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Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, colloquially known as Michelangelo, (March 6, 1475 - February 18, 1564) was a Renaissance sculptor, architect, painter, and poet.

Michelangelo is famous for creating the fresco ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, as well as the Last Judgment over the altar, and The Martyrdom of St. Peter and The Conversion of St. Paul in the Vatican's Cappella Paolina; among his many sculptures are those of David and the Pietà, as well as the Doni Virgin, Bacchus, Moses, Rachel, Leah, and members of the Medici family; he also designed the dome of St. Peter's Basilica(Leonardo?).

Michelangelo's life history

Michelangelo was born near Arezzo, in Caprese, Tuscany, Italy in 1475. His father, Lodovico di Leonardo di Buonarotti di Simoni, was the resident magistrate in Caprese and podestà of Chiusi. His mother was Francesca di Neri del Miniato di Siena. As genealogies of the day indicated that the Buonarroti descended from Countess Matilda of Tuscany, the family was considered minor nobility. However, Michelangelo was raised in Florence and later lived with a sculptor and his wife in the town of Settignano where his father owned a marble quarry and a small farm. Michelangelo once said to the biographer of artists Giorgio Vasari, "What good I have comes from the pure air of your native Arezzo, and also because I sucked in chisels and hammers with my mother's milk." He also studied with Lorenzo De' Medici.


Michelangelo stayed in several places in Italy during his lifetime including several periods staying in Florence, Bologna and Rome:

  • Florence (until 1494)
  • Venice and Bologna (1494-1496)
  • Rome (arrives 25 June 1496, stays until 1501) contract for Pieta in St Peters
  • Florence (1501-1505) marble David, twelve apostles
  • Rome (1505-1506) - Commissioned to execute Pope Julius II's tomb
  • Florence (secretly returned to Florence in 1506)
  • Bologna (1506-1509) - Summoned by Pope to make a bronze statue of him
  • Rome (1508-1516) - Sistine Chapel ceiling
  • Florence (1516-1532)
  • Rome (1532-1534)
  • Florence (1534) - Last stay in Florence
  • Rome (1534-1564) - Last judgement, completion of Julius' tomb, designed dome for St Peter's.

Early life in Florence

Against his father's wishes, after a period of grammatics studies with the humanist Francesco d'Urbino Michelangelo chose to continue his apprenticeship in painting with Domenico Ghirlandaio and in sculpture with Bertoldo di Giovanni: on June 28, 1488 he signed with already famous painter a contract for three years starting in 1488. Impressed, Domenico recommended him to the ruler of the city, Lorenzo de' Medici, and Michelangelo left his workshop already in 1489. From 1490 to 1492, Michelangelo attended Lorenzo's school and was influenced by many prominent people who modified and expanded his ideas on art, following the dominant Platonic view of that age, and even his feelings about sexuality. It was during this period that Michelangelo met literary personalities like Pico della Mirandola, Angelo Poliziano and Marsilio Ficino.

After the death of Lorenzo on April 8, 1492, for whom Michelangelo had become a kind of son, Michelangelo quit the Medici court. In the following months he produced a Wooden crucifix (1493), as a thanksgiving gift to the prior of the church of Santa Maria del Santo Spirito who had permitted him some studies of anatomy on the corps of the church's Hospital. Between 1493 and 1494 he bought the marble for a larger than life statue of Hercules, which was sent to France and disappeared sometime in the 1700s. He could enter again the court after on January 20, 1494, Piero de Medici commissioned him a snow statue. But that year the Medici were expelled from Florence after the Savonarola rise, and Michelangelo also left the city before the end of the political upheaval, moving to Venice and then to Bologna.

Here he was commissioned the carving of the last small figures of the tomb and shrine of St. Dominic, in the church with the same name. He returned to Florence at the end of 1494, but soon he fled again, scared by the turmoils and by the menace of the French invasion.

He was again in his city between the end of 1495 and the June of 1496: if Leonardo considered Savonarola a fanatic and left the city, Michelangelo was touched by the friar's preaching, by the associated moral severity and by the hope of renovation of the Roman Church. In that year a marble Cupid by Michelangelo was treacherously sold to Cardinal Raffaele Riario as an ancient piece: the prelate discovered the cheat, but was so impressed by the quality of the sculpture that he invited the artist to Rome, where he arrived on June 26, 1496. On July 4 Michelangelo started to carve an over-life-size statue of the Greek fertility god Bacchus, commissioned by the banker Jacopo Galli for his garden.

