Michelangelo Buonarroti

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (6 March 1475 – 18 February 1564) known simply as Michelangelo, was an Italian sculptor, painter, architect and poet of the High Renaissance. Born in the Republic of Florence, his work had a major influence on the development of Western art, particularly in relation to the Renaissance notions of humanism and naturalism. He is often considered a contender for the title of the archetypal Renaissance man, along with his rival and elder contemporary, Leonardo da Vinci.

Michelangelo Buonarroti was born on 6 March 1475 in Caprese, known today as Caprese Michelangelo, a small town situated in Valtiberina, near Arezzo, Tuscany He was born to a family that had for several generations belonged to minor nobility in Florence but had, by the time the artist was born, lost its patrimony and status. His father had only occasional government jobs, and at the time of Michelangelo’s birth he was administrator of the small dependent town of Caprese. A few months later, however, the family returned to its permanent residence in Florence. It was something of a downward social step to become an artist, and Michelangelo became an apprentice relatively late, at 13, perhaps after overcoming his father’s objections. He was apprenticed to the city’s most prominent painter, Domenico Ghirlandaio, for a three-year term, but he left after one year, having (Condivi recounts) nothing more to learn. When in 1489, Lorenzo de’ Medici, de facto ruler of Florence, asked Ghirlandaio for his two best pupils, Ghirlandaio sent Michelangelo and Francesco Granacci.

From 1490 to 1492, Michelangelo attended the Platonic Academy, a Humanist academy founded by the Medici. There, his work and outlook were influenced by many of the most prominent philosophers and writers of the day, including Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola and Poliziano. At this time, Michelangelo sculpted the reliefs Madonna of the Steps (1490–1492) and Battle of the Centaurs (1491–1492), the latter based on a theme suggested by Poliziano and commissioned by Lorenzo de’ Medici. Michelangelo worked for a time with the sculptor Bertoldo di Giovanni. When he was seventeen, another pupil, Pietro Torrigiano, struck him on the nose, causing the disfigurement that is conspicuous in the portraits of Michelangelo.

Florence was at this time regarded as the leading centre of art, producing the best painters and sculptors in Europe, and the competition among artists was stimulating. The city was, however, less able than earlier to offer large commissions, and leading Florentine-born artists, such as Leonardo da Vinci and Leonardo’s teacher, Andrea del Verrocchio, had moved away for better opportunities in other cities. The Medici were overthrown in 1494, and even before the end of the political turmoil Michelangelo had left.

Between 1493 and 1494 he bought a block of marble, and carved a larger-than-life statue of Hercules, which was sent to France and subsequently disappeared sometime in the 18th century. On 20 January 1494, after heavy snowfalls, Lorenzo’s heir, Piero de Medici, commissioned a snow statue, and Michelangelo again entered the court of the Medici. In the same year, the Medici were expelled from Florence as the result of the rise of Savonarola. Michelangelo left the city before the end of the political upheaval, moving to Venice and then to Bologna. In Bologna, he was commissioned to carve several of the last small figures for the completion of the Shrine of St. Dominic, in the church dedicated to that saint. At this time Michelangelo studied the robust reliefs carved by Jacopo della Quercia around the main portal of the Basilica of St Petronius, including the panel of The Creation of Eve, the composition of which was to reappear on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

Towards the end of 1495, the political situation in Florence was calmer; the city, previously under threat from the French, was no longer in danger as Charles VIII had suffered defeats. Michelangelo returned to Florence but received no commissions from the new city government under Savonarola. He returned to the employment of the Medici.

Michelangelo returned to Florence in 1499. The Republic was changing after the fall of its leader, anti-Renaissance priest Girolamo Savonarola, who was executed in 1498, and the rise of the gonfaloniere Piero Soderini. Michelangelo was asked by the consuls of the Guild of Wool to complete an unfinished project begun 40 years earlier by Agostino di Duccio: a colossal statue of Carrara marble portraying David as a symbol of Florentine freedom to be placed on the gable of Florence Cathedral. Michelangelo responded by completing his most famous work, the statue of David, in 1504. The masterwork definitively established his prominence as a sculptor of extraordinary technical skill and strength of symbolic imagination. A team of consultants, including Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Filippino Lippi, Pietro Perugino, Lorenzo di Credi, Antonio and Giuliano da Sangallo, Andrea della Robbia, Cosimo Rosselli, Davide Ghirlandaio, Piero di Cosimo, Andrea Sansovino and Michelangelo’s dear friend Francesco Granacci, was called together to decide upon its placement, ultimately the Piazza della Signoria, in front of the Palazzo Vecchio. It now stands in the Academia while a replica occupies its place in the square.

During this period, Michelangelo was commissioned by Angelo Doni to paint a “Holy Family” as a present for his wife, Maddalena Strozzi,probably for the birth of the first child of Agnolo and Maddalena Strozzi. It is known as the Doni Tondo and hangs in the Uffizi Gallery in its original magnificent frame, which Michelangelo may have designed. Its spiraling composition and cold, brilliant colour scheme underline the sculptural intensity of the figures and create a dynamic and expressive effect. The iconographic interpretation has caused countless scholarly debates, which to the present day have not been entirely resolved. He also may have painted the Madonna and Child with John the Baptist, known as the Manchester Madonna and now in the National Gallery, London.

