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What was he thinking?

August 10, 2003|Suzanne Muchnic

What's this? An X-rated show at the J. Paul Getty Museum?

Not exactly. "Michelangelo to Vasari: Drawing the Figure in Renaissance Florence" explores Michelangelo's influence on Florentine artists, and it's every bit as high-toned as might be expected. But the centerpiece, Michelangelo's pen and ink drawing "The Holy Family With the Infant Saint John the Baptist," offers a sexy surprise.

Tucked on the back of the religious scene are sketches of naked little boys engaged in erotic play. The figures, known as putti, cavort along one side of the sheet, while doodles, the image of a bird's head and a line from Petrarch -- "Tempo verra ancor" (Time will come again) -- ramble around the center.

What was Michelangelo thinking?

"Who knows?" says Lee Hendrix, the Getty's curator of drawings. After laboring over the highly detailed religious composition, the artist probably just turned it over and let his hand wander, she speculates. "Drawing is as close as we get to the mind of an artist," she says, but it doesn't necessarily reveal what is on that mind.

-- Suzanne Muchnic

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