One of the finest of all Italian Renaissance drawings, The Dream is among The Courtauld's greatest treasures. The meaning of this enigmatic work is elusive, but its title, given just a few years after the artist's death. provides some clues. The highly finished drawing shows a winged spirit swooping down to trumpet a message to a muscular nude male youth, who leans on a globe. Both rest on a box containing a number of masks. In the background, groups of writhing bodies appear in a cloudy haze. The main figure has been interpreted as the human mind being awakened, as if from a dream, and summoned back to virtue from the vices. In fact, all of the seven cardinal vices - except for pride - are represented by the figures in the background; from left to right, they are gluttony, lust, greed, wrath, envy and sloth. The large moneybag hovering near the youth's head symbolises greed. The masks in the box have long been interpreted as emblems of deceit and falsehood. This drawing demonstrates Michelangelo's exceptional skills as a draughtsman and his ability to create powerful and complex compositions. The work exemplifies the artist's distinctive method of modelling flesh with virtually invisible strokes, while firmly defining the contours of the figures. The almost waxy finish of the main figures evokes the surface of sculpted stone, and, by extension, Michelangelo's extraordinary ability as a sculptor of the human form. The Dream has been associated with a group of so-called 'presentation drawings', highly refined compositions conceived as independent works and offered by Michelangelo to his closest friends, in particular a young Roman nobleman called Tommaso de' Cavalieri. In his biography of Michelangelo (1568), the artist Giorgio Vasari praised these works as 'drawings the like of which have never been seen'. Today, they are still regarded as among the greatest single series of drawings ever made.


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