“If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all.” – Michelangelo
Michelangelo was born on March 6, 1475, in Caprese, Italy. During his childhood, Michelangelo lived in Florence and spent a lot of time in a family manor in the countryside. Michelangelo’s father was the son of a noble family and worked as a mayor of Caprese. Despite the fact that grandfather and great-grandfather of the artist were successful bankers, his family was very poor, because the mayor’s position did not bring much money to his father. The mother of the baby was susceptible to various diseases. While being pregnant, she fell off the horse, and could not feed the baby on her own. The boy’s mother died when he was six years old, which strongly influenced the child’s psyche and made him reserved, irritable and unsociable. His father worried about the son’s state of mind and sent him to the school. It was a special place for Michelangelo, as at that school he found friends who instilled in him love towards art. As to the personality of the painter, Michelangelo was very modest unlike other artists of his generation. He always put the desires of others above his own and cared for his father and four brothers.
At the age of 13, Michelangelo explained to his father that he would not continue the family financial business, but would study artistry. Thus, in 1488, his father sent the thirteen-year-old Michelangelo to study in the workshop of Domenico Ghirlandaio, who at that time was considered one of the best masters not only in Florence but throughout Italy. Domenico was amazed by the skills of Michelangelo. The master noticed that the works of his new apprentice are much better than those of his groupmates. Moreover, some things Michelangelo could do even better than his master could. Once, when Domenico worked in a large chapel in Santa Maria Novella and left the room for a minute, Michelangelo started drawing a still life where he depicted tables, materials, and people who were there. When Domenico returned and saw the drawing of Michelangelo, he was astonished by the new manner of natural reproduction.
A year later Lorenzo de ‘Medici invited Michelangelo to his palace. He showed Michelangelo his gardens and beautiful collections of ancient works. Michelangelo independently mastered the sculptor craft. He made sculptures from clay and unmistakably copied the works of his predecessors, accurately choosing the techniques that could help him to develop his own style. Working in the San Marco Gardens, the young sculptor received permission to study human corpses. Studying the skeletons and muscles of dead bodies, Michelangelo was acquainted with the structure of the human body; however, he ruined his health a bit. At the age of 16, the young fellow created two sculptures, “Madonna of the Stairs” and “Battle of the Centaurs.” These bas-reliefs, made by Michelangelo’s hands, proved that the young master had an extraordinary gift, and would have a bright future.
After the death of Lorenzo de ‘Medici, his son Piero ruined the republican system of Florence. At the same time, the French army under the leadership of Charles VIII attacked Italy. A revolution broke out. Being torn apart by multiple wars, Florence surrendered. Generally, the political and economic situation in Italy was awful, and Michelangelo went to Venice and Rome where he continued his studies of antique statues and sculptures.
In 1501, Michelangelo got back to Florence where he was commissioned to create a sculpture of David using a 5-meter block of spoiled marble. There were a lot of masters who did not want to give one more chance to that piece of marble and create something new. Michelangelo was not afraid of difficulties and decided to give birth to the statue. He interpreted the image of David differently than artists usually did. He did not depict the winner with the head of a giant at his feet and with a strong sword in his hand. The sculpture of David created by Michelangelo was similar to Greek heroes. When the statue was finished, a commission including prominent citizens and artists decided to put the statue on the main square of the city in front of the Palazzo Vecchio. This masterpiece has an incredible harmony of forms, filled with energy and inner strength. The sculptor managed to breathe life into a cold piece of marble. Here, on the main square of the city, Michelangelo met Leonardo da Vinci. This meeting could not be called friendly because the 50-year-old Leonardo was jealous of the Michelangelo’s talent and treated him like a rival. Therefore, Piero Soderini organized a competition, commissioning the artists to create frescoes the walls of the Grand Council in the Palazzo Vecchio. Da Vinci started painting the fresco “The Battle of Anghiari,” while Michelangelo decided to depict “The Battle of Kashin.” When 2 sketches were put on the public display, none of the critics could give their preference to any of the works.
Since Michelangelo was also known as a brilliant painter, he was asked to create a fresco on the ceiling of the Roman church in the Vatican. From 1508 to 1512, he was depicting the plot of the Old Testament including the moments of world creation and the flood. Michelangelo was very inspired by this commission and devoted 4 years of his life to this project. When the project started, the artist cooperated with Francesco Granati and Giuliano Bugiardini. However, due to the misunderstandings, Michelangelo fired them. During 4 years, he did not show his works even to the pope, who tried to look at the paintings. At the end of 1511, Michelangelo was so worn out by the requests of those eager to see the creation and opened the veil of secrecy. People were amazed by this work. Rafael was very impressed by that mural and changed his own style of painting.
After completing the collection of these works, Michelangelo was very exhausted. In his diary, he wrote the following: “After making over 400 full-size sculptures, I felt old and tired. I was only 37, and my friends no longer recognized the old man whom I had become.” He also wrote that his eyes almost ceased to see because of hard work, and his life became gloomy and gray.
In 1535, Michelangelo was working on one more painting in the Sistine Chapel. He created a fresco called “Last Judgment.” It became a bone of contention for parishioners due to the naked bodies depicted by Michelangelo on the painting. These humans symbolized the sinners and the righteous. The souls of the faithful were taken to the heavens while the souls of the sinners were taken to hell. Many believers said that the church is not a place for such a picture. While working on the painting, the artist fell from the woods and broke his leg. He took it as a sign from heaven and decided to leave this work unfinished. Many believe that he was convinced by his best friend who was a doctor and helped him to recover.
Personal Life of Michelangelo Buonarroti
There were many rumors about the personal life of a famous sculptor. Some chroniclers said that he had a lot of affairs with his sitters. Although he never got married, he had romantic relationships with the Marquis Vittoria Colonna. This woman, who had an extraordinary intellect, deserved the love and deep affection of Michelangelo. Moreover, the Marquis of Pescara is the only woman whose name is associated with the great artist. They met in 1536 when the Marquis arrived in Rome. A few years later the woman was forced to leave the city and go to Viterbo. Michelangelo and Vittoria kept in touch until her death in 1547. It is believed that the relationship between Michelangelo and Vittoria were platonic. Remaining faithful to her husband, the marquis had only friendly feelings towards the artist. Michelangelo devoted more than 300 poems and sonnets to his beloved woman.
Last Years of Michelangelo Buonarroti
During the last 15 years of his life, Michelangelo suffered from severe pain in joints. That was caused by the toxic paints, as the master had to constantly breathe these fumes.
Michelangelo died on February 18, 1564. A few days before his death, the artist destroyed the unfinished sketches, drawings, and poems. Then he went to the tiny church of Santa Maria del Angeli, where he wanted to complete the sculpture of Madonna. The sculptor believed that all his works are unworthy in the eyes of God. He also thought that he did not deserve to have an eternal life in heaven, since he did not have offspring, except soulless stone statues. Michelangelo wanted to breathe life into the statue of the Madonna in order to complete his deeds on the earth. While completing this work, he lost consciousness and woke up the next morning. He went home, fell into bed, dictated his will and died.
The great Italian sculptor and painter left behind a number of works that bring joy to art admirers. Even at the threshold of life and death, the master did not give up and tried to leave only the best of his works to his descendants.