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Michelangelo was the greatest sculptor of the 16th century and one of the greatest of all history, incredibly, considering the number of years required to master a craft, he was also one of the greatest painters, architects, and poets.
There have been few artists who have been as prolific, and few still that have created enduring masterpieces in so many different mediums.
Michelangelo would have gained his place in history if he had only carved the David, or painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, or erected St. Peter's, each a central achievement in the history of human endeavor.
Yet he accomplished all three works, thus, his creative genius remains unmatched in ancient or modern times.
Born on March 6, 1475 in Caprese, a small town in rural Tuscany, Michelangelo was the son of Ludovico Buronarroti, a minor official and local governor.
After Ludovico's six-month term was over, he moved the family to a large farm in the village of Settignano overlooking Florence, where the hills were pock-marked with quarries and gave Michelangelo his first exposure to stone carving.
Ludovico expected his son to enter the world of finance, considering art a manual craft of lowly occupation, however, after a battle of wills, Michelangelo was allowed to apprentice with Domenico Ghirlandaio, who ran an impressive workshop in Florence.
This is where Michelangelo learned drawing and painting, in both tempera and fresco, and was soon placed with the Medici family, the de facto rulers of Florence and the greatest art patrons of the Renaissance.
Here, among writers, musicians, scholars and artists and the most learned men of the century, he gained a proper education and made invaluable contacts.
During 1500 to 1508, Michelangelo accepted eighteen different commissions, from a bronze dagger to a tomb for Pope Julius II, from the statuettes for the Piccolomini altar in Siena to the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
Works completed include nine marble sculptures, including the colossal David, the Bruges Madonna, the St. Matthew, two marble tondi, and four figures for the Piccolomini altar, three works in bronze which have all been lost, at least one painting, the Doni Tondo, and the cartoon for the Battle of Cascina.
With each successive pope, Michelangelo's position as architect of St. Peter's was confirmed, all the while accepting additional responsibilities from the popes and select patrons.
During the reign of Pius IV, he designed the Porta Pia, transformed the Baths of Diocletian into the Christian church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, and designed the Sforza Chapel in Santa Maria Magooiore.
All the while Michelangelo continued to privately explore his personal faith through poetry, drawings and even sculpture, and build his personal fortune to one of a millionaire with shrewd investments and management.
He completed just three sculptures during the last thirty years of his life, the Rachel and Leah for the tomb of Julius II, and the bust of Brutus, as architecture now dominated his time, and perhaps became his most influential legacy.
While carving, Michelangelo must have thought a lot about poetry, since poems were found scribbled on sheets in his workshop, and proves how easily he moved between the two media, "the rhythmic strokes of the hammer suggested verse, his verse retained elements of its lapidary origins," creating an exalted vision that "drove the sculptor's arm, and a spiritual meaning lay beyond the sweat."
Despite health problems, Michelangelo continued to work as an architect and urban planner during his eighties, and took great interest in the business and personal affairs of his nephew, as well as keeping regular correspondence with family, friends, admirers, and patrons, in fact, he was still carving the Rondanini Pieta just a few days before his death.
He lived through the reigns of thirteen popes and worked for nine of them, and for most of his life lived with one or two assistants, a male secretary, and a female housekeeper.
Although he never married, which was not uncommon among Renaissance artists, he did form lasting attachments with a few friends and was committed to his immediate and extended family, however, sadly, he outlived most of his friends and family.
It said that he was completely devastated by the death of his faithful servant and companion of twenty-five years, Urbino, and provided for his widow and child.
Michelangelo died on February 18, 1564, two weeks before his eighty-ninth birthday and the same year Galileo and Shakespeare were born.
Upstairs in one of the five houses Michelangelo bought on Via Ghibellion, a historic street in the center of Florence, can be found the Madonna della Scala, 1491, which is a delicate, shallow relief carved when he was about sixteen years old is his earliest surviving work and nearby is the Battle of the Centraurs, 1492.
In the Casa Buonarroti is a small-scale model of the wooden contraption used to move David, the 18-foot tall statue that Michelangelo worked on in the Opera del Duomo and completed in a little over two years at the beginning of the 16th century.
He depicts David in a relaxed but alert pose at the instant before his battle with Goliath, holding a stone in his right hand and a sling in his left, gazing in concentration.
The piece was designed to top the cathedral, but city officials wanted a more visible location, so in 1504, the statue was moved from the Opera del Duomo to the Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall, "as a symbol of civic pride and Florence's struggle against tyranny as a small but independent city-state."
It took forty men four days to transport the statue along fourteen greased beams to the Piazza, where it remained for more than three centuries, until 1874, when in an effort to protect it from the weather, it was moved to the Galleria dell' Accademia.
A special wooden crate, the scale model of which can be seen in the Casa Buronarroti, was used to move the statue its fifteen minute walk, which took five days to roll along tracks by workers from 4 a.m. To 11 a.m., to avoid the summer heat.
A replica still stands in the Piazaa Vecchio, and another replica stands above the city at Piazzale Michelangelo, facing the Rive Arno and Ponte Vecchio.
The Museo del Bargello houses several of his works including Bacchus, the ancient god of wine, which Michelangelo sculpted for banker, Jacopo Galli in1496. The statue seem "a bit off balance, like a drunk person, since Bacchus supports himself on his left foot only" while a small satyr hovers behind him.
The Tondo Pitti, a relief completed in 1503, depicts the Virgin and Child, and on the Virgin's forehead is a cherub with wings unfolded, "which perhaps refers to the gift of prophecy."
Also in the Bargello is called David-Apollo because some people in the past said it was David, while other said it was Apollo, and a bust of Bruto, which the artist made when he was sixty-three years old, and is evidence of his interest in ancient art.
The Uffizi, one of the most famous museums in the world, houses Michelangelo's only painting in Florence. The painting, framed in dazzling gold, shows the holy family with Saint John as an infant, and is called the Tondo Doni "because it was created for Agnolo Doni's marriage to Maddalena Strozzi."
The Galleria dell'Accademia, where David is housed, also houses his La Pieta, a sculpture which he completed at seventy-five years of age, and which depicts Nicodemus as a hooded figure holding Jesus and Mary, "whose face ears a striking resemblance to portraits of Michelangelo himself."
The Medici Chapel houses Night, Day, and numerous other works.
Scholars throughout the centuries have wondered why Michelangelo suddenly decided to destroy the sculpture, Florentine Pieta, after spending eight years to finish it, and saved only when his servant Antonio stopped him from completely mutilating it.
Giorgio Vasari in the mid-1550's beleived the sculpture was to be a personal work expressing the artist's intense religious convictions, while Leo Steinberg suggested in 1968 that "Michelangelo recoiled from the strong erotic connotations of the position of Christ's left leg between the Madonna's knees in the original design of the 'Pieta,' and thus decided to destroy the sculpture."
The commonly accepted identity of the women in Michelangelo's Florentine Pieta entails many quandaries, such as the iconographically unprecedented position of the "Madonna" at Christ's left and the angel's head - a feature exclusively connected with Madonnas in Florentine sculpture on the diadem of the "Magdalene." It is consequently proposed that the figure on Christ's right is the Madonna and the figure on his left is Mary Magdalene. The Magdalene's union with Christ is interpreted as an expression of Michelangelo's Nicodemite belief in justification by faith. On a deeper personal level it is proposed that the exalted
Magdalene represents the artist's beloved Vittoria Colonna.
Although it is not possible to know exactly why in 1555, he felt compelled to destroy the sculpture, it is reasonable to assume that inner doubts intensified during this year due…[continue]
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