Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) was the greatest sculptor of the Italian Renaissance and one of its greatest painters and architects.
Michelangelo Buonarroti was born on March 6, 1475, in Caprese, a village where his father was briefly serving as a Florentine government agent. The family, of higher rank than most from which artists came in Florence, had been bankers, but Michelangelo's grandfather had failed, and his father, too genteel for trade, lived on the income from his land and a few official appointments. Michelangelo's mother died when he was 6.
After grammar school, Michelangelo was apprenticed at the age of 13 to Domenico Ghirlandaio, the most fashionable painter in Florence. That this should have happened is surprising, and no satisfactory explanation has been proposed. Michelangelo's implication in his old age that he had to overcome his family's opposition is likely to be mythical in part. In any case, after a year his apprenticeship was broken off, and an even odder arrangement followed: the boy was given access to the collection of ancient Roman sculpture of the ruler of Florence, Lorenzo de' Medici, dined with the family, and was looked after by the retired sculptor who was in charge of the collection. This arrangement was quite unprecedented at the time.
Michelangelo's earliest sculpture, a stone relief executed when he was about 17, in its composition echoes the Roman sarcophagi of the Medici collection and in its subject, the Battle of the Centaurs, a Latin poem a court poet read to him. Compared to the sarcophagi, Michelangelo's work is remarkable for the simple, solid forms and squarish proportions of the figures, which add intensity to their violent interaction.
Soon after Lorenzo died in 1492, the Medici fell from power and Michelangelo fled the city. In Bologna in 1494 he obtained a small but distinguished commission to carve the three saints needed to complete the elaborate tomb of St. Dominic in the church of S. Domenico. They too show dense forms, which contrast with the linear forms, either decorative or realistic, then dominant in sculpture, but are congruent with the work of Nicola Pisano, who had begun the tomb about 1265. On returning home Michelangelo found Florence dominated by the famous ascetic monk Savonarola. Michelangelo was in contact with the junior branch of the Medici family, and he carved a Cupid (lost) which he took to Rome to sell, palming it off as an ancient work.
In Rome, Michelangelo next executed a Bacchus for the garden of ancient sculpture of a banker. This, Michelangelo's earliest surviving large-scale work, shows the god teetering, either drunk or dancing. It is his only sculpture meant to be viewed from all sides; all the others, generally set in front of walls, possess to some extent the visual character of reliefs.
In 1498, through the same banker, came Michelangelo's first important commission: the Pietà now in St. Peter's. The term pietà refers to a type of image in which Mary supports the dead Christ across her knees; Michelangelo's version is today the most famous one. In both the Pietà and the Bacchus the effects of hard polished marble and of curved yielding flesh coexist. Over life size, the Pietà has mutually reinforcing contrasts: vertical and horizontal, cloth and skin, allude to the living and the dead, female and male, but the unity of the pyramidal composition is strongly imposed.
On his return to Florence in 1501 Michelangelo was recognized as the most talented sculptor of central Italy, but his work was still in the early Renaissance tradition, as is the marble David, commissioned in 1501 for Florence Cathedral but when finished, in 1504, more suitably installed in front of the Palazzo Vecchio. (The original is now in the Accademia; the statue at the original site is a copy.) It shares the clear and strong but bland presence of the Pietà. Before he finished the David, Michelangelo's style had begun to change, as indicated by his drawing of a very different bronze David (lost) and by other works, particularly the Battle of Cascina. All these works resulted from the city fathers' desire to revive monumental public art, characteristic of the period before the Medici early in the 15th century. The new Council Hall of the Palazzo Vecchio was to have patriotic murals that would also show the special skills of Florence's leading artists: Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.
Michelangelo's Battle of Cascina was commissioned in 1504; several sketches and a copy of the cartoon exist. The central scene shows a group of muscular nudes, soldiers climbing from a river where they had been swimming, to answer a military alarm. Inevitably Michelangelo felt the influence of Leonardo and his evocation of continuous flowing motion through living forms. Michelangelo's greatness lay partly in his ability to absorb Leonardo's innovations and yet not reduce the heavy solidity and impressive dignity of his earlier work. This fusion of throbbing life with colossal grandeur henceforth was the special quality of Michelangelo's art.
From then on too Michelangelo's work consisted mainly of very large projects that he never finished because of his inability to turn down the vast commissions of his great clients which appealed to his preference for the grand scale. Of the 12 Apostles he was to execute for Florence Cathedral, he began only the St. Matthew; this was the first monumental sculpture suggesting a Leonardesque agitation.
Tomb of Julius II
The project of the Apostles was put aside when Pope Julius II called Michelangelo to Rome in 1505 to design his tomb, which was to include about 40 life-size statues. This project occupied Michelangelo off and on for the next 40 years. Of it he wrote, "I find I have lost all my youth bound to this tomb." In 1506 a dispute over funds for the tomb led Michelangelo, who had spent almost a year at the quarries in Carrara, to flee to Florence. A reconciliation between Julius II and Michelangelo took place in Bologna, which the Pope had just conquered, and Michelangelo modeled a colossal bronze statue of Julius for S. Petronio in Bologna, which he completed in 1508 (destroyed).
In 1508 Julius commissioned Michelangelo to decorate the ceiling of the chief Vatican chapel, the Sistine. This work was relatively modest at first, and Michelangelo felt he was being pushed aside by rival claimants on funds. But he soon was able to alter the traditional format of ceiling painting, whereby only single figures could be represented, not scenes calling for dramas in space; his introduction of dramatic scenes was so successful that it set the standard for the future.
The elaborate program with hundreds of figures was arranged in an original framing system that was Michelangelo's earliest architectonic design. He approached the ceiling as a surface on which to attach planes built up in various degrees of projection, like a relief sculpture except that its basic units are blocks rather than malleable forms. The many planes and painted architectural framework make the many categories of images so easily readable that the framing system tends to pass unnoticed, but its rich, heavy ornament is typical of the High Renaissance. The chief figural elements of the program are the 12 male and female prophets (the latter known as sibyls) and the nine stories from Genesis. Michelangelo began painting at the end of the story, with the three Noah scenes and the adjacent prophets and sibyls, and in 4 years worked through the three Adam stories to the three Creation stories at the other end of the ceiling.
