Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (1475-1564) is universally recognized as one of the greatest artists in history, perhaps the greatest. He excelled as a sculptor, painter, architect, and poet of the Italian High Renaissance. During his long life, Michelangelo created some of the world’s most recognizable works of art.
Mastery in a variety of skills has earned Michelangelo the title of Renaissance man. He rivaled his fellow Florentine, Leonardo da Vinci, as the embodiment of this role. His most famous sculptures include the David in Florence and the Pietâ in Rome. Although Michelangelo claimed that he did not enjoy painting, he created many remarkable works, most famously the series of panels containing more than 300 figures depicting the Creation, the downfall of man, and the promise of salvation—the entire core of Christian doctrine—on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. Michelangelo also designed the dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica, which remains the largest dome of any church in the world.
An intensely spiritual man, Michelangelo focused on biblical themes throughout much of his work. He was deeply concerned with the notion of time, depicting such scenes as God’s Creation of man and the universe. His fresco The Last Judgment portrays the future of humankind, as based on scenes described in Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Michelangelo Buonarroti was born to a Florentine family in the village of Caprese, Italy, on March 6, 1475. He demonstrated great talent as a painter at an early age while apprenticed to Domenico Ghirlandaio. He studied sculpture under the guidance of Bertoldo di Giovanni and was soon commissioned by the foremost family in Florence, the Medici. Following a brief fall from power of the Medici in 1596, Michelangelo fled to Rome. There at the age of 23 he completed the Pietâ that now stands in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. He returned to Florence between 1501 and 1504, where he met Leonardo da Vinci; the two artists were temperamentally very different and did not become friends. During this time he carved the famous statue David.
In 1505 Michelangelo again traveled to Rome on invitation from Pope Julius II, a patron of the arts. Michelangelo reluctantly accepted the commission to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, a project that would require heroic effort and consume years of his life. This highly renowned work includes masterful depictions of the most significant events from the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Michelangelo also carved the tomb of Julius II, which includes a powerful statue of Moses. He returned to Florence in 1515 to design the Medici Chapel containing the tombs of Medici princes. These tombs include carved allegories representing day, dawn, dusk, and night.
Michelangelo again returned to Rome in 1534 in a period of political turbulence when Florence ceased to be a republic. Commissioned by Pope Paul III, he painted The Last Judgment, in which the souls of humankind either ascend to paradise or are cast into the inferno. In 1546 the pope appointed Michelangelo chief architect of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, where he began supervising the construction of its dome. Unfortunately, he did not live to see the dome completed. Michelangelo died on February 18, 1564, at the age of 89, and was buried in Florence.
James P. Bonanno
See also Adam, Creation of; Dalíi, Salvador; Genesis,
Book of; Last Judgment; Moses; Noah
Bull, G. (1995). Michelangelo: A biography. London: Viking.
Grimm, H. (1896). Life of Michelangelo (F. E. Bunnett, Trans.). Boston: Little, Brown.
Hughes, A. (1997). Michelangelo. London: Phaidon Press.