Sculptor, painter, architect, Michelangelo was the greatest artist during the Italian Renaissance, a period known for its creative activity (Comptons’s, 1998). Michelangelo created many of the works of art that we think of when we think of the Renaissance. In a time where art flourished only with patronage, Michelangelo was caught between the conflicting powers and whims of the Medici family in Florence and the Papacy in Rome. Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni was born on March 6, 1475. He was born in Caprese, Italy, a tiny village that belonged to the nearby city-state of Florence.
A few months after his birth, the family returned to their permanent residence in Florence. He came from a family that had for several generations been small-scale bankers in Florence; his father failed to maintain this status. He had only occasional government jobs. At an early age his father recognized his intelligence and sent him to the school of a master, who taught grammar. His mind however, was on art not his studies. Painters and sculptors at work fascinated Michelangelo. He made friends with a student who encouraged him to follow his own artistic vocation.
When Michelangelo was thirteen, his father was a minor Florentine official with connections to the Medici family. At this time his father reluctantly agreed to apprentice him to the city’s most prominent painters, the Ghirlandajo brothers (Compton’s, 1998). Unsatisfied, because the brothers refused to teach him their art secrets, he played hooky and discovered the gardens of the Monastery of San Marco. Lorenzo the Magnificent, head of the Medici family had brought many ancient Greek and Roman statues to these gardens. These works and those commissioned, were intended to bring glory to the family name and make political statements.
Without his father’s knowledge or permission, Michelangelo went to work under Bertoldo, the curator of the gardens and a talented sculptor. Lorenzo saw a marble faun’s head carved by Michelangelo, and liked it so much that he invited Michelangelo to live with him in his palace. Lorenzo surrounded himself with poets and intellectuals. Living in the Medici household, Michelangelo had access to the art collection. He also had the opportunity to converse with the younger Medici’s. Two of the younger Medici’s later became popes (Leo X and Clement VII).
His patron Lorenzo died in 1492, and two years later when the Medici was temporarily expelled, Michelangelo fled Florence. Michelangelo made a brief visit to Venice and then went to Bologna. He was hired to succeed a recently deceased sculptor to complete a grand project (tomb & shrine of St. Dominic). He imposed seriousness on his images by compactness of form that owes much to classical antiquity and to the Florentine tradition. Michelangelo then went to Rome in 1496 for the first time. There he was able to examine newly unearthed classical statues and ruins.
He soon produced his first large-scale sculptor, the over-life-size “Bacchus”. One of the few works of pagan subject matter rather than Christian subject matter made by the master, the “Bacchus” relies on ancient Roman nude figures as a point of departure. It rivaled ancient statuary, but it is much more mobile and complex in outline. It is also unique among Michelangelo’s works in calling for observation from all sides rather than primarily from the front. The “Bacchus” led at once to the commission for the “Pieta”, a devotional image of the Virgin Mary supporting the dead Christ on her knees.
The patron was a French cardinal and the theme was borrowed from northern European art. The problem for Michelangelo, was to extract two figures from on marble block. This sculpture won him wide fame. He underlined the many contrasts present, of male and female, vertical and horizontal, clothed and naked, dead and alive, to clarify the tow figures. The artist’s prominence, established by the “Pieta” was reinforced at once. After several years of political confusion, in 1501 a republic was once again proclaimed in Florence.
Twelve days after the proclamation of the republic, the Wool Guild, commissioned Michelangelo to sculpt a statue of David, for the cathedral of 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. Michelangelo was devoted to the republic, and wanted each citizen to become aware of his responsibilities and commit himself to accomplishing his duty.
He chose to represent David as an athletic, manly character, very concentrated and ready to fight. The modeling is especially close to those of classical antiquity, with a simplified geometry suitable to the huge scale. I has continued to serve as the Renaissance ideal of perfect humanity. In 1508 Michelangelo was summoned back to Rome by Pope Julius II to produce his tomb. Due to a shortage of money the pope ordered him to put aside the tomb in favor of painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
“The Sistine Chapel had great symbolic meaning for the papacy as the chief consecrated space in the Vatican (Encyclopedia Britannica, p. . It already contained distinguished wall painting and Michelangelo was asked to add works for the relatively unimportant ceiling. At first, Michelangelo tried to turn down the commission. He had always regarded himself as a sculptor, and would now have to learn the art of fresco. Twelve Apostles were planned as the theme. Due to the mysterious liking the artist and the pope had for one another, Julius II let himself is swayed by Michelangelo’s creative frenzy and both were carried away by their enthusiasm over more and more ambitious plans.