Michelangelo paused for some months halfway along, and when he returned to the ceiling, he made the prophets more monumental (in keeping with the fewer and hence bigger figures in the nearby Creation scenes). At that point his style also underwent a shift. He had begun with a manner reverting to his sculptural style in the Pietà and David, as if he was uncertain when facing the unfamiliar task of painting on such a scale. The first prophets are harmonious but static, as is the Flood scene. But soon there develops a forceful grandeur, with a richer emotional tension than in any previous work. This is well illustrated in the Ezekiel, whose massive torso seems to be in tension with the centrifugally twisted head and legs. The prophet peers questioningly into the unknown.
After the pause, Michelangelo began the second half of the ceiling with a newly acquired subtlety of expression, as in the Creation of Adam. The images become freer and more mobile in the last parts painted, such as the Separation of Light and Darkness, but the mood remains introspective.
As soon as the ceiling was completed in 1512, Michelangelo returned to the tomb of Julius and carved for it (1513-1514) the Moses (S. Pietro in Vincoli, Rome) and two Slaves (Louvre, Paris), using the same types he employed for the prophets and their attendants painted in the Sistine ceiling. The Moses seems to represent a final synthesis of all those variants, although it is more restrained owing to the sculptural medium. It was meant to be placed above eye level, and some of its dramatic force would probably have been mitigated when seen from the intended distance. Julius's death in 1513 halted the work on his tomb.
From now on the successive popes determined Michelangelo's activity, as they were all anxious to have work by the recognized greatest maker of monuments for themselves, their families, and the Church. Pope Leo X, son of Lorenzo de' Medici, proposed a marble facade for the family parish church of S. Lorenzo in Florence, to be decorated with statues by Michelangelo, but his project was canceled after four years of quarrying and designing.
In 1520 Michelangelo was commissioned to execute a tomb chapel for two young Medici dukes. The Medici Chapel (1520-1534), an annex to S. Lorenzo, is the most nearly complete large sculptural project of Michelangelo's career. The two tombs, each with an image of the deceased and two allegorical figures, are placed against elaborately articulated walls; these six statues and a seventh on a third wall, the Madonna, are by Michelangelo's own hand. The two saints flanking the Madonna are by assistants from his clay sketches. Four river gods were planned but not executed.
The interior architecture of the Medici Chapel develops the treatment seen in the painted architectural framework of the Sistine ceiling; the walls are treated as relief sculptures, with intersecting moldings and pillars on many planes, giving a loose freedom typical of a non-professional approach to architecture. Whimsical reversals of what is proper— trapezoidal windows and capitals smaller than their columns—introduce what is now called mannerism in architecture.
The allegories on the curved lids of the tombs are also innovative: Day and Night recline on one tomb, Morning and Evening on the other. The choice of imagery was left to the artist, and these figures seem to symbolize the endless round of time leading to death. Michelangelo said that the death of the dukes cut off the light of the times of day, and such courtly adulation, which is hard to accept as Michelangelesque, is also suggested in the dukes' fancy costumes and idealized representations. Political absolutism was growing at the time, and Michelangelo's statues were often used as precedents in formulating new types of royal portraiture. A similar style is seen in the sinuous Victory overcoming a tough old warrior. This statue, Michelangelo's last serious contribution to the tomb of Julius, also embodied the artist's interest in Neoplatonism, a philosophy that urged man to rise above his body into the spiritual plane.
The architecture of the Medici Chapel has a fuller analog in the library, the Biblioteca Laurenziana, built at the same time on the opposite side of S. Lorenzo to house Leo X's books. The reading room has functional suggestions in its window and pillar system and refined ornament on floor and ceiling. But the entrance hall and staircase are Michelangelo's most astonishing illustration of capricious paradox, with recessed columns resting on scroll brackets set halfway up the wall and corners stretched open rather than sealed.
Most of Michelangelo's 300 surviving poems were written in the 1530s and 1540s and fall into two groups. The earlier poems are on the theme of Neoplatonic love and are full of logical contradictions and conceits, often very intricate. They belong to an international trend best known in the work of Luis de Góngora and John Donne and make an interesting parallel to mannerist architecture. The later poems are Christian; their mood is penitent; and they are written in a simple, direct style. These match a phase of Michelangelo's plastic art that slightly precedes them.
In 1534 Michelangelo left Florence for the last time, settling in Rome. The next 10 years were mainly given over to painting for Pope Paul III, who is best known for convening the Council of Trent and thus organizing the Catholic Reformation.
The first project Michelangelo executed for Paul III is the huge Last Judgment (1536-1541) on the end wall of the Sistine Chapel. It revives a medieval approach to the same theme in using an entire end wall in an undivided field and in the composition of the parts. The design functions like a pair of scales, with some angels pushing the damned down to hell on one side and some pulling up the saved on the other side, both directed by Christ, who "conducts" with both arms; in the two top corners are the cross and other symbols of the Passion, which serve as his credentials to be judge.
The flow of movement in the Last Judgment is greater than in the medieval tradition, with the two streams of figures tending to shear against each other, but it is slower compared to Michelangelo's own earlier work. The colors, blue and brown, are simple, as are the bodies. The figure type is new, with thick, waistless torsos and loosely connected limbs. The new sobriety seems to parallel the ideas of the Counter Reformation, with whose leaders Michelangelo had intimate contact through his admired mentor, the devout widow Vittoria Colonna, the addressee of many of his poems.
