Michelangelo was a renowned sculptor, painter, architect and poet, who is celebrated as the best known and most talented artist of the Italian Renaissance. His most famous works include the statues “David” and “Pieta”, and the Sistine Chapel frescoes.
Michelangelo was born on March 6, 1475, in Caprese, Italy, to parents, Leonardo di Buonarrota Simoni and Francesca Neri. He hailed from a middle class family involved in the banking business. As a child, Michelangelo had absolutely no interest in what was taught in school, but he was rather fascinated by watching the painters working in the churches. At the age of 13, Michelangelo became the apprentice of the notable Florentine painter, Domenico Ghilandaio, and it was in his workshop where Michelangelo was introduced to the technique of fresco.
After a year of working with Ghilandaio, Michelangelo was presented with a remarkable opportunity, on the recommendation of Ghirlandaio, he was chosen to study classical sculpture in the Medici gardens of the magnificent Florentine Palace of ruler Lorenzo of the illustrious Medici family. This marked an incredibly productive period of his life, he was exposed to the social elite of Florence, and he benefited from the tutelage of esteemed sculptor, Bertoldo di Giovanni. He came across several prominent philosophers, thinkers, poets, authors and humanists. Moreover, the Catholic Church granted him permission to study cadavers for understanding astronomy. By the tender age of 16, Michelangelo had displayed his brilliant and unique craftsmanship in his early sculptors, of which only two relief sculptures have survived, “Battle of the Centaurs” and “Madonna Seated on a Step”.
The political turmoil that followed the death of Lorenzo the Magnificent led Michelangelo to feel to Bologna, where he continued his education, and in 1495, he returned to Florence, and began working as a sculptor. He soon gained fame for his classical antiquity and unique style. He was commissioned by Cardinal Riario, and he presented the Cardinal with the exquisite and remarkable statue, “Cupid”. The Cardinal, impressed by his work, invited Michelangelo to Rome, he accepted and ended up working there for the rest of his life.
His fame spread in Rome like a fire in the forest, and in 1498, he was commissioned by Cardinal Jean Bilhères de Lagraulas, whom he presented the iconic “Pieta”, a sculpture depicting Mary carrying the dead Jesus in her lap. Pieta was erected in the church of the cardinal’s tomb. By the time Michelangelo was commissioned for the statue of “David”, he had earned the status of a star sculptor. He created a remarkable sculptor of “David”, which is a 17-foot marble figure, and reflects the dominating personality of the biblical hero David in the nakedness of its expression and vulnerable humanity. “David” came to be regarded a prized possession by the Florentines.
The praise and acclaim of “David” began to spread all over the world, and numerous commissions followed. However, Michelangelo had to switch from sculpting to painting for his next ambitious commission for Pope Julius II, the decoration of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo transcended all his artistic abilities and creative prowess in this project, he fired all his assistants and painted the entire 65-foot ceiling all by himself. The work is a masterpiece that reflects the artistic blend of High Renaissance art and Michelangelo’s principals of humanism, prophecy and Christian symbology, producing a kaleidoscope effect.
Michelangelo continued to work as a sculptor and painter for the rest of his life, but the back-breaking labour that he had inflicted upon himself while painting the chapel tired him of laborious tasks, and he began to exhibit and inclination towards architecture. He worked on the tomb of Pope Julius II along with the Medici Chapel and the Laurentian Library, these buildings marked an innovation and architectural evolution in history. In 1546, he was established as a prominent architect upon his appointment as chief architect of the St. Peter’s Basilica.
In 1541, Michelangelo presented the “Last Judgement”, the painting depicting nude figures created an uproar of controversy and criticism for their inappropriate presence violating the holy sanctity of the church. Michelangelo critics lashed at him, and called for his downfall, however, he, quick of temper and contentious of personality, continued his work unaffected by his detractors.
Michelangelo passed away on February 18, 1564, in Rome, Italy. His body was taken back to Florence, where a staggering crowd gathered for his burial and cheered Michelangelo as the “father and master of all the arts”. He is buried at the Basilica di Santa Croce.