Great Artist Essay

This essay has a total of 3869 words and 17 pages.

Great Artist

The second of five brothers, Michelangelo was born on March 6, 1475, at Caprese, in
Tuscany, to Ludovico di Leonardo di Buonarotto Simoni and Francesca Neri. The same day,
his father noted down: "Today March 6, 1475, a child of the male sex has been born to me
and I have named him Michelangelo. He was born on Monday between 4 and 5 in the morning,
at Caprese, where I am the Podestà." Although born in the small village of Caprese,
Michelangelo always considered himself a "son of Florence," as did his father, "a Citizen
of Florence."

His Childhood and Youth
Buonarroti'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."

Buonarroti's mother died young, when the child was only six years old. But even before
then, Michelangelo's childhood had been grim and lacking in affection, and he was always
to retain a taciturn disposition. Touchy and quick to respond with fierce words, he tended
to keep to himself, out of shyness according to some but also, according to others, a lack
of trust in his fellows. His father soon recognized the boy's intelligence and "anxious
for him to learn his letters, sent him to the school of a master, Francesco Galeota from
Urbino, who in that time taught grammar." While he studied the principles of Latin,
Michelangelo made friends with a student, Francesco Granacci six years older than him, who
was learning the art of painting in Ghirlandaio's studio and who encouraged Michelangelo
to follow his own artistic vocation.

Early Life in Florence.
Michelangelo's father, now a minor Florentine official with connections to the ruling
Medici family, placed his 13-year-old son in the workshop of the painter Domenico
Ghirlandaio. After about one year, Michelangelo went on to study at the sculpture school
in the Medici gardens and shortly thereafter was invited into the household of Lorenzo de'
Medici **, the Magnificent. There he had an
opportunity to converse with the younger Medici, two of whom later became popes (Leo X and
Clement VII). He also became acquainted with such humanists as Marsilo Ficino and the poet
Angelo Poliziano, frequent visitors to the Medici court.

Michelangelo produced at least two relief sculptures by the time he was 16 years old, the
Battle of the Centaurs and the Madonna of the Stairs (both 1489-92, Casa Buonarroti,
Florence), which show that he had achieved a personal style at a precocious age. In
Michelangelo's personal diary he recounts his first two works: "My first work was a small
bas-relief, The Madonna of the Stairs. Mary, Mother of God, sits on the rock of the
church. The child curls back into her body. She foresees his death, and his return on the
stairway to heaven. "My second work, another small relief. My tutor read me the myth of
the battle of the Lapiths against the Centaurs. The wild forces of Life, locked in heroic
combat. "Already at 16, my mind was a battlefield: my love of pagan beauty, the male nude,
at war with my religious faith. A polarity of themes and spiritual, the other
earthly, I've kept these carvings on the walls of my studio to this very day."

His patron Lorenzo died in 1492; two years later Michelangelo fled Florence, when the Medici were temporarily expelled.
His Studies of Anatomy
During the years he spent in the Garden of San Marco, Michelangelo began to study human
anatomy. In exchange for permission to study corpses, the prior of the church of Santo
Spirito, Niccolò Bichiellini, received a wooden Crucifix from Michelangelo. But his
contact with the dead bodies caused problems with his health, obliging him to interrupt
his activities periodically.

The Bolognese Period
During the unstable rule of Piero, the son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, and shortly before
the expulsion of the Medici from Florence, Michelangelo made a brief visit to Venice and
then went to Bologna, where he stayed until 1495, as a guest of Francesco Aldrovandi.

It was here in Bologna that the monk Girolamo Savonarola impressed upon Michelangelo his
apocalyptic vision, which would later fuse with the artist's own tragic sense of human

First Roman Sojourn.
Michelangelo then went to Rome, where he was able to examine many newly unearthed
classical statues and ruins. He soon produced his first large-scale sculpture, the
over-life-size Bacchus ** (1496-98, Bargello,
Florence). 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.

At about the same time, Michelangelo also did the marble àPiet
** (1498-1500), still in its original
place in Saint Peter's Basilica. One of the most famous works of art, the Pieta was
probably finished before Michelangelo was 25 years old. The youthful Mary is shown seated
majestically, holding the dead Christ across her lap, a theme borrowed from northern
European art. Instead of revealing extreme grief, Mary is restrained, and her expression
*images/mary-resign.jpg* is one of resignation.

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. That night in a
fit of rage, Michelangelo took hammer and chisel and placed the following inscription on
the sash running across Mary's breast in lapidary letters: MICHEL ANGELUS BONAROTUS
FLORENT FACIBAT (Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florentine, made this). This is the only work
that Michelangelo ever signed. Michelangelo later regretted his passionate outburst of
pride and determined to never again sign a work of his hands.