Michelangelo's frescoes in the Pauline Chapel in the Vatican (1541-1545) are similar to the Last Judgment, but here he added a remarkable technical novelty by exploring perspective movement and coloristic subtlety as major expressive components. He may have turned to these typically painterly concerns because the Pauline frescoes were the first ones he executed on a normal scale and eye level. The only sculpture of these years, the Rachel and the Leah, executed so that a small amended version of the tomb of Julius could at last be erected, are so neat and unemphatic that they are often disregarded or not accepted as Michelangelo's work.
Works after 1545
Michelangelo devoted himself almost entirely to architecture and poetry after 1545. For Paul III he planned the rebuilding of the Capitol area, the Piazza del Campidoglio, a pioneering scheme of city planning that gave monumental articulation to an area traditionally used for civic ceremonies. The geometry is dynamic, marked by a trapezoidal plan (determined by the site) formed by three buildings and an oval pavement; the airy breadth of the piazza produces a relatively gentle effect of a special theatrical locus. The chief emphasis is on the facades of the two new side buildings, executed to Michelangelo's plans after his death. Two-story pilasters mark the front plane, unifying the open porch on the lower story and the closed upper one, thus mingling suggestions of compressed power and clear skeletal construction.
Michelangelo's approach to architecture was growing richer and more three-dimensional, as in the Palazzo Farnese, which he completed after the death of Antonio da Sangallo the Younger in 1546. In Michelangelo's third story of the courtyard, a second row of wide pilasters set behind the front level of narrow ones causes the wall of which they are all part to suggest a wavy continuum.
Paul III appointed Michelangelo to take over the direction of the work at St. Peter's after Sangallo died. Here Michelangelo had less respect for his predecessor's plan, returning instead to the concepts that the first architect, Donato Bramante, had proposed in 1506. The enormous church was to be an equal-armed cross in plan, concentrated on a huge central space beneath the dome surrounded by a series of secondary spaces and their containing structures. The edge thus became a complex outline of changing convex curves, and from that Michelangelo built the wall straight up, producing a very active rhythm, all on such a monumental scale that we can never see more than a fragment at one time. Its surface alternates colossal pilasters with stacks of three vertical windows compressed between them, providing a measure of the vast scale and also binding the wall into vertical unity. By the time Michelangelo died, a considerable part of St. Peter's had been built in the form in which we know it, and the drum of the dome was finished up to the springing.
The essentially three-dimensional concept of St. Peter's, inherently architectonic and original, gave way in Michelangelo's last years to a gleaming, almost dematerialized approach to the wall, suggested in the plans (ca. 1559) for the unexecuted church of S. Giovanni dei Fiorentini and a city gate, the Porta Pia (begun 1561).
Michelangelo's sculpture after 1545 was limited to two Pietàs that he executed for himself. The first one (1550-1555, unfinished), which is in the Cathedral of Florence, was meant for his own tomb. This Pietà employs the body type of the Last Judgment in the Christ and its shearing up and down thrusts in the interrelationships of the figures. His late architectural style has a parallel in his last sculpture, the Rondanini Pietà in Milan, which is cut away to an almost abstract set of curves. Michelangelo began this sculpture in 1555, and he was working on it on Feb. 12, 1564. He died six days later in Rome and was buried in Florence.
Michelangelo's impact on the younger artists who encountered his successive styles throughout his long life was immense, but it tended to be crushing. The great baroque artists of the next century, such as Peter Paul Rubens and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, were better able at a distance to study his ideas without danger to their artistic autonomy.
The Complete Poems and Selected Letters of Michelangelo was translated by Creighton Gilbert and edited by Robert N. Linscott (1963). Charles de Tolnay, Michelangelo (5 vols., 1938-1960), is opinionated but indispensable; and Frederick Hartt's Michelangelo (1965), Michelangelo: The Complete Sculpture (1969), and Michelangelo Drawings (1970) are also strongly personal but more current. Both deal only with the painting, sculpture, and drawings. James S. Ackerman, The Architecture of Michelangelo (2 vols., 1961), is outstanding for this aspect of his work. Ludwig Goldscheider, Michelangelo: Paintings, Sculptures, Architecture (4th ed. 1963), provides a reasonably complete set of good illustrations. Creighton Gilbert, Michelangelo (1967), is the most succinct survey. Still valid for biography is John Addington Symonds, The Life of Michelangelo (1893); many reprints). □
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Michelangelo Buonarroti (Born Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, 1475–1564)
MICHELANGELO BUONARROTI (born Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, 1475–1564)
MICHELANGELO BUONARROTI (born Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, 1475–1564), Italian sculptor, painter, architect, and poet. Michelangelo achieved such renown in his lifetime that he was celebrated as Il Divino, the 'Divine One'. In five hundred years, his fame has scarcely diminished. Michelangelo is universally recognized as one of the greatest artists of all time. He established new and still unsurpassed standards of excellence in all fields of visual creativity—sculpture, painting, architecture—and was, in addition, an accomplished poet. Along with Dante and Shakespeare, Mozart, and Beethoven, he stands as one of the giants of Western civilization.
Michelangelo's career spanned from the final years of Lorenzo de' Medici's Florence to the first stirrings of the Counter-Reformation. He outlived thirteen popes and worked for nine of them. Although his art occasionally was criticized (he was accused of impropriety in the Last Judgment ), Michelangelo's influence and reputation have always been acknowledged. Many of his works—including the Pietà, David, Moses, and the Sistine Chapel ceiling—are ubiquitous cultural icons. Despite the familiarity of Michelangelo's art, the large quantity of primary documentation (more than any previous artist), and a voluminous secondary literature, many aspects of Michelangelo's art and life remain open to interpretation.
