The silence of Michelangelo's hammer

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In one of the many anecdotes about Michelangelo, the master neared completion of his colossal Moses, tapped him on the knee with his hammer and exclaimed,"Perché non parli?" As an act that liberates latent thoughts or material potentials, his cadenced hammer spoke through careful, repetitive, and undifferentiated sounds. From Hephaestus' beating mallet to Pythagoras' discovery of aural proportions upon passing a blacksmith shop, the hammer has played a key role in releasing the latencies of thought. Building on this notion, Marsilio Ficino wrote that the harmonious beating of the hammer, reenacting the work of the heavenly Demiurge, actually liberates the divine potential of materials. In each case, the rhythmic reverberations of the hammer striking material offers an aural space cut-off from the external world, a space of exception that prepares the mind to engage with the noise of one's surroundings. As an act that removes us from time by keeping time, the aggregation of metrical sounds from the hidden flesh of materials creates the conditions for working with time, quite literally a contemplation.

Michelangelo's astonishment at Moses' subsequent silence was activated by the hammer in an act of contemplation with Ovid's well-known myth of Pygmalion. Similarly, while sojourning in the Carrara quarries in 1516, he ignored repeated requests from the pope, friends and family to send a model for the facade of San Lorenzo. The silence from papal politics notwithstanding, it was in fact the hammering of the quarries that prepared him to propose the first all-marble facade since antiquity. Furthermore, when Michelangelo wrote famously about releasing the silent concetto from inside the stone, it was from the "promises of the hammer" that this was possible. The sounds of the hammer, normally understood as loud and distractive, instead activate a contemplative place of silence. Perhaps more than merely a tool for removing stone, the hammer was an instrument for sonorous meditation with materials and thinking.
TitelThe Place of Silence
RedaktørerMark Dorrian, Christos Kakalis
Antal sider12
ForlagBloomsbury Academic
Publikationsdato1 feb. 2020
ISBN (Trykt)978-1-3500-7659-4
ISBN (Elektronisk)978-1-3500-7661-7, 978-1-3500-7660-0
StatusUdgivet - 1 feb. 2020

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Foote, J. (2020). The silence of Michelangelo's hammer. I M. Dorrian, & C. Kakalis (red.), The Place of Silence (s. 87-98). Bloomsbury Academic.