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
March 6, 1475
February 18, 1564
"I'm not in a good place, and I'm no painter."
Michelangelo, on painting the Sistine ceiling as quoted in The Complete Poems of Michelangelo.
Michelangelo Buonarroti (known as Michelangelo) was the greatest sculptor of the Italian Renaissance. He was also one of the greatest painters and architects of the time. In fact, Michelangelo had an exceptionally long career and dominated the Renaissance. The Renaissance was a movement based on the revival of ancient Greek and Roman culture (the classical period). When he died in 1564, at age eighty-nine, he had lived nearly twice the expected life span of the average person in the sixteenth century. His impact on younger artists was immense, but it tended to be crushing. Major artists of the next century, such as Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640; see entry), were better able to study Michelangelo's ideas at a distance without danger to their own artistic independence.
Michelangelo was born in Caprese, an Italian village where his father, Ludovico di Leonardo Buonarroti Simoni, briefly served as an agent for the government of Florence. The family had been in the banking business and therefore had a higher social rank than that of other artists' families in Florence. In the sixteenth century artists were still considered craftsmen—they belonged to trade guilds (associations of craftsmen, merchants, and professionals that trained apprentices and set standards of production or business operation), as did skilled laborers such as shoemakers or carpenters—and they were on the same social level as common workers. Michelangelo's grandfather had failed as a banker, however, and his father was too genteel to go into trade. Consequently, the family lived on the income from land and his father's few official appointments. His mother died when he was six. After completing grammar school, Michelangelo was apprenticed at age thirteen to Domenico Ghirlandaio (Domenico di Tommaso Bigordi; 1449–1494), the most fashionable painter in Florence. The apprenticeship was broken off within a year, and Michelangelo was given access to the collection of ancient Roman sculpture owned by Lorenzo de' Medici (1449–1492; see entry), duke of Florence. The boy dined with the Medici 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 began working as a sculptor in 1492, at age seventeen. Over the next sixteen years he produced many of the best-known sculptures of the Italian Renaissance. His earliest sculpture was a stone relief (raised images on a flat background) titled Battle of the Centaurs, which was based on a Latin poem a court poet read to him. Resembling the Roman sarcophagi (coffins) in the Medici collection, it had simple, solid forms and squarish figures that added intensity to their violent interaction. Soon after Lorenzo de' Medici died in 1492, the Medicis fell from power and Michelangelo fled from Florence to Bologna. In 1494 he obtained a commission to carve three saints needed to complete the tomb of Saint Dominic in the church of San Domenico. The tomb had been started by the sculptor Nicola Pisano (c. 1220–1278 or 1284) around 1265. In this work Michelangelo's figures are again squarish, in contrast with the linear forms that were then dominant in sculpture.
After settling in Rome in 1496, Michelangelo made a statue of Bacchus, the Greek god of wine, for the garden of ancient sculpture owned by a banker. His earliest surviving large-scale work, Bacchus shows the god in a teetering stance, either because he is drunk or dancing. It is Michelangelo's only sculpture meant to be viewed from all sides. His other works were generally set in front of walls and to some extent resemble reliefs. In 1498, through the same banker, Michelangelo obtained his first important commission, the larger-than-life Pietà, which is now in Saint Peter's Basilica, the largest church in the Christian world and the symbol of papal authority. The term pietà refers to a popular image in which Mary (mother of Jesus Christ, founder of Christianity) supports the dead Christ across her knees. Although several versions of this scene have been created, Michelangelo's sculpture is the most famous. In both the Pietà and the Bacchus he made hard polished marble resemble soft flesh.
Known as greatest sculptor
When Michelangelo returned to Florence in 1501, he was recognized as the most talented sculptor in central Italy. That year he was commissioned to do the marble sculpture David for Florence Cathedral. After he completed the project in 1504, it was placed in front of the Palazzo Vecchio. Immediately thereafter Michelangelo accepted the job of painting the Battle of Cascina, a huge fresco (wall painting) for the Council Chamber of the Republic in the Palazzo della Signoria. The building was to have vast patriotic murals that would also show the special skills of Florence's two leading artists: Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1529; see entry) and Michelangelo.
