[...] a familiar art historical narrative [...] celebrates the triumph of the expressive individual over the collective, of innovation over tradition, and autonomy over interdependence. [...] In fact, a common trope within the modernist tradition of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries involved the attempt to reconstruct or recover the lost ideal of an art that is integrated with, rather than alienated from, the social. By and large, however, the dominant model of avant-garde art during the modern period assumes that shared or collective values and systems of meaning are necessarily repressive and incapable of generating new insight or grounding creative praxis.
And then I recalled those mysterious stories about the waxworkers of the middle ages and the public reprobation attached to their trade. Did they not live in cellars, in the eternal twilight propitious for enchantments and apparitions? Their visionary art (who, more than they, evoked a truer image of life?) was closely related to that of magicians: bewitchments were carried out with wax figures, witch trials are full of them, and one particular legend haunted me above all, that of the modeler from Anspach, who slowly squeezed the soul and the life out of his model in order to animate his painted waxwork and then, having finished his work of art, awaited nightfall to go and bury the corpse in the ditch at the city walls.
In the case of Michel Angelo we have an artist who with brush and chisel portrayed literally thousands of human forms; but with this peculiarity, that while scores and scores of his male figures are obviously suffused and inspired by a romantic sentiment, there is hardly one of his female figures that is so, the latter being mostly representative of woman in her part as mother, or sufferer, or prophetess or poetess, or in old age, or in any aspect of strength or tenderness, except that which associates itself especially with romantic love. Yet the cleanliness and dignity of Michel Angelo's male figures are incontestable, and bear striking witness to that nobility of the sentiment in him, which we have already seen illustrated in his sonnets.