Carmen C. Bambach’s family came to the United States from Santiago soon after the violent military coup d’état of 1973. In Bambach’s estimation, “our immigration to the United States is the greatest gift my parents have given me.”
Bambach enrolled at Yale University to study architecture. While conducting research for her senior thesis on the Sistine Chapel, she discovered a drawing by Michelangelo, created in preparation for the chapel, that had been labeled an armpit. Bambach, however, turned the drawing upside-down and recognized it as a study for the optical effects Michelangelo used to portray human figures on an outsized scale.
Her investigation coincided fortuitously with the Vatican’s 15-year restoration of the Sistine Chapel, which Bambach was able to visit. “I climbed on the scaffolding, held up the transparency, and it fit perfectly on the face of Haman,” she says.
The discovery was revolutionary; it laid the foundation for a career that would change the way scholars understood the usage of drawings in panel paintings and frescoes.
Bambach has illuminated our understanding of how Renaissance drawings functioned as vehicles for getting an idea out of an artist’s head and onto the surface of a painting. She has organized and co-organized exhibitions of the drawings of Bronzino, Correggio, Filippino Lippi, Parmigianino, and Raphael, and at the Metropolitan Museum in 2003 she organized and wrote most of the catalogue for Leonardo da Vinci: Master Draftsman. Bambach’s exhibition Michelangelo Divine Draftsman and Designer was a watershed in the field of Michelangelo studies.
The basic principles of her method inform her first book, Drawing and Painting in the Italian Renaissance Workshop (Cambridge, 1999), and her newest work, Leonardo da Vinci Rediscovered, is a 2,200-page, four-volume authoritative study. She is among today’s most distinguished museum curators and an internationally recognized expert on Old Master drawings.
Awards and Accomplishments
- Guggenheim Fellow (1996)
- Fellow of the American Academy of Rome
- Fellow at Villa I Tatti, the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, Florence
- Lifetime Membership at Raccolta Vinciana, Italian society for the study of Leonardo da Vinci