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Nov - 25 - 2012

1475- 1564

Sculptor and Painter

Michelangelo Buonaroti Michelangelo, as Michelangelo Buonaroti is also known, was born on March 6th, 1474 to the proud parents, Ludovico di Leonardo di Buonarotto Simoni and Francesca Neri. “Buonaroti’s mother, Francesca Neri, was too sick and frail to nurse Michelangelo, so he was placed with a wet nurse, in a family of stone cutters, where he, ‘sucked in the craft of hammer and chisel with my foster mother’s milk. When I told my father that I wish to be an artist, he flew into a rage, ‘artists are laborers, no better than shoemakers.'” 1

Since Michelangelo’s mother died while he was still young, at age six to be precise, his father, who was not as well off as he wanted to be, apprenticed his children to the trade of wool and silk. Michelangelo as the oldest, however, was given a schooling opportunity. His father wanted him to go into business, so when his father found out that he was spending his free time drawing, he was furious. “After the inevitable struggle of wills, Ludovico finally, if reluctantly, acquiesced and had his son apprenticed to the most fashionable painter in Florence, Domenico Ghirlandaio. Ghirlandaio ran a large and extremely successful workshop (bottega) where Michelangelo learned drawing and painting, in both tempera and fresco.” 2This he found to his liking, but according to his master, he was not destined to be an artist.

Michelangelo was distantly related to the Medici’s of Florence through his grandmother, so this gave him the opportunity to, one year after he started with Domenico Ghirlandaio, leave Ghirlandaio and study in the household of Lorenzo de Medici, also known as “the magnificent.” Here he finished the rest of his education instead of learning more about painting. While in the Medici’s household, he had the opportunity to learn Sculpting. Although he had never touched chisel to stone before, when given one of his first assignments, which was to copy the bust of a faun, he did it so well, that Lorenzo was amazed. “Seeing that in addition the boy had opened its mouth and made the tongue and all the teeth, Lorenzo jestingly said. . ., ‘You ought to know that the old never have all their teeth, and always lack some.'” 3Michelangelo, who respected Lorenzo knocked out a tooth and made the gum look like it was sagging.

When Michelangelo wished to study anatomy, which was done through studying dead bodies (which was against the churches orders), “the prior of the church of Santo Spirito, Niccolò Bichiellini, received a wooden Crucifix from Michelangelo.” 4 He was then allowed to study the dead. This study of anatomy helped him with his sculptures and painting.

When Lorenzo de Medici died, he left Florence in an uproar as to who would rule in his stead. When everything was finally settled, Michelangelo went to Rome. There he was able to study new, or rather old, unearthed classical statues, and soon afterwards, he produced his own first large-scale statue, Bacchus. It was larger than life, depicting the wine god staring at a goblet of wine. “One of the few works of pagan rather than Christian subject matter made by the master, it rivaled ancient statuary, the highest mark of admiration in Renaissance Rome.” 5

Right about the same time, Michelangelo made Pieta, the statue of Mary holding a dead Jesus on her lap. This was probably finished before Michelangelo was 25 years old! The Pieta was the only work of art he ever signed and this he did because, “just days after it was placed in Saint Peter’s, Michelangelo overheard a pilgrim remark that the work was done by Christoforo Solari, a compatriot from Lombard.” 6 He became extremely mad and that night to hammer and chisel to the statue and carved his name in the strap that rests across Mary’s chest.

In early 1501, Michelangelo returned to Florence and shortly after, he was commissioned carve fifteen small statues, or statuettes, for the Piccolomini altar. These had been left unfinished by another artist. Of the fifteen, he only carved four because he was reluctant to finish another man’s work. Even though there were legal difficulties, when he set aside these statuettes to work on a David commissioned to him by “The Wool Guild.” His David came from a block of marble that was considered flawed and had already been worked some. This huge block had been nicknamed “the giant.” “After five years in Rome, Michelangelo must have been particularly anxious to produce a spectacular work in his native Florence.” 7

When he was 28, the Pope Julius II, asked him to come to Rome, for he had a job for Michelangelo. He had been looking for someone to paint the twelve apostles and some other decorations on Sistine Chapel ceiling. “It seems that the pope had been advised to make this move by Bramante and other artists working at his court, who did not take kindly to Michelangelo’s presence: ‘And this thing they did with malice, to distract the pope from matters of sculpture; and since they were sure that he, either by not accepting this undertaking, would turn the pope against him, or by accepting it would do much less creditable work than Raphael of Urbino, to whom, out of hatred for Michelangelo, they gave every support.'” 8

Michelangelo, who had always considered himself a sculptor was now at a loss. He did not want to do the ceiling, because he was not a painter, but after some persuasion from the Pope, he agreed to do it. He started work on the chapel with two other painters and several workmen, but after the work did not go to his liking, he fired all his helpers and erased their work and between 1508 and 1512, he worked on the ceiling by himself. It is said that, after staring up for such a long time, he could not see words on a page unless he held them over his head. The only person Michelangelo allowed in to see his work was the Pope himself, who would ponderously climb the scaffolding to see the work that Michelangelo was doing. Finally the chapel and its ceiling were open to the public, even before the ceiling was completely finished. When opened, it astounded the public. Michelangelo had proved himself to be a painter too.

Through out the rest of his life time, Michelangelo painted and carved. Mostly though, he carved. He was an expert in blocks of marble. He would often go to the quarry to pick the blocks he thought would be the best quality. He was asked by the Pope himself, to design his tomb. Michelangelo designed two tombs. One for Lorenzo de Medici and the other for Giuliano de Medici. “He carved statues for these and here, he wanted no accessory forms, and only the statues were to express the thoughts of his soul. Before Michelangelo, artists had always designed Christian symbols on tombs: angels, the Virgin Mary, Christ, the Apostles and the Virtues. But he renounced Christian traditions in order to portray Humanity to our eyes.” 9 His statues he named Dawn, Dusk, Night and Day.

Michelangelo left Florence for good in 1534. He would never return. He spent the rest of his days in Rome. There he was commissioned to paint the last Judgment. He also acted as architect for the Campidoglio, or capital in the center of Rome, and St. Peter’s Basilica, even though, by the time he started work on St. Peter’s Basilica he was in his seventies. Michelangelo Buonaroti died on February 18th 1564 after a “long fever,” “just two weeks shy of his eighty-ninth birthday. Informing Duke Cosimo in Florence, Michelangelo’s doctor wrote: ‘This afternoon that most excellent and true miracle of nature, Messer Michelangelo Buonaroti passed from this to a better life.’ That same year Galileo and William Shakespeare were born.” 10 Thus ended the life of a man who could make stone live.

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