Featured Artist of the Week Michelangelo

Michelangelo painted by Daniele da Volterra

Michelangelo was born in Caprese a small town situated in Valtiberina near Arezzo, Tuscany Italy. He was born into a family of small scale bankers in Florence. However his father Ludovico di Leonardo Buonarroti Simoni took a a government post in Caprese, where Michelangelo was born. At the time of Michelangelo’s birth his father was the town’s judicial administrator.His mother was Francesca di Neri del Miniato di siena. She is said to have been the decendant of the Countess Mathilde of Canossa.

After Michelangelo’s birth his mother Francesca became ill and his family moved to Florence. In Florence his family stayed even after his mothers unfortunate death due to her prolonged illness. After her death in 1481 when Michelangelo was at the very young age of 6 years old, he went to go live with his nanny and her husband in the town of Settignano. His father owned a marble quarry and a small farm there. Michelangelo’s nanny and her husband lived a simple but happy life. His nanny’s husband was a stone cutter. It was here in this place and in this time of his life where he gained his love for marble. Michelangelo was quoted to say:

” If there is some good in me, it is because I was born in the subtle atmosphere of your country of Arezzo. Along with the milk of my nurse I received the knack of handling chisel and hammer, with which I make my figures.”

-Michelangelo

As a young boy Michelangelo was sent to Florence to study grammar under the Humanist Francesco da Urbino. But Michelangelo was uninterested in his studies. Staying true to his passions he preferred to copy paintings from churches and he surrounded himself with like minded artists. At the time Florence was Italy’s greatest center of the arts and learning. Art was sponsored by the Signoria ( the town council ) the merchant guilds, and wealthy patrons such as the Medici family and their banking associates.

At the tender young age of just 13 years old Michelangelo was the apprentice of Ghirlandaio. Who was a master in fresco painting, perspective, figure drawing and portraiture and he had the largest workshop in Florence. In 1489 at the age of just 14 Michelangelo’s father convinced Ghirlandaio. He agreed and Michelangelo became one of the first of his age to become a paid artist. In 1489 Lorenzo de Medici, de facto ruler of Florence, asked Ghirlandaio for his two best pupils. Ghirlandaio sent Michelangelo and Francesco Granacci. In 1490 to 1492 Michelangelo attended the Platonic Academy, a Humanist academy founded by the Medici family. It was there that Michelangelo’s work and outlook was heavily influenced by many of the most prominent philosophers and writers of that time. During this time Michelangelo sculpted the reliefs Madonna of the steps (1490-1492 ) and the Battle of the Centaurs (1491 – 1492 ) The Battle of the Centaurs was based on a theme suggested by Poliziano and commissioned by Lorenzo de Medici.

When Michelangelo was 17 he was struck on the nose by another pupil, Pietro Torrigiano causing a disfigurement that is conspicuous in the portraits of Michelangelo. In 1492 a series of unfortunate events including Lorenzo de Medici’s death brought a reversal of Michelangelo’s circumstances. He left the security of the Medici court and returned to his fathers house. in the months that followed he carved a polychrome wooden Crucifix (1493) as a gift to the prior Florentine church of Santo Spirito, which allowed him to do some anatomical studies of corpses from the churches hospital. This was the first of many times that he studied anatomy by dissecting cadavers in his career.

Between the years of 1493 and 1494 he bought a block of marble, and carved a larger than life statue of Hercules. This statue was sent to France and then disappeared sometime in the 18th century. On January 1494 after heavy snowfalls, Lorenzo’s heir, Piero de Medici commissioned a snow statue. Michelangelo once again found himself in the court of the Medici family. In a twist of fate, the Medici family were expelled from Florence as a result of the rise of the Savonarola. Michelangelo left the city before the end of the political upheaval. He moved to Venice and then to Bologna. In Balogna he was commissioned to carve several of the last small figures for the completion of the Shrine of St. Dominic. At this time Michelangelo studied the robust reliefs carved by Jacopo della Quercia around the main portal of the Basilica of St Petronius. Including the panel of The Creation of Eve. This composition was to reappear on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

