Michelangelo life and biography

Michelangelo picture, image, poster

Michelangelo biography

Date of birth : 1475-03-16
Date of death : 1564-02-18
Birthplace : Caprese, Florence, Italy
Nationality : Italian
Category : Famous Figures
Last modified : 2010-05-25
Credited as : Renaissance painter and sculptor, Statue of David, Sistine Chapel

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Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (6 March 1475 – 18 February 1564), commonly known as Michelangelo, was an Italian Renaissance painter, sculptor, architect, poet, and engineer. Despite making few forays beyond the arts, his versatility in the disciplines he took up was of such a high order that he is often considered a contender for the title of the archetypal Renaissance man, along with his rival and fellow Italian Leonardo da Vinci.

Although his most famed works are the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City and the Statue of David, Michelangelo started like any other artist of the day, as an apprentice who would learn from great masters. But, these masters saw Michelangelo’s unmistakable genius in various art forms and knew early on that he would become the world’s most famed artists remembered and adored by future generations.


Michelangelo wasn’t impoverished. His father was a banker in Florence and made enough to support his family, their upper middle-class livelihoods, and his children’s education. After much debate, Michelangelo’s father allowed him to study art, but only after agreeing that if his first three-year apprenticeship didn’t work out, he would return to study so he could take over the family’s business.


The young Michelangelo first started his studies under Domencio Ghirlandajo. After only six months of study, Domencio stated that Michelangelo had surpassed him in his own art. After only one year, Michelangelo began his tutelage under the supervision of the magnificent Lorenzo de’ Medici, who funded Michelangelo’s pursuits. When de’ Medici was overthrown from government, Michelangelo had to search for other commissions that would financially support him. He had, over the years, been sending home money to his father who constantly asked him for financial help.


Moving to Bologna, he found work finishing the shrine of St. Dominic. Michelangelo’s style was different in regard to the way he chose to finish the shrine – attempting to master the beauty and form of the human body. With the finishing of that project, he was commissioned for several others, which he dedicated much time and energy towards, unlike many artists of the day who left many works unfinished. In the year 1501, he completed the statue of David for the Florence Cathedral and received a large commission. In his other works, such as with Madonna and Child, and Madonna and Child with Infant St. John, Michelangelo displayed the evolution of his unmatched abilities.


Michelangelo was greatly affected by another artist of the day, Leonardo da Vinci. The two artists battled for different commissions in the city, but Michelangelo was summoned by the Pope to complete a vast number of projects. None of these were ever completed in their full mastery, as was the Sistine Chapel. In his later years, Michelangelo loathed his frail state; he had been strong and agile as a sculptor. He completed more paintings, sculpted, wrote poetry, and contributed to many architectural projects during his lifetime.



Statue of David

Michelangelo returned to Florence in 1499–1501. Things were changing in the republic after the fall of anti-Renaissance Priest and leader of Florence, Girolamo Savonarola (executed in 1498) and the rise of the gonfaloniere Pier Soderini. He 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 portraying David as a symbol of Florentine freedom, to be placed in the Piazza della Signoria, in front of the Palazzo Vecchio. Michelangelo responded by completing his most famous work, the Statue of David in 1504. This masterwork, created out of a marble block from the quarries at Carrara that had already been worked on by an earlier hand, definitively established his prominence as a sculptor of extraordinary technical skill and strength of symbolic imagination.

Also during this period, Michelangelo painted the Holy Family and St John, also known as the Doni Tondo or the Holy Family of the Tribune: it was commissioned for the marriage of Angelo Doni and Maddalena Strozzi and in the 17th century hung in the room known as the Tribune in the Uffizi. 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.

Sistine Chapel ceiling

In 1505 Michelangelo was invited back to Rome by the newly elected Pope Julius II. He was commissioned to build the Pope's tomb. Under the patronage of the Pope, Michelangelo had to constantly stop work on the tomb in order to accomplish numerous other tasks. Because of these interruptions, Michelangelo worked on the tomb for 40 years. The tomb, of which the central feature is Michelangelo's statue of Moses, was never finished to Michelangelo's satisfaction. It is located in the Church of S. Pietro in Vincoli in Rome.

