The world of art changed during the 1500s when Michelangelo was alive. The intricate designs of human beauty and accomplishment replaced the popular medieval, gothic styles. He showed the true potential of art and the full creativity of the human brain when let free.
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He left a massive legacy and created a ton of art work that will keep his name known for all time. Michelangelo was the only one said to equal Leonardo Da Vinci, he brought his own style and technique such as marble sculpture, oil paint, and frescos into the public eye and changed the renaissance with his originality. Unlike other artists Michelangelo’s work was appreciated in his time. His way and style and masterpieces such as the Sistine Chapel, the David and Pieta, and his most famous the Creation of Adam altered the artist’s method for centuries, and still affect new art today.
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarrtoti Simoni was born on March 6, 1475, and was an Italian sculptor, painter, architect, and poet. His father was the judicial administrator for a small town in Caprese. In 1481 Michelangelo’s mother died when he was six years old, and because of his father’s time consuming job Michelangelo lived with a cutter and his wife and family. He spent many years with the family and left, thanking the family for giving him a loving home and helping him grow to be a better person and not fall apart. He learned to work marble with a chisel and hammer during the time he spent with the family. Later he was sent to study grammar by his father at the humanist Francesco da Urbino, but showed no interest in the school itself, instead putting all his attention on copying the paintings at the church and looking for other artists to talk to and learn more from. When Michelangelo was still young at only thirteen his father noticed his overwhelming talent in the art field and sent him off to be an apprentice to the artist Dominico Ghirlandaio. Later, his skills surpassed even the teacher and Michelangelo was invited to the powerful Medici family’s Humanist Academy; there he was able to study sculpture under Bertoldo di Giovanni. A little fun fact while under the instruction of Giovanni, Michelangelo was punched in the nose by a student named Pietro Torrigiano, which is why explains the disfigurement of his face in all of his portraits. He was so talented that his views and thoughts inspired philosophers such as Ficino, Mirandola, and Poliziano in their writings. While Michelangelo was there he created the Sculpture Battle of the Centaurs, which was commissioned by the well know Lorenzo de Medici. In 1492 Lorenzo de Medici dies and Michelangelo leaves the Medici court and returns to his fathers place. About a few months later after he gets to his fathers house he carved a wooden crucifix for the Florentine church of Santo Spirito, which allowed him some studies of anatomy on the churches hospital corpses. He used the Corpses to learn more about the human body to better draw and create and make his art look more lifelike. He would look at the nerves and insides of the bodies to see how the body works and moves to bring life to his sculptures.
In 1494, the Medici were exiled from Florence when it was eventually driven to chaos, causing economic destruction and made the city extremely unstable; so Michelangelo ran to Bologna to escape the political uprising. After a while when everything settled he returned to Florence but received no commissions but then returned to working for the Medici family. While in Florence for six months he created small sculptures: St. John the Baptist and a sleeping Cupid. The Roman Cardinal was so impressed with his work on these that he invited Michelangelo to Rome. Age Twenty-one he arrives to Rome, where most of his most famous artworks are made: Pieta was done in 1499, the David in 1501-1504, and my favorite the Sistine Chapel in 1512. Some time later the Medici came back to ask him to create a funerary chapel in the Basilica of San Lorenzo. The task took most of the 1520s-1530s. His last piece in Rome was the fresco of The Final Judgment, which takes up the entire wall in the back of the Sistine chapel.
Michelangelo was always followed by Censorship, in fact he was referred to as “inventor of obscenities”. There was a campaign that happened during the Counter-Reformation called the fig-leaf that had a goal to cover up all private areas in renaissance artist, starting with Michelangelo’s works. He returned to Florence once it was more peaceful and stable, and lived happily until he died in 1564.
Just like most great artists, Michelangelo’s work was not thought highly of back in the 1500s as it is in todays society. Michelangelo would always get requested to do sculptures and paintings, some as big as the David, and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. He had a unique talent where he could see what he wanted in the medium whether it was a slab of marble, or blank canvas and could expertly recreate whatever he saw, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free”, thats how highly he thought of sculpturing. although he is famous for many of his drawings his biggest accomplishment was his amazing talent for sculpting life like figures with marble, no one else had his level of expertise, he would say “every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it”. Before his work, marble was used for simple and small pieces, but after he finished giant projects like the David, he caused the new wave of marble sculpting to begin to open to the art community.
