In 2016 a convincing archival study curated by scholar Nicoletta Baldini took the traditional identity away from the small Tuscan village of Caprese known as the birthplace of Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564). A local archivist created this legend in 1875, the very year of the first national celebration of the artist’s birth, when he claimed to have discovered a crucial document proving Michelangelo’s birth in Caprese. In 1913, the village even changed its name to “Caprese Michelangelo,” thus attracting far more public attention in the last century than in all of its previous years of existence combined. Though understandably disoriented from being deprived of its role in Michelangelo’s history, the village of Caprese decided to re-launch its local identity. On October 5-6, 2018, the Municipality hosted a two-day conference titled “Michelangelo and His Idea of Space.”
ISI Florence Professor Silvia Catitti was one of the nine speakers invited to present their research. Addressing the iconic staircase in the vestibule of the Laurentian Library (Florence, 1524-1534), universally attributed to Michelangelo, Professor Catitti clarified the significant role played by Bartolomeo Ammannati, the sculptor and architect of the Court of Duke Cosimo I Medici. In the end, it was Ammannati, not Michelangelo, who was responsible for the actual construction of the stairs in 1558. Aware of the reluctance of the public to accept new studies that dare to reappraise the role of celebrated artists, she illustrated a step-by-step breakdown of her reasoning.
Professor Catitti’s presentation was supported by new “archaeological” evidence, that is, a close examination of the physical condition of the stairs, as well as a new reading of autograph drawings and documents. Her argument was well received and her study ignited a lively discussion. As Prof. Catitti does every semester, in Fall 2018 she took the students of her ISI Florence course (“Architecture in Italy: History and Preservation”) to see Michelangelo’s Library. Yet, this time she exposed them to her own research and registered their reactions. Prof. Catitti is currently working on a publication about the staircase so that her new interpretation, together with other essays, can be added to the list of reading material for her courses in the future.