During the same period, Michelangelo took the commission to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which took approximately four years to complete (1508–1512). According to Michelangelo's account, Bramante and Raphael convinced the Pope to commission Michelangelo in a medium not familiar to the artist. This was done in order that he, Michelangelo, would suffer unfavorable comparisons with his rival Raphael, who at the time was at the peak of his own artistry as the primo fresco painter. However, this story is discounted by modern historians on the grounds of contemporary evidence, and may merely have been a reflection of the artist's own perspective.

Michelangelo was originally commissioned to paint the 12 Apostles against a starry sky, but lobbied for a different and more complex scheme, representing creation, the Downfall of Man and the Promise of Salvation through the prophets and Genealogy of Christ. The work is part of a larger scheme of decoration within the chapel which represents much of the doctrine of the Catholic Church.

The composition eventually contained over 300 figures and had at its center 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 the Jesus. They are 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 Great Flood, the Prophet Isaiah and the Cumaean Sibyl. Around the windows are painted the ancestors of Christ.

In 1513 Pope Julius II died and his successor Pope Leo X, a Medici, commissioned Michelangelo to reconstruct the façade of the basilica 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. The basilica lacks a facade to this day.

Apparently not the least embarrassed by this turnabout, the Medici later came back to Michelangelo with another grand proposal, this time for a family funerary chapel in the basilica 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 sculptural and architectural vision, since Michelangelo 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 unfinished and comparatively unimpressive tomb on one of the side walls 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 at the Basilica di Santa Croce, fulfilling the maestro's last request to be buried in his beloved Tuscany.

Last works in Rome

The fresco of The Last Judgment on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel was commissioned by Pope Clement VII, who died shortly after assigning the commission. Paul III was instrumental in seeing that Michelangelo began and completed the project. Michelangelo labored on the project from 1534 to October 1541. The work is massive and spans the entire wall behind the altar of the Sistine Chapel. The Last Judgment is a depiction of the second coming of Christ and the apocalypse; where the souls of humanity rise and are assigned to their various fates, as judged by Christ, surrounded by the Saints.

Once completed, the depictions of nakedness in the papal chapel was considered obscene and sacrilegious, and Cardinal Carafa and Monsignor Sernini (Mantua's ambassador) campaigned to have the fresco removed or censored, but the Pope resisted. After Michelangelo's death, it was decided to obscure the genitals ("Pictura in Cappella Ap.ca coopriantur"). So Daniele da Volterra, an apprentice of Michelangelo, was commissioned to cover with perizomas (briefs) the genitals, leaving unaltered the complex of bodies. When the work was restored in 1993, the conservators chose not to remove all the perizomas of Daniele, leaving some of them as a historical document, and because some of Michelangelo’s work was previously scraped away by the touch-up artist's application of “decency” to the masterpiece. A faithful uncensored copy of the original, by Marcello Venusti, can be seen at the Capodimonte Museum of Naples.

Michelangelo designed the dome of St. Peter's Basilica, although it was unfinished when he died.

Censorship always followed Michelangelo, once described as "inventor delle porcherie" ("inventor of obscenities", in the original Italian language referring to "pork things"). The infamous "fig-leaf campaign" of the Counter-Reformation, aiming to cover all representations of human genitals in paintings and sculptures, started with Michelangelo's works. To give two examples, the marble statue of Cristo della Minerva (church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome) was covered by added drapery, as it remains today, and the statue of the naked child Jesus in Madonna of Bruges (The Church of Our Lady in Bruges, Belgium) remained covered for several decades. Also, the plaster copy of the David in the Cast Courts (Victoria and Albert Museum) in London, has a fig leaf in a box at the back of the statue. It was there to be placed over the statue's genitals so that they would not upset visiting female royalty.

In 1546, Michelangelo was appointed architect of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, and designed its dome. As St. Peter's was progressing there was concern that Michelangelo would pass away before the dome was finished. However, once building commenced on the lower part of the dome, the supporting ring, the completion of the design was inevitable.

On 7 December 2007, Michelangelo's red chalk sketch for the dome of St Peter's Basilica, his last before his death in 1564, was discovered in the Vatican archives. It is extremely rare, since he destroyed his designs later in life. The sketch is a partial plan for one of the radial columns of the cupola drum of Saint Peter's.

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