Skip to main content

Michelangelo’s Painting

Selected Essays

Edited by Sheila Schwartz
With an Introduction by Alexander Nagel
Leo Steinberg was one of the most original art historians of the twentieth century, known for taking interpretive risks that challenged the profession by overturning reigning orthodoxies. In essays and lectures ranging from old masters to contemporary art, he combined scholarly erudition with an eloquent prose that illuminated his subject and a credo that privileged the visual evidence of the image over the literature written about it. His writings, sometimes provocative and controversial, remain vital and influential reading.

For half a century, Steinberg delved into Michelangelo’s work, revealing the symbolic structures underlying the artist’s highly charged idiom. This volume of essays and unpublished lectures elucidates many of Michelangelo’s paintings, from frescoes in the Sistine Chapel to the Conversion of St. Paul and the Crucifixion of St. Peter, the artist’s lesser-known works in the Vatican’s Pauline Chapel; also included is a study of the relationship of the Doni Madonna to Leonardo.

Steinberg’s perceptions evolved from long, hard looking. Almost everything he wrote included passages of old-fashioned formal analysis, but always put into the service of interpretation. He understood that Michelangelo’s rendering of figures, as well as their gestures and interrelations, conveys an emblematic significance masquerading under the guise of naturalism. Michelangelo pushed Renaissance naturalism into the furthest reaches of metaphor, using the language of the body to express fundamental Christian tenets once expressible only by poets and preachers.

Michelangelo’s Painting is the second volume in a series that presents Steinberg’s writings, selected and edited by his longtime associate Sheila Schwartz.

432 pages | 124 color plates, 122 halftones | 8 1/2 x 11 | © 2019

Essays by Leo Steinberg

Art: Art Criticism, Art--General Studies, European Art


“Sheila Schwartz, an art historian who worked closely with Steinberg, has edited these essays with a discernment that’s matched by the elegance of the volumes, which are among the most beautifully produced art books of recent years.”

New York Review of Books

"This second volume of Steinberg's selected essays treats readers to the late scholar’s masterly prose and scholarship, this time focusing on Michelangelo’s paintings. Schwartz is an expert, and her editing of these 11 essays is judicious. . . . With excellent production values and nicely illustrated throughout, this book continues to whet one’s appetite for future volumes. . . . Highly recommended. 


"It is gratifying to see the text now supported by the sort of photographs it deserves. The editor Sheila Schwartz, Steinberg’s longtime assistant and now curator of his literary legacy, also augments the text with evidence that Steinberg continued to accumulate for the rest of his life. No less importantly, Schwartz’s collection, the second in a series of five planned volumes of Steinberg’s essays, enables one to see that Steinberg’s account of the Pauline Chapel was embedded in a larger and continuously shifting account of Michelangelo’s painting. . . . The flourishing scholarly interest in [Steinberg's] legacy starts from a conviction that he is a model worth following. Beyond the encomia that appeared after Steinberg’s death in 2011, his findings and method continue to be discussed by students of art, philosophy, and aesthetics."

Storia della Critica d’Arte, Annuario della S.I.S.C.A.

"Steinburg prompts us to think about and see Michelangelo in new ways and enriches our understanding of him—a poetic artist and an artistic poet—and of Renaissance art and life. This book is as accomplished and scholarly as it is gorgeous."

Renaissance and Reformation

"A Close, Dazzling Look at Michelangelo’s painting"


Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments, Sheila Schwartz
Introduction, Alexander Nagel
1. Disconnections: The Doni Madonna and Leonardo’s St. Anne
2. The Sistine Deluge
3. Who’s Who in the Creation of Adam
4. All about Eve
5. A New Michelangelo
6. Why Michelangelo Huddled Those Ancestors under That Ceiling
7. The Last Judgment as Merciful Heresy
8. A Corner of the Last Judgment
9. The Last Judgment and Environs
10. The Line of Fate in Michelangelo’s Painting
11. Michelangelo’s Last Paintings
Leo Steinberg: Chronology
Leo Steinberg: Publications (1947–2010)
Photography Credits

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press