But the process of putting together the exhibition began years earlier, with Bambach taking a tour of Europe and the U.S. to pay in-person visits to every Michelangelo work in existence. Some of those she expected to request for the show turned out to be unsuitable, while others, she said, surprised her in being unexpectedly illuminating. “You think, oh my God, this is really fantastic,” she says. “The experience of seeing it in the original changes your mind and you work very hard to integrate it into the selection.”
One such example is the 1519 letter that Michelangelo wrote to fellow artist Pietro Urbano, who was in the marble quarries of Carrara at the time. The letter, requesting information on the marble blocks Urbano was reviewing for Michelangelo’s use in the façade of San Lorenzo, is illustrated with the artist’s sketches of birds.
Once Bambach arrived at her selection of works, then came the problem of soliciting permissions. Perhaps surprisingly, the Met doesn’t simply ask and receive. There have been numerous Michelangelo exhibitions in the past, and curators must demonstrate that theirs offers a new approach. In Italy, Bambach explains, one must not only persuade local institutions, but also local administrations. Curators must also solicit regional approvals, as well as seek a final seal of approval from the Ministry of Culture. “Much of this has to be done over time and face-to-face, and with very formal presentations,” says Bambach.