Michelangelo: 1475-1564

Born on March 6, 1475, in Caprese, Italy, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni was a Renaissance sculptor, painter, draftsman, architect, and poet. Michelangelo was thought of as the greatest living artist in his lifetime, and is considered to be one of the greatest artists of all time.

In 1488, at the age of 13, Michelangelo apprenticed with Domenico Ghirlandaio, Florence’s best fresco painter. Following that, he studied with sculptor Bertoldo di Giovanni in the Medici gardens in Florence. During this time, he was surrounded by prominent people including Lorenzo de’ Medici (known as “Lorenzo the Magnificent”), who introduced him to poets, artists, and scholars in his inner circle.

Early on, Michelangelo strove for artistic perfection in his depictions of the human body. He studied anatomy with great interest and at one point even gained permission from the prior of the church of Santo Spirito to study cadavers in the church’s hospital. It was at this time that Michelangelo began a life-long practice of preparatory drawing and sketching for his works of art and architecture.

After Medici’s death in 1492, Michelangelo left Florence, traveled to Bologna and eventually to Rome, where he continued to sculpt and study classical works. In 1498-99, the French Ambassador in the Holy See commissioned Michelangelo to sculpt the “Pietà” for Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican.

In 1501, Michelangelo returned to Florence where he began work on his famous marble statue “David”. This work established Michelangelo’s prominence as a sculptor of incredible technical skill and innovation.

In 1503, Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to create his papal tomb which features the famous statue of Moses. The artist worked on the tomb for 40 years, stopping often to work on other commissions including the painting of more than 300 figures on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel from 1508-12.

From 1534 to 1541, Michelangelo produced an enormous fresco “The Last Judgment” in the Sistine Chapel. “A depiction of the second coming of Christ and the apocalypse, the work was controversial even before its unveiling because of the depictions of nude saints in the papal chapel, which were considered obscene and sacrilegious.”

From about 1516, Michelangelo began to focus his attention more on architecture. In 1534, he designed plans for the Medici Tombs and the Laurentian Library attached to the church of San Lorenzo. In 1536, he designed the Piazza del Campidoglio, and in 1546 he was appointed architect of Saint Peter’s Basilica and designed its dome. From 1561-65, Michelangelo’s final plans were for the Porta Pia, a gate in the Aurelian Walls of Rome.

More than any other artist, “Michelangelo elevated the status of the artist above the level of craftsman. His deeply felt religious convictions were manifested in his art. For him, the body was the soul’s prison. By using movement, monumental forms, and gesture to express spiritual urges, he opened up new artistic vistas in the direction of Mannerism and the Baroque.”

Michelangelo was known to be a complicated man. “Arrogant with others and constantly dissatisfied with himself, he nonetheless authored tender poetry. In spite of his legendary impatience and indifference to food and drink, he committed himself to tasks that required years of sustained attention, creating some of the most beautiful human figures ever imagined.”

“He constantly cried poverty, even declaring to his apprentice Ascanio Condivi: ‘However rich I may have been, I have always lived like a poor man’, yet he amassed a considerable fortune that kept his family comfortable for centuries. And though he enjoyed the reputation of being a solitary genius and continually withdrew himself from the company of others, he also directed dozens of assistants, quarrymen, and stonemasons to carry out his work.”

Michelangelo’s final work in marble, the “Rondanini Pietà,” was left unfinished. He died in Rome on February 18, 1564 at the age of 88.

Related Books:
Michelangelo: The Complete Sculpture,
Painting, Architecture
Michelangelo: The Artist, the Man and his Times
Complete Poems and Selected Letters of Michelangelo

Sources: The Getty Museum, Wikipedia, Michelangelo.syr.edu

Art-e-Facts: 5 Random Art Facts – XXII

1. Art Competitions were part of the modern Olympic Games from 1912 to 1952. Medals were awarded for works of art inspired by sport, divided into five categories: architecture, literature, music, painting, and sculpture.

The juried art competitions were abandoned in 1954 because artists were considered to be professionals, while Olympic athletes were required to be amateurs. Since 1956, the Olympic Cultural Programme has taken their place. (wikipedia)

2. The famous marble sculpture Pietà created between 1498 and 1500 by Michelangelo Buonarroti, was the only work he ever signed. The story goes that Michelangelo overheard a pilgrim say that the work was created by rival sculptor Christoforo Solari. In a fit of rage, Michelangelo took hammer and chisel and scrawled: “Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florentine, made this” across Mary’s breast.  According to Italian Biographer Giorgio Vasari, he later regretted his passionate outburst of pride and determined to never again sign a piece of his work.(BBC)

