Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (Michelangelo) was born in Caprese, Italy, on 6 March 1475.
An architect, sculptor and painter, he excelled in all three specialities for more than 70 years in the cities of Florence and Rome, where his greatest patrons, the Medici and the Popes of Rome, lived.
He was the first artist in the West to have two biographies published during his lifetime.
His contemporary colleagues nicknamed him The Divine.
He said that what he was most passionate about was sculpture, and that painting was imposed on him by Julius II, who was responsible for his painting the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican Palace.
His mother died in 1481, when Michelangelo was six years old.
The family, who had lived in Florence for over three hundred years, had belonged to the Guelph party, many of whom had held public office, but in the artist’s grandfather’s time the decline began, and his father, who had failed to maintain the family’s social position, lived on odd jobs for the government, such as that of corregidor of Caprese at the time of Michelangelo’s birth.
They returned to Florence, where they lived on a small income from a marble quarry, and a small estate in Settignano, where Michelangelo had lived during his mother’s long illness and death, was left in the care of a stonemason’s family.
His father forced him to study grammar in Florence, but he wanted to be an artist, and when he told his father, they had a heated discussion, as at that time it was a profession with little social recognition and was not worthy of the prestige of his lineage.
He managed to convince him to let him fulfil his wishes, to become an artist, which, according to Michelangelo, came from the influence of his wet nurse, the stonemason’s wife.
He soon demonstrated his magnificent artistic aptitude, especially for sculpture, in which he began to excel.
In April 1488, when he was only twelve years old, he entered the workshop of the famous brothers Davide Ghirlandaio and Domenico Ghirlandaio, with whom he remained for a year as an apprentice, after which, under the tutelage of Bertoldo di Giovanni, he began to frequent the Medici’s garden of San Marco, where he admired and studied the ancient sculptures in their possession.
On the death of Lorenzo the Magnificent in 1492 the artist fled from Florence to Venice and subsequently settled in Bologna.
In this city he sculpted various works influenced by Jacopo della Quercia.
In 1496 he decided to leave for Rome, where he achieved success. In the Italian capital he began a decade of great artistic intensity, and at the age of thirty he was accredited as a great artist.
After sculpting the «Bacus del Bargello» in 1496, he sculpted the Pietà in the Vatican when he was only twenty-three years old; later he produced the magnificent Tondo Pitti.
From the same period is the carton of The Battle of Cascina (now disappeared), and the David, a masterpiece of sculpture, of great complexity due to the small width of the marble piece, which was initially placed in front of the palace of the Town Hall in Florence, becoming the expression of the supreme civic ideals of the Renaissance.
In March 1505 Julius II commissioned him to create his funeral monument; Michelangelo designed a monumental architectural and sculptural complex and was enthusiastic about this project, remaining in Carrara for eight months to personally choose and direct the extraction of the marble to be used for its realisation.
However, on his return to Rome, the pope had dismissed the idea of the project, as he was too busy with Bramante’s renovation of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Disgruntled, he left Rome for Florence, but at the end of November 1506, after countless calls from the pope, who threatened him with excommunication, he returned to meet him in Bologna.
In May 1508 he agreed to direct the decoration of the vault of the Sistine Chapel, frescoes on which he worked for four years, after a tenacious and solitary effort; a grandiose painted architectural structure inspired by the actual shape of the vault.
In its general biblical theme, Michelangelo interposed a Neoplatonic interpretation of Genesis and shaped a kind of interpretation of the images that would become a symbol of Renaissance art.
In 1516 Leo X commissioned him to design the façade of the Basilica of San Lorenzo, a work he was sadly forced to abandon in 1520; numerous drawings and a wooden model of the project have survived.
Finally, after the death of Bramante in 1514 and of Raphael Sanzio in 1520, Michelangelo gained the full confidence of the papacy.
From 1520 to 1530, he worked in Florence, building the New Sacristy of San Lorenzo and the Laurentian Library.
After the sack of Rome in 1527 and the expulsion of the Medici from Florence, Michelangelo took part in the government of the new Florentine Republic, being appointed governor and procurator general for the construction and fortification of the walls, and took part in the defence of the city besieged by the papal troops.
In 1530, after the fall of the Republic, the pardon of Clement VII saved him from the vengeance of the Medici supporters. In that year he resumed work on the New Sacristy and the tomb of Julius II.
For this purpose he sculpted the two figures of the Slaves and the Moses, which reflect a tormented energy, Michelangelo’s «la terribilitá».
In 1534 he accepted a commission from Clement VII to work on the altar of the Sistine Chapel, where between 1536 and 1541 he executed the magnificent Last Judgement.
Until 1550 he worked on the tomb of Julius II and the frescoes in the Pauline Chapel depicting The Conversion of Saint Paul and the Crucifixion of Saint Peter.
His natural inclination for matter, for physical forms – he considered himself above all a sculptor of bodies – together with his fascination for all that is young and vigorous, emblems of classical beauty, led him to favour human beauty and the most sensual love until very late in his life.
During the last two decades of his life, Michelangelo devoted himself above all to architecture: he directed the work on the Laurenziana Library in Florence, in Rome, the remodelling of Capitoline Square, the Sforza Chapel in Santa Maria Maggiore, the completion of Palazzo Farnese and, above all, the completion of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.
The last sculptures, such as the «Palestrina Pietà» and the «Rondanini Pietà», as well as numerous drawings and poems of religious inspiration, date from this period.
During the last years of his life he worked on the design of the Vatican basilica, simplifying the project conceived by Bramante, although he kept the structure with a Greek cross plan and the great dome.
He died before his work was completed, at the age of eighty-eight, on 18 February 1564, accompanied by his secretary Daniele da Volterra and his faithful friend Tommaso Cavalieri.
He wrote that he wished to be buried in Florence and made his will in the presence of his physician Federigo Donati.
His nephew Leonardo was commissioned to carry out this last wish of the great artist, and on 10 March 1564 he was buried in the sacristy of the church of Santa Croce; the funerary monument was designed by Giorgio Vasari in 1570.
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