Night, a marble sculpture created by Michelangelo between the years 1526 and 1531, is located in the Sagrestia Nuova or New Sacristy, a part of the Basilica di San Lorenzo in Florence, Italy. The sculpture was created when the artist was about fifty years old and was well established right across the country.
However, Night is only a part of his work for the New Sacristy, which also includes the sculptured figures representing Day, Dawn and Dusk, to be placed on the tombs of the Medici family.
The Sagrestia Nuova or New Sacristy, dates from the 16th century, is located within Florence’s Basilica di San Lorenzo church and is one of the two structures known as the Medici chapels. It was the idea of Cardinal Giulio de' Medici and his cousin Pope Leo X, who hired Michelangelo to work on the Sagrestia Nuova and design a mausoleum to house the tombs for the members of the Medici family. The mausoleum would include the final resting place for Pope Leo X's father, Lorenzo Il Magnifico and his brother Giuliano, and also house the tombs of two other Medici family members, Giuliano de Medici, Duke of Nemours and Lorenzo di Piero de Medici, Duke of Urbino. Although the work of the Sagrestia Nuova began in 1520, it was suspended in 1524, due to the expulsion of the Medici family from Florence, which started again in 1930, when they regained power in Florence.
However, the work stopped again in 1534 when Michelangelo moved from Florence to Rome where he settled permanently. He left the chapel unfinished, but still had time almost to finish the statues and the work restarted in 1554, to be completed by Giorgio Vasari and Bartolomeo Ammannati in 1555.
Each pair of tombs in the mausoleum is decorated with statues of a male and a female figure, depicting a part of a day, Giuliano’s tomb has figures representing the Night and the Day and Lorenzo's tomb has figures of the Twilight and the Dawn, while sitting above the figures and looking down on each coffin is a statue of the Duke. Strangely, the artist's representation of Night, one of the only two female nudes Michelangelo ever sculpted, was endowed with straining muscles and unusual shape of breasts, which could be a sign of age in Michelangelo's work, or for some unknown reasons, Michelangelo used male models for female nudes. But the strategic position of the right arm of the figure allows the face of the female figures to be shown in shadow, leaving the figures shrouded in mystery.
However, probably completed after the Night, his depiction of Dawn, set on the tomb of Duke Lorenzo, is a more convincing depiction of the female form than Night. Her legs and hips rest easily against the curvature of the tomb and despite some strain in her shoulders as she holds her body upright, the tension in her pose is much less than the flexed form of Night.
The sculpture of Night, serene and lovely with her angelic face despite her muscular body, is set atop Duke Giuliano’s tomb, twisting outward toward the viewer and resting her head against the side of her hand, reclining in the pose of a sleeping figure on a cloth, one end of which covers her thigh. She wears a wreath with a crescent moon and a star adorning her forehead, which also holds the endings of her parted hair with a heavy braid on her breast However, she seems to be a living image of sleep, reflecting the sorrow and melancholy of one, who has lost something great and worthy, which is the psychological aspect of the figure as well. While an owl, a nocturnal bird of prey, looks out from the space under the bend of her left leg, her left foot rests on a bundle of poppy seeds alluding to sleep, and a mask, representing deceitful dreams, lies close to her left armpit.
It is considered that among the four sculptures depicting a part of a day, the Night is the first statue created by Michelangelo, completed around 1531. The crescent moon and the star adorning her forehead are all symbols of night and sleep, which make her identification much easier than the others. It is interesting to note that, apart from the Night, the other three statues of the Sacristy representing allegories are devoid of any such symbol and hence, difficult to identify.