3. Tattooing has been a Eurasian practice at least since around Neolithic times (about 10,700 to 9400 BC). Ötzi the Iceman, dating from the fourth to fifth millennium BC, was found in the Ötz valley in the Alps and had approximately 57 carbon tattoos consisting of simple dots and lines on various parts of his body. These tattoos were thought to be a form of healing because of their placement which resembles acupuncture. Other mummies bearing tattoos and dating from the end of the second millennium BC have been discovered, such as the Mummy of Amunet from ancient Egypt and the mummies at Pazyryk on the Ukok Plateau. (wikipedia)

4. Decoupage is the art of decorating an object by gluing colored paper cutouts onto it in combination with special paint effects, gold leaf and so on. Commonly an object like a small box or an item of furniture is covered by cutouts from magazines or from purpose-manufactured papers. Each layer is sealed with varnishes (often multiple coats) until the “stuck on” appearance disappears and the result looks like painting or inlay work. The traditional technique used 30–40 layers of varnish which were then sanded to a polished finish. This was known in 18th century England as the art of Japanning (Asian lacquer work) after its presumed origins. (wikipedia)

5. Corbis Corporation, privately owned by Bill Gates, was founded in 1989 and owns the licensing rights to over 100 million digital images and 500,000 video clips. Gates started the company with the belief that people would someday decorate their homes with a revolving display of digital artwork using digital frames. Corbis’s collections include historical and editorial images from photojournalists, museums, and cultural institutions including Andy Warhol Foundation, Ansel Adams, The Smithsonian Institution, The National Gallery, London, The State Hermitage Museum, Christie’s Images, and the Bettmann, Hulton-Deutsch, Sygma and Brett Weston collections, and others. (Wikipedia, New York Times)

Month In Review: July 2009 Art News

In my continuing quest to keep on top of all things in the visual arts, starting this month, I will post an end of month review of art news that I found particularly interesting. So, without further ado, here are ten of July’s top stories.


bkvbDutch Arts Official On The Lam After Embezzling Millions: “The former head of finance for the Dutch  Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture (BKVB), is the subject of an international police hunt after the discovery that he had siphoned around €15.5m from the organisation’s accounts.” Read The Art Newspaper. article.

Sir Joshua ReynoldsGallery in Wikipedia Legal Threat: “The National Portrait Gallery is threatening legal action after 3,300 images from its website were uploaded to online encyclopaedia Wikipedia. A contributor to the popular site, Derrick Coetzee, breached English copyright laws by posting images from the gallery’s collection, the NPG said”. Read BBC article.


livestrongDamien Hirst Designs Lance Armstrong’s Tour Bike: “Lance Armstrong may make at least $4 million for charity by selling the Damien Hirst-decorated bike he’ll use to complete the Tour de France at the weekend, as well as works given by Richard Prince, Ed Ruscha and other artists.”  Read Bloomberg article.

michelangelo_583123aMichelangelo self-portrait discovered in restored Vatican fresco: “The restoration of frescoes by Michelangelo in the Vatican has revealed what is believed to be a self-portrait of the artist. The face is in a wall mural in the Vatican’s Pauline Chapel or Cappella Paolina, according to Maurizio De Luca, the Vatican’s chief restorer.” Read Times Online article.


shepard-fairey_barack-hopethumbnailObama Art Book: – “If you just can’t get enough Obama art — you’re in luck. This fall, Abrams Image will publish Art for Obama: Designing Manifest Hope and the Campaign for Change, a book chronicling art inspired by the 44th president.” Read more at ART INFO.

nelson-mandela-lighthouseNelson Mandela Condemns Lithographs Of Robben Island: “Five prints of Robben Island prison by Nelson Mandela go on sale in London’s Belgravia Gallery – but their creator claims the signatures are not his.” Read Guardian article.

anne rosenberg fischer‘Almost Indescribable’ Collection Given To Virginia Museum: “A major family collection of German Expressionist art “so rare that it is almost indescribable” has found a permanent home at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The gift-purchase of the Ludwig and Rosy Fischer Collection brings to the museum more than 200 pieces of art from the most creative years of German Expressionism. “Read Richmond Times article.


tyeb_mehta_falling_figure_painting_20070910 Tyeb Mehta: July 2, 2009 – “Tyeb Mehta, one of the most celebrated of India’s Modernist painters, whose work broke auction records even as he maintained a frugal and reclusive life, died Wednesday in Mumbai, his home city. He was 84.”  Read NY Times article.

06_dash_lglDash Snow: July 13, 2009 – “Artist Dash Snow died of an overdose on July 13 at the Lafayette House in the East Village…Snow was, a jokester, a jailbird, a thief, a freak, a successful art-brut savage, a doting father, a retired writer of graffiti and the latest incarnation of that timeless New York species, the downtown Baudelaire.” Read NY Times article.

17shulman2_190Julius Shulman: July 15, 2009 – “Julius Shulman, a renowned architecture photographer who depicted modern houses as the ultimate expressions of modern living and helped idealize the California lifestyle in the postwar years.” Read NY Times article.