sleeping cupid Michelangelo

Near the end of 1495 the politics in Florence had become calmer, the city that was previously under threat from the French was no longer in danger because Charles VIII ad suffered defeats. Michelangelo returned to Florence but received no commissions from the new city government under Savonarola. It was the that he returned to the employment of the Medici. During the half year he spent in Florence he worked on two small statues a child St. John the Baptist and a sleeping Cupid. It is said that in this time Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de Medici the guy Michelangelo had sculpted St John the Baptist, asked Michelangelo to ” Fix it so it looked as if it had been buried” so he could send it to Rome, pass it off as an ancient work and sell it for much more profit. But both Lorenzo and Michelangelo were unwittingly cheated out of the real value of this piece by a middle man. Cardinal Raffaele Riario, to whom Lorenzo had sold it discovered that it was indeed a fraud. However it is said that he was so impressed by the quality of the sculpture that he invited the artist to Rome. At the age of 21 years old Michelangelo arrived in Rome. On July 4th of that same year he was commissioned from Cardinal Riaro to do an over life sized statue of the Roman wine God Bacchus. After completion the work was rejected by the Cardinal. It then entered the collection of a banker Jacopo Galli where it was displayed in his garden. On November 1497 Michelangelo was commissioned to carve a Pieta, a sculpture showing the Virgin Mary grieving over the body of Jesus. Michelangelo was 24 years old when he completed this work. It was soon to be regarded as one of the worlds great masterpieces of sculpture. Vasari was quoted to say of this piece of work:

” A revelation of masterpieces of sculpture, a revelation of all potentialities and force of the art of sculpture.”

-Vasari
Pieta by Michelangelo

Michelangelo returned to Florence in 1499 and as asked by consuls of the Guild of Wool to complete an unfinished project that was begun 40 years earlier by Agostino di Duccio. A colossal statue of Carrara marble portraying David as a symbol of Florentine freedom. It was to be placed on the gable of Florence Cathedral. Michelangelo responded with the completion of his most famous work, The statue of David in 1504. After completion a group of consultants was called together to discuss the placement of David. The individuals called upon where indeed Botticelli, Lorenzo di Credi, Antonio, Giuliano da Sagallo, Andrea della Robbia, Cosimo Rosselli, David Ghirlandaio, Pier di Cosimo, Andrea Sansovino, and last but not least his dear friend Francesco Granacci. They ultimately decided the Piazza della Signoria.

David – Michelangelo

With the completion of David, Michelangelo was commissioned to paint the Battle of Cascina. Yet this works was never completed. During this time Michelangelo was commissioned to paint Holy Family by Angelo Doni as a present to his wife Maddalena Strozzi. It is known as the Doni Tondo.

Doni Tondo

In 1505 Michelangelo was again invited back to Rome by the newly elected Pope Julius II. He was commissioned to build the Popes tomb which was to include 40 statues to be finished in 5 years. While working on this works for the Pope, Michelangelo experienced constant interruptions from his work on the tomb in order to experience other tasks. It is said that both Michelangelo and Pope Julius II had hot tempers and they argued. So much so that Michelangelo left in secret in April 1506 and went to Florence. He remained there until the Florentine government pressured him to return to the Pope. Although Michelangelo worked on the tomb for 40 years it was never finished to Michelangelo’s satisfaction. It is located in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome. It is most famous for the central figure of Moses. Michelangelo blamed he tensions between himself and the Pope Julius II on the envy of Bramante and Raphael. Michelangelo said that he and Raphael met once. He said that he thought he had met the chief of police with such an assemblage.