The subject of Michelangelo's fresco, the Battle of Cascina, was a celebrated Florentine military victory. Although Michelangelo never completed this fresco, several sketches and a copy of the cartoon (design plan) exist. (At that time a cartoon had not yet come to mean a satirical or humorous drawing. Instead, it was a preparatory design or drawing for a fresco.) The central scene shows a group of muscular nude soldiers climbing from a river where they had been swimming to answer a military alarm. This work clearly showed Leonardo's influence in the depiction of a continuous flowing motion through living forms. This combination of throbbing life with colossal grandeur became the special quality of Michelangelo's art. From then on his work consisted mainly of very large projects that he never finished. Because he preferred to work on a grand scale, however, he could not turn down commissions from great clients. For instance, he contracted to make statues of the Twelve Apostles (Jesus Christ's disciples) for the Florence Cathedral, yet he started only the St. Matthew.
Michelangelo had stopped working on the Apostle statues when Pope Julius II (1443–1513; reigned 1503–13) called him to Rome in 1505. He had accepted a commission to design the pope's tomb, which was to include about forty life-size statues. This project occupied him off and on for the next forty years. In 1506 a dispute over funds for the tomb led Michelangelo, who had spent almost a year at the marble quarries (sites where marble is extracted from the ground) in Carrara, to flee to Florence. A reconciliation between Julius II and Michelangelo later took place in Bologna, which the pope had just conquered.
Paints Sistine ceiling
Michelangelo's career took another direction in 1508, when Pope Julius II offered him a commission to decorate the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican in Rome. At first Michelangelo protested that he was a sculptor, not a painter. Finally he accepted the job and devoted all of his creative energies to the project. The theme of the ceiling painting is the nine stories from the book of Genesis in the Bible. Interspersed with figures of the male biblical prophets (Hebrew leaders) are the female sibyls (prophetesses) of antiquity, a series of nude youths, lunettes (crescent-shaped decorative objects) with representations of the ancestors of Christ, and a host of other figures and decoration.
By the time the Sistine Chapel project was completed four years later, in 1512, Michelangelo had made a major innovation in ceiling painting. Traditionally, artists had depicted only single figures, but he introduced the portrayal of dramatic scenes involving hundreds of figures. The concept was so successful that it set the standard for future artists. The painting is also considered one of the most awe-inspiring works of Western (non-Asian) art. The German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) reportedly remarked that one cannot fully appreciate human achievement without first seeing the Sistine Chapel. Nevertheless, the project had been a grueling one for Michelangelo. He was required to lie on a scaffold with arms outstretched for hours at a time. As a result of working on the Sistine Chapel, he was reportedly disabled for the rest of his life. An accomplished and prolific poet, Michelangelo composed "Sonnet to John of Pistoia on the Sistine Ceiling" (1509–12). The first two stanzas, as quoted inThe Complete Poems of Michelangelo translated by John Frederick Nims, give the reader an idea of the physical stress and pain he endured for four years:
I've got myself a goiter [enlarged thyroid gland] from this strain,
As water gives the cats in Lombardy
Or maybe it is in some other country;
My belly's pushed by force beneath my chin.
My beard toward Heaven, I feel the back of my brain
Upon my neck, I grow the breast of a Harpy [Greek mythological creature];
My brush, above my face continually,
Makes it a splendid floor by dripping down.
Michelangelo concluded the poem with this line: "I'm not in a good place, and I'm no painter."
Favored by popes
As soon as the Sistine ceiling was completed, Michelangelo returned to the tomb of Julius and carved Moses and Slaves. Julius's death in 1513 halted the work on his tomb. For the next few years Michelangelo created sculptures for popes. They were anxious to have work by the recognized greatest sculptor of monuments for themselves, their families, and the church. Pope Leo X (1475–1521; reigned 1513–21), son of Lorenzo de' Medici, proposed a marble facade for the family parish church of Saint Lorenzo in Florence. It was to be decorated with statues by Michelangelo, but the 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 (1520–34), an annex to Saint 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 (images of people with symbolic significance), are placed against elaborately decorated walls. These six statues and a seventh, the Madonna, on a third wall are by Michelangelo's own hand. The two saints flanking the Madonna were made by assistants from his clay sketches. 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. Political leaders were becoming more powerful at the time, and Michelangelo's statues were often used as models for portraits that depicted emperors, popes, kings, and dukes.
