Michelangelo Buonarroti was a painter, sculptor, architect and poet widelyonsidered one of the most brilliant artists of the Italian Renaissance. Michelangelo was an apprentice to a painter before studying in the sculpture gardens of the powerful Medici family.
What followed was a remarkable career as an artist, famed in his own time for his artistic virtuosity.ਊlthough he always considered himself a Florentine, Michelangelo lived most of his life in Rome, where he died at age 88.
Michelangelo Buonarroti (Caprese Michelangelo, March 6, 1475 – Rome, February 18, 1564) was one of the greatest artists of the Italian Renaissance. Sculptor, painter, architect, and poet, Michelangelo has created some of the most famous and popular works of art that the world has ever known.
In his novel Inferno, Dan Brown describes Michelangelo as follows:
“Today we know him as Michelangelo—a creative giant who is sometimes called the Medici’s greatest gift to humankind”.
Michelangelo’s name is linked to a series of works of art that represent Italian art: the David, the Pietà, as well as the cycle of frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, all considered milestones of his insurmountable creativity.
His works of art have marked and been studied by successive generations in fact, Michelangelo greatly influenced Mannerism, a period of European art that emerged in the later years of the Italian High Renaissance around 1520 and lasted until about 1580, at which time the Baroque style began to take over.
In 1488, at the age of thirteen, Michelangelo was apprenticed to the painter Ghirlandaio, who had the largest workshop in Florence at that time. From 1490 to 1492, Michelangelo attended the Humanist academy, which the Medici founded along Neoplatonic lines. At the academy, both Michelangelo’s outlook and his art were subject to the influence of many of the most prominent philosophers and writers of the day, including Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, and Poliziano.
At this time, Michelangelo sculpted his first two reliefs: Madonna della Scala (Madonna of the Steps) and Battaglia dei Centauri (Battle of the Centaurs).
After the death of Lorenzo de’ Medici in 1492, Michelangelo left the security of the Medici court and returned to his father’s house until he was recalled to the court by Lorenzo’s heir, Piero de’ Medici.
In that same year, the Medici were expelled from Florence as a result of the rise of Savonarola. Michelangelo left the city before the end of the political upheaval, moving first to Venice, then Bologna, and finally Rome.
Michelangelo arrived in Rome in 1496 at the age of twenty-one. One year later, the French ambassador of the Holy See, Cardinal Jean de Bilhères-Lagraulas, commissioned him to carve a Pietà, a sculpture depicting the Virgin Mary grieving over the body of Jesus, a common subject in Medieval Northern Europe.
This sculpture, now located in St. Peter’s Basilica, aroused universal admiration for its perfect characterization of harmony, grace, and beauty.
Michelangelo returned to Florence in 1499, and in 1501, the consuls of the Guild of Wool asked him to complete an unfinished project begun forty years earlier by the Italian sculptor Agostino di Duccio: a colossal statue of Carrara marble portraying David as a symbol of Florentine freedom, to be placed on the gable of the Florence Cathedral.
Despite various difficulties, Michelangelo completed the sculpture in three years.
The artist dealt with the theme of the hero in an unusual manner compared to the traditional iconography, representing him as a young, naked man with a calm attitude but ready to react. According to many, this representation was meant to symbolize the nascent republican political ideal, whereby the citizen-soldier—and not the mercenary—was in a position to defend republican liberty.
The Florentines immediately considered the statue a masterpiece. As such, even though it was initially meant to be placed in the Duomo, it wound up in the location with the highest symbolic value: Piazza della Signoria.
In 1504, the two painters Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti were summoned to paint frescoes in the Hall of the Five Hundred in Palazzo Vecchio depicting scenes of two key battles in the history of the Florentine Republic: la Battaglia di Anghiari (the Battle of Anghiari) and la Battaglia di Cascina (the Battle of Cascina). However, Michelangelo never completed his work because he was invited back to Rome in 1505 by the newly elected Pope Julius II to build the Pope’s tomb. Michelangelo ended up working on this project for 40 years.
During the same period, Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The scheme consists of nine panels illustrating episodes from the Book of Genesis, set in an architectonic frame.
In 1513, Pope Leo X succedeed Julius II and commissioned Michelangelo to reconstruct the façade of the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence and to adorn it with sculptures. However, the project remained unfinished.
From 1520 to 1530, Michelangelo worked to realize the Medici Chapel in the Basilica of San Lorenzo.