Throughout Michelangelo’s life, the wealthy and powerful Medici family ruled Florence, and he stayed with them on many different occasions. During his life Florence’s stability was moving quickly up and down, but then evened out later near the very end of his life. Michelangelo revolutionized the world with his artistic techniques that changed the artist’s methods for centuries, and still how art is made today. His views and ideals showed in his artworks and he will always be well known as one of the most influential artists the world has ever known rivaling Leonardo Da Vinci. He had too many artworks too name but just a few that really stuck out and made him know across the world:
The first and most famous was his Sistine chapel, an entire building showing the creativity and full potential of his talents. It is located in the Apostolic Palace, which is also the official residence of the pope in Vatican City. Known as Cappella Magna, it took its name from Pope Sixtus IV, who restored it between 1477 and 1480. But the fame of it lies in the frescos that are inside, like the Sistine Chapel ceiling, The Last Judgement by Michelangelo himself. During Sixtus IV reign, a team of Renaissance painters which had Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Pinturicchio, Domenico Ghirlandaio, and Cosimo Rosselli was hired to create a series of frescos depicting the Life of Moses and the Life of Christ. Between 1508 and 1512, under the patronage of Pope Julius II, Michelangelo painted the chapel’s ceiling, one of the most well know artworks to change the course of western art and is known as one of the major artistic accomplishments of human civilizations. They told the greatest sculptor to paint, Michelangelo suffered much in the chapel, he did not enjoy painting that much and thought of it as a lower form of art yet could not disobey a demand from the pope himself. There was about eleven thousand square feet and he was not a painter. The ceiling was composed of many artworks the main one being the Creation of Adam Which rivals the Mona Lisa in terms of how iconic it is. A fun fact about it during his time working on the ceiling he was allowed to bring a team of friends who were fresco painters to help him in Rome to show him their techniques. His friends worked more like employees than like artists and they would give themselves breaks frequently and goofed off whenever they would get the chance, annoyed of them horsing around too much, he tells them to leave and that he is tired of them and that he is sorry for asking them to come and that he should have trusted in himself and not expected to learn from others. He sent them back to Florence and told them he will just create his own methods. After being done with about a third for the ceiling he notices several spots of mold which came from the roman lime his friends used which was white in color and does not dry quickly, and when mixed with pozzolana, which is brownish and forms a dark mixture which is very watery before it sets, thus rendering his artwork useless. He runs back to the pope to tell him that he told him so that he was not a fresco painter and what has happened and that all his work was ruined. The pope sends him back to the Chapel with an expert named Sangallo, to see whats wrong. Sangallo explains to Michelangelo how to remove the molds and was responsible for encouraging him to continue the work. The reason Michelangelo got into this mess was because of an arch-enemy, an architect named Bramante and the Painter Raphael, Bramante despited Michelangelo for his incredible talents, and after losing his commission to work on the Popes tomb to Michelangelo he wanted to figure out a way to get Michelangelo to fail at something, while Raphael was jealous that Michelangelo was getting all the attention that he thought he deserved and knew that he was not known for painting, and that this would be a great way to show that Michelangelo is not as great as everyone thinks he is. Bramante knew that Michelangelo did not like to paint and originally was commissioned to build sculptures in the Chapel but he and Raphael went to the pope (Julius II) and persuaded him to test and put Michelangelo to his limits and give him a medium to work on that he was unfamiliar with not knowing that it would give rise to the most well known and inspiring artworks of all time.
On the Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, there were many artworks, the most well know rivaling the Mona Lisa was called the Creation of Adam, which is a fresco painting that illustrates the biblical creation story from the book of Genesis where God gives life to Adam, the first man. In this artwork God is represented as an elderly white bearded man covered with a cloak, while Adam is completely nude. God is reaching for Adam, yet their fingers are not touching yet, giving an impression that the giver of life, God himself, is reaching for Adam who has yet to receive it, it shows that they are not on the same level, that Adam is waiting for the energy or power to live. There are many interesting thoughts about this artwork, if you look at the Cloth around God and the twelve figures you can notice that it looks like a brain; this gives an idea to people that either God is Knowledge, all knowing, or that God is a figment of our imagination and he exists because we imagine it so with our brains. It is hard to decide which ideology is right or if Michelangelo even had these thoughts when creating the piece, maybe the brain look alike is just a coincidence. There has also been many ideas about the identities and meanings of the twelve figures around God. According to Walter Pater, and English art critic, which is also now widely accepted, the person protected by God’s left arm represents Eve due to the feminine features and the way she looks at Adam, while the other figures represent the souls of the unborn children of Adam and Eve, also meaning the human race. Another idea that has challenged the first is that the figure behind God is actually supposed to be the Virgin Mary. The Creation of Adam is thought to represent mainly one thing, that God created man in his own image.
The Fall Of Man, a painting with two events taking place, with an enormous tree in the middle with limbs wrapped around it formed from the evil Satan on one side and an angry angel of justice on the other side. The scene shows the temptation of Adam and Eve and their punishment, the fig tree in the middle represents the tree of knowledge. The left side shows Satan offering Adam and Eve an apple that God told them they could do anything they pleased but eat the apple, on the left shows after Adam and Eve eat the apple and are banished from heaven for their disobedience hence their punishment. This piece shows the talent of Michelangelo reaching new heights as you can notice for the first time, the figures occupy the entire foreground and display the use of foreshortening, which also becomes even more prominent in his later drawings.
