Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (Michelangelo) was born on March 6th, 1475 in Caprese, Tuscany, which was in the Republic of Florence. He is remembered today as one of the most influential painters and artists of the European Renaissance and is credited with some of the most profound and influential art pieces in all of human history. As such, some historians consider him to be a ‘Renaissance Man’ along with other influential artists such as Leonardo da Vinci.
Michelangelo came from a family of small-scale bankers, however, the family bank failed just before Michelangelo’s birth. As a result, Michelangelo’s father took up a new role as an administrator to ensure that the family had enough money to live on. However, a few months after Michelangelo was born the family moved to Florence. His mother became ill and died when he was a young boy and as a result Michelangelo was cared for by his nanny and her stonecutter husband. It was there that Michelangelo gained his love for marble and art.
When Michelangelo was still a young boy, he was sent away to school in the center of Florence. At the time, Florence was the center of art in Italy and as Michelangelo did not enjoy school he spent much of his time painting and talking with artists. At the age of thriteen he became an apprentice to Domenico Ghirlandaio, a master fresco painter, who had the largest workshop in Florence. Under Ghirlandaio, Michelangelo learned many artistsic skills. In 1490, Michelangelo started study at the Humanist academy that had been founded by the Medici family. Whilst there, his art was influenced by many prominent humanist philosophers. In general, Renaissance Humanism was the study of ancient Greek and Roman texts with the goal of promoting new norms and values in society. These norms and views varied from those at the time because they focused less heavily on a religious worldview. Instead, Renaissance humanists such as Petrarch used ancient texts to promote a worldview based on logic and reason. In Renaissance art, humanism prompted influential artists such as Michelangelo to display the human form in more life-like realism. This is when Michelangelo also started working with the sculptor Bertoldo di Giovanni and as a result, he too started sculpting. For instance, he created the well-known works of ‘Madonna of the Stairs’ and the ‘Battle of the Centaurs’.
In 1492, due to political upheaval in Florence, Michelangelo returned to his father’s house and left the Medici court. However not long after arriving, he moved to Bolongna and then moved on to Rome. During this time he completed several works of art and sculptures for several different people including influential bankers and religious leaders. He was still just 21 years old. In 1497, Michelangelo was commissioned to carve a Pieta which was a sculpture showing the Virgin Mary, grieving over Jesus’ body. He completed the sculpture 3 years after starting it, and it is now regarded as one of the world’s greatest sculptures especially since it was carved from just one block of stone.
Michelangelo returned to Florence in 1499. When he arrived he was asked to finish a statue that had been started 40 years earlier. The statue, which became his most famous work, was called ‘David’, and the statue was commissioned to be a symbol of Florentine peace. David established Michelangelo as being an incredible sculptor as the statue was so technically brilliant and showcased such amazing symbolic imagination. A number of other commissions quickly followed after completion of David, including architectural designs and a number of large paintings and frescoes. In 1505 Michelangelo was invited to Rome by Pope Julius II and was commissioned to build the Pope’s tomb, and also to complete two of the most famous frescoes in Western art: The Last Judgment and the scenes from Genesis. Both were completed in the Sistine Chapel in Rome.
The Sistine Chapel is a chapel in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope, in Vatican City. The Sistine Chapel was restored by Pope Sixtus IV (which is where the chapel gets its name from) between 1477 and 1480. Several prominent Renaissance artists were hired to complete frescoes on the inside of the chapel, including: Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Pinturicchio, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Cosimo Rosselli. However, from 1508 to 1512, Michelangelo was employed to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. At the time he was still working on the tomb for Pope Julius II, but took on the painting in the chapel as a side task. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel has gone on to be one of his greatest and most recognized artistic accomplishments.
As stated above, the painting of the Sistine Chapel took him four years. At the time, he convinced Pope Julius II to allow him the freedom to choose his subject matter for the painting. As a result, Michelangelo focused on the imagery and themes of the Book of Genesis from the Bible. In total, the paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel comprised of 500 square meters (over 5000 square feet) and 300 figures. The paintings were separated into three main groups from the Book of Genesis, including: 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. Likely the most famous and recognized of all of the panels on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is the ‘Creation of Adam’.
Following 1508 and his work on the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo returned to Florence where he was again commission by the Medici family. This time they wanted his to create a funeral chapel for the Medici family. This task ended up taking up much of his time throughout the 1520s and 1530s. However, Florence was again in a state of conflict in the late 1520s when citizens of Florence rose up against the Medici family and reinstated the republic of the city-state. This ultimately caused Michelangelo to flee Florence and return to Rome. This led to him again being commissioned by the Pope to complete another painting in the Sistine Chapel. Pope Clementine VII commissioned him to paint ‘The Last Judgment’ on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel in 1534. The painting would go on to be one of his most famous.
Throughout the remainder of his life, he worked on several other projects for the Catholic Church and continued to paint and sculpt. Michelangelo died on February 18th, 1564 in Rome. He was 88 years old. His works are considered to be the most famous of the Renaissance period and have had an impressive influence on Western art. He is perhaps only matched in significance by Leonardo da Vinci. His works continue to influence artists today thanks to their detail, fame and due to the sheer volume of surviving sketches and correspondence. Michelangelo is remembered as one of the greatest artists of all time.
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