The Pietà, which many regard as the greatest work of sculpture ever created, inspired Giorgio Vasari to comment:
"It would be impossible for any craftsman or sculptor no matter how brilliant ever to
surpass the grace or design of this work, or try to cut and polish the marble with the
skill that Michelangelo displayed. For the Pieta was a revelation of all the
potentialities and force of the art of sculpture. Among the many beautiful features
(including the inspired draperies) this is notably demonstrated by the body of Christ
itself. It would be impossible to find a body showing greater mastery of art and
possessing more beautiful members, or a nude with more detail in the muscles, veins, and
nerves stretched over their framework of bones, or a more deathly corpse. The lovely
expression of the head, the harmony in the joints and attachments of the arms, legs, and
trunk, and the fine tracery of the veins are all so wonderful that it is hard to believe
that the hand of an artist could have executed this inspired and admirable work so
perfectly and in so short a time. 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

Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Artists, first published 1550, 2nd edition 1558.
First Return to Florence.
On August 4th, 1501, after several years of political confusion, a republic was once again
proclaimed in Florence. The order established over the following four years received the
unconditional support of Michelangelo. Also, during the same period, the artist clearly
expressed his own political orientation, unlike in later work.

Twelve days after the proclamation of the republic, the Arte della Lana or Wool Guild, the
wealthy corporation responsible for the maintenance and ornamentation of the Cathedral,
commissioned him to sculpt a statue of David.

The high point of Michelangelo's early style is the gigantic (4.34 m/ 14.24 ft) marble
David ** (Accademia, Florence), which he produced
between 1501 and 1504, after returning to Florence. The character of David and what he
symbolizes, was perfectly in tune with Michelangelo's patriotic feelings. At the time,
Florence was going through a difficult period, and its citizens had to be alert and
mobilized to confront permanent threats. He used David as a model of heroic courage, in
the hope that the Florentines would understand his message. This young Biblical hero
demonstrated that inner spiritual strength can prove to be more effective than arms. His
faith in God ("The Lord is my strength and my shield.") enabled this young shepherd to
overcome Israel's enemies, using a mere sling, which is the only element in the
composition enabling us to identify the mythical figure of David.

Michelangelo chose to represent David as an athletic, manly character, very concentrated
and ready to fight. The extreme tension is evident in his worried look
** and in his right hand, holding a stone. The
meaning of this David becomes fully clear if we take into consideration the historical
circumstances of its creation. Michelangelo was devoted to the Republic, and wanted each
citizen to become aware of his responsibilities and commit himself to accomplishing his

Michelangelo wrote in his diaries: "When I returned to Florence, I found myself famous.
The City Council asked me to carve a colossal David from a nineteen-foot block of marble
-- and damaged to boot! I locked myself away in a workshop behind the cathedral, hammered
and chiseled at the towering block for three long years. In spite of the opposition of a
committee of fellow artists, I insisted that the figure should stand before the Palazzo
Vecchio, as a symbol of our Republic. I had my way. Archways were torn down, narrow
streets took forty men five days to move it. Once in place, all Florence was
astounded. A civic hero, he was a warning...whoever governed Florence should govern justly
and defend it bravely. Eyes watchful...the neck of a bull...hands of a killer...the body,
a reservoir of energy. He stands poised to strike."

With this statue Michelangelo proved to his contemporaries that he not only surpassed all
modern artists, but also the Greeks and Romans, by infusing formal beauty with powerful
expressiveness and meaning.

Michelangelo, The Painter

While still occupied with the David, Michelangelo was given an opportunity to demonstrate
his ability as a painter with the commission of a mural, the Battle of Cascina, destined
for the Sala dei Cinquecento of the Palazzo Vecchio, opposite Leonardo's Battle of
Anghiari. Neither artist carried his assignment beyond the stage of a cartoon, a
full-scale preparatory drawing. Michelangelo created a series of nude and clothed figures
in a wide variety of poses and positions that are a prelude to his next major project, the
ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. From these years date the Bruges Madonna
*images/bruges-madonna.jpg* (Notre Dame, Bruges) and the painted tondo of the Holy Family
** (Uffizi).

The Last Judgement.
The Commission
The idea of commissioning an enormous fresco, the largest ever painted in that century,
depicting the Last Judgment **, was
probably suggested to Clement VII by the traumatic events that were undermining the unity
of Christians at the time. After the pope's death, on September 25, 1534, and only two
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