Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simon

Michelangelo 1475-1564 sculptor, painter, architect. Michelangelo was the greatest artist of his time. Between 1508 and 1512 Michelangelo painted the vaulted ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome.

View some of Michelangelo’s works- Image Gallery

The Life of Michelangelo

Michelangelo (full name Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni) (March 6, 1475 – February 18, 1564) was a Renaissance sculptor, architect, painter, and poet. He is famous for creating the fresco ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, as well as the Last Judgment over the altar, and "The Martyrdom of St. Peter" and "The Conversion of St. Paul" in the Vatican’sCappella Paolina; among his many sculptures are those of David and the Pieta, as well as the Virgin, Bacchus, Moses, Rachel, Leah, and members of the Medici family; he also designed the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. His work in the Sistine Chapel is undoubtedly his most famous but it was not universally liked at the time. When Cardinal Biagio de Cesena saw the Sistine Chapel crowd scene (with over 300 people in it) he said that it would be more appropriate in a wine shop than in a papal chapel. Michelangelo took his revenge to the Cardinals critical remarks by adding the Cardinal’s image in the scene of the Last Judgment (the Cardinals image is of one of the ‘damned’).

Life history

Michelangelo was born near Arezzo, in Caprese, Tuscany, Italy in 1475. His father, Lodovico, was the resident magistrate in Caprese. However, Michelangelo was raised in Florence and later lived with a sculptor and his wife in the town of Settignano where his father owned a marble quarry and a small farm. Michelangelo once said to the biographer of artists Giorgio Vasari, "What good I have comes from the pure air of your native Arezzo, and also because I sucked in chisels and hammers with my nurse’s milk."

Against his father’s wishes, Michelangelo chose to be the apprentice of Domenico Ghirlandaio for three years starting in 1488. Impressed, Domenico recommended him to the ruler of Florence, Lorenzo de’ Medici. From 1490 to 1492, Michelangelo attended Lorenzo’s school and was influenced by many prominent people who modified and expanded his ideas on art and even his feelings about sexuality. It was during this period that Michelangelo created two reliefs: Battle of the Centaurs and Madonna of the Steps.

After the death of Lorenzo in 1492, Piero de’ Medici (Lorenzo’s oldest son and new head of the Medici family), refused to support Michelangelo’s artwork. Also at that time, the ideas of Savonarola became popular in Florence. Under those two pressures, Michelangelo decided to leave Florence and stay in Bologna for three years. Soon afterwards, Cardinal San Giorgio purchased Michelangelo’s marble Cupid and decided to summon him to Rome in 1496. Influenced by Roman antiquity, he produced the Bacchus and the Pietà.

Four years later, Michelangelo returned to Florence where he produced arguably his most famous work, the marble David. He also painted the Holy Family of the Tribune.

Michelangelo was summoned back to Rome in 1503 by the newly appointed Pope Julius II and was commissioned to build the Pope’s tomb. However, under the patronage of Julius II, Michelangelo had to constantly stop work on the tomb in order to accomplish numerous other tasks. The most famous of those were the monumental paintings on the ceiling of the Vatican’sSistine Chapel which took four years (1508 – 1512) to complete. Due to those and later interruptions, Michelangelo worked on the tomb for 40 years without ever finishing it.

In 1513 Pope Julius II died and his successor Pope Leo X, a Medici, commissioned Michelangelo to reconstruct the exterior of the Church of San Lorenzo in Florence and to adorn it with sculptures. Michelangelo agreed reluctantly. The three years he spent in creating drawings and models for the facade, as well as attempting to open a new marble quarry at Pietrasanta specifically for the project, were among the most frustrating in his career, as work was abruptly cancelled by his financially-strapped patrons before any real progress had been made.

Apparently not the least embarassed by this turnabout, the Medici later came back to Michelangelo with another grand proposal, this time for a family funerary chapel at the church of San Lorenzo. Fortunately for posterity, this project, occupying the artist for much of the 1520s and 1530s, was more fully realized. Though still incomplete, it is the best example we have of the integration of the artist’s scuptural and architectural vision, since Michelangleo created both the major sculptures as well as the interior plan. Ironically the most prominent tombs are those of two rather obscure Medici who died young, a son and grandson of Lorenzo. Il Magnifico himself is buried in an obscure corner of the chapel, not given a free-standing monument, as originally intended.

In 1527, the Florentine citizens, encouraged by the sack of Rome, threw out the Medici and restored the republic. A siege of the city ensued, and Michelangelo went to the aid of his beloved Florence by working on the city’s fortifications from 1528 to 1529. The city fell in 1530 and the Medici were restored to power. Completely out of sympathy with the repressive reign of the ducal Medici, Michelangelo left Florence for good in the mid-1530s, leaving assistants to complete the Medici chapel. Years later his body was brought back from Rome for interment, fulfilling the maestro’s last request to be buried in his beloved Tuscany.