While there were many more Pieces on the ceiling twenty-five years later after finishing his famous fresco paintings on the ceiling Michelangelo creates The Last Judgment in the Back wall of the Sistine Chapel. This is often stated as one of Michelangelo’s most complex pieces, the incredible art displays God’s final judgement of mankind and was most talked about because of the nudity it showed despite being in a place of God and worship; in fact in 1564, the council of Trent ordered the Mannerist painted Daniele da Volterra to cover up certain parts that were considered too indecent for a church. The Last Judgement is composed of over three hundred figures, with nearly all the males and angels originally shown as nudes. It depicts the second coming of christ as well as the final and eternal Judgement by God on all of humanity. It shows three horizontal layers showing heaven, earth, and hell within a single large space. At the center is christ, shown before the final judgement and following him in rotation are said to be the saints and God’s elect. The most notable are Saint Peter holding the keys of Heaven and Saint Bartholomew with his own skin, which is known to be as a self-portrait of Michelangelo. In the lower center of the wall are the angels of the Apocalypse, who are supposed to be awakening the dead with the long trumpets; on the left of them, the risen get back their bodies as they ascend to heaven, while on the right you can see angels and demons fighting and falling on their way to hell. Below is Hell with a red fiery background where the damned are sent and greeting by Minos for their final judgment before entering hell.
Biagio Da Cesena a Cardinal at the time was mad at Michelangelo for drawing all the nudes in the Chapel and kept criticizing him. He went multiple times to Pope Julius II to get him to force Michelangelo get rid of them all and start over but the pope allowed it and told Michelangelo to do as he pleases with his art. Michelangelo decided to take advance of this and get revenge on Biagio and drew him as Minos. Minos is the Judge of the dead at the very place of judgment at the entrance of hell, so in a way Michelangelo condemns his critic to an eternity in hell to serve as the judge; also there is a serpent circling around Minos and bites his genitals which is an absolute embarrassment for a cardinal.
In the upper center there is a group of seven angels on clouds who are blowing trumpets, while others are holding books that have the names of the damned and the saved in them. On the right is a large figure with two demons pull him down towards hell. The way Michelangelo is able to show all the emotions and the force of terror at this moment in time of the final judgement where there is no time or any opportunities left to fix theirs mistakes. The entire painting is filled with human figures, most of them fully naked, yet showing intense power and great emotional expressions.
Aside from his paintings and most of them being in the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo was also widely popular for his sculptures. His most popular one was David and was created in marble between 1501 and 1504 and of course represents the biblical hero David. While at first there was supposed to be twelve large figures of the old Testament but later in 1500 they consulted many artists one being Leonardo da Vinci for the commission but Michelangelo at age twenty-six was victorious in getting the job. Taking over two years to build and standing at seventeen feet tall, six and a half feet wide; it was originally commissioned to be a series of prophets and then positioned on the roofline on the end of the East side of the Florence Cathedral. Nearing the end of it being completed the Florentine authorities told Michelangelo that there was no way they could put the six ton statue on the roof of the cathedral and was instead put in a public square outside the seat of civic government in Florence and was unveiled on September 8, 1508.
The second most famous sculpture named The Pieta translating to “the pity” was finished in 1499. It was commissioned for the french Cardinal Jean de Bilheres; made for his funeral monument and was the only piece that was signed by Michelangelo himself. The reason for the signing was because he overheard visitors talking about the sculpture and saying that it is the work of another sculptor, Cristoforo Solari. The famous artwork shows the body of Jesus on his mothers lap (Mary) after his crucifixion. It took about two years to complete and was put in the Chapel of Santa Petronilla which was later demolished along with the chapel by than Michelangelo’s arch-enemy Bramante when he was hired to rebuild the basilica.
Finally one of his longest artworks to be completed, The Tomb of Pope Julius II, also the reason for the hatred build from Barmante for losing the commission to Michelangelo. Originally commissioned in 1505 but not completed until 1545, 40 years to complete. Although the project is considered one of Michelangelo’s greatest disappointments of his life, it is still an impressive and massive piece. The pope interrupted the commission several times, for reasons unknown, although some say it was it might have been the funds that had to be diverted for Bramante’s rebuilding of Saint Peters. The original project was supposed to be a freestanding three level structure with about forty large statues. Following the pope’s death in 1513 the project was slowly reduced until in April 1532, a final contract was made to have a simple wall tomb with only about one-third the amount of the figures originally planned.
Michelangelo has many, many more artworks that are just as amazing as the ones mentioned, but there would be too much to talk about. Michelangelo’s artistic techniques changed the way artists think and work for centuries, and still effect how all art is made today. His views and ideas pushed future artists to keep growing and find new ways to create and allow their artworks to be bold. Michelangelo put great detail and work into everything he worked on and will always be one of the greatest and most influential artists the world will ever know.
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