In contrast to the romantic conception of the artist as lone genius, contemporary scholars tend to view Michelangelo in a broad historical and social context. In Italy and throughout European civilization, the family was fundamental to self-definition; a family's status established an individual's status. Michelangelo was one of just a handful of Renaissance artists, including Filippo Brunelleschi, Donatello, and Leon Battista Alberti, who were born into patrician families. It was not unreasonable, therefore, that Michelangelo's father resisted his son's artistic inclinations; the boy should have aspired to a more elevated profession, to political office, and to a socially advantageous marriage. The tension between his patrician birth and his fundamentally manual profession occasionally caused Michelangelo to experience doubt about his art (best expressed in his poetry), and to encounter conflict with his patrons.
Michelangelo's father was a distant cousin and contemporary of the great Renaissance Maecenas Lorenzo de' Medici (1449–1492). It was probably thanks to this familial relation that Michelangelo spent approximately two years in the Medici household, where he received the beginnings of a humanistic education alongside two of his future Medici patrons, Giovanni (Pope Leo X, reigned 1513–1521) and Giulio (Pope Clement VII, reigned 1523–1534). The Medici were especially important to Michelangelo's early career, providing him with commissions, opportunities, and letters of introduction that permitted the young man to pursue an untraditional course independent of the guild system and the highly competitive artisan profession. Rather, he lived on the basis of comparatively few commissions, obtained by means of skillfully navigating in a dense web of family, friendship, and patronage ties.
Appropriately for a family with social pretensions, Michelangelo was tutored by a grammarian and learned a modicum of Latin, a good hand, and how to write a proper letter. His penmanship was neat and regular, his orthography and grammar more self-consciously correct than that of many of his contemporaries. The sheer volume of Michelangelo's correspondence—more than 1,400 letters to and from the artist—distinguishes him from most artists of the early modern period. He took care in composing letters, often writing multiple drafts, and the very fact that he preserved his correspondence was characteristic of a member of the literate patrician class.
Even more important are Michelangelo's considerable labors as a poet. In the entire history of art, only William Blake has made a comparable contribution to both the poetic and visual arts. Michelangelo's poetry ranks among the greatest literary creations of the Renaissance, distinguishing him from most artists and many fellow patricians.
Michelangelo proudly declared that his family had paid taxes in Florence for three hundred years, thereby placing them among an elite group of "good families." The Buonarroti traced their citizenship back to the priorate of 1343, and in 1508 they had six members eligible for election to the Florentine government. But even more than the prestige of public office, wealth was the most certain measure of status, and property was the principal measure of wealth. Shortly after his commission to design the tomb of Pope Julius II (1505), Michelangelo began purchasing property in and around Florence. In addition to rental income, these various farm properties provided Michelangelo and his family with most of their basic needs, including grain, oil, wine, eggs, and firewood. By his death at the age of eighty-nine, Michelangelo was a millionaire; however, despite his affluence, he lived modestly, for he was, like his contemporaries, perpetually wary of gossip.
Wealth opened the door to a good marriage, which was an important means of securing longlasting social status. Of course, Michelangelo never married, but his brother Buonarroto married into the patrician Della Casa family. The children of this union also made good matches: Lionardo married into the Ridolfi family, and in 1537 Michelangelo's niece, Francesca, married Michele Guicciardini, scion of one of the oldest and most illustrious Florentine families. Michelangelo was preoccupied with the prestige and propagation of his family, which survived until the mid-nineteenth century.
Central to Michelangelo's self-perception and lifelong ambition was his firm belief that he was from a noble family who traced an ancient lineage from the famous counts of Canossa. It is scarcely important that we now doubt Michelangelo's claim; it was firmly believed by the artist and his contemporaries. His proud ancestry was affirmed in the opening lines of the biography written by his friend and pupil Ascanio Condivi: "Michelangelo Buonarroti . . . traced his origin from the counts of Canossa, noble and illustrious family of the territory of Reggio. . . ." After 1526 he stopped signing his name as "Michelangelo sculptore" and instead insisted on using his full family name, the "nome della casa."
From early in his career, Michelangelo's art was a privileged commodity made for a few select persons. Michelangelo's relations with his patrons were, for the most part, extensions of a well-established network of social bonds founded on favor, friendship, and family relations. Therefore, he was particularly sensitive about being treated like an artisan, and he adamantly denied ever running a traditional workshop (bottega) : "I was never a painter or sculptor like those who run workshops," he wrote to his nephew Lionardo in 1548. Reminding Lionardo of the family's illustrious history, Michelangelo advised his young nephew that he did not provide the products and services typical of such establishments. Rather, his career is marked by a series of unique objects that are never repeated and scarcely imitable: Bacchus (1496), Pietà (1497–1499), David (1501–1504), the Sistine Chapel ceiling (1508–1512), Last Judgment (1534–1541), the tomb of Julius II (1505–1545), and St. Peter's (1546–).
Like Leonardo da Vinci before him, Michelangelo attempted to maintain a life as a sort of artistcourtier where mutually beneficial and reciprocal relations blurred the distinction between artist and patron, between professional and personal obligations. In his final years, Michelangelo considered it unseemly to be paid a daily wage for his work at St. Peter's. Instead, he accepted remuneration as a favor from the pope, mostly in the form of lucrative prebends.
Michelangelo's concerns with family and lineage coincided with a pan-European preoccupation with the true nature of nobility. His desire for wealth, landed security, and social status place Michelangelo squarely in a contemporary milieu, sharing the most cherished values of his fellow citizens. At the same time, these concerns distinguish him from most of his fellow artists, few of whom could claim noble birth, a coat of arms, or even a proper family name.
Michelangelo's claim to noble birth—about which he was most adamant—is precisely the part of his biography that we treat as a fantastic delusion or myth, whereas we willingly subscribe to the literary fiction about the artist's early life and predestined rise to fame. The tale of Michelangelo's genius is a convenient means of explaining his accomplishments. Otherwise, we are left trying to understand how and why this aristocrat became an artist, and how he created his greatest works. Indeed, it is the very magnitude of those accomplishments that tends to cast his aristocratic persona in the shade. More than any previous artist, Michelangelo's success as both an artisan and aristocrat was instrumental in advancing the social status of his profession, from craftsman to genius, from artisan to gentleman. In the words of his admiring contemporary Pietro Aretino: "The world has many kings and only one Michelangelo."