The fresco of The Last Judgment on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel was commissioned by Pope Paul III, and Michelangelo worked on it from 1534 to 1541. Then in 1546, Michelangelo was appointed architect of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

On February 18, 1564, Michelangelo died in Rome at the age of 89. His life was described in Giorgio Vasari’s "Vite".

Michelangelo’s The Last Judgement. Saint Bartholomew is shown holding the knife of his martyrdom and his flayed skin. The face of the skin is recognizable as Michelangelo

When the work was finished on The Last Judgment in (October, 541), Michelangelo was accused of intolerable obscenity for his depictions of naked figures showing genitals (and inside the private chapel of the Pope). A violent censorship campaign was organized by Cardinal Carafa and Monsignor Sernini (Magntua’s ambassador) to remove the frescoes, but the Pope resisted.

In coincidence with Michelangelo’s death, a law was issued to cover genitals ("Pictura in Cappella Ap.ca coopriantur"). So Daniele da Volterra, an apprentice of Michelangelo, covered with sort of perizomas (briefs) the genitals, leaving unaltered the complex of bodies. When the work was restored in 1993, the restorers chose not to remove the perizomas of Daniele; however, a faithful uncensored copy of the original, by Marcello Venusti, is now in Naples, at the Capodimonte Museum.

Censorship always followed Michelangelo, once described as "inventor delle porcherie" (inventor of obscenities, in a sense that in Italian sounds like he had created genitals).

The "fig-leaf campaign" of the Counter Reformation to cover all representations of human genitals in paintings and sculptures started with Michelangelo’s works. To give two examples, the bronze statue of "Cristo della Minerva" ( church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome) was covered, as it remains today, and the statue of the naked child Jesus in "Madonna of Bruges" ( Belgium) remained covered for several decades. A similar campaign occurred in Victorian Britain. Even today, the genital of ‘David’ in the Victoria and Albert Museum still gets covered with a stone fig leaf during royal visits.

Michelangelo the architect

Around 1530 Michaelangelo designed the Laurentian Library in Florence, attached to the church of San Lorenzo. He produced new styles such as pilasters tapering thinner at the bottom, and a staircase with contrasting rectangular and curving forms.

Michelangelo’s first designs for solving the intractable urbanistic, symbolic, political and propaganda program for the Campidoglio dated from 1536. The commission was from the Farnese Pope Paul III, who wanted a symbol of the new Rome to impress Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, who was expected in 1538. The hill was the Capitoline, the heart of pagan Rome, though that connection was largely obscured by its other role as the center of the civic government of Rome, revived as a commune in the 11th century. The city’s government was now to be firmly in papal control, but the Campidoglio was the former scene of many movements of urban resistance, such as the dramatic scenes of Cola di Rienzi’s revived republic. Approximately in the middle, not to Michelangelo’s liking, now stood the only equestrian bronze to have survived since Antiquity, Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher emperor. He apparently owed his survival largely because popular culture had mistaken him for Constantine the Great, revered as the first Christian emperor by plebs and popes alike. Michelangelo provided an unassuming pedestal for it.

It was slow work: little was actually completed in Michelangelo’s lifetime, but work continued faithfully to his designs and the Campidoglio was completed in the 17th century, except for the paving design.

Michelangelo provided new fronts to the two official buildings of Rome’s civic government, which very approximately faced each other, the Palazzo dei Conservatori and the Palazzo Senatore, which had been built over the Tabularium that had once housed the archives of ancient Rome, and which now houses the Capitoline Museum, the oldest museum of antiquities. Michelangelo devised a monumental stair (the "Cordonata") to reach the high piazza, so that the Campidoglio resolutely turned its back on the Forum that it had once commanded, and he gave the space a new building at the far end, to close the vista. The Cordonata is a ramped stair that can be accessed on horseback by the sufficiently great, though it was not in place when Emperor Charles arrived, and the imperial party had to scramble up the slope from the Forum to view the works in progress. The unfolding sequence, Cordonata piazza and the central palazzo are the first urban introduction of the "cult of the axis" that will occupy Italian garden plans and reach fruition in France (Giedion 1962).

The Palazzo dei Conservatori was the first use of a giant order that spanned two storeys, here with a range of Corinthian pilasters and subsidiary Ionic columns flanking the ground-floor loggia openings and the second floor windows. Another giant order would serve later for the exterior of St Peter’s. A balustrade punctuated by sculptures atop the giant pilasters capped the composition, one of the most influential of Michelangelo’s designs. The sole arched motif in the entire design is the segmental pediments over the windows, which give a slight spring to the completely angular vertical-horizontal balance of the design.

