“Night” by Michelangelo was sculpted in white marble and put to rest on the tomb of Giuliano de Medici in San Lorenzo Church, Florence. Her attributes are an owl and a mask. I remember seeing the sculpture for the first time many years ago and having a powerful, visceral reaction to it. It was haunting, disturbing, arresting, extremely powerful. I still cannot look at her without feeling shaken to the core of my being. Her angelic face with the moon and star on the forehead is serene and lovely, yet her body is quite muscular, manly, contorted and nothing but inert. I learnt later that Michelangelo used to work with male models for female nudes. That may have been so, but that fact does not make the figure of the Night any less feminine for me. Looking at her today, I am thinking of Jung’s concept of Animus – the unconscious aspect of the feminine psyche – who at the highest stage of individuation is her psychopomp (i.e. guide of her soul). Alternatively, I think we can appreciate how Michelangelo captured the wholeness of the archetype of Night by showing that she who in myth arose from Chaos holds the totality of the opposites in herself.
There has been some controversy regarding her breasts which were called “ugly” by some and even “cancerous” by an oncologist. This author makes an excellent counter-suggestion:
“But why did Michelangelo make Night’s breasts like that? He represented them as life-giving fruit, great stores of nourishment and fertility. He turned down the “spigot”, as mothers do, to make it more accessible and alluring. The unusual relief is his characteristic way of giving it life and movement.”
Nyx, the Greek goddess of the night, was a figure of exceptional power, feared by both gods and humans. In the Orphic Hymn to the Night she appears as the principle of all creation,
“Night [Nyx], parent goddess, source of sweet repose, from whom at first both Gods and men arose,
Hear, blessed Venus [Kypris], deck’d with starry light, in sleep’s deep silence dwelling Ebon night!
Dreams and soft case attend thy dusky train, pleas’d with the length’ned gloom and feaftful strain.
Dissolving anxious care, the friend of Mirth, with darkling coursers riding round the earth.
Goddess of phantoms and of shadowy play, whose drowsy pow’r divides the nat’ral day:
By Fate’s decree you constant send the light to deepest hell, remote from mortal sight
For dire Necessity which nought withstands, invests the world with adamantine bands.
Be present, Goddess, to thy suppliant’s pray’r, desir’d by all, whom all alike revere,
Blessed, benevolent, with friendly aid dispell the fears of Twilight’s dreadful shade.”
In her Mysteries of the Dark Moon, Demetra George refers to her as “Mother Night, in the form of a great black-winged spirit hovering over a vast sea of darkness.” Revered for her oracular powers, she ruled the Universe before Uranus took over and the era of patriarchal gods ensued. The magnificent sculpture by Michelangelo reminds us that, as Demetra George writes: “The wisdom of Black Mother Night, spanning Greek, Eastern, and Egyptian traditions, is that the preexisting nature of all life is a universally connected matrix of living energy whose first expression is as love.”