See also Art: The Conception and Status of the Artist ; Italian Literature and Language ; Rome, Art in ; Sculpture .
Buonarroti, Michelangelo. Il carteggio di Michelangelo. 5 vols. Edited by Giovanni Poggi, Paola Barocchi, and Renzo Ristori. Florence, 1965–1983. Critical edition of all letters to and from Michelangelo.
Condivi, Ascanio. The Life of Michelangelo. Translated by Alice Sedgwick Wohl. Edited by Hellmut Wohl. Baton Rouge, La., 1976. Important biography by Michelangelo's student.
Vasari, Giorgio. Lives of the Artists. Translated by George Bull. London and New York, 1965–1987. A selection of lives from the original work.
Ackerman, James S. The Architecture of Michelangelo. 2 vols. London, 1961. Classic survey and catalog of Michelangelo's architecture.
De Tolnay, Charles. Michelangelo. 5 vols. Princeton, 1943–1960. Comprehensive examination of the artist and his work.
Hibbard, Howard. Michelangelo. New York, 1974. Accessible and readable one-volume introduction to the artist.
Wallace, William E., ed. Michelangelo: Selected Scholarship in English. 5 vols. New York, 1995. A collection of more than one hundred articles in English on all aspects of Michelangelo's art and life.
William E. Wallace
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Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564)
Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564)
Italian sculptor, fresco painter, architect, and poet, whose works have become popular and world-renowned examples of Renaissance art. Born in the town of Caprese, near Florence, he was the son of Ludovico de Buonarroti, podesta of the town of Caprese,
and Francesca Neri. His father sent him to study with Francesco Galeota, a scholar of Urbino. At a young age Michelangelo took an interest in painting, and at thirteen he joined the studio of Domenico Ghirlandaio. His ambition to be an artist, however, was opposed by his father, who saw painters and sculptors as lowly craftsmen and wanted his son to become a merchant and civic leader. Michelangelo's talent earned him an invitation from Lorenzo de' Medici, a distant cousin to his father, to join the Medici court, then a center of Renaissance learning and art. Medici had organized a school of sculpture in the Garden of San Marco, near the San Lorenzo church, where Michelangelo studied classical statues to create his first works, Sleeping Cupid, The Madonna of the Stairs, and Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs.
In 1492 Lorenzo died and several factions began a violent struggle for control of Florence. The weakened state was defeated by the French army under Charles VIII. Girolamo Savonarola's campaign to rid the city of art and frivolity goaded Michelangelo into leaving Florence for Rome, where he made an intense study of classical ruins and created the sculpture Bacchus, a commission from a wealthy banker who next commissioned a Pietà, a sculpture of the Virgin Mary holding the body of a crucified Christ. This work, completed in 1498, still stands in the original place intended for it in Rome's Saint Peter's Basilica. After overhearing a bystander remark that the Pietà was the work of Christoforo Solari, a rival artist, Michelangelo
flew into a rage and carved his name into the sash running across the figure of Mary, making the Pietà the only work of art that he signed. The Pietà, a vivid evocation in marble of death and resignation, displays both great strength and tender sadness.
After the overthrow of Savonarola and the proclamation of the Florentine republic, Michelangelo returned to what he always considered his home town. The city's Wool Guild, responsible for decorating and furnishing the Florence cathedral, commissioned a stone statue of David, which Michelangelo began in 1501. Over a period of three years, the statue emerged from a block of marble 19 feet (5.8m) long. The finished work stood 14 feet (4.2m) in height; the figure of David represents Florence itself, strong in youthful vigor and spirit and ready to defy any and all tyrants and foreigners seeking to challenge it. At Michelangelo's insistence, the sculpture was carefully moved to the large square in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall of Florence; later the statue was moved to the gallery of the Accademia, and replaced with a copy.
By the time of the completion of David, Michelangelo's reputation as an artist of genius had spread throughout Italy. In 1505 Pope Julius II invited Michelangelo and many other important artists to glorify the city of Rome and the papacy with original works of arts. From Michelangelo he commissioned sculptures for his own tomb, which was intended to display several dozen life-size statues. Michelangelo's painstaking work in the marble quarries of Carrara ended in a dispute with the pope over the costs of the project, and the artists fled Rome in disgust in 1506. Julius and Michelangelo soon reconciled, however, and the artist was then asked to suspend work on the tomb and take up the painting of twelve apostles on the ceiling and walls of the Sistine Chapel. The idea for this project was relayed to the pope by Michelangelo's own rivals, who believed him an inferior painter, incapable of carrying out the task, and likely to run into trouble with the pope and lose his commission for the papal tomb. In the meantime, the tomb project was proving so costly to Julius II that he ordered it stopped.
At first reluctant to undertake the Sistine Chapel ceiling, Michelangelo finally accepted the commission and began work in 1508. He introduced a new concept in fresco painting by rendering complete dramatic scenes on an overhead space, something no other artist had ever attempted. By the time he completed the ceiling, in 1512, he had rendered nine scenes from the Bible's book of Genesis, including the creation of man, the temptation of Adam and Eve, and the biblical flood, with more than four hundred larger-than-life figures, all while lying on his back on top of a wooden scaffold. The Sistine Chapel ceiling was a magnificent achievement that left the artist emotionally drained and physically weakened. He then completed the tomb for Julius II that included the dour figure of Moses, a sculpture created from a lump of marble so poorly proportioned and misshapen that several artists had already refused to work with it. Also as part of this tomb were to be two important sculptures, Bound Slave and Dying Slave, which he left unfinished at the death of the pope in 1513.
