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Michelangelo’s Life and Work

Michelangelo was a true Renaissance guy, with a name that was almost as well-known as the era in which he lived. Only his contemporaries Leonardo Da Vinci and Raphael can match his legacy and effect on Western art and society, with the three painters creating the holy trinity of High Renaissance masterpieces. Michelangelo, known as the Renaissance’s finest sculptor, was regularly commissioned to extend his creative skill to other arts such as painting and architecture, producing some of the Renaissance’s most acclaimed masterpieces.

Michelangelo, Pietà, 1497. Marble. St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City.

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni was born on March 6, 1475, in Caprese (now Caprese Michelangelo), a tiny Italian town where his father had taken a temporary government job when the family’s banking firm in Florence failed.

The artist’s family returned to Florence few months after his birth, where Michelangelo was nurtured by a nanny and her stonecutter husband. The artist and his caregivers lived on his father’s modest farm with a marble quarry at this time. It’s hardly unexpected that Michelangelo’s love of working with marble grew immediately.

Michelangelo’s life and work were profoundly impacted by contemporary social and philosophical changes, notably humanism. Florence was the epicenter of Italian art and scholarship in the late fifteenth century.

Michelangelo, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, completed in 1512.

During this time, a revitalized interest in Classical thinking brought in a wave of admiration for the human mind’s remarkable potential, a core tenet of humanist philosophy. Michelangelo’s sculptures often accentuate the beauty of the human form, reflecting his concern in humanism. Michelangelo’s genius is notably evident in the intricacy of his figures’ musculature, owing to his thorough grasp of human anatomy. This ability is demonstrated in works such as David and The Creation of Adam.

Michelangelo, Statue of David, 1504.

Michelangelo’s fascination with naked male figures has spurred historical debate over the artist’s sexuality. He authored several hundred sonnets and other poetry, the largest of which was dedicated to Tommaso degli Cavalieri and shows more than a platonic relationship between the two men.

Michelangelo, unlike several of the Renaissance geniuses, was a fervent Catholic. The Tomb of Julius II, the fresco paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and the design of the dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica were all commissioned by Popes during his lifetime.

Tomb of Pope Julius II,completed in 1545.

Michelangelo’s remarkable aptitude in so many artistic genres has persuaded many experts that he is the greatest artist of all time, not simply of his age.


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