Subsequently, in November of 1497, he was commissioned of his most famous work, the Pietà that he produced for the French ambassador in the Holy Seat. The contract was stipulated in the August of the following year. Though he devoted himself only to sculpture, during his first stay in Rome Michelangelo never stopped his daily practice of drawing.

In Rome Michelangelo lived near the church of Santa Maria di Loreto: here, according to the legends, he fell in love (probably a Platonic love) with Vittoria Colonna, marquise of Pescara and poet. His house was demolished in 1874, and the remaining architectural elements saved by new proprietors were destroyed in 1930. Today a modern reconstruction of Michelangelo's house can be seen on the Gianicolo hill.

Michelangelo returned to Florence in 1499-1501. Things were changing in the city after the fall of Savonarola and the rise of the gonfaloniere Pier Soderini. He was proposed by the consuls of the Guild of Wool of the city to complete a project started 40 years before by Agostino di Duccio and never materialized: a colossal statue portraying David as a symbol of the Florentine freedom, to be placed in the Piazza della Signoria, in front of the Palazzo Vecchio. Michelangelo replied finishing in 1504 arguably his most famous work, the marble David. This masterwork definitively established his fame as sculptor for his extraordinary technical skill and the strength of his symbolical imagination.

As for paintings, he produced a Temptations of St. Anthony (known today through a copy), a Holy Family with Young St. John (now in Dublin), and a St. John the Evangelist, whose attribution is still uncertain. Surely by Michelangelo is the Holy Family of the Tribune, also known as Tondo Doni: it was commissioned for the marriage of Angelo Doni and Maddalena Strozzi, and still followed 15th century's lines.

Under Pope Julius II in Rome: Sistine ceiling

Michelangelo was summoned back to the great city of Rome (in 1503) by the newly appointed Pope Julius II and was commissioned to build the Pope's tomb. However, under the patronage of Julius II, Michelangelo had to constantly stop work on the tomb in order to accomplish numerous other tasks. In fact Julius II had a new job for him: painting twelve figures of apostles and some decorations on the ceiling of the Vatican's Sistine Chapel which took four years to complete (1508 - 1512). Obviously one of the most famous of his monumental paintings. Due to those and later interruptions, Michelangelo worked on the tomb for 40 years without ever finishing it.

Michelangelo was employed to paint only the 12 Apostles, but when the work was finished there were more than 300 figures from the bible. His figures showed the creation, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and the Great Flood. On the lowest part of the Sistine ceiling he painted the ancestors of Christ. Above this he alternated male and female prophets, with Jonah over the altar. On the highest section Michelangelo painted nine stories from the Book of Genesis. To be able to reach the chapel's ceiling, Michelangelo designed his own scaffold; a flat wooden platform on brackets built out from holes in the wall, high up near the top of the windows. He stood on this scaffolding while he painted. When the first layer of plaster began to grow mold because it was too wet, Michelangelo had to remove it and start again. He then tried a new mixture of plaster, called intonaco, created by one of his assistants, Jacopo l'Indaco. This one not only resisted mold, but also entered the Italian building tradition (and is still now in use). Michelangelo used bright colors, easily visible from the floor.

In 1513 Pope Julius II died and his successor Pope Leo X, a Medici, commissioned Michelangelo to reconstruct the façade of the basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence and to adorn it with sculptures. Michelangelo agreed reluctantly. The three years he spent in creating drawings and models for the facade, as well as attempting to open a new marble quarry at Pietrasanta specifically for the project, were among the most frustrating in his career, as work was abruptly cancelled by his financially-strapped patrons before any real progress had been made.