After completing the Sistine Chapel ceiling, Michelangelo returned to Florence. He took on architectural projects, including the design of the Laurentian Library. In 1526 the Medici were again driven out of Florence, while Pope Clement VII ordered German mercenaries to surround the city and prepare for an assault. The city of Florence asked Michelangelo to design a series of fortifications. He joined the army defending Florence but then fled the city for Venice when it appeared the mercenaries would actually invade. The artist was exiled for this act but later was allowed to return.
In 1519 the artist was commissioned to design two tombs for Lorenzo and Giuliano de' Medici, to be built in the sacristy of Florence's San Lorenzo Church. The tombs were designed with symbolic representations of dawn, dusk, day, and night. The figures are shown crying in grief at the passage of time and the inevitability of death. The artist left them incomplete when he returned to Rome in 1534. Pope Clement VII commissioned him to paint The Last Judgment fresco in the Sistine Chapel. A huge painting, the largest fresco painting of its time, The Last Judgment was completed in 1541. The painting caused a scandal because of its depiction of nude figures on the wall of a sacred chapel, and for a time after its completion the figures were covered with cloth drapery for the sake of modesty.
In the meantime, Michelangelo had met Vittoria Colonna, a poet dedicated to the reform of the church. The two became close friends, a relationship that inspired the artist to write fine lyric poetry, sonnets, and madrigals in her honor. At this time he was commissioned to design buildings on the Campidoglio, the ancient Capitoline Hill of Rome. The construction of the buildings was not begun until the late 1550s and not completed for another century. The bronze equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius was placed in the center of the square.
In 1546, Michelangelo was appointed chief architect of Saint Peter's Basilica. Donato Bramante, who had died in 1514, had designed the structure but had left it unfinished; it was now left to Michelangelo to design the dome.
Late in life Michelangelo designed the Rondanini Pietà for his own tomb, but unsatisfied with the material or the design he constantly altered it and ultimately damaged it. At his death Michelangelo was honored by the citizens of Florence, who recognized him as the greatest artist their city had produced. He was known as “The Divine One” during his lifetime, and since that time his works have been widely regarded as the highest achievements of the Renaissance in Italy or any other country.
See Also: Julius II; Leonardo da Vinci; Medici, Lorenzo de'; painting; sculpture
"Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564)." The Renaissance. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/arts-construction-medicine-science-and-technology-magazines/michelangelo-buonarroti-1475-1564
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Born: March 6, 1475
Died: February 18, 1564
Michelangelo was one of the greatest sculptors of the Italian Renaissance and one of its greatest painters and architects.
Michelangelo Buonarroti was born on March 6, 1475, in Caprese, Italy, a village where his father, Lodovico Buonarroti, was briefly serving as a Florentine government agent. The family moved back to Florence before Michelangelo was one month old. Michelangelo's mother died when he was six. From his childhood Michelangelo was drawn to the arts, but his father considered this pursuit below the family's social status and tried to discourage him. However, Michelangelo prevailed and was apprenticed (worked to learn a trade) at the age of thirteen to Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449–1494), the most fashionable painter in Florence at the time.
After a year Michelangelo's apprenticeship was broken off. The boy was given access to the collection of ancient Roman sculpture of the ruler of Florence, Lorenzo de' Medici (1449–1492). He dined with the family and was looked after by the retired sculptor who was in charge of the collection. This arrangement was quite unusual at the time.
Michelangelo's earliest sculpture, the Battle of the Centaurs (mythological creatures that are part man and part horse), a stone work created when he was about seventeen, is regarded as remarkable for the simple, solid forms and squarish proportions of the figures, which add intensity to their violent interaction.
Soon after Lorenzo died in 1492, the Medici family fell from power and Michelangelo fled to Bologna. In 1494 he carved three saints for the church of San Domenico. They show dense forms, in contrast to the linear forms which were then dominant in sculpture.
After returning to Florence briefly, Michelangelo moved to Rome. There he carved a Bacchus for a banker's garden of ancient sculpture. This is Michelangelo's earliest surviving large-scale work, and his only sculpture meant to be viewed from all sides.
In 1498 the same banker commissioned Michelangelo to carve the Pietà now in St. Peter's. The term pietà refers to a type of image in which Mary supports the dead Christ across her knees. Larger than life size, the Pietà contains elements which contrast and reinforce each other: vertical and horizontal, cloth and skin, alive and dead, female and male.
On Michelangelo's return to Florence in 1501 he was recognized as the most talented sculptor of central Italy. He was commissioned to carve the David for the Florence Cathedral.
Michelangelo's Battle of Cascina was commissioned in 1504; several sketches still exist. The central scene shows a group of muscular soldiers climbing from a river where they had been swimming to answer a military alarm. This fusion of life with colossal grandeur henceforth was the special quality of Michelangelo's art.
From this time on, Michelangelo's work consisted mainly of very large projects that he never finished. He was unable to turn down the vast commissions of his great clients which appealed to his preference for the grand scale.
Pope Julius II (1443–1513) called Michelangelo to Rome in 1505 to design his tomb, which was to include about forty life-size statues. Michelangelo worked on the project off and on for the next forty years.
In 1508 Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to decorate the ceiling of the chief Vatican chapel, the Sistine. The traditional format of ceiling painting contained only single figures. Michelangelo introduced dramatic scenes and an original framing system, which was his earliest architectural design. The chief elements are twelve male and female prophets (the latter known as sibyls) and nine stories from Genesis.
Michelangelo stopped for some months halfway along. When he returned to the ceiling, his style underwent a shift toward a more forceful grandeur and a richer emotional tension than in any previous work. The images of the Separation of Light and Darkness, and Ezekiel illustrate this greater freedom and mobility.
After the ceiling was completed in 1512, Michelangelo returned to the tomb of Julius and carved a Moses and two Slaves. His models were the same physical types he used for the prophets and their attendants in the Sistine ceiling. Julius's death in 1513 halted the work on his tomb.
Pope Leo X, son of Lorenzo de' Medici, proposed a marble facade for the family parish church of San Lorenzo in Florence to be decorated with statues by Michelangelo. After four years of quarrying and designing the project was canceled.
