by Emily Desmond

Michelangelo Buonarotti is considered one of the greatest artists of the Renaissance. He is looked at as an equal to Leonardo da Vinci and Rafael. He was a true Renaissance man; a poet, an artist, a sculptor and an architect.

Michelangelo was born into a banking family just outside of Florence. When he was very young his mother died and his father sent him to live with a stone cutter’s family.

Michelangelo always wanted to be an artist and he hated school. Finally he convinced his father to let him go study under a famous artist Ghirlandaio. After studying with Ghirlandaio for two years Michelangelo discovered his true passion; sculpture. His father unwillingly sent him to a school for sculptors founded by the great Lorenzo de Medici.

Lorenzo was greatly impressed with Michelangelo’s work and offered Ludovico a reward if Michelangelo could stay in the palace. Lorenzo was a great patron of the arts and saw Michelangelo’s talent early.

While he stayed in the palace he dinned with Lorenzo and the great philosophers, artists and poets listening to their enlightened discussions. He carved his first great accomplishment, The Battle of the Centaurs, in the palace.

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The Battle of the Centaurs

He didn’t make many friends in the palace even though all the boys his age admired his talent. He often came off as being rude and withdrawn, because he felt shy when he was with people his oun age. He knew he was ugly and he worried that the other boys made fun of him.

To enhance his knowledge of the human body Michelangelo visited the monastery of San Spirito to examine the dead. At night he would dissect the corpses in secret. By knowing what the body looked like under the skin, and how the muscles work he was able to create life-like drawings.

He lived in the palace for two years until Lorenzo died and his son Piero became the ruler of Florence.

Michelangelo left Florence and he was found by the wealthy noblemen, Aldovrandi out side the gates of Bologna with hardly any money. Aldovrandi asked Michelangelo to stay with him in his house, and he did for over a year. In that time Michelangelo sculpted an angel with a candlestick for the tomb of Saint Dominic. The other artists in the city began to grow jealous of him and Michelangelo started to fear for his life. So he returned to Florence.

In Florence Michelangelo carved a cupid, which a friend sold as an antique to a cardinal in Rome. When the cardinal found out he had been tricked he was not upset, but very impressed. He sent for Michelangelo to come to Rome at once.

When Michelangelo arrived in Rome he was asked to carve a statue for a wealthy banker named Jacopo Gallo. Who would later help Michelangelo’s career take off in Rome. For Gallo, he carved the Greek god of wine, the statue was a success and Rome was very impressed.

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The Buchas, carved for Gallo

Before Michelangelo went back to Florence he was commissioned to do a Madonna and Child for a well-known cardinal. He spent over a year on the "Pieta."

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The "Pieta," carved in Rome

When he returned to Florence he carved another Madonna and Child for a church in Flanders. He set up a studio in Florence and from a giant piece of marble carved the ‘David.’ David was a brave young man who defeated the giant Goliath. Michelangelo completed the approximately 17-foot statue and it was placed at the entrance to one of the palaces. The people of Florence celebrated all day when the statue was raised on to its pedestal.

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The David still stands in Florence today

While in Florence he met the elegant, handsome Leonardo da Vinci, who he immediately disliked. They competed with one another’s painting skills, each painting on opposite walls of a great chamber.

Pope Julius II wanted to be remembered as being one of the greatest rulers. He asked for the best sculptors to send in designs for his tomb. He chose Michelangelo’s huge tower design and encouraged him to get started right away.

After a year the Pope’s enthusiasm faded and soon he stopped sending Michelangelo money for the tomb. Angered by this Michelangelo left Rome swearing never to return.

Michelangelo did finally return to Rome to paint the ceiling of the Pope’s private chapel. But not after over a year of the Pope’s pleading letters. Michelangelo did not want to paint the Sistine Chapel. He told the Pope painting was not his trade. But Michelangelo in and started the chapel in 1508.. Michelangelo worked on the Sistine Chapel for 4 very difficult years. When the ceiling was completed he was exhausted!

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A detail from the Sistine Chapel

In the next years Michelangelo worked more on the Tomb of Julius II and a chapel for the Medici family. While he worked on the chapel he was constantly harassed to finish the Tomb, even after Julius II died. He did manage to carve Dawn and Evening, and Day and Night and two other enormous statues for the chapel. During this time he was also appointed military engineer.

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Moses, carved for the Pope's tomb

When Michelangelo was 63 he began to work on the ‘Last Judgment’, a painting assigned by Pope Paul III. Michelangelo was vary weak and would often take breaks after days of work to rest. He worked on the ‘Last Judgment’ for four and one half years. When he was finished its strength and power shocked many people.

At the age of 72 Michelangelo began designing Saint Peters church. Although he worked on the church for 17 years Michelangelo did not live to see it finished.

Michelangelo died at age 89 in Rome. His body was sent to Florence where you can visit his grave today. He left behind many great works in stone as well as paintings to be remembered by.

Sources: Ripley, Elizabeth. Michelangelo. New York: Oxford University Press, 1953.
  Brion, Marcel. Michelangelo. New York: Greystone Press, 1940
  Papini, Giovanni. Michelangelo. New York: Dutton & Co., 1942
  Michelangelo Buonarotti @ (1/3/00)
  Michelangelo Buonarotti @ (1/3/00)
  Michelangelo @ (1/3/00)
  Michelangelo @ (12/18/99)
  Sistine Chapel @ (1/3/00)
  Michelangelo Buonarotti @ (1/3/00)