He is the creator of such celebrated statues as David and Madonna on the Steps, and painted masterpieces pinnacled by the painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. His work has influenced artists and architects in the 300 years since his time. But who was he?
One of the most influential and well-documented artists of the High Renaissance, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarrati Simoni was born in March of 1476. In a small town called Caprese, outside of Arezzo, Tuscany, where his father had taken a brief government post is where this amazing sculptor began his journey. Shortly after his birth, his family returned to Florence.
When Michelangelo was just six years old, his mother passed away after a prolonged illness. During that time Michelangelo lived in Settignano, where his father owned a quarry. He quartered with his nanny and her husband, a stonecutter. Here is where his illustrious career as one of the most talented sculptors began.
Having learned a love of marble, Michelangelo began to show artistic ability from an early age; opting to copy church paintings rather than attend to his grammar lessons. Choosing other painters as his company proved worthy of his time when, aged 13, he was apprenticed to Domenico Ghirlandaio – the owner of the largest workshop in Florence and a leader in perspectives, portraits, figure drawing and fresco painting.
At 21, Cardinal Raffaele Riario invited Michelangelo to Rome. A few years later he was commissioned to carve a sculpture of the Virgin Mary grieving over the dead body of Jesus. This statue, Pieta, can be found in St. Peters Basilica today and has been praised the world over for its beauty and impact on the sculpting world.
It was after this that Michelangelo’s talent was truly put to the test. Returning to Florence in 1499, after the political upheaval there had ceased, he was asked to complete a sculpture that was begun almost half a century before – a 17 ft. high statue of David. It has been said that he looks alive, and there is no doubting that Michelangelo was truly a gifted artist.
In 1502, Pope Julius II summoned Michelangelo back to Rome to work on the most widely known of his artworks, the Sistine Chapel ceiling. He persuaded the Pope to let him have creative control and today we have the single greatest depiction of the Genesis story, having taken only 4 years to complete.
Despite his artistic prowess, Michelangelo was said to have lived in filth and slept often in his clothing. One of his apprentices commenting that he ate food only out of necessity. And while he remained a solitary individual for most of his life, being melancholy by nature; later in life he developed some romantic platonic relationships, mainly with other men.
He was described as having a monk-like chastity. He authoring a series of poems written from himself to Tommaso dei Cavalieri. Both men proclaim their love for each other, and indeed Cavalieri remained dedicated to Michelangelo for the rest of his life.
Regardless of the rumors Michelangelo’s amazing talent and work speaks for itself and his impact in the art world can still be seen and felt today.