Michelangelo Buonarroti (Caprese Michelangelo, March 6, 1475 – Rome, February 18, 1564) was one of the greatest artists of the Italian Renaissance. Sculptor, painter, architect, and poet, Michelangelo has created some of the most famous and popular works of art that the world has ever known.
In his novel Inferno, Dan Brown describes Michelangelo as follows:
“Today we know him as Michelangelo—a creative giant who is sometimes called the Medici’s greatest gift to humankind”.
Michelangelo’s name is linked to a series of works of art that represent Italian art: the David, the Pietà, as well as the cycle of frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, all considered milestones of his insurmountable creativity.
His works of art have marked and been studied by successive generations; in fact, Michelangelo greatly influenced Mannerism, a period of European art that emerged in the later years of the Italian High Renaissance around 1520 and lasted until about 1580, at which time the Baroque style began to take over.
In 1488, at the age of thirteen, Michelangelo was apprenticed to the painter Ghirlandaio, who had the largest workshop in Florence at that time. From 1490 to 1492, Michelangelo attended the Humanist academy, which the Medici founded along Neoplatonic lines. At the academy, both Michelangelo’s outlook and his art were subject to the influence of many of the most prominent philosophers and writers of the day, including Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, and Poliziano.
At this time, Michelangelo sculpted his first two reliefs: Madonna della Scala (Madonna of the Steps) and Battaglia dei Centauri (Battle of the Centaurs).
After the death of Lorenzo de’ Medici in 1492, Michelangelo left the security of the Medici court and returned to his father’s house until he was recalled to the court by Lorenzo’s heir, Piero de’ Medici.
In that same year, the Medici were expelled from Florence as a result of the rise of Savonarola. Michelangelo left the city before the end of the political upheaval, moving first to Venice, then Bologna, and finally Rome.
Michelangelo arrived in Rome in 1496 at the age of twenty-one. One year later, the French ambassador of the Holy See, Cardinal Jean de Bilhères-Lagraulas, commissioned him to carve a Pietà, a sculpture depicting the Virgin Mary grieving over the body of Jesus, a common subject in Medieval Northern Europe.
This sculpture, now located in St. Peter’s Basilica, aroused universal admiration for its perfect characterization of harmony, grace, and beauty.
Michelangelo returned to Florence in 1499, and in 1501, the consuls of the Guild of Wool asked him to complete an unfinished project begun forty years earlier by the Italian sculptor Agostino di Duccio: a colossal statue of Carrara marble portraying David as a symbol of Florentine freedom, to be placed on the gable of the Florence Cathedral.
Despite various difficulties, Michelangelo completed the sculpture in three years.
The artist dealt with the theme of the hero in an unusual manner compared to the traditional iconography, representing him as a young, naked man with a calm attitude but ready to react. According to many, this representation was meant to symbolize the nascent republican political ideal, whereby the citizen-soldier—and not the mercenary—was in a position to defend republican liberty.
The Florentines immediately considered the statue a masterpiece. As such, even though it was initially meant to be placed in the Duomo, it wound up in the location with the highest symbolic value: Piazza della Signoria.
In 1504, the two painters Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti were summoned to paint frescoes in the Hall of the Five Hundred in Palazzo Vecchio depicting scenes of two key battles in the history of the Florentine Republic: la Battaglia di Anghiari (the Battle of Anghiari) and la Battaglia di Cascina (the Battle of Cascina). However, Michelangelo never completed his work because he was invited back to Rome in 1505 by the newly elected Pope Julius II to build the Pope’s tomb. Michelangelo ended up working on this project for 40 years.
During the same period, Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The scheme consists of nine panels illustrating episodes from the Book of Genesis, set in an architectonic frame.
In 1513, Pope Leo X succedeed Julius II and commissioned Michelangelo to reconstruct the façade of the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence and to adorn it with sculptures. However, the project remained unfinished.
From 1520 to 1530, Michelangelo worked to realize the Medici Chapel in the Basilica of San Lorenzo.
In 1534, he moved permanently to Rome and worked for Pope Clement VII, who commissioned Michelangelo to paint a fresco of The Last Judgement on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel (1536-41). The fresco depicts the Second Coming of Christ and his Judgement of the souls.
The last decades of Michelangelo’s life are characterized by a progressive abandonment of painting and sculpting and of numerous architectural and urban projects such as the façade and the courtyard of Palazzo Farnese, the arrangement of Piazza del Campidoglio, and the dome of St. Peter in Rome.
In 1563, Cosimo I de’ Medici elected Michelangelo consul of the Academy and of the Society of Art and Design.
Michelangelo was also a poet; he wrote over three hundred sonnets and madrigals, vocal music compositions, usually partsongs, of the Renaissance and early Baroque eras.
Michelangelo died in Rome in 1564 at the age of eighty-eight. His body was taken from Rome for interment at the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence.
Picture by wikipedia.org