Paints Reformation works
In 1534 Michelangelo left Florence for the last time and settled in Rome. For the next ten years he produced paintings for Pope Paul III (1468–1549; reigned 1534–49). The pope had convened a series of meetings called the Council of Trent, which initiated the Catholic Reformation, a wide-ranging effort to revitalize the Roman Catholic Church. One area of reform was the arts, through which Paul III wanted to promote a more human image of the church. The first project Michelangelo executed for the pope was the Last Judgment (1536–41), a vast painting on the end wall of the Sistine Chapel. The design functions like a pair of scales, with some angels pushing the damned (those who have not been forgiven for their sins) to hell on one side and some pulling up the saved (those whose sins have been forgiven) on the other side. Angels on both sides are directed by Christ, who "conducts" with both arms. In the two top corners are the cross (Christ died on a cross in order to save all of humankind) and other symbols of the Passion (the crucifixion and death of Christ), which serve as Christ's credentials to be judge.
Bramante Designs New Saint Peter's
Donato di Pascuccio d'Antonio (called Bramante; 1444–1514) was the first influential Renaissance architect. He introduced a grave and monumental style that represented the ideal for later architects.
Bramante was born at Monte Asdruvaldo near Urbino. Little is known about his life until the late 1470s. Around 1481 he was named court architect for the Sforza family, the rulers of Lombardy. Bramante's first important commissions were for various features of churches in Milan. He fled to Rome in 1499, when the French captured Milan in 1499, during the Italian Wars (1494–1559; a conflict between France and Spain over control of Italy). After the election of Pope Julius II in 1503, Bramante became the official papal architect. He did extensive work in the Vatican Palace. In 1505 Pope Julius II decided that Saint Peter's Basilica should be completely rebuilt, and he commissioned Bramante to prepare a plan for the new church. Bramante based his plan on a central Greek cross design (an upright shaft crossed in the middle by a shaft of equal length). It called for a large dome sitting atop a drum (open circular base) supported by colonnades at the crossing. It also featured four smaller domes and corner towers.
When the Greek-cross design was not accepted, Bramante planned to lengthen one arm of the cross to form a nave (main part of a church) and thus suggest the shape of a Latin cross (a long shaft crossed with a shorter shaft above the middle). He then added ambulatories (walk-ways) in the wings that projected outward from the center of the cross. The foundation stone was laid in 1506, but at the time of his death Bramante had erected only the four main piers (bases) and the arches that were to support the dome. In 1513 the pope bestowed the office of Piombatore, or sealer of the papal briefs, on Bramante. The architect's last work was probably the Palazzo Caprini, which he started after 1510. Later owned by Italian architect Raphael, the Palazzo Caprini became the model for numerous palaces, especially in northern Italy. Bramante died in 1514 and was buried in Old Saint Peter's Basilica.
Bramante's design for the new Saint Peter's continued to cause controversy throughout the sixteenth century. Many critics wanted the church to have a more pronounced Latin-cross structure. Raphael and Bramante's assistant Antonio da Sangallo (1483–1546), changed the design and construction was delayed. Michelangelo took over the project in 1547. When he died in 1564, the building was completed in its present form up to the dome. Giacomo della Porta (c. 1537–1602) then altered the design again (he may have used a model made by Michelangelo) and completed the dome in 1590. Finally, supporters of the Latin cross design won, and the architect Carlo Maderna (1556–1629) added a nave and facade, which were completed in 1614.
In the Last Judgment Michelangelo used simple colors, blue and brown. The somber tone seems to parallel the ideas of the Catholic Reformation, which called for a renewed emphasis on spirituality. Michelangelo had contact with reform leaders through the poet Vittoria Colonna (1492–1547), a close friend and supporter to whom he addressed many of his poems. From 1541 until 1545 Michelangelo painted two large frescoes—Conversion of Saul and Crucifixion of Peter—for the Pauline Chapel in the Vatican. They are similar to the Last Judgment, but in these works he expressed movement through linear perspective (a technique that depicts a scene from a single point of view; see Leonardo entry). He also used subtle colors in a more expressive way. He may have turned to these techniques because the Pauline Chapel frescoes were the first ones he executed on a normal scale and at eye level. Michelangelo's only sculpture during this period was limited to two pietàs that he executed for himself. The first one (un-finished), which is in the Cathedral of Florence, was meant for his own tomb. His last sculpture was the Rondanini Pietà in Milan, which he started in 1555 and was working on just six days prior to his death in 1564.
Concentrates on architecture
After 1545 Michelangelo devoted himself almost entirely to architecture. He had been working on architectural commissions since 1538, when Paul III commissioned him to redesign and refurbish Capitoline Hill, the geographical and ceremonial center of ancient Rome. As with many of Michelangelo's other commissions, the project was completed after his death. Paul III also hired him to direct construction of the Farnese Palace in 1546. During the reign of Pius IV (1499–1565; reigned 1559–65) Michelangelo designed the Porta Pia, converted the Roman Baths of Diocletion into the Christian church of Santa Maria segli Angeli, and designed the Sforza Chapel in Santa Maria Maggiore. Thus Michelangelo became an urban planner as well as an architect, helping to transform the appearance of Rome.
In 1547 Paul III appointed Michelangelo to direct construction of the new Saint Peter's Basilica. The project had been beset by problems since 1506, when Pope Julius II originally ordered the rebuilding of the Old Saint Peter's. By the time Michelangelo took over the project more than forty years later, three other architects—Bramante (see accompanying box), Raphael (1483–1520; see entry), and Antonio da Sangallo (1483–1546)—had changed the design, and construction was delayed. When Michelangelo died in 1564 the building was completed in its present form up to the dome. Two other architects, Giacomo della Porta (c. 1537–1602) and Carlo Maderna (1556–1629), worked on the church before its completion in 1614. Saint Peter's is now considered the crowning achievement of Renaissance architecture.
The Complete Poems of Michelangelo. John Frederick Nims, translator. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 1998.
Stanley, Diane. Michelangelo. New York: HarperCollins, 2000.
The Agony and the Ecstasy. Livonia, Mich.: CBS/Fox Video, 1988.
Masterpieces of Italian Art, Volume: Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael and Titian. New York: VPI-AC Video Inc., 1990.
Kren, Emil, and Daniel Marx. "Michelangelo." Web Gallery of Art. [Online] Available http://www.kfki.hu/~arthp/html/m/michelan/, April 5, 2002.
"Michelangelo." MSN Encarta. [Online] Available http://encarta.msn.com/find/Concise.asp?z=1&pg=2&ti=761560125, April 5, 2002.
Michelangelo—Sistine Chapel Ceiling. [Online] Available http://www.science.wayne.edu/~mcogan/Humanities/Sistine/index.html, April 5, 2002.
Pioch, Nicolas. "Michelangelo." WebMuseum. [Online] Available http://www.puc-rio.br/wm/paint/auth/michelangelo/, April 5, 2002.
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). □
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
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)
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.
Sculptor, painter, architect, poet, a founder of the high Renaissance style, and the most influential late Renaissance artist; b. Caprese (Arezzo), Mar. 6, 1475; d. Rome, Feb. 18, 1564.
Life. Michelangelo's poor but aristocratic father opposed his artistic ambitions but nonetheless apprenticed him to the painter Ghirlandaio (1488). Thereafter the boy was protected by Lorenzo de' Medici, coming in contact with advanced artistic and philosophic tendencies. He was also influenced by savonarola's sermons. The supposed Neoplatonic content of Michelangelo's art has been disputed. His writings disclose profound, lifelong Catholic piety. His art embodies a new concept of human dignity and dependence on the Creator, of whose sublimity no other Renaissance artist experienced so convincing a vision. For nearly 60 years Michelangelo carried out official papal programs. Although the propriety of his creations was sometimes questioned, no ecclesiastical authority challenged their orthodoxy. Michelangelo's high Renaissance works fulfill ideals of Pope Julius II during a crisis in Church history, and his late works are imbued with Catholic Reformation mysticism.
Michelangelo's contemporaries believed him divinely inspired. The later eighteenth and early nineteenth century found his art inaccessible, but otherwise he has been considered one of the world's greatest artistic geniuses. Even Michelangelo's painting and architecture were predominantly sculptural. He depicted nature only as background for his principal theme, the life of the soul expressed in the form and movements of the body, defined in his writings as the "beautiful and mortal veil" mirroring divine intention. Michelangelo projected the body on a new scale of grandeur, distorting it to emphasize muscular power. Although his principal concern was form, his color ranged from clear, transparent tones in early work to great intensity in later paintings, and the white marble for his sculptures was chosen for its brilliance. In his architecture and painting, he subordinated space to mass and made little attempt to represent perspective.
