Who was... Michelangelo?
IF LEONARDO DA VINCI has a high recall value no thanks to Dan Brown, another renaissance artist is a great favourite with the high priests of pop culture. His name appears in a famous poem by T.S. Eliot, one of his works figures in the opening frame of Ben-Hur, Charlton Heston who plays Ben Hur plays him in the movie version of a bestseller by Irving Stone. No prizes for guessing this colossus among the Renaissance it is Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475 - 1564).
Born on March 6, 1475 at Caprese in Tuscany, Michelangelo was the second of five brothers. He was nursed by a wet nurse from a stonecutter's family where he "sucked in the craft of hammer and chisel with my foster mother's milk." Michelangelo was 13 when he told his horrified father that he would study art with Domenic Ghirlandaio. He studied fresco for a year and then went on to study sculpture at the Medici gardens. He was invited to the household of Lorenzo De'Medici and got acquainted with the younger Medici. Like Da Vinci, Michelangelo studied corpses to understand anatomy. By the time he was 16, he produced two relief sculptures Battle of the Centaurs and the Madonna of the Stairs. The death of Lorenzo Medici signalled the collapse of Florence and Michelangelo went to Rome to study classical art. The marble Pieta (1498 - 1500), where a regal, restrained Mary holds the dead Christ in her lap, was created during this time. Days after the Pieta was installed in Saint Peter's Basilica, Michelangelo overheard a remark that the work was done by Christoforo Solari. Enraged, Michelangelo chiselled his name on the work the only work that bears his signature. The Pieta inspired art historian Giorgio Vasari to comment, "it is certainly a miracle that a formless block of stone could ever have been reduced to a perfection that nature is scarcely able to create in the flesh."
David (1501 - 1504), another of Michelangelo's well-known works, is emblematic of the artiste's political beliefs, with an incredibly well-muscled David looking Goliath and challenge in the eye.
Michelangelo's temper was as legendary as his artistic prowess and his rivalry with Leonardo da Vinci was well documented. While Michelangelo was not temperamentally tuned to taking orders, he had to accept the Pope's (Julius II) commission to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (1508 - 1512) in Vatican. Michelangelo believed that nature had to be overcome he felt the job of the sculpture was to free the forms from stone.
As he writes, "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free." Any surprise that Vasari writes, "The benign ruler of heaven graciously looked down to earth, saw the worthlessness of what was being done... and decided to send into the world an artist whose work alone would teach us how to attain perfection"?
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