Michelangelo

by Marc Papouchado


Michelangelo Buonarroti was considered to be the greatest artist who had ever lived by his contemporaries. To this day, no one has surpassed his reputation as sculptor, painter, architect and draftsman. Through his genius, he elevated the traditional accomplishments of craftsman to the modern status of artist. Despite his incredible talent he was the first man to consider himself a failure in the face of the greatest personal success of any artist in history. Michelangelo may very well have set the trend in western art for years to come.

Michelangelo Buonarroti was born on March 6, 1475 and died on February 18, 1564. He was a brilliant sculptor, painter, and occasionally, a poet. This towering figure of the Italian renaissance was born in Caprese, a republic of Florence, Italy. He was born into an old distinguished family that had fallen on hard times. His mother's fall from a horse when she was pregnant with him may have led to her death 6 years later. At the age when upper class children began schooling, he was raised by a stone-cutter's family. At the age of ten, he entered school (4 years later than most children) and did not do well. At the age of thirteen, he was apprenticed to the sculptor Ghirlandaio. Michelangelo's first break occurred when he was 14. Laurenzo de Medici hired him to sculpt in his new garden. This launched his career. His work progressed and spanned the next sixty years.

Michelangelo was fortunate to live in the High Renaissance period where wealthy patrons used their fortunes to create art in a scale unknown since the golden age of Greece. Despite the feuds among the old families of Italy, Michelangelo always had work. It is difficult to imagine a genius like this flourishing in harder times, for instance during the plague years or the following dark ages. Who knows how many great talents were lost during those ominous times.

Michelangelo's most well-known work (other than the Sistine Chapel), the statue of David, took him almost four years to complete. The statue, at 14 feet. 3 inches., was no small task. It was intended to reflect the power and determination of Republican Florence. The statue was originally placed outside of the Palazzo Vechio, but was moved to the Accademia in the 19th century.

You may say otherwise, but Michelangelo was adamantly opposed to painting the Sistine Chapel. He resisted painting, vowing that the chisel was his sole tool. He was coerced (maybe forced?) into the painting of the Sistine chapel by the Pope (Julius II). How does one refuse the Pope? One does not refuse the Pope. He was reluctant in his four year (1508-1512) achievement of the world's greatest single fresco.

Recent cleaning and restoration of the ceiling has brought out the vibrant colors and personality of an astonishing workmanship. I would say that Michelangelo did a decent job for someone who wasn't interested in this fabulous undertaking.

Michelangelo's Florentine teacher, Domencio Ghirlandaio, also was the early mentor of Leonardo. In some of Michelangelo's earlier works, his teacher's style shines through. Later in life though, Michelangelo claimed that he had no teacher. But Michelangelo's handling of the claw chisel reveals his debt to Domencio Ghirlandaio.

Michelangelo's work differs in many ways. The gentle work of The Birth of John the Baptist carries virtually no resemblance to the intelligence of an earlier piece, the Holy Family, also known as the Doni Tondo.

I was most impressed with the Sistine chapel because required him to lie on his back for four years. How did he stay sane? The disorientation of not standing up for weeks at a time must have been unbearable. How does one keep things in perspective when in a horizontal position?

All in all, Michelangelo was the Italian Renaissance. Between his many statues and murals, the masterpieces and sketches, his work stands out among the rest as being passionate, vibrant, and most of all: spiritual in mind and nature.

"I cannot live under pressures from patrons, let alone paint." -Michelangelo