The Artist Michelangelo

The Italian Renaissance was ripe with talents like Michelangelo. Born on March 6, 1475, in Caprese, Michelangelo Buonarroti, was the son of a government official. Raised in Florence as the Renaissance unfolded, Michelangelo studied as an artist’s apprentice at the age of 13.

Michelangelo contributed works of drawing, painting, sculpture, and architecture, especially for seven popes in his 88 years of life. If you look at his record, it is easy to see why Michelangelo effortlessly earned a reputation as a Renaissance genius. To some, he is the greatest artist who ever lived.

Young Michelangelo was befriended by Lorenzo de Medici, the family patriarch and ruler of Florence. Michelangelo lived at the Medici palace for 2 years and studied in the presence of the family’s impressive art collection. He also received instruction from the sculptor, Bertoldo di Giovanni. History traces the Classical influences of Michelangelo’s work to Roman statues in the Medici home.

As a favorite of popes, two of Michelangelo’s best works are religious in theme—David and the Sistine Chapel. In 1504, Michelangelo completed David in the Classical style. This 17-foot high sculpture portrays a beautiful and anatomically correct male form of the Old Testament’s King David (who defeated Goliath in youth). The sculpture was created for the rooftop of the Florentine cathedral, but Richard Stemp notes Leonardo da Vinci and Sandro Botticelli participated in the committee that chose the public location for the sculpture. The original was situated in the Palacio Vecchio, but it now resides indoors at the Florentine museum, Galleria dell’Academia.

In the ambitious Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo exhibits knowledge of the Bible and Roman Catholic doctrine. Pope Julius II hired Michelangelo to paint the ceiling from 1508 to 1512. Michelangelo, a sculptor, was recommended for the job by artists at the papal court who disliked him and vastly preferred Raphael of Urbino. According to the Vatican Museum, the ceiling frescoes consist of 9 stories from the Book of Genesis (God’s creation of the world). These stories include how God separated dark from light and how Adam and Eve were created. The chapel ceiling also includes Nude figures embracing medallions covered with text from the Bible’s Book of Kings. The bottom of the ceiling includes enthroned Prophets and Sibyls and the forebears of Jesus Christ (in the Lunettes and Webs). The final figures are the Pendentives depicting the salvation of Israel.

Michelangelo created many more works, including the Pieta, the pioneering Mannerist works in the Laurentian Library, the Last Judgment, the humanist Medici tombs for the New Sacristy of San Lorenzo (for Lorenzo, duke of Urbino, and Giuliano, duke of Nemours), and the architecture of St. Peter’s Basilica. The artist died in 1564.