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Review: So why were Michelangelo and Leonardo rivals?

A lecture given by Dr James Lindow, 19th June 2024

At the time of our lecture, we are in the run up to a General Election. The party leaders are trying to outdo each other, vying for our vote. Whatever your politics it can be argued that rivalry focuses the mind and elevates the effort. Competition can also inspire and such was the contentious relationship between two of the greatest artists of all time.


James Lindow started by standing us before the north door of The Baptistry in Florence, created some decades before the birth of Leonardo De Vinci. Why? Because in 1401 there was a competition for the commission and is generally regarded as the event that fuelled The Renaissance.  Florence was already a thriving city with palaces and important buildings in need of adornment. This was a magnet for talented artists to compete and only the best would do.


Fast forward some decades and Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci (pictured right) are contemporaries although there is a twenty-three year age gap between them.

Furthermore, Leonardo (the elder) is lowly born and is shown as being refined in appearance whereas Michelangelo is from a wealthier family and perversely is somewhat rougher and grimy in looks.

Later in the talk we hear that their lifestyles were vastly different too. Michelangelo is a private person without pupils or visitors while Leonardo lives an extravagant and sociable life.

As a direct comparison we looked at each artists depiction of The Battle of Anghiari. Apparently, the artists worked in the same physical space and at the same time on this project which gives us a precious insight.

James Lindow talked us through the differing styles. Leonardo has clashing and contorted horses in an image of immense anguish (see above left).

Michelangelo chose to ignore the combative scene opting for naked bathers

enjoying a pre-battle dip. Both have impact, movement and splendour but are opposite in personality and approach.


So, it goes on, each producing masterpieces which to this day are icons in art. Michelangelo leans more towards sculpture and Leonardo is primarily a painter despite his reputation as a polymath.


Leonardo famously compared his experiences of working in both sculpture and painting and declared that painting was the higher art form in both “difficulty and perfection.”

This is telling of Leonardo’s relationship with perfection, influenced by his interest in science perhaps.

Michelangelo expressed himself from the soul, using the human body to move us with its emotion and its power.


It was clear from the many images, closely compared one to the other, that both men were of genius. It was also clear from history and notes that the rivals despised each other. Today we enjoyed a morning in their company with James Lindow to illustrate, explain and to mediate.


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