In 1534, he moved permanently to Rome and worked for Pope Clement VII, who commissioned Michelangelo to paint a fresco of The Last Judgement on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel (1536-41). The fresco depicts the Second Coming of Christ and his Judgement of the souls.
The last decades of Michelangelo’s life are characterized by a progressive abandonment of painting and sculpting and of numerous architectural and urban projects such as the façade and the courtyard of Palazzo Farnese, the arrangement of Piazza del Campidoglio, and the dome of St. Peter in Rome.
In 1563, Cosimo I de’ Medici elected Michelangelo consul of the Academy and of the Society of Art and Design.
Michelangelo was also a poet he wrote over three hundred sonnets and madrigals, vocal music compositions, usually partsongs, of the Renaissance and early Baroque eras.
Michelangelo died in Rome in 1564 at the age of eighty-eight. His body was taken from Rome for interment at the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence.
Florence Inferno is a blog about the Florentine mysteries, symbols, and places that are mentioned in Dan Brown’s latest novel Inferno, and much more about the city. We also offer a guided Inferno walking tour, which follows the footsteps of Robert and Sienna, as well as an an eBook with an audio version.
After returning to Florence briefly, Michelangelo moved to Rome. There he carved a Bacchus for a banker's garden of ancient sculpture. This is Michelangelo's earliest surviving large-scale work, and his only sculpture meant to be viewed from all sides.
In 1498 the same banker commissioned Michelangelo to carve the Pietà now in St. Peter's. The term pietà refers to a type of image in which Mary supports the dead Christ across her knees. Larger than life size, the Pietà contains elements which contrast and reinforce each other: vertical and horizontal, cloth and skin, alive and dead, female and male.
How Michelangelo Spent His Final Years Designing St. Peter's Basilica in Rome
Michelangelo, arguably the most famous painter and sculptor in history, had a lesser-known alter ego: Michelangelo the architect. Self-taught at age 40, the Florentine artist spent the second half of his life designing projects like the Laurentien Library and Sagrestia Nuova for the Medicis in Florence. His sculptural approach to architecture departed from classical traditions, paving the road to mannerism and the baroque.
In 1546, at age 71, Michelangelo received the greatest and final commission of his life. Pope Paul III appointed him chief architect of the sprawling St. Peter’s Basilica, the opulent centerpiece of the Vatican where popes are laid to rest, and home of the tallest dome in the world. Initially designed by Donato Bromante, the building, during the first 40 years of construction, suffered the push and pull of five subsequent successors with different visions before Michelangelo’s arrival. In the upcoming book, Michelangelo, God's Architect: The Story of His Final Years and Greatest Masterpiece (Princeton Press, October 2019), scholar William E. Wallace chronicles the 18 years that the self-taught architect devoted at the end of his life to righting the building’s trajectory. ln an interview with AD, Wallace illuminates an underrated era of the artist’s career and his enduring influence on architecture in the present day.
Architectural Digest: For one of the most famous figures in history, how is so little of Michelangelo’s architectural career known in the general population?
William Wallace: The first 40 years of Michelangelo’s life were dominated by painting and sculpture. He carved the Bacchus, the Pietà, and David by the age of 37, and that’s the heroic story that’s told in the Agony and the Ecstacy (1965) the movie ends with the painting of the Sistine ceiling, but he has 52 years left to live. We love a heroic rise to fame—it’s a compelling story—but the untold story is that those 52 years were the busiest and most creative of his life, and those were largely devoted to architecture.
Michelangelo's David was completed in 1504, before the age of 37.
AD: Your book focuses on his final decades, initially describing them as a period of despair. Can you describe where Michelangelo was in his life then?
WW: At 71 years old, he felt like his life was over. He had finished the tomb of Julius II, a commission that had taken him 40 years, and was ready to move back to Florence, retire, and die. All of a sudden, he's told that he’s going to take over the largest and most complicated building project ever. He claims he's not an architect, but of course he is—he's really trying to avoid taking over this utter disaster of a building.
AD: How bad was it?
WW: By the time Michelangelo got hold of it, it had been under construction for 40 years and looked much more like a Roman ruins. It had started out well, but the five different architects intervening after Bromante had a different idea about what the building should look like, and none of them had considered the engineering problems of raising a dome as large as the Pantheon but twice as high. And that's the project that Michelangelo really undertook to solve. He substantially increased the scale of the four major piers at the crossing that supports the dome, and enhanced the thickness of the perimeter of the church.
AD: As an artist with no formal training in architecture, what contributions did Michelangelo make to the world of architecture?
