Biography

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (March 6, 1475 - February 18, 1564), commonly known as Michelangelo, was an Italian 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 archetypal Renaissance man, along with his rival and fellow Italian 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 Pietà and the David, were sculpted before he turned thirty. 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 Judgment on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. Later in life he designed the dome of St. Peter's Basilica in the same city and revolutionised classical architecture with his use of the giant order of pilasters.

In a demonstration of Michelangelo's unique standing, he was the first Western artist whose biography was published while he was alive. Two biographies were published of him during his lifetime; One of them, by Giorgio Vasari, proposed that he was the pinnacle of all artistic achievement since the beginning of the Renaissance, a viewpoint that continued to have currency in art history for centuries. In his lifetime he was also often called Il Divino ("the divine one"). One of the qualities most admired by his contemporaries was his terribilità, a sense of awe-inspiring grandeur, and it was the attempts of subsequent artists to imitate Michelangelo's impassioned and highly personal style that resulted in the next major movement in Western art after the High Renaissance, Mannerism.

Michelangelo was a profound perfectionist. If he found the tiniest flaw in one of his works, he considered it ruined.

Early Life

Michelangelo was born on March 6, 1475 in Caprese near Arezzo, Tuscany. His family had for several generations been small-scale bankers in Florence but his father, Lodovico di Leonardo di Buonarroti di Simoni, failed to maintain its status, holding to occasional government jobs. At the time of Michelangelo's birth he was Judicial administrator of small-town Caprese and local administrator of Chiusi. Michelangelo's mother was Francesca di Neri del Miniato di Siena. The Buonarroti claimed to descend from Countess Mathilde of Canossa; this claim was probably false, but Michelangelo himself believed it. However, several months after Michelangelo's birth the family returned to Florence where Michelangelo was raised. At later times, during the prolonged illness and after the death of his mother, Michelangelo lived with a stonecutter and his wife and family in the town of Settignano where his father owned a marble quarry and a small farm. Michelangelo once said to the biographer of artists Giorgio Vasari, "If there is some good in me, it is because I was born in the subtle atmosphere of your country of Arezzo. Along with the milk of my nurse I received the knack of handling chisel and hammer, with which I make my figures."

Michelangelo's father sent him to study grammar with the humanist Francesco da Urbino in Florence as a young boy.[8][5][b] The young artist, however, showed no interest in school, preferring instead to copy paintings from churches and seek the company of painters.[8] Michelangelo was apprenticed in painting with Domenico Ghirlandaio[1] when he was thirteen[9] and in sculpture with Bertoldo di Giovanni. Michelangelo's father managed to persuade Ghirlandaio to pay the 14-year-old artist, which was highly unusual at the time.[10] When in 1489 Florence's ruler Lorenzo de' Medici asked Ghirlandaio for his two best pupils, Ghirlandaio sent Michelangelo and Francesco Granacci.[11] From 1490 to 1492, Michelangelo attended Lorenzo's school and was influenced by many prominent people who modified and expanded his ideas on art, following the dominant Platonic view of that age, and even his feelings about sexuality. It was during this period that Michelangelo met literary personalities like Pico della Mirandola, Angelo Poliziano and Marsilio Ficino.[12] Michelangelo finished Madonna of the Steps (1490 1492) and Battle of the Centaurs (1491 1492). The latter was based on a theme suggested by Poliziano and was commissioned by Lorenzo de Medici.[13]

Early Adulthood

Lorenzo's death on April 8, 1492, brought a complete reversal of Michelangelo's circumstances.[14] Michelangelo left the security of the Medici court and returned to his father's house. In the following months he produced a Wooden crucifix (1493), as a gift to the prior of the church of Santa Maria del Santo Spirito who had permitted him some studies of anatomy on the corpses of the church's hospital.[15] Between 1493 and 1494 he bought the marble for a larger than life statue of Hercules, which was sent to France and disappeared sometime in the 1700s.[13][c] He re-entered the court on January 20, 1494, when, after a great deal of snow had fallen, the young Piero de Medici commissioned a snow statue from him.

The same year, however, the Medici were expelled from Florence after the rise of Savonarola, while Michelangelo had left the city before the end of the political upheaval, moving to Venice and then to Bologna.[14] Here he was commissioned to finish the carving of the last small figures of the tomb and shrine of St. Dominic, in the church with the same name. He returned to Florence at the end of 1494, as Charles VIII had suffered defeats and Florence was no longer in danger of being sacked by the French. He did not receive any commissions from the new city government under Savonarola, and so linked up with the Medicis.[16] During the half year he spent in Florence he worked on two statuettes; a child St. John the Baptist and a sleeping Cupid. Supposedly, his commissioner, Lorenzo de Pierfrancesco 'de Medici, for whom Michelangelo had sculpted St. John the Baptist, asked that Michelangelo "fix it so that it looked as if it had been buried" so he could "send it to Rome &pass [it off as] an ancient work and &sell it much better." Both Lorenzo and Michelangelo were unwittingly cheated out of the real value of the piece by a middleman. Cardinal Raffaele Riario, to whom Lorenzo had sold it, found out that it was a fraud, but was so impressed by the quality of the sculpture that he invited the artist to Rome. [17][d] This apparent success in selling his sculpture abroad as well as the conservative Florentine situation may have encouraged Michelangelo to accept the prelate's invitation.[16]

Rome

On June 25, 1496[18] at the age of 21, Michelangelo arrived in Rome. On July 4 Michelangelo started to carve an over-life-size statue of the Roman wine god, Bacchus, commissioned by Cardinal Raffaele Riario; the work was rejected by the cardinal, and subsequently entered the collection of the banker Jacopo Galli, for his garden.

Subsequently, in November of 1497, the French ambassador in the Holy See commissioned one of his most famous works, the Pietư. The contemporary opinion about this work "a revelation of all the potentialities and force of the art of sculpture" was summarized by Vasari: "It is certainly a miracle that a formless block of stone could ever have been reduced to a perfection that nature is scarcely able to create in the flesh."

The contract was agreed in the August of the following year. Though he devoted himself mainly to sculpture, during his first stay in Rome Michelangelo never stopped his daily practice of drawing. In Rome, Michelangelo lived near the church of Santa Maria di Loreto: here, according to the legends, he fell in love with Vittoria Colonna, marquise of Pescara and poet. His house was demolished in 1874, and the remaining architectural elements saved by the new proprietors were destroyed in 1930. Today a modern reconstruction of Michelangelo's house can be seen on the Gianicolo hill.




Copyright © 2009 Arts Preservation Society. All Rights Reserved. Text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.
Art images are public domain and displayed under conditions of U.S. District Court ruling Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp., 36F. Supp. 2d 191 (S.D.N.Y. 1999).