Apparently not the least embarrassed by this turnabout, the Medici later came back to Michelangelo with another grand proposal, this time for a family funerary chapel in the basilica of San Lorenzo. Fortunately for posterity, this project, occupying the artist for much of the 1520s and 1530s, was more fully realized. Though still incomplete, it is the best example we have of the integration of the artist's sculptural and architectural vision, since Michelangelo created both the major sculptures as well as the interior plan. Ironically the most prominent tombs are those of two rather obscure Medici who died young, a son and grandson of Lorenzo. Il Magnifico himself is buried in an obscure corner of the chapel, not given a free-standing monument, as originally intended.

In 1527, the Florentine citizens, encouraged by the sack of Rome, threw out the Medici and restored the republic. A siege of the city ensued, and Michelangelo went to the aid of his beloved Florence by working on the city's fortifications from 1528 to 1529. The city fell in 1530 and the Medici were restored to power. Completely out of sympathy with the repressive reign of the ducal Medici, Michelangelo left Florence for good in the mid-1530s, leaving assistants to complete the Medici chapel. Years later his body was brought back from Rome for interment, fulfilling the maestro's last request to be buried in his beloved Tuscany.

Later works in Rome

The fresco of The Last Judgment on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel was commissioned by Pope Paul III, and Michelangelo labored on the project from 1534 to October 1541. Once completed, the depictions of nakedness in the papal chapel was considered obscene and sacrilegeous, and Cardinal Carafa and Monsignor Sernini (Mantua's ambassador) campaigned to have the fresco removed or censored, but the Pope resisted. After Michelangelo's death, it was decided to obscure the genitals ("Pictura in Cappella coopriantur"). So Daniele da Volterra, an apprentice of Michelangelo, covered with sort of perizomas (briefs) the genitals, leaving unaltered the complex of bodies (see details[1]). When the work was restored in 1993, the restorers chose not to remove the perizomas of Daniele; however, a faithful uncensored copy of the original, by Marcello Venusti, is now in Naples, at the Capodimonte Museum.

Censorship always followed Michelangelo, once described as "inventor delle porcherie" (inventor of obscenities, in a sense that in Italian sounds like he had created genitals). The "fig-leaf campaign" of the Counter-Reformation to cover all representations of human genitals in paintings and sculptures started with Michelangelo's works. To give two examples, the bronze statue of Cristo della Minerva (church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome) was covered, as it remains today, and the statue of the naked child Jesus in Madonna of Bruges (Belgium) remained covered for several decades.

In 1546, Michelangelo was appointed architect of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, and designed its dome.

Last years

Michelangelo died at the age of 88 in his house next to the Forum of Trajan on February 18, 1564. He was intered into a grave in the neighbouring basilica dei Santi Apostoli. The pope wanted to make a big monument for Michelangelo, however a duke from Florence wanted to render the last honours to him. Michelangelo's body was transported to the Santa Croce in a bale of cotton, in order to not gather a lot of attention for his last journey. His life was described in Giorgio Vasari's "Vite".

Michelangelo the architect

Laurentian Library

Around 1530 Michelangelo designed the Laurentian Library in Florence, attached to the church of San Lorenzo. He produced new styles such as pilasters tapering thinner at the bottom, and a staircase with contrasting rectangular and curving forms.

Medici Chapel

Palazzo Farnese

Palazzo Farnese is considered the most beautiful palace of Rome, and was begun by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, who was commissioned by Pope Paul III Farnese. Michelangelo took over the works in 1546 after the death of Sangallo. At this time it had been built only the first floor, without the right back corner, and the second floor of the facade with four windows in each side. Michelangelo modified the balcony and increased the in height the second floor, adding also another floor with a splendid entablature. He also built a gallery around the courtyard.

St Peter's Basilica

Michelangelo, who served as main architect for a while, designed the dome of St. Peters. After the death of Julius II building was halted until Pope Paul III asked Michelangelo to design the rest of the church. After Michelangelo's death his student Giacomo della Porta continued with the unfinished portions of the church.

