Fine Arts 1080 class.
Sculpture and welding, a lot of fun.
We were asked to choose a sculptor and do a research.
September 2003

A Short Research on

Michelangelo Buonarroti

Buonarroti Michelangelo - Nude Woman on her Knees
Nude Woman on her Knees
Muse du Louvre, Paris

Buonarroti, Michelangelo

born 1475 - dead 1504
Here we talk about one the world's greatest author, a master of any time. His work is of a sublime beauty. Second of five brothers, was born at Caprese, a small village close to Florence, in Tuscany, an Italian County. We have some records of his father journal: " Today March 6, 1475, a child of the male sex has been born to me and I have named him Michelangelo. He was born on Monday between 4 and 5 in the morning, at Caprese, where I am the Podest." (in Italian in that age Podesta' meant like Mayor).
Although born in the small village of Caprese, Michelangelo always considered himself a "son of Florence" as did his father, "a Citizen of Florence" [online:].
His mother was sick and weak so he was nursered in the family of a stone-cutter. Later he wrote: "sucked in the craft of hammer and chisel with my foster mother's milk. When I told my father that I wish to be an artist, he flew into a rage, 'artists are laborers, no better than shoemakers'".
When he was six his mother died so we can suppose his childhood was sad and lacking in affection, and he grew a bit taciturn. Touchy and quick to respond with fierce words, he tended to keep to himself, out of shyness according to some but also, according to others, a lack of trust in his fellows [online:].

Madonna Tondo Pitti
Madonna (Tondo Pitti) - 1504-05
Marble, 85,8 x 82 cm
Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence

Later his father sent him to the school of a master, Francesco Galeota from Urbino, to learn grammar, and some Latin. There he met Francesco Granacci who was learning the art of painting in the studio of The Ghirlandaio. This was crucial for him because Granacci pushed him to follow his vocation in art.
Michelangelo's father, now a minor Florentine official with connections to the ruling Medici family, was a man obsessed with preserving what little remained of the Buonarroti fortunes. With few properties and monies remaining Ludovico hoped that with his studies, