Michelangelo Buonarotti


Born on the 6th of March in 1474, Michelangelo would later make his indelible mark on history. A Renaissance painter, sculptor, architect, poet, and engineer. Despite making few forays beyond the arts, his versatility in the disciplines he took up was of such a high order that he is often considered a contender for the title of the finest Renaissance figure, along with fellow Italian and rival, Leonardo da Vinci.

Michelangelo's output in every field during his long life was prodigious; when the sheer volume of correspondence, sketches, and reminiscences that survive is also taken into account, he is the best-documented artist of the 16th century. Two of his best-known works, the Pieta and David, were sculpted before he turned thirty. An interesting fact is that the Pieta is the only known sculpture that bears Michelangelo's signature. The reason for this is that when the Popes or wealthy commissioned Michelangelo, they would not allow him to put his signature since it was being sculpted for their narcissistic legacy. The reason the Pieta is remarkable is because when the sculpture was unveiled, the awestruck viewers remarked that this marvelous new work had to be from a great talent from Rome or from Lombardy, anywhere but Florence. Michelangelo was furious and would later risk his life by breaking into the cathedral where the Pieta was housed in order to carve, "Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florentine made this". Despite his low opinion of painting, Michelangelo also created two of the most influential works in fresco in the history of Western art: the scenes from Genesis on the ceiling and The Last Judgement on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel in Rome.


Michelangelo's work in the Sistine Chapel.

The event that completely changed the life of the thirteen year old Michelangelo - already a genius, but entirely uneducated - occurred around 1488. After creating a sculpture of an old man, Michelangelo was quickly criticized by Lorenzo Medici for giving the old man all of his teeth telling the young boy "Don't you know  that old men of that age are always missing a few?" When he was alone, Michelangelo removed an upper tooth from his old man, drilling the gum as if it had come out with the root, and the following day he awaiting the Magnificent with eager longing. When Lorenzo had come and noted the boy's goodness and simplicity, he laughed at him very much, but then, when he weighed in his mind the perfection of the thing and the age of the boy, he encouraged such great genius and to take him into his household; and, learning from him whose son he was, he said "Inform your father that I would like to speak to him." Thus it was that the fifteen-year-old came to live in the palace of the Via Larga. In the regal palace of the de' Medici's, the young Michelangelo came into contact with the most brilliant minds of that time, such as Polizano, Marsilio Ficino, and Pico della Mirandola. Their ideas influenced and shaped the still-pristine mind of the young artist.

Michelangelo was commissioned to work on the Sistine Chapel in 1508 by Pope Julius II. The Sistine, which sits in Rome, is the most extraordinary chapel in all the world. Although Michelangelo loved sculpting, his paintings that make the Sistine what it is even until this day is forever a mark of his peerless brilliance. In order to completely appreciate the miracle that is the Sistine Chapel, the visitor needs to comprehend Michelangelo's motivations, his background, his youthful years of intellectual ferment in the palace of the de' Medici's in Florence, the still little-known ups and downs of his entire career, in addition to his fascination with Neo-Platonism and his interest in Judaism and its mystical teachings.

Since Michelangelo's passion was sculpting, he was trying to avoid painting the chapel at all costs but unfortunately he knew it would've been a death wish had he said no to the Pope. Throughout the chapel we are overwhelmed with sacred religious scenes but what has been uncovered recently is that the Sistine Chapel's paintings by Michelangelo are all full of secret messages showing his complete discontent with the members of the church and his frustration with having to spend four and a half torturous years painting frescoes (which he had never done up to that point) in the chapel that was occupied by these pious characters. In October of 1512, Michelangelo was finally liberated from the Sistine Chapel, elated that he would never have to return to paint anything in that place ever again.


He would return back to his passion, sculpting and with the Medici driven out in 1526, Florence proclaimed itself a republic for the last time. However, Clement VII ordered the city to be surrounded by the same terrible German mercenary soldiers who had put the city of Rome to fire and sword in 1527. Michelangelo was forced to stop working on all the projects he had under way, including the Medici Chapel and Tombs and Laurentian Library. Then, in 1528, the new government asked him to prepare plans for defense against the assault and on January 10th, 1529, he became a member of the Nove della Milizia, the nine-man body in charge of the city's forces, in the capacity of an expert on fortifications. He prepared the plans for the defense of the hill of San Miniato and succeeded in protecting the campanile of the Romanesque church by the ingenious device of covering it completely with mattresses. Believing that invasion by the troops that had surrounded Florence was imminent, Michelangelo decided to flee to Venice. Exiled at first by the republic as a traitor, he was later allowed to reenter to the city. With the return of the Medici, he was granted a pardon by Clement VII and was able to resume work on the Medici Chapel and Tombs and Laurentian Library.

Work on the Medici Tombs continued long after Michelangelo went back to Rome in 1534, although he never returned to his beloved native city. In 1534, Michelangelo left Florence forever. His decision never to return was certainly influenced by the open hostility of Duke Alessandro de Medici and the misunderstandings with his fellow citizens that had arisen during the siege, which led him to say: "I never knew a people more ungrateful and arrogant than the Florentines." Finding himself in Rome again, Michelangelo was able to count on the esteem, protection, and affection of Pope Clement VII but at a price. He was once again commissioned to paint a fresco in the Sistine Chapel, the scene of the Last Judgment.

Michelangelo Buonarroti died, giving himself up to God, on February 18th, 1564, after a "slow fever." As Vasari tells us, he made his will in three sentences, in front of his physician and his friends Tommaso Cavalieri and Daniele da Volterra, saying that he left "his soul to God, his body to the earth, and his material possessions to his nearest relations." In reality, there was little left in his house, since some time earlier he had burned much of his artistic material, including, to the great displeasure of Cosimo I, the designs for the facade of San Lorenzo.

The body of Michelangelo was originally buried in Rome, a place that everyone knew he hated, instead of sending it home with honors to Florence. Faced with the enormous insult of his burial in Rome, the citizens of Florence finally realized their cultural and spiritual debt to Michelangelo. They hurriedly collected donations to hire the services of Florence's best burglars. The two thieves rode to Rome in an oxcart. After sundown, they broke into the church, stole the famous artist's body, rolled it up with cords, and disguised it as a bale of rags. The hastily rode back to Florence where they were met with a large number of joyous Florentines who venerated the body of their illustrious fellow citizen, "father and master of all the arts," as if it were a sacred relic. The mortal remains of the "divine artist" were taken to the place Michelangelo himself wanted to be buried, the Basilica of Santa Croce, where his tomb can still be seen today.



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