Work. Michelangelo's ambition outran circumstances, and none of his major sculptural projects reached completion. His bronzes are all lost. Many of his marble statues, intended for perfect completion, show large unfinished areas, affording insight into his methods. He first drew outlines on the block, then cut away marble to free the figure, which emerged complete save for final polishing. His poems interpret this procedure as an allegory of divine creativity and human salvation. In architectural enframements for statues and in complete buildings, Michelangelo devoted scrupulous attention to detail, epitomizing the rhythms and tensions of the larger masses in the ornament. The finished portions of his statues show a similar intensity of life and of formal relationships, extending to the smallest elements. Michelangelo's art was founded on drawing. During old age he destroyed most of his thousands of preparatory studies for statues, paintings,
and buildings; but several hundred survive. Full critical agreement on an authentic corpus of drawings has not yet been reached.
From ancient art Michelangelo absorbed heroic aspects of pose and figure structure, but he avoided classicizing faces. His faces reflect contemporary Italian types, endowed with special beauty by the artist's sensitivity. He was responsive to the qualities and meaning of Italian medieval and early Renaissance art, often quoting entire figures.
Michelangelo's poetry, most of it composed in later life, at first expresses passionate human attachments or ironic reflections; eventually, aspiration for salvation. About equally divided between sonnets and madrigals, Michelangelo's poems are abrupt in diction and difficult to interpret. The best possess a depth and power equaled by no Italian Renaissance poetry.
Michelangelo's surviving early works include the "Madonna of the Stairs" and "Battle of Lapiths and Centaurs" (1489–92), a recently rediscoverd wooden Crucifix for Santo Spirito (1492), three statuettes for the Tomb of St. Dominic in Bologna (1494–95), "Bacchus" (1496–98), the "Pietà" for St. Peter's (1498–1500), "David" (1501–04), "St. Matthew" (1503–08), the "Bruges Madonna," two marble Madonna reliefs, and the painted "Doni Madonna" (1503).
Patronage of Popes. In 1505 began the patronage of Pope Julius II, which, though often stormy and even tragic for the artist, generated some of his noblest works, especially the ceiling frescoes of the sistine chapel (1508–12). This immense allegory of the coming of Christ envisioned by prophets and sibyls in scenes from Genesis, bordered by the ancestors of Christ, was probably guided by Cardinal Marco vigerio. The pope's tomb, planned as freestanding in st. peter's basilica (1505), with more than 40 marble statues and many bronze reliefs, underwent changes in 1513, 1516, 1532, and 1542. The reduced version in S. Pietro in Vincoli (1545) contains only "Moses" and the "Active" and "Contemplative Life" by Michelangelo himself. Two "Bound Captives" from previous projects are in the Louvre; four are in the Bargello, and a "Victory" is in the Palazzo Vecchio.
The patronage of the Medici popes, leo x and clement vii, centered on San Lorenzo, including a never-executed façade, the Medici Chapel with its magnificent sculptures (1519–34), and the library of San Lorenzo, completed from Michelangelo's drawings and models. The "Christ" of S. Maria sopra Minerva (1514–21) and "David-Apollo" (1531–32) are two great works that date from this period, during which Michelangelo was also deeply involved in Florentine struggles for liberty.
The "Last Judgment," terminating the decoration of the Sistine Chapel (1535–41), and the frescoes of the Pauline Chapel (1541–50), painted for Pope Paul III, reflect penitential currents in the Catholic Reformation. Although hampered by ill health, Michelangelo undertook in 1546 to complete St. Peter's, designing the present apse, transepts, two bays of the nave, and the dome, in a style prophetic of the baroque. Other buildings designed in Rome include additions to the Farnese Palace (1546), the structures on the Capitoline (1538–), the Porta Pia, and Santa Maria degli Angeli (1561). Michelangelo's last sculptures, the "Pietàs" in Florence cathedral (c. 1547) and the Castello Sforzesco in Milan (1552–64), embody his meditations on the preparation of his soul for death.