In 1520 Michelangelo was commissioned to execute the Medici Chapel for two young Medici dukes. It contains two tombs, each with an image of the deceased and two allegorical (symbolic) figures: Day and Night on one tomb, and Morning and Evening on the other.
A library, the Biblioteca Laurenziana, was built at the same time on the opposite side of San Lorenzo to house Pope Leo X's books. The entrance hall and staircase are some of Michelangelo's most astonishing architecture, with recessed columns resting on scroll brackets set halfway up the wall and corners stretched open rather than sealed.
Michelangelo wrote many poems in the 1530s and 1540s. Approximately three hundred survive. The earlier poems are on the theme of Neoplatonic love (belief that the soul comes from a single undivided source to which it can unite again) and are full of logical contradictions and intricate images. The later poems are Christian. Their mood is penitent (being sorrow and regretful); and they are written in a simple, direct style.
In 1534 Michelangelo left Florence for the last time, settling in Rome. The next ten years were mainly given over to painting for Pope Paul III (1468–1549). In 1536 Michelangelo began the Last Judgment, for Pope Paul III, on the end wall of the Sistine Chapel. The design shows some angels pushing the damned down to hell on one side and some pulling up the saved on the other side. Both groups are directed by Christ. The flow of movement in the Last Judgment is slower than in Michelangelo's earlier work. During this time, Michelangelo also painted frescoes in the Pauline Chapel in the Vatican (1541–1545).
Works after 1545
Michelangelo devoted himself almost entirely to architecture and poetry after 1545, including rebuilding of the Capitol area, the Piazza del Campidoglio, for Pope Paul III. The pope also appointed Michelangelo to direct the work at St. Peter's in 1546. The enormous church was planned to be an equal-armed cross, with a huge central space beneath the dome. Secondary spaces and structures would produce a very active rhythm. By the time Michelangelo died, a considerable part of St. Peter's had been built in the form in which we know it.
Michelangelo's sculpture after 1545 was limited to two Pietàs that he executed for himself. The first one, begun in 1550 and left unfinished, was meant for his own tomb. He began the Rondanini Pietà in Milan in 1555, and he was working on it on February 12, 1564 when he took ill. He died six days later in Rome and was buried in Florence.
Michelangelo excelled in poetry, sculpture, painting, and architecture. He was the supreme master of representing the human body. His idealized and expressive works have been a major influence from his own time to ours.
For More Information
Beck, James H. Three Worlds of Michelangelo. New York: Norton, 1999.
Bull, George Anthony. Michelangelo: A Biography. New York: Viking, 1995.
Gilbert, Creighton. Michelangelo. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967.
Pettit, Jayne. Michelangelo: Genius of the Renaissance. New York: Franklin Watts, 1998.
"Michelangelo." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/michelangelo
"Michelangelo." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved June 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/michelangelo
He was commissioned to design the Biblioteca Laurenziana (1524–71), in which pilasters seemed to carry the structure of the ceiling, the pattern of which was repeated in the design of the floor, unifying the room in a manner not previously seen. In the vestibule, columns were set in recesses and appeared to sit on consoles, while the blind aedicules in the wall-panels between the Orders were designed with shafts tapering towards the bases. The vestibule stair (completed by Ammannati after 1559) is extraordinary, with two external flights and a curious arrangement of steps. The whole structure occupies the centre of the vestibule, and was the very first grand stair of the Renaissance period to be treated as a major feature of architectural design. Both the New Sacristy and the Laurentian Library vestibule are examples of Mannerism.
In 1534 Michelangelo departed from Florence and settled in Rome, where he painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling for Pope Paul III (1534–49). His Florentine architecture had been mostly interiors, with Quattrocento treatments of colour, but in Rome his architecture was public, grand, and on a huge scale. He set up the Antique statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161–80) on a new base in the centre of a space in front of the Palazzo del Senatore on the Capitoline Hill in 1539, and designed the genesis of the trapezoidal Piazza del Campidoglio as a setting for the statue, though this was not completed until the mid-C17 by the Rainaldis. He planned a new façade for the Palazzo dei Conservatori (completed 1584) which was set at an angle to that of the Palazzo del Senatore, and, to balance it, an identical façade on the other side of the Piazza that became the front of the Capitoline Museum (completed 1654). In these façades he used a Giant Order, a device that was to be widely employed thereafter, with a smaller Order carrying the first floor, and an even smaller one in the aedicules. The piazza itself was designed to look like a rectangular space, and in the centre is an elliptical pattern around the statue: both devices are read as a circle and square, and the elliptical element is the first use of this figure in Renaissance design. Both the trapezium and ellipse were precedents for the area in front of the basilica of San Pietro in Rome.
In 1546 Michelangelo was appointed to complete Sangallo's Palazzo Farnese, and he first designed the huge cornicione over the astylar façade and redesigned the upper storeys of the cortile, introducing some of his perverse Mannerist devices (such as consoles with pendent guttae that seem to have slipped down the window-architraves). In the same year Michelangelo was appointed to complete St Peter's in succession to Sangallo and Giulio Romano, and immediately began to undo some of Sangallo's work in an attempt to return to Bramante's Greek-cross plan, but in a much more powerful version. His work was largely confined to the outer and upper parts of the building, although he simplified and clarified the basic geometry. For the exterior he unified the façades with a Giant Order based on the one he had used at the Capitol and designed a sixteen-sided drum with paired columns. As built by della Porta in 1588–90 the dome is higher and more pointed, and the vertical lines of the paired columns are continued in the ribs of the dome and the lantern. Michelangelo's proposal for a giant portico was never realized, as Maderno built the nave and façade that muddied the clarity of the great architect's design.