Michelangelo at the Campidoglio

Michelangelo's first designs for solving the intractable urbanistic, symbolic, political and propaganda program for the Campidoglio dated from 1536. The commission was from the Farnese Pope Paul III, who wanted a symbol of the new Rome to impress the emperor and King of Spain Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, who was expected to visit the city in 1538. The hill was the Capitoline, the heart of pagan Rome, though that connection was largely obscured by its other role as the center of the civic government of Rome, revived as a commune in the 11th century. The city's government was now to be firmly in papal control, but the Campidoglio was the former scene of many movements of urban resistance, such as the dramatic scenes of Cola di Rienzo's revived republic. Approximately in the middle, not to Michelangelo's liking, now stood the only equestrian bronze to have survived since Antiquity, Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher emperor. It is said that the statue's survival is largely due to its being mistaken for that of Constantine the Great, revered as the first Christian emperor by plebs and popes alike. Michelangelo provided an unassuming pedestal for it.

It was slow work: Little was actually completed in Michelangelo's lifetime, but work continued faithfully to his designs. The Campidoglio was completed in the 17th century, except for the elegant paving design, which was to be finished only three centuries later.

Michelangelo effectively turned Rome’s civic center to face in the direction of St. Peters, and the Christian church. He provided new fronts to the two official buildings of Rome's civic government, which very approximately faced each other, the Palazzo dei Conservatori and the Palazzo Senatorio. The latter had been built over the Tabularium that had once housed the archives of ancient Rome, and which now houses the Capitoline Museums, the oldest museum of antiquities of the world. Michelangelo devised a monumental stair (the Cordonata) to reach the high piazza, so that the Campidoglio resolutely turned its back on the Forum that it had once commanded. He gave the space a new building at the far end, to close the vista, called Palazzo Nuovo, "new palace," and its facade was thought by Michelangelo as an exact copy to that of Palazzo dei Conservatori. It was begun in 1603 and finished in 1654.

The Cordonata is a ramped stair that can be accessed on horseback by the sufficiently great, though it was not in place when Emperor Charles arrived, and the imperial party had to scramble up the slope from the Forum to view the works in progress. The unfolding sequence, Cordonata piazza and the central palazzo are the first urban introduction of the "cult of the axis" that will occupy Italian garden plans and reach fruition in France (Giedion 1962). The two massive ancient statues of Castor and Pollux which decorate the balaustra are not the same posed by Michelangelo, which now are in front of the Palazzo del Quirinale.

The Palazzo dei Conservatori was the first use of a giant order that spanned two storeys, here with a range of Corinthian pilasters and subsidiary Ionic columns flanking the ground-floor loggia openings and the second-floor windows. Another giant order would serve later for the exterior of St Peter's. A balustrade punctuated by sculptures atop the giant pilasters capped the composition, one of the most influential of Michelangelo's designs. The sole arched motif in the entire design is the segmental pediments over the windows, which give a slight spring to the completely angular vertical-horizontal balance of the design.

The bird's-eye view of the engraving by Étienne Dupérac shows Michelangelo's solution to the problems of the space in the Piazza del Campidoglio. Even with their new facades centering them on the new palazzo at the rear, the space was a trapezoid, and the facades did not face each other squarely. Worse than that, the whole site sloped (to the left in the engraving). Michelangelo's solution was radical. Since no "perfect" forms would work, his apparent oval in the paving is actually egg-shaped, narrower at one end. The travertine design set into the paving is perfectly level: around its perimeter, low steps arise and die away into the paving as the slope requires. Its center springs slightly, so that one senses that one is standing on the exposed segment of a gigantic egg all but buried at the center of the city at the center of the world, as Michelangelo's historian Charles de Tolnay pointed out (Charles De Tolnay, 1930). An interlaced twelve-pointed star makes a subtle reference to the constellations, revolving around this space called Caput mundi, the "head of the world."

The paving design was never executed by the popes, who may have detected a subtext of less-than-Christian import. Benito Mussolini ordered the paving completed to Michelangelo's design— in 1940.

Michelangelo the man

Michelangelo, who was often arrogant with others and constantly unsatisfied with himself, thought that art originated from inner inspiration and from culture. In contradiction to the ideas of his rival, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo saw nature as an enemy that had to be overcome. The figures that he created are therefore in forceful movement; each is in its own space apart from the outside world. For Michelangelo, the job of the sculptor is to free the forms that, he believed, were already inside the stone. This can most vividly be seen in his unfinished statuary figures, which to many appear to be struggling to free themselves from the stone.