WW: Prior to Michelangelo, everybody else was following the rules of Vitruvius and ancient architecture. Michelangelo liberated architecture from rules in books. As he said, the compasses should be in your eyes, not on the paper. I think one of the reasons he's such a brilliant architect is because he was a sculptor, and so unlike previous buildings that sit heavily on the ground, Michelangelo's buildings have the sense of a sculptural living presence.
Michelangelo is perhaps best known for his fresco painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
AD: For St. Peter's Basilica, specifically, what kinds of design details would be considered groundbreaking during that period of time?
WW: It was by far the largest construction site in the world at the time, and the center of Christendom. The great dome dominates not only St. Peter's but the whole skyline of Rome every single dome afterwards is an imitation. He introduced different kinds of vocabulary into the language of architecture that were adopted so quickly that we tend to forget that they were never part of the language prior to Michelangelo.
AD: Having died long before its completion, how much of St. Peter’s was Michelangelo able to achieve before he died?
WW: The poignant part of the story is that he knew he was never going to live to see the construction completed. It took 150 years to build St. Peter’s, and he was architect for only 18 of those. Yet, this is Michelangelo's building. He wanted to live long enough so that his design could not be altered, so in preparation for the dome, he built the drum, the support foundations on which the dome rises that would define what followed. It’s Michelangelo’s church, and no one else’s.
This Day in History: February 18, 1564 – Michelangelo Dies
On February 18, 1564, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni died.
Michelangelo was primarily an artist. He claimed never to have practiced architecture, but he actually did a lot. He is most known for the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel, and on the opposite end a painting of the Last Judgment. He was primarily known as a sculptor. In a way, his claim to never have practiced architecture was true. He sculpted or carved space. For him, architecture was organic and dynamic and based on intuition, not necessarily on mathematical systems and formulas. He was one of few, maybe the only, who challenged Alberti’s 15 th century proposals. His spaces are highly psychologically charged – the antithesis of the others.
Michelangelo was self-taught. He never apprenticed with anyone. He saw architecture as he saw the human body. He had a completely different attitude toward proportion and scale.
David (images above and below) was sculpted between 1501 and 1504 CE, scaled to architectural size – urban rather than human scale. He shows David nude, and of course no one goes to war like this. He follows Classical tradition and equates the style with that of Apollo. His figure is composed in the Classical contrapposto stance. The arms and legs are not symmetrical as in the Vitruvian Man. He doesn’t used a fixed geometric space. He uses very large features. The proportions are slightly off and exaggerated. The face – the gaze – is pensive. The look is distant. We don’t know exactly what he’s thinking, which was Michelangelo’s intention. It’s not clear what David is going to do. Michelangelo was interested in human emotions and the process of decision-making – how the mind could affect the body and perception.
The middle years of Michelangelo
After the success of the David in 1504, Michelangelo’s work consisted almost entirely of vast projects. He was attracted to these ambitious tasks while at the same time rejecting the use of assistants, so that most of these projects were impractical and remained unfinished. In 1504 he agreed to paint a huge fresco for the Sala del Gran Consiglio of the Florence city hall to form a pair with another just begun by Leonardo da Vinci. Both murals recorded military victories by the city (Michelangelo’s was the Battle of Cascina), but each also gave testimony to the special skills of the city’s much vaunted artists. Leonardo’s design shows galloping horses, Michelangelo’s active nudes—soldiers stop swimming and climb out of a river to answer an alarm. Both works survive only in copies and partial preparatory sketches. In 1505 the artist began work on a planned set of 12 marble Apostles for the Florence cathedral, of which only one, the St. Matthew, was even begun. Its writhing ecstatic motion shows the full blend of Leonardo’s fluid organic movement with Michelangelo’s own monumental power. This is also the first of Michelangelo’s unfinished works that have fascinated later observers. His figures seem to suggest that they are fighting to emerge from the stone. This would imply that their incomplete state was intentional, yet he undoubtedly did want to complete all of the statues. He did, however, write a sonnet about how hard it is for the sculptor to bring the perfect figure out of the block in which it is potentially present. Thus, even if the works remained unfinished due only to lack of time and other external reasons, their condition, nonetheless, reflects the artist’s intense feeling of the stresses inherent in the creative process.
