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