Michelangelo (1475 – 1564):
More than 500 years ago a young artist studied dead bodies, even went through their organs, and their muscles and bones, so that he could turn a block of white marble into the shape of a living, breathing man. That young man was an Italian sculptor and painter Michelangelo.
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, best known as Michelangelo was an Italian sculptor, painter, architect, and poet. His work has deeply influenced Western Art and he is the best-documented artist of the 16th century given the sheer volume of his work.
Michelangelo was born in Tuscany, Italy to a small scale banker. His mother died when he was six years old. He was then raised by his nanny and her husband, who was a stonecutter. Michelangelo was taught how to carve marble by this stonecutter and he fell in love with it. As a young boy, his passions were clear. He would often skip grammar school to draw, paint, and enjoy himself with other artists. At the age of 13, Michelangelo’s father helped him get an internship with Domenica Ghirlandaio, one of the best artists in Italy. Working under Ghirlandaio helped Michelangelo develop his artistic skill.
From 1490-1492 Michelangelo attended college at the Humanist academy. During his time there the teenage Michelangelo sculpted the famous Madonna of the Steps and Battle of the Centaurs. By the age of 21, he had worked on several statues commissioned by kings and bankers. In November 1497, the French ambassador asked him to create a sculpture of the Virgin Mary crying over the body of Jesus Christ. Michelangelo was 24 at the time of its completion. This sculpture, called Pieta, was soon recognized across the country as the greatest sculpture ever.
Michelangelo returned to Florence in 1499 and was asked by the union of wool artisans to finish a sculpture of David. David is a biblical figure of great importance to the residents of Florence. He completed the Statue of David by 1504 and is considered his most famous work. In 1505 Michelangelo was invited back to Rome by the newly elected Pope Julius II and commissioned to build the Pope’s Tomb. It was to include 40 statues. Although he was given five years to finish it, Michelangelo took 40 years, and it is said that he was never satisfied with it. It took Michelangelo this much time because he was constantly distracted by side projects.
One of these side projects included painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The composition Michaelangelo made stretches over 500 square meters of ceiling and contains over 300 figures. It contains nine episodes from the Bible’s Book of Genesis. These are divided into three groups. The first is God’s creation of the earth. The second, God’s creation of humankind and their fall from God’s grace. And the last, the state of humanity as represented by Noah and his family.
The Renaissance was the period in Europe between the 14th and 17th centuries when there was a rebirth of interest in art and literature. Michelangelo, with Leonardo Da Vinci and Raphael, are the three giants of what is called the Florentine High Renaissance. Although their names are often discussed together, Michelangelo was younger than Leonardo by 23 years, and older than Raphael by eight. The style of the late Renaissance, called Mannerism, was born from three of Michelangelo’s sculptures, Victory, the Bruges Madonna, and the Medici Madonna. It is the art of exaggerating the beautiful and balanced to create tension and instability in the art form. Naturally, his art and architecture remain greatly influential within the world of art. His styles are visible in the work of younger artists like Rafael, Henry Moore, and Rodin. In his lifetime, Michelangelo was often called Il Divino (“the divine one”). Michelangelo died in Rome in 1564, at the age of 88. He was buried in his beloved Florence. Without a doubt, he was one of the greatest artists in the history of this world.
Born: 6 March 1475, Tuscany, Italy
Died: 18 February 1564, Rome, Italy
Education: Humanist Francesco da Urbino (1488 - 1492)
Major contribution: Sistine Chapel, Statue of David, influence on Renaissance
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