'You frighten everyone, even popes': Meet Sebastiano, Michelangelo's greatest fan

Mary and Elizabeth (The Visitation), about 1518-19, by Sebastiano del Piombo
Mary and Elizabeth (The Visitation), about 1518-19, by Sebastiano del Piombo Credit: Roberto Sgarbossa

"I wish to see you emperor of the world,” wrote Sebastiano del Piombo to Michelangelo Buonarroti in September 1520. “To me it seems that you deserve this.”

If Sebastiano, a thirty-something Venetian, was one of the most celebrated Italian painters of his age, then Michelangelo, 10 years his senior, was even more highly esteemed. In the words of the Florentine government, he was “the greatest artist in Italy, perhaps in the world”. From 1511 to the mid 1530s, Michelangelo and Sebastiano formed a creative double act that is almost unparalleled in the history of art. The fruits of their collaboration, a series of remarkable paintings in which the two artists’ separate skills and identities blend and blur, are the focus of a new exhibition at the National Gallery, Michelangelo & Sebastiano, where they will be shown alongside some of the pair’s letters. 

The Holy Family with Saint John the Baptist ('La Madonna del Velo’), about 1525, by Sebastiano del Piombo Credit: Archdiocesan Museum Olomouc

To read the surviving personal correspondence...


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