Awe-Inspiring Sculptures: “Night” by Michelangelo

1280px-Tomb_of_Giuliano_de'_Medici_(casting_in_Pushkin_museum)_by_shakko_03

“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.”

via https://100swallows.wordpress.com/2009/01/31/night-by-michelangelo/

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.”

http://www.theoi.com/Text/OrphicHymns1.html#2

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.”

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31 Responses to Awe-Inspiring Sculptures: “Night” by Michelangelo

  1. ONCE AGAIN , THE ONLY THING I REMAIN AFTER READING YOUR EXCEPTIONAL BLOG IS, SPEECHLESS! THANK YOU.

  2. Beautiful Monika, you evoke Nyx in your every word.

  3. Visits to your site are become quality of life experiences.

  4. Wow. I appreciate your insights and perspectives here, Monika. And for introducing this subject matter novice to a new word: psychopomp.

  5. Great post, Monika. This was one of the sites I visited while in Firenze. Of course, by this point I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of art to which I was exposed and did not notice the nuances you point out. Gives me much to think about. Have a wonderful weekend – Jeff

  6. herongrace says:

    Wow thank-you. You have just validated an observation which I have argued since I was quite young that Michelangelo’s nude women were blokes! Looking at this picture before reading your post I’m thinking “no…this does not sit right with me. Look at those muscles, the stomach. This is a guy with clumsy breasts.” I don’t think Michelangelo had much experience with nude women.
    To me it is wrong and so obviously, that I’m not sure what statement he is trying to make here.

  7. Pingback: Awe-Inspiring Sculptures: “Night” by Michelangelo | lampmagician

  8. litebeing says:

    thank you for your excellent assessment of this evocative piece.
    “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.”
    I dig this definition and have been pondering the question of preexistence for what seems to be millenia!

  9. ptero9 says:

    Dear Monika,

    I love to think of the night as a source of creation and believe that it still is. I was fascinated to read recently that neuroscience now believes that dream time is essential for learning and is a source of creativity. Of course, we knew that already, didn’t we? 🙂 It is though, nice to see the study of dreams finally coming to the conclusions that have been known to humans for thousands of years.

    “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.”

    Absolutely! Well, I do anyway. I am more and more convinced that androgyny carries for us a way to imagine and hold the opposites together. It is also fitting that androgyny is a rare form of human, not the norm, and that it gets our attention when we are graced by androgynous images and its presence in the world.

    Thank you for this beautiful post! I was not familiar with this statue or the mythology of Night. You continue to introduce me to much wonderful art and stories and I am most appreciative!

    Debra

  10. Wonderful post about Mother Night. Love the last quotation especially about the preexisting nature of life, and the matrix of energy whose first expression is love:

    “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.'”

  11. Amazing, as usual. Florence will always remain in my heart. Stendhal Syndrome!!!

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