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Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni has been considered to be one of the most inspirational and talented artists that lived during the early modern world. The western world during his time was undergoing possibly the most significant period of change since the fall of the ancient Roman Empire. This period is widely known as the Renaissance or the “rebirth” of culture. The Renaissance brought about changes in almost all aspects of life and civilization, which were created by dramatic reforms that swept through the understanding of the world of science, religion, and politics. These dramatic reforms created a new philosophy to go along with these new world-changing thoughts, and Michelangelo was one of the most passionate advocates of this exciting new belief. He was also largely considered to be one of the best renaissance artists of the time due to his boundless knowledge of human anatomy and profound skill in almost all forms of art. Michelangelo produced many fabulous works of art that were greatly inspired by classical Greco-Roman works. Drawing from these inspirations he was able to combine his exquisite artistic imagination and his high level of technical competency to produce some of the most renowned Renaissance masterpieces. Without his involvement in the renaissance and humanist movement, the western world would not be the same.
Michelangelo was brought into this world on March 6, 1475, in the small village of Caprese, Italy. The son of a government administrator, he grew up in Florence, a center of the early Renaissance movement. Since his mother, Francesca Neri, was very ill, Michelangelo was placed with a family of stonecutters, where he later jested, ‘With my wet-nurse’s milk, I sucked in the hammer and chisels I use for my statutes’. At the age of six, he was sent to the Florence grammar school, however, he showed little interest in schooling. Michelangelo would prefer to go to the church and watch the painters there and try to draw what he saw. Noticing this, Michelangelo’s father, Leonardo di Buonarroti Simoni, decided to send him to be trained as an apprentice under the painter Ghirlandaio. It was under the mentorship of Ghirlandaio that Michelangelo learned the technique of Fresco and draftsmanship. He was only thirteen years old at the time. After only a year of being there, Michelangelo had already begun demonstrating his superb talent. Recognizing Michelangelo’s talent, Ghirlandaio sent him to the Medici family where he was taken under the wing of Lorenzo de’ Medici, the ruler of the Florentine republic and a huge patron of the arts. He studied under famous sculptor Bertoldo di Giovanni there and exposed himself to many of the great artists of past centuries, Giotto, Masaccio, Donatello, as well as the masterpiece antiquities of ancient Greece and Rome: works that were held in Medici’s vast collection. At the age of seventeen, he was given special permission by the Roman Catholic Church to study cadavers for a better understanding of human anatomy. He began dissecting corpses at a local church graveyard, consequently, the understanding he gained of the human anatomy would prove to be critical to his success as a painter and sculptor.
While still under the sponsorship of the Medici family, Michelangelo created his first two works, ‘Madonna of the steps’ and “Battle of the Centaurs”, both were completed in 1492. However, in 1494 the Medici family was expelled from Florence when Savonarola emerged as the new leader. Due to the political turmoil in Florence, Michelangelo moved to Bologna. In Bologna, he was hired to succeed in a recently deceased sculptor and carve the last small figures required to complete a grand project, the tomb, and the shrine of St. Dominic. It was in this tomb that he sculpted an angel with a candlestick, and saints, Petronius and Proculus. After this Michelangelo became involved with a scheme fabricated by Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de Medici, in which he tried to pass a cupid sculpture he created, which was artificially aged (buried then dug up), as an ancient piece. However, after purchasing the sculpture Cardinal Raffaele Riario discovered the deception but was so impressed by the quality of the sculpture that he invited the artist to Rome (Matisse). In 1496, Michelangelo arrived in Rome at the age of 21. It was in his early twenties that Michelangelo would be commissioned to create one of his most famous works; the Pieta. The Pieta was a sculpture that represents the lifeless body of Christ sprawled across the lap of Saint Mary. During this time the Catholic Church dominated the western world, and due to this the majority of artistic works during this period mainly symbolize important events of Christianity. To create the Pieta, Michelangelo went to the marble quarry and selected the block of marble himself, and it is frequently said the Michelangelo could visualize the sculpture just by looking at the block. Due to the great success of the Pieta, Michelangelo was commissioned to sculpt a colossal statue of the biblical character David for the Florence cathedral. This seventeen-foot masterpiece pictures David with every muscle tensed and ready for action as he watches his foe Goliath approach. The modeling is especially close to the formulas of classical antiquity, with a simplified geometry suitable to the huge scale yet with a mild assertion of organic life in its asymmetry. David is considered to be a prime example of the Renaissance’s idea of the perfect human, which was taken from ancient Greek sculptures. Though the sculpture was intended for the buttress of the Florentine cathedral, however, after seeing the work a committee was formed of artists to decide on a place of more prominence. After much consideration, they decided that it would be installed at the front of the entrance of the Palazzo dei Priori as a symbol of the Florentine Republic. After the completion of David, Michelangelo became renowned for his exquisite work and was the only artist who would be recognized for his works while still alive. Due to his fame, Michelangelo was commissioned by Pope Julius II to work on a tomb worthy of the leader of Christendom, back in Rome. This work was planned to take only five years, but due to many interruptions, he ended up spending more than forty years working on it and was never finished to his satisfaction. However, during this long time, Michelangelo completed many other works of art, the most famous of which were his frescos on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. These works took him around four years to finish and the most famous of them all was The Creation of Adam. After Michelangelo had completely revolutionized European sculpture and painting, he turned his attention to architecture. His first major architectural achievement was the Medici chapel in the Church of San Lorenzo in Florence, built to house the tombs of the two young Medici family heirs who had recently died (Matisse). After this, he constructed the Laurentian Library, which he built as an annex of the same church. The most notable piece of this architecture is the stair-hall, known as the ricetto, which is regarded as the first instance of mannerism as an architectural style. Now in the later years of his life, Michelangelo will leave Florence for the last time to continue work in Rome. It is during this time that Michelangelo will complete the painting of, The Final Judgement, as the altarpiece of the Sistine Chapel for Pope Paul III. Michelangelo will continue working until his death in 1564 at the age of 88. Michelangelo’s final project would be the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.
In conclusion, Michelangelo exerted a huge amount of influence upon artists of his generation, as well as artists of the modern world. He became a prime symbolic figure and example of the humanist movement. Through his many works of art, Michelangelo was able to capture the ideals of the movement in every block he carved or painting he carved. Through his art, he expressed the changes in the culture of the time, as well as created multiple masterful works of art. Michelangelo is and will continue to be considered one of the greatest artists the world has ever seen. His influence is still affecting the world today.
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