Michelangelo Buonarroti was a renaissance artist. He was the greatest artist of his time taking the occupations of a painter, a sculptor, an architect and a poet. Michelangelo Buonarroti was the first artist recognised by contemporaries as a genius. What makes Michelangelo different, is that he was actually recognised by the public.


Michelangelo was second born on March 6th, 1475 at Caprese in Tuscany. He was the second oldest out of his four siblings.

His mother was too sick and frail to nurse Michelangelo resulting into a young death for his mother. He was only six when she died, with a grim life.

Around the age of thirteen he told his father that he had agreed to join an apprentice in the workshop of the painter, Domenico Ghirlandaio. His father wasn’t impressed resulting in anger at Michelangelo. Once he joined the workshop, he spent a year of learning the art of fresco to further study sculptures in Medici Gardens. After studying he had an invitation to go to the household of Lorenzo De’Medici, the Magnificent. Here he conversed with the younger of the Medici’s who later in life become popes (Leo X and Clement VII). During his years he spend in the Garden of San Marco, Michelangelo began to study human anatomy and when by the age of sixteen, he had produced at least two sculptures. Two sculptures: The Battle of the Centaurs and the Madonna of the Stairs.

Life in Rome

Michelangelo went to Rome where he was able to examine many newly unearthed classical statues and ruins. He soon produced his first large scale sculpture, the over-life sized Bacchus. Not long later Michelangelo also did the marble Pieta which is still in its original place in Saint Peter’s Basilica. This was probably finished before he reached 25 years of age and was one of his most famous pieces of work. The youthful Mary is shown seated majestically, holding the dead christ across her lap.

Just days after the Pieta was placed in Saint Peter’s, Michelangelo overheard a pilgrim remark that the work was done by Solari. That night in a fit of rage, Michelangelo took hammer and chisel and placed the following inscription on the sash running across Mary’s breast: MICHEL ANGELUS BONAROTUS FLORENT FACIBAT (Michelangelo Buonarroti Florentine), made this. This was the only work that he ever signed. Michelangelo later regretted his passionate outburst of pride and determined to never again sign a work of his hands.

The Return to Florence

After several years of political confusion, a republic was once again proclaimed in Florence, this order received the unconditional support of Michelangelo. Twelve days after the republic was proclaimed the Wool Guild, the corporation responsible for the maintenance of the cathedral, commissioned him to scult a statue of david.

Michelangelo produced a gigantic, 14ft, sculpture in marble of David in Accademia, Florence which he produced between 1501 and 1504. The character of David and what he symbolises was perfectly in tune with Michelangelo’s feelings. He used David as a model of heroic courage and this hero demonstrated that inner spiritual strength can prove to be more effective than arms. His faith in God enabled this young shepherd to overcome Israel’s enemies, using a mere sling. It took forty men five days to move the statue to its resting place before the Palazzo Vecchio.

Sistine Chapel

In April 1508, Michelangelo was summoned back to Rome by Julius II, but he was still not able to start on the papal tomb. In fact the pope had a new job for him. Painting twelve figures of apostles and some decorations on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. By October 31st, 1512, he had painted over 300 figures on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. On the vault of the papal chapel, he devised an intricate system of decoration that included nine scenes from the Book of Genesis, beginning with God Seperating Light from Darkness and including the Creation of Adam and Eve, the Temptation and Fall of Adam and Eve and the Flood. These centrally located narratives are surrounded by alternating images of prophets and sibyls (Libyan and Erythraean) on marble thrones, by other Old Testament subjects and by the ancestors of Christ.

The Commission

After the popes death on September 25, 1534 and only two days after Michelangelo’s arrival in Rome his successors, Paul III Farnese confirmed the commission to Michelangelo of an enormous fresco, the largest ever painted in that century, depicting the Last Judgment. This painting was finished in 1541. it depicts Christ with a clap of thunder, puts into motion the inevitable separation with the saved ascending on the left side of the painting and the damned descending on the right into a Dantesque hell. As was his custom, Michelangelo portrayed all the figures in the nude but prudish draperies were added by another artist a decade later. Although he was also given another painting commission, the decoration of the Pauline Chapel in the 1540’s, his main energies were directed toward architecture during this phase of his life.

St. Peter’s Basilica

Michelangelo’s crown achievement as an architect was his work at St. Peter’s Basilica, where he was made chief architect in 1546. The building was being constructed according to Donato Bramante’s plan but Michelangelo ultimately became responsible for the altar end of the building on the exterior and for the final form of its dome. Michelangelo was now in his seventies. However he accepted this mighty responsibility, maybe the heaviest he ever had to carry upon his shoulders. The Pope’s persistent demands were perhaps not the main reason why he accepted the burden. First of all, he considered it as a duty and a mission entrusted to him by God. He had several popes all his life and he wished to dedicate his last years to serving God.

His death

Michelangelo died, giving himself up to god on February 18th, 1564 after a slow fever. He made up his will before he died, in front of his physician and his friends, Tommaso Cavalieri and Daniele da Volterra. On his will, he wrote three sentences. They said that he gave his soul to God, his body to earth and his material possessions to his nearest relations. In reality, there was not much left in his house, since some time earlier he had burned much of his artistic material, including, to the great displeasure of Cosimo I, the designs for the facade of San Lorenzo.


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