www.whyville.net Apr 13, 2000 Weekly Issue

Michelangelo Buonarroti

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     Have you noticed that the streets of Myville are all named after famous scientists and artists from the Renaissance? In case these folks aren't so famous to you, you might want to follow along this series of articles, and get to know the person on whose street you're living. This week's article is about one of the most famous sculptor of all time.

by Lois Lee
Times Staff

Michelangelo Buonarroti
1475 - 1564

On March 6, 1475, Michelangelo Buonarroti was born in Tuscany, Italy to Ludovico di Leonardo di Buonarotto Simoni and Francesca Neri. He was one of five boys (talk about having your hands full!). His mother was too sick to nurse Michelangelo, so he was placed with a wet nurse, in a family of stone cutters. (A wet nurse is a woman who, having milk because she is nursing her own child, takes on another woman's child to nurse as well.) His natural mother died when Michelangelo was only six years old. His love for sculpting came so naturally to him that he would claim in his later years that it had come to him in his wet-nurse's milk.

Michelangelo's father encouraged young Michelangelo to become a buisnessman. This would bring honor and money to the family. One can only imagine the scene that took place when Michealangelo, at 13, told his father he wished to become an artist instead. Eventually, his father allowed him to apprentice in the workshop of the painter Domenico Ghirlandaio. After about a year, Michelangelo went on to study at the sculpture school in the Medici gardens and was invited into the household of Lorenzo de' Medici, the Magnificent. (Remember that the Medicis were the ruling family of Florence. They paid for many artists like Botticelli, Vincenzo Galilei, and Leonardo da Vinci to pursue their artistic endeavors).

Self Portrait
(courtesy of michelangelo.com)

Michelangelo studied human anatomy. He was one of the first, along with Leonardo de Vinci, to do this. He recognized that without understanding how the anatomy of the human worked it would be hard to paint and sculpt. In exchange for permission to study corpses (which was usually forbidden by the Church), the Church of Santo Spirito received a wooden Crucifix from Michelangelo. Unfortunately for Michelangelo, the chemicals with which the dead are infused were particularily bad for the living, and his contact with all the bodies made him ill. Perhaps it is because Michelangelo paid such attention to detail, even at the risk of his own health, that he became so succesful.

By the time he was a teenager, Michelangelo's career was well on its way, though it was not without its setbacks. Disaster occurred after the death of Lorenzo the Magnificent, his employer and friend. Florence went through a number of political changes, and Savonarola became the political as well as religious leader.

Savonarola and his army of followers felt they were in charge of protecting the purity of Florence. From house to house they would march, taking all art that was not deemed compatible with the religious teachings of those times.

To avoid trouble, Michelangelo left Florence for Rome. There, he could see the statues and ruins of the classical period and study sculpture in peace. Michelangelo's first response to the majesty of classical Roman art is found in his larger-than-life statue of Bacchus, the god of wine. In Rome, he also completed the Pieta, and astounded people with how he could make marble come to live. Bacchus and Pieta were probably finished before Michelangelo was 25.

The Pieta
(courtesy of christusrex.org)

Note from the Editor: Another Renaissance artist in this series had a bad experience with Savonarola. Name that dude for 20 clams!

(courtesy of www.thais.it)

In 1501, the political situation in Florence got better and Michelangelo returned to the city. Hoping to encourage faith and heroisicism in this city, Michelangelo sculpted his David, based on the biblical David who with bravery and smart thinking defeated the giant Goliath.

After a few years in Florence, Michelangelo was summoned back to Rome by Pope Julius II, who had a new job for him: the Sistine Chapel, that is to become his most famous work by far. Michelangelo recognized the possibility of this project, and being a rather territorial man who liked to be in charge, as well as a perfectionist who tolerated very little mistake, he fired all of his assistants and did the whole thing by himself. Michelangelo recounts its effect on him with these words:

"After four tortured years, more than 400 over life-sized figures, I felt as old and as weary as Jeremiah. I was only 37, yet friends did not recognize the old man I had become."

Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (click for larger image)
(courtesy of christusrex.org)

Following the Sistine Chapl, Pope Julius II, with great foresight, hired him to produce his tomb, which he took up residence in shortly thereafter.

Michelangelo also studied architecture. In the 1520s, he designed the Laurentian Library in Florence. When, in 1526, Florence proclaimed itself a republic, independent of the Pope in Rome, for the last time, the new Pope, Clement VII, ordered the city to be surrounded by German mercenary soldiers. Michelangelo dropped everything to prepare plans for defense against the mercenaries. He protected a fragile part of a church by covering it with mattresses.

Believing that invasion was taking place soon, Michelangelo decided to flee to Venice. He was exiled from Florence as a traitor, but was later allowed to reenter the city when he was granted a pardon by Clement VII. He resumed his work on the Medici Chapel and Laurentian Library. In 1534, Michelangelo left Florence forever. It is thought that bad feelings about the siege drove Michelangelo to leave.

Back in Rome, Michelangelo painted the fresco of the "Last Judgment" in the Sistine Chapel, which turned into one of his most controversal projects because it contain a great number of nudes. Nude images were not seen as religiously acceptable at the time and the

St. Peter's Basilica, Rome
(click for larger image)

(courtesy of christusrex.org)

After the Last Judgement, Michelangelo worked on plans to to remodel the heart of Rome in the Capitoline Hill and also worked on the design of St. Peter's Basilica. Loneliness and sorrow were Michelangelo's companions in the last years of his life. His friends were dead and he was left to his own devices. He continued to sculpt till his last days.

He died on February 18th, 1564, after a "slow fever." The body of the dead artist was placed in a sarcophagus in the church of Santi Apostoli. A few days after the burial, his nephew, Lionardo Buonarroti, took Michelangelo's property, and, in secret, stole his corpse. The remains were smuggled back to Florence, concealed in a bale of hay. Florence claimed Michelangelo as its native son, and the Florentines turned out in large numbers to honor him.

Michelangelo was a true Renissance man. He did it all: painter, sculptor, architect, military man, poet and musician. He should inspire us all to study whatever interests us in the face of all odds.

Click here to learn more about Michelangelo.


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