Michelangelo Buonarroti was a painter, sculptor, architect, and poet. His artistic accomplishments had a tremendous influence on his contemporaries and on subsequent European art. He was universally acknowledged as a supreme artist in his own lifetime. Even though he thought of himself as a sculptor, he was forced by the Pope to paint the Sistine Chapel, the world's greatest single fresco.
He considered the male nude to be the foremost subject in art. Michelangelo continually sought challenge, whether physical, artistic, or intellectual. He favored media that required hard physical labor-marble carving and fresco painting. In painting figures, he chose poses that were especially difficult to draw. He gave his works several layers of meaning, by including multiple references to mythology, religion, and other subjects.
His success in conquering the difficulties he set for himself is remarkable, but he left many of his works unfinished, as if he were defeated by his own ambition. In 1534, Michelangelo left Florence for Rome, where he was to spend the remainder of his life. His last paintings were the frescoes of the Conversion of St. Paul and the Crucifixion of St. Peter in the Pauline Chapel in the Vatican. Michelangelo died on February 18, 1564.
"If people only knew how hard I work to gain my mastery, it wouldn't seem so wonderful at all."
"What spirit is so empty and blind, that it cannot recognize the fact that the foot is more noble than the shoe, and skin more beautiful that the garment with which it is clothed?"
"The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection."
Painter & sculptor extraordinary!
Michelangelo was commissioned by Pope Julius II della Rovere in 1508 to repaint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel frescoed earlier by Piero Matteo d'Amelia with a star-spangled sky. The work was completed between 1508 and 1512. He painted the Last Judgement over the altar, between 1535 and 1541, being commissioned by Pope Paul III Farnese. This monumental fresco covers the entire end wall of the chapel. The detail shown here depicts the Creation of the World. According to the biblical story, God created the world in 6 days. First, He separated light from darkness; then parted waters from the sky and the earth; on the fourth day He put a sun and a moon in the sky; on the fifth day He created all the animals; and on the sixth day He created a man in his own image. On the seventh day God saw that all his work was completed and blessed that day and rested.
Location:Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence, Italy.
In 1501 Michelangelo was commissioned to create the David and was given a block of marble for this purpose. Today this work is considered one of the two ultimate masterpieces of Renaissance sculpture, the other one being his Pieta. David portrays the Biblical David at the moment that he decides to engage Goliath. It stands 4.1m (13'5") high. The David is based on the artistic discipline of disegno, which is built on knowledge of the male human form. Under this discipline, sculpture is considered to be the finest form of art because it mimics divine creation. Because Michelangelo adhered to the concepts of disegno, he worked under the premise that the image of David was already in the block of stone he was working on -- in much the same way as the human soul is thought to be found within the physical body.
The painting is representative of Michelangelo's charismatic style. The colours are bright, the light effects sophisticated and the three sacred figures seem to almost float out of the painting. In the background a grouping of nudes symbolize pagan mankind. The painting was restored in 1985.
Location:St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican.
Michelangelo carefully selected the marble for this marvellous sculpture which is currently located in St. Peter's Basilica. Life size, deeply poignant and sublimely beautiful Mary is shown holding the dead Christ. The white marble is highly finished. In creating a harmonious pyramidal group from the problematic combination of the figure of a full-grown man lying dead across the lap of his mother, Michelangelo solved a formal problem that had formerly baffled other artists. The sculpture was completed in 1500 when Michelangelo was only twenty-five years old. It is the only work to bear his signature.
Location:The Sistine Chapel
The Sistine Chapel fresco depicts nine narrative scenes depicting events from Genesis; the most sublime scene is this 'Creation of Adam' in which his new vision of humanity attains pictorial form. The dimension of this vision leaves the viewer almost breathless. "Love radiates from the face of God and from the face of man. God wills his child to be no less than himself. As if to confirm this, a marvellous being looks out from among the host of spirits that bear the Father on their wings; a genius of love encircled by the left arm of the Creator. This figure has intrigued commentators from the beginning and has been variously interpreted as the uncreated Eve, or Sophia, divine wisdom. Be that as it may, this figure undoubtedly signifies beatific rapture."
Location:The Sistine Chapel
In 1534 Michelangelo departed for Rome, never to return to Florence. From now on he worked mainly for the Pope. Soon after his arrival, Pope Clement VIII commissioned him to paint the fresco of the Last judgement for the Sistine Chapel (work commenced under Pope Paul III in 1536, completed in 1541). The spirit of the work is totally different from that of the ceiling unveiled 29 years earlier. The optimism and confidence of the ceiling is replaced by the pessimism and emotional turmoil of the altar wall: saints swarm around the Apollo-like figure of Christ, wielding their instruments of martyrdom, seemingly demanding righteous judgement on the sinners stirring to life from the bare earth at the bottom of the picture.
Learning art through great artists and their paintings is fun and exciting. Our friend and resident artist Stefan Mager has kindly given this introduction to the art world.