Pope Julius II’s call to Michelangelo to come to Rome spelled an end to both of these Florentine projects. The pope sought a tomb for which Michelangelo was to carve 40 large statues. Recent tombs had been increasingly grand, including those of two popes by the Florentine sculptor Antonio Pollaiuolo, those of the doges of Venice, and the one then in work for Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. Pope Julius had an ambitious imagination, parallel to Michelangelo’s, but because of other projects, such as the new building of St. Peter’s and his military campaigns, he evidently became disturbed soon by the cost. Michelangelo believed that Bramante, the equally prestigious architect at St. Peter’s, had influenced the pope to cut off his funds. He left Rome, but the pope brought pressure on the city authorities of Florence to send him back. He was put to work on a colossal bronze statue of the pope in his newly conquered city of Bologna (which the citizens pulled down soon after when they drove the papal army out) and then on the less expensive project of painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (1508–12).
The Descendants of Cosimo de’ Medici
Lorenzo was a poet himself, and supported the work of such Renaissance masters as Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo (whom the Medicis commissioned to complete their family tombs in Florence). After Lorenzo’s premature death at the age of 43, his eldest son Piero succeeded him, but soon infuriated the public by accepting an unfavorable peace treaty with France. After only two years in power, he was forced out of the city in 1494, and died in exile.
Thanks in part to the efforts of Piero’s younger brother Giovanni (a cardinal at the time and the future Pope Leo X), the Medici family was able to return to Florence in 1512. The next few years marked the high point of Medici influence in Europe, as Leo X followed in his father’s humanistic footsteps and devoted himself to artistic patronage. Piero’s son, also named Lorenzo, regained power in Florence, and his daughter Catherine (1519-1589) would become queen of France after marrying King Henry II three of her four sons would rule France as well.
The Story Behind Michelangelo’s David
The David, perhaps the world’s most famous sculpture, surely one of Florence’s greatest attractions, stands at 5.16 meters tall in the Accademia Gallery.
This outstanding sculpture was created between 1501 and 1504 by Renaissance genius Michelangelo, after the enormous block of marble used for the statue had lied abandoned for 25 years in the courtyard of the Opera del Duomo because the two artists originally commissioned with the work thought the marble, which came from the quarries in Carrara, had too many imperfections.
Michelangelo was hired to complete the project – the sculpture was to be one of a series of statues depicting Old Testament figures, to be placed in the buttresses of the Cathedral of Florence.
Michelangelo was 26 years old when he took on the task and worked on it for more than two years, creating a masterpiece that still leaves us in awe, more than 500 years after it was created.
His interpretation of the David is different from earlier versions by Florentine Renaissance artists, such as Verrocchio, Ghiberti and Donatello, who depicted a triumphant version of the young hero, standing victorious over Goliath’s severed head. Michelangelo chose to depict David before the battle: alert and ready for combat.
Michelangelo used the a classical pose known as contrapposto, where most of the weight is on one leg, so that the shoulders and arms twist off-axis from the hips and legs, giving the statue a more dynamic look.
You can hardly see the slingshot David carries over his shoulder, implying that David’s victory was due more to his cleverness than to his sheer force. His self-confidence and concentration are values that were highly regarded in the Renaissance, which strived toward the ideal of the “thinking man”.
When the statue was almost ready, Florentine authorities realized it was too large and heavy to be raised to the roof of the cathedral. In June 1504, David was placed next to the entrance to Palazzo Vecchio, where it replaced Donatello's bronze sculpture of Judith and Holofernes. It took four days to move the statue the half mile from Michelangelo's workshop to Piazza della Signoria.
In 1873, the statue of David was removed from the piazza to protect it from damage, and placed in the Accademia Gallery, where it can be admired today. The replica you see in Piazza della Signoria was installed in 1910, in the same spot where the original used to be.
Click here to buy the book that tells you the story of Michelangelo's David.
Il David, forse la scultura più famosa al mondo, sicuramente una delle più grandi attrazioni di Firenze, si trova, con i suoi imponenti 5,16 metri di altezza, nella Galleria dell'Accademia.
Questa eccezionale scultura fu creata tra il 1501 e il 1504 dal genio del Rinascimento Michelangelo, dopo che l'enorme blocco di marmo utilizzato per la statua aveva giaciuto abbandonato per 25 anni nel cortile dell'Opera del Duomo, perché i due artisti a cui era stato originariamente commissionato il lavoro avevano decretato che il marmo, proveniente dalle cave di Carrara, avesse troppe imperfezioni.
Michelangelo fu assunto per completare il progetto - la scultura doveva essere parte di una serie di statue raffiguranti figure dell'Antico Testamento, da posizionarsi nei contrafforti del Duomo di Firenze.
Michelangelo aveva 26 anni quando ottenne l’incarico e vi lavorò per più di due anni, creando un capolavoro che, più di 500 anni dopo la sua realizzazione, ci lascia ancora a bocca aperta.
