Michelangelo

Michelangelo (1475–1564) is often regarded as the greatest artist of the Italian High Renaissance. A gifted painter, architect, poet, and engineer, he considered himself first and foremost a sculptor. Giorgio Vasari, who knew Michelangelo personally and wrote his biography, claimed that he could breathe life into inanimate marble.

Michelangelo was born in 1475 in the town of Caprese in Tuscany. An exceptionally talented youth, he was invited to join the intellectual and artistic circle surrounding the wealthy scion of the Medici family, Lorenzo the Magnificent. From Florence he went to Rome, where he received a commission to sculpt a Pietà (an image of the Virgin lamenting the dead body of her son), which he completed in 1499.

By 1501, Michelangelo had returned to Florence where he worked on his famous sculpture David. Called back to Rome several years later, he was asked to design and execute an elaborate monument with forty larger than life-sized figures for the tomb of Pope Julius II. This project was soon interrupted by another request from the pope, who wished Michelangelo to paint the entire ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The young artist, who had little experience working in fresco, completed the task in a mere four years.

Once the ceiling was done, Michelangelo returned to the pope’s tomb for which he carved the figure of Moses and the Dying Slave between 1513 and 1516. Since Julius II died before his tomb was ready and his family was reluctant to pay for such an extravagant monument, Michelangelo was unable to finish the commission to his own design. Disappointed, he spent much of the next twenty years working on various projects for the powerful Medici family, most notably their funerary chapel in the basilica of San Lorenzo.

In 1534, Michelangelo returned to Rome to paint a fresco of the Last Judgment on the altar wall of the Sistine. He signed the work by painting his own likeness onto the flayed skin of the martyr Bartholomew. Several years after Michelangelo completed the painting, Pope Paul IV had the nudes in the Last Judgment covered with drapery, as he considered them offensive.

Most of the drapery was left intact in the recent restoration of the chapel. Michelangelo also made his mark on the urban planning of Renaissance Rome. In 1537, he was asked to redesign the space atop Capitoline Hill, the ancient center of the city. Nine years later, he was appointed chief architect of new Saint Peter’s, for which he designed the famous dome.

Unfortunately, he did not live to see its completion. He died in Rome at the age of eighty-nine.

ADDITIONAL FACT

  1. In the Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo portrayed God within an oval created by airborne angels. Two Brazilian doctors, Gilson Barreto and Marcelo de Oliviera, recently suggested that the artist consciously based the composition on the oval cross section of the human brain
 
 
 

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