Moses on the tomb of Pope Julius II

During the same time Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel, which took around 4 years to complete. 1508 – 1512. It is said that Bramante who was working on the building of St. Peters Basilica, resented Michelangelo’s commission for the Popes tomb and convinced the Pope to commission him to a medium that he was unfamiliar with. Basilica was in hopes that Michelangelo would fail at this task. Michelangelo convinced the Pope to allow him to have free hand and proposed that he paint a different and more complex scheme. Representing the Creation, the fall of man, the promise of salvation through the prophets, and the genealogy of Christ. The work is a part of the larger scheme of decoration within the chapel that represents much of the doctrine of the Catholic Church. This composition stretches over 500 square meters of Ceiling and contains over 300 figures.

In 1520 Michelangelo was commissioned once again by the Medici family for a family funerary chapel in the Basilicia of San Lorenzo. This work occupied him for much of the 1520’s and 1530’s. It is said that Michelangelo used his own discretion to create the Medici Chapel, which houses large tombs of two of the younger members of the Medici family, Giuliano, Duke of Nemours and Lorenzo the Magnificent. The tombs display statues of the two Medici figures and allegorical figures representing night and day and dusk and dawn. The chapel also contains Michelango’s Medici Madonna.

In 1524 Michelangelo received an architectural commission from the Medici Pope for the Laurentian Library at San Lorenzo’s church. Michelangelo designed both the interior of the library itself and its vestibule. A building utilizing architectural forms with such a dynamic effect that it is seen as the forerunner of Baroque architecture. During this time Michelangelo fell out of favor with the young Alessandro Medici who was now the Duke of Florence. Fearing for his life Michelangelo left and fled to Rome. It was left to his assistants to interpret his plans and carry out its construction. The library was not opened until 1571.

Laurentian Library

In Rome during this time Michelangelo befriended poet Vittoria Colonna the marchioness of Pescara. They became fast friends and remained close until her death in 1547. It is said that they had a great platonic love for each other. Michelangelo was quoted to say that :

” His sole regret in life was that he did not kiss the widows face in the same manner in which he kissed her hand.”

-Michelangelo
Vittoria Colonna painted by Sebastiano del Piomba

Some of the objects of Michelangelo’s affections, and subjects of his poetry, took advantage of him. The model Febo di Poggio asked for money in response to a love poem, and the second model, Gherardo Perini stole from Michelangelo shamelessly. There was one gentleman in the bunch that was said to have incomparable beauty with graceful manners was Tommaso dei Cavalieri. His appearance seemed to have fit Michelangelo’s notions of ideal masculine beauty. Michelangelo wrote many poems to Cavalieri in which Cavalieri replied that he swore to return Michelangelo’s love. He said that never had he loved a man more than he loved him, and never had he wished for a friendship more than he had wished for one with Michelangelo. Cavalieri remained devoted to Michelangelo until his death.

The punishment of Tityus,a gift to Tommaso del Cavalieri from Michelangelo

In the year 1534 Michelangelo was commissioned to paint a fresco in the Sistene Chapel of The Last Judgement on the altar wall. Michelangelo labored on this work from 1534 to 1541. Once it was completed the depiction of Christ and the Virgin Mary was considered to be sacrilegious. They campaigned to have the fresco removed or censored, but the Pope resisted. Shortly before Michelangelo’s death in 1564 it was decided to obscure the genitals. Daniele da Volterra a apprentice of Michelangelo’s was commissioned to finish this work.

It is said that in his life Michelangelo lived as a poor man despite his great wealth. He ate out of necessity not pleasure and was indifferent to food or drink. He was said to have a rough, uncouth nature and his domestic habits were incredibly squalid. He was called bizzarro e fantastico. A man who withdrew himself from the company of men. He was also a devout Catholic who’s faith deepend at the end of his life. A poem written in 1554 states his feeling as such:

” Neither painting nor sculpture will be able any longer to calm my soul, now turned toward that divine love that opened his arms on the cross to take us in.”

-Michelangelo
Michelangelo painted by Francisco de Holanda

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