La sua interpretazione del David è diversa rispetto alle versioni precedenti di artisti fiorentini del Rinascimento, come Verrocchio, Ghiberti e Donatello, i quali avevano raffigurato una versione trionfale del giovane eroe, in piedi vittorioso sulla testa mozzata di Golia. Michelangelo scelse di rappresentare David prima della battaglia: vigile e pronto per il combattimento.
Michelangelo utilizzò una posa del Classicismo nota come contrapposto: la maggior parte del peso è su una gamba, in modo che spalle e braccia si spostino fuori asse rispetto a fianchi e gambe, per dare alla statua un aspetto più dinamico.
La fionda che David porta sopra la spalla si intravede a fatica, per implicare il fatto che la vittoria di David fu dovuta più alla sua intelligenza che alla semplice forza. La fiducia in se stesso e la concentrazione che traspaiono erano valori tenuti in grande considerazione nel Rinascimento, un periodo nel quale si guardava all'ideale di un uomo riflessivo e ragionevole.
Quando la statua fu quasi pronta, le autorità fiorentine capirono che era troppo grande e pesante per essere sollevata verso il tetto della cattedrale. Nel giugno del 1504, il David fu posto accanto all'ingresso di Palazzo Vecchio, dove sostituì la scultura in bronzo di Donatello, Giuditta e Oloferne. Ci vollero quattro giorni per trasportare la statua lungo gli 800 metri che separavano la bottega di Michelangelo da Piazza della Signoria.
Nel 1873, la statua del David venne rimossa dalla piazza per proteggerla da eventuali danni, e collocata nella Galleria dell'Accademia, dove si può ammirare oggi. La copia che si vede in Piazza della Signoria è stata installata nel 1910, nello stesso punto in cui era l'originale.
Why Did Michelangelo Put Horns on Moses?
Please note: This article is simply my interpretation from research I have done on Michelangelo’s Moses with what appear to be horns. I am NOT trying to give a Bible lesson or proving a theory. This is, again, simply an interpretation of a magnificent piece of artwork.
Michelangelo’s Moses in the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome
Considered by Michelangelo to be his finest and most outstanding sculpture, Moses sits inside the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli twisting in displeasure. Intensity emanates from his eyes, his muscles tense and his leg drawn back as if he’s ready to stand up. But the most baffling thing about him are his horns.
Why did Michelangelo put two goat like horns on Moses? Is there some mystical meaning behind them? Did Moses actually have horns and I never knew it? How did this whole misconception, if it is one, get started?
Mystery surrounds this larger than life piece of marble. As a commission given to Michelangelo in 1515 by Pope Julius II to decorate his tomb, Moses was to be the top centerpiece among 40 statues. Since he would be observed from above, this partly explains why his torso is elongated and dramatic emotion issues forth from his body. Money became short in supply and the tomb was never finished. Could it be that the range of human emotions seen in Moses represents Michelangelo’s own personal turmoil over the tomb he was not allowed to complete?
In the Old Testament, Moses left his people at the bottom of Mt. Sinai and walked up the mountain. God met him in the form of a burning bush and gave Moses the Ten Commandments. When he came back down to his people, they had made a golden calf, an idol, and worshipped it. Michelangelo effectively captures the rage of disapproval coursing through Moses body.
What about the horns? Scholars believe this was a mistranslation of Hebrew scriptures into Latin by St. Jerome, called the Vulgate. It was the Latin translation of the Bible used at that time. Moses is described as having “rays of the skin of his face.” Jerome translated it to horns from the word keren, which means either radiated or grew horns.
Horns were a symbol of wisdom and rulership in ancient times. Was Moses a descendent of antediluvian kings, those who reigned before the flood, as some interpreted it?
Michelangelo was not the only artist to put horns on Moses. Several paintings and sculptures from the medieval and renaissance era depict him this way and can still be seen on the streets and in museums.
Fresco of God giving the Ten Commandments to a horned Moses in St. Andrews Church in Westhall, one of England’s finest medieval paintings (photo credit unknown) Moses in Vilnius Cathedral, Lithuania (photo credit http://www.statues.vanderkrogt.net) Well of Moses, 1395 museum in Dijon (photo credit http://www.wga.hu)
Whatever the reasons, Michelangelo’s Moses is far from the Charlton Heston version in the movie, The Ten Commandments. In the scene where he comes down from the mountain, his hair is streaked in white and his facial expressions mean business. He radiates light, but no horns.