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Michelangelo

Michelangelo born March 6, 1475, Caprese, Republic of Florence


[Italy]—died February 18, 1564, Italian Renaissance sculptor, painter,
architect, and poet who exerted an unparalleled influence on the
development of Western art. Michelangelo was considered the greatest
living artist in his lifetime, and ever since then he has been held to be
one of the greatest artists of all time. Michelangelo lived most of his life
in Rome, where he died at age 88. Michelangelo was less interested in
schooling than watching the painters at nearby churches and drawing
what he saw Francesco Granacci, six years his senior, who introduced
Michelangelo to painter Domenico Ghirlandaio. Michelangelo's father
realized early on that his son had no interest in the family financial
business, so he agreed to apprentice him, at the age of 13,
to Ghirlandaio and the Florentine
painter's fashionable workshop. Michelangelo studied classical sculpture
in the palace gardens of Florentine ruler Lorenz de Medici of the
powerful Medici family. He also obtained special permission from the
Catholic Church to study cadavers for insight into anatomy, though
exposure to corpses had an adverse effect on his health.

These combined influences laid the groundwork for what would become
Michelangelo's distinctive style: a muscular precision and reality
combined with an almost lyrical beauty. Two relief sculptures that
survive, "Battle of the Centaurs" and "Madonna Seated on a Step," are
testaments to his phenomenal talent at the tender age of 16. Though
Michelangelo's brilliant mind and copious talents earned him the regard
and patronage of the wealthy and powerful men of Italy, he had his
share of detractors. In his youth, Michelangelo had taunted a fellow
student, and received a blow on the nose that disfigured him for life.
Over the years, he suffered increasing infirmities from the rigors of his
work; in one of his poems, he documented the tremendous physical
strain that he endured by painting the Sistine chapel ceiling.
Michelangelo's poetic impulse, which had been expressed in his
sculptures, paintings and architecture, began taking literary form in his
later years.

Although he never married, Michelangelo was devoted to a pious and


noble widow named Vittoria Colonna, the subject and recipient of many
of his more than 300 poems and sonnets. Soon after Michelangelo's
move to Rome in 1498, the cardinal Jean Bilhères de Lagraulas, a
representative of the French King Charles VIII to the pope,
commissioned "Pieta," a sculpture of Mary holding the dead Jesus
across her lap.

Michelangelo, who was just 25 years old at the time, finished his work in
less than one year, and the statue was erected in the church of the
cardinal's tomb. At 6 feet wide and nearly as tall, the statue has been
moved five times since, to its present place of prominence at St. Peter’s
Basilica in Vatican City. Between 1501 and 1504, Michelangelo took
over a commission for a statue of "David," which two prior sculptors had
previously attempted and abandoned, and turned the 17-foot piece of
marble into a dominating figure.

Between 1501 and 1504, Michelangelo took over a commission for a


statue of "David," which two prior sculptors had previously attempted
and abandoned, and turned the 17-foot piece of marble into a
dominating figure. Pope Julius II asked Michelangelo to switch from
sculpting to painting to decorate the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which
the artist revealed on October 31, 1512. The project fueled
Michelangelo’s imagination, and the original plan for 12 apostles
morphed into more than 300 figures on the ceiling of the sacred space.
Michelangelo unveiled the soaring "Last Judgment" on the far wall of the
Sistine Chapel in 1541. There was an immediate outcry that the nude
figures were inappropriate for so holy a place, and a letter called for the
destruction of the Renaissance's largest fresco. In 1532, Michelangelo
developed an attachment to a young nobleman, Tommaso dei Cavalieri,
and wrote dozens of romantic sonnets dedicated to
Cavalieri. Michelangelo was also an anatomist. Actually, he had a
lifelong anatomical interest that was just as much a reflection of the
culture of his times as it was that of his inimitable genius, which made
him a better student of anatomy than most. 15th and 16th century artists
went to great lengths for an opportunity to study anatomy. The art of the
Renaissance, not satisfied with copying the nudes of antiquity,
encouraged its contributors into anatomical dissection to better
reproduce the body in their art. With time, traditional courses of
instruction for aspiring artists actually included a study of human
anatomy, not only for its external features, but also for that of its
supporting structures. Michelangelo likely participated in public
dissection early in his youth, probably conducted by one Elia del Medigo,
a physician-philosopher who was a member of Lorenzo de' Medici's
circle, which Michelangelo joined in his midteens. Having become
versed in the art of dissection by the age of 18, Michelangelo began to
perform his own dissections and demonstrations, as recorded by his two
biographers, Vasari and Condivi. He is said to have made molds of
muscles to experiment in their shapes and forms during various body
positions, which he was to render so masterfully in his subsequent
sculpture and painting.