Bibliography: e. steinmann and r. wittkower, Michelangelo Bibliographie (Leipzig 1927). c. de tolnay, Michelangelo (Princeton 1943—). g. vasari, La vita di Michelangelo, ed. p. barocchi, 5 v. (Milan 1962).
Michelangelo was born in the small town of Caprese in rural Tuscany, the son of a Florentine official then serving a short term of office in the countryside. Soon after the child's birth the family moved back to Florence, where Michelangelo attended Latin school until he was thirteen. Becoming an apprentice to the successful Florentine painter, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Michelangelo advanced far enough in his craft to join the large entourage of artists, poets, and scholars who surrounded Lorenzo de' Medici, who was the de facto ruler of Florence at the time. In the Medici household Michelangelo received a rudimentary exposure to humanism and Latin literature. Although he never became a scholar, he did spend two years within the Medici household (1490–1492), an experience that exposed him to the world of learning that flourished in Florence at the time.
The death of Lorenzo de' Medici, Michelangelo's patron, left the artist without support, and in 1494 Florence expelled the Medici family altogether. Michelangelo followed the Medici faction to Bologna where he lived for a time with a wealthy family before returning to Florence. Still without a patron, Michelangelo traveled to Rome in 1496 with letters of recommendation from a member of the Medici family. Here the ancient monuments of the city seem to have inspired the sculptor, and he quickly carved his Bacchus, a work that imitated the style of Antiquity and which many contemporaries believed could not have been carved by a contemporary artist. Emboldened by his success, the artist carved his Pietà, a work commissioned by the French Cardinal Jean Villiers. The fame of that work securely established the artist's reputation, and he would never again want for commissions and wealthy patrons.
The early decades of the sixteenth century were a time of remarkable productivity for the artist. In 1501 Michelangelo returned to Florence where he carved the famous David, a work immediately revered as a masterpiece. To honor this achievement, the town gave the colossal nude a position of honor in front of the city's town hall. In 1505, Michelangelo returned to Rome, where he had been summoned by Pope Julius II to work on the pope's tomb. Difficulties and disagreements vexed this project, which took almost forty years to complete. Despite those hardships Michelangelo managed to complete the ceiling and sidewall frescoes of the Sistine Chapel between 1508 and 1512. These frescoes, recently cleaned and restored during the 1980s, allow us to trace Michelangelo's stylistic development in this crucial period of his life. In these years the artist left behind the painting style of the fifteenth-century Renaissance in which he had been trained in Ghirlandaio's studio. In the Sistine Chapel ceiling frescoes, for instance, he came over time to develop a new more dramatic and monumental style, characterized by tension and heavily muscled figures. Somewhat later, around 1520, the artist began to develop his skills as an architect. The Medici family commissioned Michelangelo to design a set of tombs in the New Sacristy of the Church of San Lorenzo in Florence. Michelangelo now brought to his sculpture the same heavily muscled and tense style he had used in the later panels of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. During the 1520s, the artist developed his aesthetic ideas even further, displaying a highly individualistic, even willful side in his designs for the Laurentian Library he designed at Florence. This work, notable for its violations of the acceptable classical canons of design popular at the time, formed one of the foundations for the development of mannerist architecture.
As Michelangelo matured, his work continued to evolve. This evolution can be seen in his Last Judgment frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. That work, a great swirling mass of figures located behind the high altar of the chapel, was finished in 1541. The Last Judgment carried Michelangelo's search for a dramatic and highly personal style to its logical conclusion, although the artist continued to rely on this idiom in two frescoes he painted soon afterward in the Pauline Chapel in the Vatican. By 1546 Michelangelo had been appointed chief architect for the rebuilding of St. Peter's Basilica. Over the years the skills that Michelangelo had acquired in his many sculptural and architectural projects meant that he was an efficient manager, both of teams of workmen and of finances. His astute management of the Vatican project corrected errors in the work's construction up to this point and firmly placed the artist's stamp upon the building's future. Although St. Peter's would not be completed for another hundred years, it remains one of the artist's finest creations. Michelangelo combined his attention to projects at the Vatican with other commissions completed in the city of Rome. These included his design for the Capitoline Hill (the Campidoglio) and his transformation of the ancient Baths of Diocletian into the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli. At the same time as Michelangelo involved himself in these projects, he also underwent a deepening of his own religious life. Affected by the religious movements of the age, he expressed the depths of his religious faith in his later years through poetry and sculpture. His friendship with Vittoria Colonna, a pious and admirable Roman noble-woman, kept him abreast of the great religious and spiritual debates that were occurring at the time. With his death in 1564 at the age of 89, Michelangelo had lived almost twice as long as the average sixteenth-century man. The styles that he had developed during his life continued to affect artists in the following generations.
