Life on Michelangelo

Life of Michelangelo

Michelangelo (1475-1564), arguably one of the most inspired creators in the history of art
and, with Leonardo da Vinci, the most potent force in the Italian High Renaissance. As a
sculptor, architect, painter, and poet, he exerted a tremendous influence on his
contemporaries and on subsequent Western art in general.

A Florentine - although born March 6, 1475, in the small village of Caprese near Arezzo
- Michelangelo continued to have a deep attachment to his city, its art, and its culture
throughout his long life. He spent the greater part of his adulthood in Rome, employed by
the popes; characteristically, however, he left instructions that he be buried in Florence, and
his body was placed there in a fine monument in the church of Santa Croce.

Early Life in Florence

Michelangelo\'s father, a Florentine official named Ludovico Buonarroti with connections to the ruling Medici
family, placed his 13-year-old son in the workshop of the painter Domenico Ghirlandaio. After about two years,
Michelangelo studied 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
Medicis, two of whom later became popes (Leo X and Clement VII). He also became acquainted with such
humanists as Marsilio Ficino and the poet Angelo Poliziano, who were frequent visitors. 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 very early

His patron Lorenzo died in 1492; two years later Michelangelo fled Florence, when the Medici were temporarily
Expelled. He settled for a time in Bologna, where in 1494 and 1495 he executed several marble statuettes for the
Arca (Shrine) di San Domenico in the Church of San Domenico.

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 Pietà (1498-1500), still in its original place in Saint
Peter\'s Basilica. One of the most famous works of art, the Pietà was probably finished before Michelangelo was
25 years old and it is the only work he ever signed. 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 is one of resignation. In this work, Michelangelo summarizes the
sculptural innovations of his 15th-century predecessors such as Donatello, while ushering in the new
monumentality of the High Renaissance style of the 16th century.

First Return to Florence

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 Old Testament hero is depicted by
Michelangelo as a lithe nude youth, muscular and alert, looking off into the distance as if sizing up the enemy
Goliath, whom he has not yet encountered. The fiery intensity of David\'s facial expression is termed terribilità, a
feature characteristic of many of Michelangelo\'s figures and of his own personality. David, Michelangelo\'s most
famous sculpture, became the symbol of Florence and originally was placed in the Piazza della Signoria in front of
the Palazzo Vecchio, the Florentine town hall. 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.

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

The Sistine Chapel Ceiling