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Wax model of a slave, by Michelangelo, Florence, Italy, about 1516–19. Museum no. 4117-1854

Wax model of a slave, by Michelangelo, Florence, Italy, about 1516–19. Museum no. 4117-1854

This small wax figure is a sketch model for the unfinished marble of the Young Slave in the Accademia in Florence, designed for the 1516 scheme for the tomb of Pope Julius II, who died in 1513. This scheme was the third of six produced for the problematic project, which, when it was commissioned in 1505, was planned as a large free-standing structure with more than 40 life-size or larger statues, and was intended for St Peter's in Rome. The existing, greatly reduced tomb was finally erected in San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome, in 1545. This model differs from the unfinished marble in several details, suggesting that the artist refined the design at a later stage.

Michelangelo made a large number of drawings and models in wax, clay and terracotta in connection with both his painting and his sculpture. He destroyed many of his preparatory works, but the growing interest in the creative process and his extraordinary celebrity led several of his contemporaries to collect his drawings and models. One such collector was the painter and biographer Giorgio Vasari, a great admirer and friend of the artist. In his Life of Michelangelo he described what he claimed to be the sculptor's working method: a small model of wax or other firm material was immersed in water and gradually raised to reveal more of the figure as the carving of the marble progressed.

You can listen to an enhanced description of the model using the audio bar below. If you then click on the image you can view a large version of the model while listening to the description.

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How did sculptors make wax models?

In this audio, learn about the preparation and the role of wax models in the sculpture process. Wax models are original and unique creations that were sometimes works of art in their own right and sometimes an intermediary stage in the sculptural process. Many bronze sculptures, for example, are cast from models that were first made in wax, involving a highly skilled process known as lost-wax casting.
Download: mp3 | ogg View transcript

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