Sometime in 1508 Michelangelo was commissioned to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which took approximately four years to complete (1508–1512). According to Condivi’s account, Bramante, who was working on the building of St. Peter’s Basilica, resented Michelangelo’s commission for the pope’s tomb and convinced the pope to commission him in a medium with which he was unfamiliar, in order that he might fail at the task. Michelangelo was originally commissioned to paint the Twelve Apostles on the triangular pendentives that supported the ceiling, and to cover the central part of the ceiling with ornament. Michelangelo persuaded Pope Julius II to give him a free hand and proposed a different and more complex scheme, representing the Creation, the Fall of Man, the Promise of Salvation through the prophets, and the genealogy of Christ. The work is part of a larger scheme of decoration within the chapel that represents much of the doctrine of the Catholic Church.

The composition stretches over 500 square metres of ceiling and contains over 300 figures. At its centre are nine episodes from the Book of Genesis, divided into three groups: God’s creation of the earth; God’s creation of humankind and their fall from God’s grace; and lastly, the state of humanity as represented by Noah and his family. On the pendentives supporting the ceiling are painted twelve men and women who prophesied the coming of Jesus, seven prophets of Israel, and five Sibyls, prophetic women of the Classical world. Among the most famous paintings on the ceiling are The Creation of Adam, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, The Deluge, The Prophet Jeremiah, and The Cumaean Sibyl.

As soon as the ceiling was finished, Michelangelo reverted to his preferred task, the tomb of Pope Julius. In about 1513–15 he carved the Moses, which may be regarded as the realization in sculpture of the approach to great figures used for the prophets on the Sistine ceiling. Julius II’s death in 1513 cut off most of the funds for his tomb. Pope Leo X, his successor, a son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, had known Michelangelo since their boyhoods. He chiefly employed Michelangelo in Florence on projects linked to the glory of the Medici family rather than of the papacy. The city was under the rule of Leo’s cousin Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici, who was to be Pope Clement VII from 1523 to 1534, and Michelangelo worked with him closely in both reigns. The cardinal took an active interest in Michelangelo’s works. He made detailed suggestions, but he also gave the artist much room for decision. The immediate occasion for the chapel was the deaths of the two young family heirs (named Giuliano and Lorenzo after their forebears) in 1516 and 1519. Michelangelo gave his chief attention up to 1527 to the marble interior of this chapel, to both the very original wall design and the carved figures on the tombs; the latter are an extension in organic form of the dynamic shapes of the wall details. The result is the fullest existing presentation of Michelangelo’s intentions. Windows, cornices, and the like have strange proportions and thicknesses, suggesting an irrational, willful revision of traditional Classical forms in buildings.

The sack of Rome in 1527 saw Pope Clement ignominiously in flight, and Florence revolted against the Medici, restoring the traditional republic. It was soon besieged and defeated, and Medici rule permanently reinstalled, in 1530. During the siege Michelangelo was the designer of fortifications. When the Medici returned in 1530, Michelangelo returned to work on their family tombs. His political commitment probably was more to his city as such than to any specific governmental form. Two separate projects of statues of this date are the Apollo or David (its identity is problematic), used as a gift to a newly powerful political figure, and the Victory, a figure trampling on a defeated enemy, an old man.

In 1534 Michelangelo left Florence for the last time, though he always hoped to return to finish the projects he had left incomplete. He passed the rest of his life in Rome, working on projects in some cases equally grand but in most cases of quite new kinds. From this time on, a large number of his letters to his family in Florence were preserved; many of them concentrated on plans for his nephew’s marriage, essential to preserve the family name. Michelangelo’s father had died in 1531 and his favourite brother at about the same time; he himself showed increasing anxiety about his age and death.

Michelangelo died in Rome in 1564, at the age of 88 (three weeks before his 89th birthday). His body was taken from Rome for interment at the Basilica of Santa Croce, fulfilling the maestro’s last request to be buried in his beloved Florence.

For posterity Michelangelo always remained one of the small group of the most exalted artists, who were felt to express, like William Shakespeare or Ludwig van Beethoven, the tragic experience of humanity with the greatest depth and universal scope. In contrast to the great fame of the artist’s works, their visual influence on later art is relatively limited. This cannot be explained by hesitation to imitate an art simply because it appeared so great, for artists such as Raphael were considered equally great but were used as sources to a much greater degree. It may be instead that the particular type of expression associated with Michelangelo, of an almost cosmic grandeur, was inhibiting. The limited influence of his work includes a few cases of almost total dependence, the most talented artist who worked in this way being Daniele da Volterra. Otherwise, Michelangelo was treated as a model for specific limited aspects of his work. In the 17th century, he was regarded as supreme in anatomical drawing but less praised for broader elements of his art. While the Mannerists utilized the spatial compression seen in a few of his works, and later the serpentine poses of his sculpture of Victory, the 19th-century master Auguste Rodin exploited the effect of unfinished marble blocks. Certain 17th-century masters of the Baroque perhaps show the fullest reference to him, but in ways that have been transformed to exclude any literal similarity. Besides Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the painter Peter Paul Rubens may best show the usability of Michelangelo’s creations for a later great artist.

Read more

Showing all 19 results