Artist Spotlight: Michaelangelo

A Temper Matched by his Talent

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (1475-1564), was an Italian painter, sculptor, architect and occasional poet in the High Renaissance.

Remembered for his iconic works and his notorious behaviour, he lived life controversially. Leaving projects, open affairs and fallouts were common to one of the most revered artists of all time.

A student of cadavers and Greek and Roman sculpture, Michaelangelo was able to achieve a serene level of finesse which separated him from other sculptors.

Born to a father who worked for the Florentine Government, the story of Michaelangelo is remarkable.

A Brief History of Michaelangelo

Untitled design (15)Image Via - History.com

Michaelangelo was the son of Leonardo di Buonarroti and Francesca di Neri del Miniato di Siena.

He grew up in Caprese, near Tuscany and would spend time with the family's nanny whose husband was a stonecutter.

Despite his father's disapproval, young Michaelangelo apprenticed with the painter, Domenico Ghirlandaio, in 1488. A year later, Michaelangelo left a where it's said he had nothing more to learn.

What followed next were apprenticeships with the powerful Medici family and Bertoldo di Giovanni, a respected sculpture artist. 

It was the latter where Michaelangelo started to excel in sculpting due to exploring cadavers which was rarely given at the time.

Throughout his career, he created some of the most significant paintings to the High Renaissance, here's a list of his most famous works by Michaelangelo.

Famous Works by Michaelangelo

A man of many talents, it wasn't uncommon for artists to be well-versed in different disciplines.

Sistine Chapel (1512)

Sistine Chapel Ceiling (1512) - MichaelangeloImage Via - Tom Reeder's Blog

The fresco paintings on the ceiling of The Sistine chapel are a sight to behold.

It's considered, by some, to be the greatest of all the High Renaissance paintings. It's hard to argue with as there are over 300 figures which describe stories in the Book of Genesis.

It starts from Noah and ends with lightness separating from the darkness. It took 4 years to complete and Michaelangelo complained that his health would never be the same!

Trivia - The Sistine Chapel attracts over 5 million visitors a year and generates around €80m for The Vatican each year.  

Pietà (1498-1500)

Pietà (1498-1500) - MichaelangeloImage Via - Mental Floss

This iconic sculpture depicts The Virgin Mary holding the body of Jesus after he died on the cross from crucifixion.

Known as one of the Seven Sorrows of Mary, Michaelangelo praised the piece of marble as the best had ever used.

Trivia - This work was completed when Michaelangelo was apprenticed with the Medici family and helped to launch his career.

David (1501- 1504)

David (1501- 1504) - MichaelangeloImage Via - GetYourGuide

One of Michaelangelo's greatest works. The subject, David, comes from the biblical story of David vs Goliath. Measuring a huge 5.16m high, it's 5,660 kg of solid marble.

Trivia - Michaelangelo actually took on the project after two other sculptors dropped out. Aged only 26, it was a perfect time to cement himself as one of the greats.

To put Michaelangelo's sculpting skills into perspective, he's quoted as saying that he saw and angel in the marble and carved until he set them free.

Usually, when this battle has been depicted, it shows David after defeating Goliath but Michaelangelo chose to show him before going into battle. What's interesting, is that David has been caught at the peak of his concentration.

The Last Judgement (1536-1541)

The Last Judgement (1536-1541) - MichaelangeloImage Via - The Last Judgement

Quite a fascinating piece. So, The Last Judgement has a lot going on but what's important to remember is that the story is taken from the bible and has Christ and The Virgin Mary centred. 

The Last Judgement revolves around The Second Coming of Christ and the eternal judgement of God of humanity. 

Michaelangelo followed convention by showing saved souls ascend on the left-hand side and the damned descend on the right - with angels and devils fighting to make them fall. For those who are saved, they enter heaven and are located at the top.

For those who are damned, they are ushered out of the boat and led to the infernal judge, Mino, who is wrapped in a snake.

Truly a thought-provoking painting, take a look and piece together the story!

Medici Chapel (1520-34)

Medici Chapel (day, dusk, day and dawn), (1520-34) - MichaelangeloImage Via - Florence, Italy

When Lorenzo and Giuliano de' Medici were placed in a tomb, Michaelangelo created 4 sculptures which depict the different parts of the day with their own unique meaning.

Day - Quite a strong figure, it suggests numerous meanings from the figure feeling the weight of his body or looking backwards in fear rather than forward in hope.

Dusk - This is unfinished and is said to be Michaelangelo himself! This subject is also facing the Medici Madonna too. 

Dawn - This sculpture captures the reaction from the woman to the emergence of light from darkness but in a position of grief. Why do you think?

Night - This sculpture portrays a woman in an uneasy sleep. This can suggest a multitude of things from the political tensions at the time or Giuliano de' Medici not earning his eternal rest. 

Final Words

Nothing worth having is easy and this can ring true for Michaelangelo. With a talent ahead of his time, his ability to not compromise on perfection has lead to works we still celebrate over 500 years later! 

The High Renaissance was an iconic time in Italy because the central hubs of Florence and Rome produced some of the greatest works of art ever seen.

The Mona Lisa, Sistine Chapel, School of Athens and a score of others just illustrate how much of an impact that time period had on western art. To learn about this fascinating time, check out our guide: Art History - The High Renaissance.

Living to the age of 88, Michaelangelo died after a short battle with an illness. His body was taken back to Florence - he considered himself a Florentine - and he was laid to rest in the Basilica di Santa Croce. 

The public remembered him as a "Father and Master of All the Arts"

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