He also instilled into his figures a sense of moral cause for action. A good example of this can be seen in the facial expression of his most famous work, the marble statue David. Arguably his second most famous work is the fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel which is a synthesis of architecture, sculpture & painting. His Last Judgement, also in the Sistine Chapel, is a depiction of extreme crisis.

Several anecdotes reveal that Michelangelo's skill, especially in sculpture, was deeply appreciated in his own time. It is said that when still a young apprentice, he had made a pastiche of a Roman statue (Il Putto Dormiente, the sleeping child) of such beauty and perfection, that it was later sold in Rome as an ancient Roman original. Another better-known anecdote claims that when finishing the Moses (San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome), Michelangelo violently hit the knee of the statue with a hammer, shouting, "Why don't you speak to me?"

Love life

"The world seems unable to take interest in a man unless it can contrive to discover a love-affair in his career," wrote John Addington Symonds in The Life of Michelangelo Buonarroti, (1893): still, fundamental to Michelangelo's art is his love of male beauty which attracted him both aesthetically and emotionally. Such feelings caused him great anguish, and he expressed the struggle between platonic ideals and carnal desire in his sculpture, drawing and his poetry, too, for among his other accomplishments Michelangelo was the great Italian lyric poet of the 16th century.

The sculptor loved a great many youths, many of whom posed for him and likewise slept with him. Some were of high birth, like the sixteen year old Cecchino dei Bracci, a boy of exquisite beauty whose death, only a year after their meeting in 1543, inspired the writing of forty eight funeral epigrams. Others were street wise and took advantage of the sculptor. Febbo di Poggio, in 1532, peddled his charms - in answer to Michelangelo's love poem he asks for money. Earlier, Gherardo Perini, in 1522, had stolen from him shamelessly.

His greatest love was Tommaso dei Cavalieri (c. 1509–1587), who was 23 years old when Michelangelo met him in 1532, at the age of 57. In their first exchange of letters, January 1, 1533, Michelangelo declares: Your lordship, only worldly light in this age of ours, you can never be pleased with another man's work for there is no man who resembles you, nor one to equal you... It grieves me greatly that I cannot recapture my past, so as to longer be at your service. As it is, I can only offer you my future, which is short, for I am too old... That is all I have to say. Read my heart for "the quill cannot express good will." Cavalieri was open to the older man's affection: I swear to return your love. Never have I loved a man more than I love you, never have I wished for a friendship more than I wish for yours. Cavalieri remained devoted to Michelangelo till the very end, holding his hand as he drew his last breath.

Michelangelo dedicated to him over three hundred sonnets and madrigals, constituting the largest sequence of poems composed by him. Though some modern commentators assert that the relationship was merely a Platonic affection, the sonnets are the first large sequence of poems in any modern tongue addressed by one man to another, predating Shakespeare's sonnets to his young friend by a good fifty years.

I feel as lit by fire a cold countenance
That burns me from afar and keeps itself ice-chill;
A strength I feel two shapely arms to fill
Which without motion moves every balance.
— (Michael Sullivan, translation)

The homoeroticism of Michelangelo's poetry was obscured when his grand nephew, Michelangelo the Younger, published an edition of the poetry in 1623 with the gender of pronouns changed. John Addington Symonds undid this change by translating the original sonnets into English and writing a two-volume biography, published in 1893.

Works summary



See also Cappella Sistina and Cappella Paolina

See also


Further reading

  • Umberto Baldini, (photography Liberto Perugi), The Sculpture of Michelangelo (Rizzoli, 1982) is an excellent work with many fine photos, all in black and white.
  • Michael H. Hart, The 100, Carol Publishing Group, July 1992, paperback, 576 pages, ISBN 0806513500
  • Charles De Tolnay, Michelangelo: Scultor, Painter, Architect. Princeton University Press, 1975, page 119.
  • Charles de Tolnay, "Beiträge zu den späten Architechtonischen Projekten Michwelangelos," in Jahrbuch der Preussischen Kunstsammlungen 1930, p.26 noted in Siegfried Giedion, Space, Time and Architecture 1962.
  • Irving Stone, The Agony and the Ecstasy: A Biographical Novel of Michelangelo Publisher: Signet Book, paperback: 776 pages, ISBN 0451171357

External links

Added to on December 22nd, 2005, by Vian Andrews