Michelangelo’s ‘Dream of Human Life’

A gift between heaven and earth

The Dream (Il Sogno), circa 1533, Michelangelo Buonarroti

Around 1533, the Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo produced a series of drawings that he gave to his close friends. At the time, drawings were typically produced as sketches for larger works. These drawings, however, were produced as finished products to be given as gifts.

In her article “Michelangelo’s Dream,” Maria Ruvoldt suggests that this is one of the first times in history that a drawing was completed for its own sake. Drawings that served as sketches for larger works were usually completed at the behest of patrons, like the Medici family or the pope, who were interested in specific representations of humanist or religious subject matter.

Ruvoldt suggests, however, that the “ostensible privacy and intimacy of this new form allowed for a unique degree of freedom of invention and interpretation,” and this allowed Michelangelo to produce an image “to be meditated upon, a work whose pleasure derives from its endless unfolding of meaning, affording the viewer delight in returning to it