At the Porta Pia, Rome (1561–4), named after Pope Pius IV (1559–65), Michelangelo's Mannerist tendencies became more extreme: a broken segmental scrolled pediment with swag was set inside a triangular pediment, while oversized guttae hung below blocks on either side of the tympanum; Ionic capitals, freely interpreted, became copings for the battlements; aedicules and frames around openings were deliberately oversized and blocky; and panels had broken scrolled pediments holding broken segmental pediments between them. The gate, which faces towards the city at the end of a newly straightened street leading from the Quirinal, anticipates the beginning of Baroque town-planning.
Pius IV also commissioned Michelangelo to remodel the tepidarium of the thermae of Diocletian as a church, using the ancient vaulting and eight monolithic granite columns of the Roman building. It was called Santa Maria degli Angeli, and was begun in 1561, remodelled in C18.
Argan & and Contardi (1993);
Millon & and Smyth (1988);
Placzek (ed.) (1982);
Jane Turner (1996)
"Michelangelo Buonarroti." A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/michelangelo-buonarroti
"Michelangelo Buonarroti." A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. . Retrieved June 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/michelangelo-buonarroti
Michelangelo Buonarroti (mīkəlăn´jəlō, Ital. mēkālän´jālō bwōnär-rô´tē), 1475–1564, Italian sculptor, painter, architect, and poet, b. Caprese, Tuscany.
Early Life and Work
Michelangelo drew extensively as a child, and his father placed him under the tutelage of Ghirlandaio, a respected artist of the day. After one unproductive year, Michelangelo became the student of Bertoldo di Giovanni, a sculptor employed by the Medici family. From 1490 to 1492, Michelangelo lived with the Medicis; during this time he learned from such philosophers as Ficino, Landino, Poliziano, and Savonarola. Although Michelangelo claimed that he was self-taught, one might perceive in his work the influence of such artists as Leonardo, Giotto, and Poliziano. He learned to paint and sculpt more by observation than by tutelage. Michelangelo was known to be extremely sensitive, and he combined an excess of energy with an excess of talent.
Michelangelo's earliest sculpture was made in the Medici garden near the church of San Lorenzo; his Bacchus and Sleeping Cupid both show the results of careful observation of the classical sculptures located in the garden. His later Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs and Madonna of the Stairs reflect his growing interest in his contemporaries. Throughout Michelangelo's sculpted work one finds both a sensitivity to mass and a command of unmanageable chunks of marble. His Pietà places the body of Jesus in the lap of the Virgin Mother; the artist's force and majestic style are balanced by the sadness and humility in Mary's gaze.
In 1504 he sculpted David in a classical style, giving him a perfectly proportioned body and musculature. Michelangelo's approach to the figure has been contrasted to that of Donatello, who gave David a more youthful and less muscular frame. In 1505 Michelangelo was offered a commission for the design and sculpting of the tomb of Pope Julius II. The original dimensions of the tomb were 36 × 34.5 × 23 ft (11 × 10.5 × 7 m); it would include almost 80 oversized figures. Because of various complications, the tomb was reduced drastically in size. Michelangelo made only one figure for the tomb, Moses, his last major sculpture. The artist made the statue from a block of marble deemed unmalleable by earlier sculptors; his final product conveys his own skill for demonstration of mass within stone and a sense of Moses' anguish.
Michelangelo showed mastery of the human figure in painting as well. His Doni Tondo (c.1504), a significant early work, shows both balance and energy; influence by Leonardo da Vinci is clear. When plans for the construction of the tomb of Pope Julius II were forestalled, Michelangelo left Florence.
The artist was recalled to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. He placed 12 figures about the ceiling's edge; originally these figures were to represent the 12 apostles of Jesus. Finally, Michelangelo painted seven prophets and five sybils. Within the ring of prophets and sybils were nine panels on biblical world history. Three panels were devoted to the Creation, three to the story of Adam and Eve, and three to the story of Noah and the great flood. At the rear of the chapel Michelangelo painted The Last Judgment (1534), considered by many to be his masterwork. The painting depicts Christ's damnation of sinners and blessing of the virtuous, along with the resurrection of the dead and the portage of souls to hell by Charon.
In his architectural works Michelangelo defied the conventions of his time. His Laurentian Library (c.1520), designed for the book storage purposes of Pope Leo X, was memorable for its mixture of mannerist architecture; it demonstrates Michelangelo's free approach to structural form. The Capitoline Square, designed by Michelangelo during the same period, was located on Rome's Capitoline Hill. Its shape, more a rhomboid than a square, was intended to counteract the effects of perspective. At its center was a statue of Marcus Aurelius. From 1540 to 1550 Michelangelo redesigned St. Peter's Church in Rome, completing only the dome and four columns for its base before his death.
See W. E. Wallace, Michelangelo: The Complete Sculpture, Painting, Architecture (2009); biographies by A. Condivi (1975, repr. 2007), A. Forcellino (2009), W. E. Wallace (2009), and M. Hirst (vol. 1, 2010); D. Summers, Michelangelo and the Language of Art (1981); R. S. Liebert, Michelangelo: A Psychoanalytic Study of His Life and Images (1983); M. Hirst, Michelangelo and His Drawings (1988); L. Barkan, Michelangelo: A Life on Paper (2010).
"Michelangelo Buonarroti." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/michelangelo-buonarroti
"Michelangelo Buonarroti." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved June 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/michelangelo-buonarroti
http://www.firenzemusei.it/00_english/accademia; http://www.rm.astro.it/amendola/sistina.html; http://www.louvre.fr
"Michelangelo Buonarroti." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/michelangelo-buonarroti
"Michelangelo Buonarroti." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved June 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/michelangelo-buonarroti
Michelangelo Buonarroti: see Michelangelo Buonarroti.
"Buonarroti, Michelangelo." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/buonarroti-michelangelo
"Buonarroti, Michelangelo." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved June 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/buonarroti-michelangelo
"Michelangelo." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/michelangelo
"Michelangelo." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved June 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/michelangelo