties by a generation of artists, before being bequeathed to the Royal Academy on Beaumont’s death in 1827; and it will now be seen and enjoyed by the many visitors to the exhibition:-