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Michelangelo Buonarroti

Updated on January 17, 2009


Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)

An Italian sculptor, painter, architect, and poet, regarded by many as the epitome of culture of Renaissance, Italy. He was born on March 6, 1475, in Caprese, about 40 miles outside of Florence. The artist's birthplace is near the watershed between the Arno and Tibet Rivers, almost as if to point to the two cities — Florence and Rome - in which Michelangelo was to spend his life. Both parents were Florentines; his mother, Francesca del Sera; his father, Lodovico di Buonorroto Simoni, a gentleman of modest means who was appointed magistrate of Caprese and Chiusi the previous year. Michelangelo's assertion in later years that he was descended from the noble family of the counts of Canossa is without foundation.


Early life


Brought to Florence from Caprese while still an infant, Michaelangelo was sent to nurse with a stone cutter's wife in Settignaro where he later liked to say, he imbibed marble dust with his wet nurse's milk. When he was yet a child, his mother died, leaving his father with five young sons. Lodovico remarried in 1485, about this time Michelangelo returned to Florence to live in the Sta. Crose Quarter with his father, stepmother, four brothers, and an uncle. Of the brothers only Buonarroto, two years younger than Michelangelo, married and left progeny; the eldest brother, Leonardo, became a Dominican monk; the younger brothers, Giovansimone and Segismondo, passed their lies in trade, soldiering and farming. Undoubtedly, the early death of his mother and the overwhelmingly male household in which the artist spent his early years are important clues to certain aspects of Michelangelo's personality. He never married, asserting that his art was sufficient mistress for him; his judes are characterized by a blurring of distinctly male and female attributes, a projection of a super race, whose physiognomy and even physiology would seem to partake of the qualities of both sexes.


The abundant correspondence with his father and brothers reveals the artist's deep, almost morbid attachment to his family, despite the fact that comprehension, or even interest, in Michel­angelo's art was entirely absent on their part. All their lives, the father and brothers looked upon Michelangelo only as a source of income or as a counselor in their various projects. Although Michelangelo frequently refers to his financial affairs, his letters never discussed art with his family and rarely indeed with anyone else. As a boy, Michelangelo cared little for the traditional Latin and humanistic studies; and his inclination to draw led his father, despite his scorn for art, to enroll him on April 1, 1488 in the workshop of Dominico Chilandio, then the most popular painter in Florence. A year later, however, Michelangelo left that master to study in the Medici Gardens near San Marco, where Lorenzo, the Magnificent, had gathered a collection of ancient statues and had assigned Bertoldo, a follower of Donatello, to train young men in sculpture. A faun's head (now lost) freely copied from a classic fragment attracted Lorenzo's attention, and Michelangelo, then fif­teen years old, was taken to live almost as a son in the Medici Palace, first with Lorenzo de'Medici, then, briefly, with his son Piero. It was during these impressionable years that he had the youthful circle of humanists: Angelo Poliziaro, Marsilio Ficiro, and Pico della Mirandola. Undoubtedly, Michelangelo's notion of reality as an essence underlying, or contained within, an enveloping substance, is derived from conversations he heard from Lorenzo's "academy." That defines sculpture as the art of "taking away," that is, revealing the figure already contained within the block. At Poliziano's suggestion, the young sculptor carved a Battle of Centaurs, already prophetic of the 16-year old's mastery of the nude, as the ideas were vehicles of expression.


During the Bologna sojourn, Michelangelo was undoubtedly influenced by the vigorous reliefs of Iacope della Quercia on the doors of the Cathedral of San Petronio.


Early works


In Florence, Michelangelo carved in marble a San Giovannino and a Sleeping Cupid (both lost). The Cupid imitated classic sculpture so skillfully that it was sold to a Roman art dealer who, in turn, sold the counterfeit as an authentic antique to the Cardinal Raffaello Riario. Discovering the deception, the Cardinal sum­moned Michelangelo to Rome (June, 1496), thinking to order other works from this astonishing young talent. Although the Cardinal's patronage ultimately proved unrewarding, Michelangelo remained in Rome for five fruitful years. During this period were executed a Bacchus in marble and the Pieta. This first sojourn to Rome resulted in great fame for the youthful sculptor and sharply revealed in the Bacchus and Pieta two of the contrasting main themes which served Michelangelo all his life: pagan exaltation of the nude male figure, and love-pity for the Christ.


The heart of an angel that can sense beauty and truth was brought into the human world with his work. His eyes, full of passion in every way showed that God must have given him one of his hands, and a portion of His superior mind which has the ability to create beauty.


Michelangelo is the name that reveals artistic ideas and love of beauty. He can capture love and life with beautiful art works presented effectively either in sculptures, paintings and even in poetry. He must have possessed all the creative senses a man could ever have.


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