H. von Einem, Michelangelo. Trans. R. Taylor (London, England: Methuen, 1973).
N. Harris, The Art of Michelangelo (New York: Excalibur Books, 1981).
H. Hibbard, Michelangelo (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1998).
L. Murray, Michelangelo (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980).
Sculptor, painter, architect
Early Years. Michelangelo, whose full name was Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, was born on 6 March 1475 in Caprese and died on 18 February 1564 in Rome, Italy. He was active as a sculptor, painter, architect, and poet during his lengthy career. His initial training was in the workshop of the painter Domenico Ghirlandaio. As a member of Lorenzo de’ Medici’s household Michelangelo was introduced to the family’s antique sculpture collection and the circle of Neoplatonic humanists active there. The Bacchus (1496) demonstrates his study of the male nude figure and classical sources. In 1497 Cardinal Villiers gave him a com-mission for a tomb sculpture. The Pieta, or Mary mourning over the death of her son Christ, was uncommon in Italian art. When Michelangelo returned to Florence in 1501, he created a nude figure of the biblical hero David (1504). The statue was placed in front of the town hall at Florence as asymbol of civic virtue.
Religious Art. In 1505 Michelangelo returned to Rome to work on the tomb of Julius II for St. Peter’s Basilica. This work was never completed, as Michelangelo refocused his attention on painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling at the Vatican (1508-1512), a complex thematic program that illustrates the creation cycle in Genesis. The restoration and cleaning of the Sistine ceiling, completed in 1989, led to a major reevaluation of Michelangelo’s career as a painter, as scholars reexamined his methods of creating three-dimensional forms with the fresco technique. He completed the papal chapel with a fresco of The Last Judgement (1534-1541) located over the main altar. Michelangelo, influenced by the Italian poet Dante, included the figure of the mythological King Minos as the judge of the dead. A self-portrait of Michelangelo can be found on the facial features of a flayed human skin held by St. Bartholomew in the frescoe.
Architect. Michelangelo’s architectural commissions included several projects in Florence. He designed the funerary chapel for Pope Leo X’s Medici ancestors (1519-1534) but was unable to finish the project. Idealized figures of two Medici dukes represented the Active and Contemplative Life; reclining figures of the times of day were placed below. In addition, Michelangelo designed the Laurentian Library for the Medici family’s manuscript collection housed at the San Lorenzo cloister. The vestibule, with its unique staircase design, was completed in 1559. These works challenged the stylistic conventions of Renaissance art and are linked to Michelangelo’s contribution to the development of Mannerism. By 1546 Michelangelo was appointed chief architect of St. Peter’s, his most ambitious architectural project at Rome. He refined and reintegrated the architectural plan of the church into an organic structure.
Later Years. During the last decades of his life he returned to the theme of the pietà. The Duomo Pietà (circa 1547-1555) was intended for Michelangelo’s own tomb, but was completed by others and placed in the Florence Cathedral. According to Italian painter and art historian Giorgio Vasari, the standing figure of Nicodemus, placed behind the collapsed figure of Christ, represented a self-portrait of Michelangelo. His prolific activities in the visual arts had a great impact during the sixteenth century and beyond.
George Bull, Michelangelo: A Biography (London & New York: Viking, 1995).
Anthony Hughes, Michelangelo (London: Phaidon, 1997).
Joachim Poeschke, Michelangelo and His World: Sculpture of the Italian Renaissance, photographs by Albert Hirmer and Irmgard Ernstmeier-Hirmer, translated by Russell Stockman (New York: Abrams, 1996).
Jane Turner, ed., The Dictionary of Art (New York: Grove, 1996).
http://www.firenzemusei.it/00_english/accademia; http://www.rm.astro.it/amendola/sistina.html; http://www.louvre.fr