By October 31st, 1512, he had painted over 300 figures on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. As soon as the ceiling was finished, Michelangelo returned to his preferred task, the tomb of Pope Julius. He made some of his finest sculpture for this project. The surface textures have more variety than his earlier sculptures. By now Michelangelo had found how to enrich detail without sacrificing massiveness. “The complexity of the stances, expressive of strong feeling was unprecedented in monumental marble sculpture of the Renaissance.
The only earlier works of this nature were from the Hellenistic period of classical antiquity” (Encyclopedia Britannica, p. 7). “Pope Julius II’s death in 1513 cut off most of the funds for his tomb. Pope Leo X, his successor, a son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, had known Michelangelo since their boyhood’s. He chiefly employed Michelangelo on projects in Florence linked to the glory of the Medici family rather than the papacy” (Encyclopedia Britannica, p. 7). The city was under the rule of Pope Leo’s cousin, Cardinal de’ Medici, who would become Pope Clement VII.
The cardinal took an active interest in Michelangelo’s works. He was moving into architectural design with such work as a new chapel at the parish church for the tombs of the Medici family. He undertook this commission between 1519 and 1534. The occasion for the chapel was the deaths of the two young family heirs named Giuliano and Lorenzo. “The result is the fullest existing presentation of Michelangelo’s intentions. “(Encyclopedia Britannica, p. 8) Michelangelo abandoned the use of architecture and arabesques that decorated all Florentine tombs.
His design called for two large tombs. Windows, and cornices, have strange proportions and thickness, suggesting an irrational, willful revision of traditional classical forms in building. The tombs were of a completely new form. He wanted no accessory forms, and only the statues were to express the thoughts of the soul. Previously, artists had always designed Christian symbols on tombs, but Michelangelo renounced Christian traditions in order to portray humanity. The statues represented nothing but human beings. They are the symbol of suffering mankind.
It is because they are crying that they are alive; their suffering gives them all their beauty. In 1526, Florence revolted against the Medici, restoring the traditional republic for the last time. Besieged by German mercenary soldiers. Michelangelo was forced to stop working on all projects. The government asked him to prepare plans for defense against assault. He showed understanding of modern defensive structures built quickly of simple materials in complex profiles that offered minimum vulnerability to attackers and maximum resistance to cannon and other artillery.
In 1534, Michelangelo left Florence forever, and went back to Rome. He always hoped to return to finish the projects he had left incomplete, his decision to never return was influenced by the hostility of Duke Alessandro de Medici. In Rome, Michelangelo could count on the esteem and protection of Pope Clement VII. Shortly before his death, Pope Clement VII commissioned Michelangelo to paint the fresco of the Last Judgement on the Sistine Chapel. As was his custom, Michelangelo portrayed all the figures nude. “Even before its official unveiling, the Judgement became the target of violent criticism of a moral character.
Others accused the painter of heresy. ” (Michelangelo. com, final days) About a decade later, as the cultural climate became more conservative, the Council of Trent made the decision to “amend” the fresco, and another artist added draperies. In his late years Michelangelo was less involved with sculpture, and along with painting and poetry, more with architecture, an area which he did not have to do physical labor. He was sought after to design imposing monuments for the new and modern Rome. Tow of these monuments, the Capitoline Square and the dome of St.
Peter’s Basilica, are among the city’s most notable images. His dome for St. Peter’s became the symbol of authority as well as the model for domes all over the Western World; the Capital in Washington, D. C. is derived from it. Michelangelo was the last great man of Italy’s golden age of art. He worked with many of the leaders of his time, the popes and the rulers of the Italian city-states (Compton’s, 1998). He typified the vigor of mind and body, the energy, spirit, and the combination of worldliness and religious zeal that marked the great period known as the Renaissance.