The bird’s-eye view of the engraving (illustrated, above to the right) shows, better than a photograph could, Michelangelo’s solution to the problems of the space in the Piazza del Campidoglio. Even with their new facades centering them on the new palazzo at the rear, the space was a trapezoid, and the facades did not face each other squarely. Worse than that, the whole site sloped (to the left in the engraving). Michelangelo’s solution was radical. Since no "perfect" forms would work, his apparent oval in the paving is actually egg-shaped, narrower at one end. The travertine design set into the paving is perfectly level: around its perimeter, low steps arise and die away into the paving as the slope requires. Its center springs slightly, so that one senses that one is standing on the exposed segment of a gigantic egg all but buried at the center of the city at the center of the world, as Michelangelo’s historian Charles de Tolnay pointed out (Charles de Tolnay 1931). An interlaced twelve-pointed star makes a subtle reference to the constellations, revolving around this space called caput mundi, the "head of the world".

The paving design was never executed by the popes, who may have detected a subtext of less-than-Christian import. Benito Mussolini ordered the paving completed to Michelangelo’s design— in 1940.

Michelangelo the man

Michelangelo, who was often arrogant with others and constantly unsatisfied with himself, thought that art originated from inner inspiration and from culture. In contradiction to the ideas of his rival, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo saw nature as an enemy that had to be overcome. The figures that he created are therefore in forceful movement; each is in its own space apart from the outside world. For Michelangelo, the job of the sculptor is to free the forms that, he believed, were already inside the stone. This can most vividly be seen in his unfinished statuary figures, which to many appear to be struggling to free themselves from the stone.

He also instilled into his figures a sense of moral cause for action. A good example of this can be seen in the facial expression of his most famous work, the marble statue David. Arguably his second most famous work is the fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel which is a synthesis of architecture, sculpture & painting. His Last Judgement, also in the Sistine Chapel, is a depiction of extreme crisis.

Several anecdotes reveal that Michelangelo’s skill, especially in sculpture, was deeply appreciated in his own time. It is said that when still a young apprentice, he had made a pastiche of a Roman statue (Il Putto Dormiente, the sleeping child) of such beauty and perfection, that it was later sold in Rome as an ancient Roman original. Another better-known anecdote claims that when finishing the Moses (San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome), Michelangelo violently hit the knee of the statue with a hammer, shouting, "Why don’t you speak to me?"

Love life

Fundamental to Michelangelo’s art is his love of male beauty, which attracted him both aesthetically and emotionally. Such feelings caused him great anguish, and he expressed the struggle between platonic ideals and carnal desire in his sculpture, drawing and his poetry, too, for among his other accomplishments Michelangelo was the great Italian lyric poet of the 16th century.

The sculptor loved a great many youths, many of whom posed for him and likewise slept with him. Some were of high birth, like the sixteen year old Cecchino dei Bracci, a boy of exquisite beauty whose death, only a year after their meeting in 1543, inspired the writing of forty eight funeral epigrams. Others were street wise and took advantage of the sculptor. Febbo di Poggio, in 1532, peddled his charms – in answer to Michelangelo’s love poem he asks for money. Earlier, Gherardo Perini, in 1522, had stolen from him shamelessly.

His greatest love was Tommaso dei Cavalieri (1516–1574), who was 16 years old when Michelangelo met him in 1532, at the age of 57. In their first exchange of letters, January 1, 1533, Michelangelo declares: Your lordship, only worldly light in this age of ours, you can never be pleased with another man’s work for there is no man who resembles you, nor one to equal you. . . It grieves me greatly that I cannot recapture my past, so as to longer be at your service. As it is, I can only offer you my future, which is short, for I am too old. . . That is all I have to say. Read my heart for "the quill cannot express good will." Cavalieri was open to the older man’s affection: I swear to return your love. Never have I loved a man more than I love you, never have I wished for a friendship more than I wish for yours. He remained devoted to his lover till the very end, holding his hand as he draws his last breath.

Michelangelo dedicated to him over three hundred sonnets and madrigals, constituting the largest sequence of poems composed by him. Though modern apologists hasten to assert the relationship was merely a Platonic affection, the sonnets are the first large sequence of poems in any modern tongue addressed by one man to another, predating Shakespeare’s sonnets to his young friend by a good fifty years.

I feel as lit by fire a cold countenance
That burns me from afar and keeps itself ice-chill;
A strength I feel two shapely arms to fill
Which without motion moves every balance.
— (Michael Sullivan, translation)

The homoeroticism of Michelangelo’s poetry was obscured when his grand nephew, Michelangelo the Younger, published an edition of the poetry in 1623 with the gender of pronouns changed. John Addington Symonds undid this change by translating the original sonnets into English and writing a two-volume biography, published in 1893.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *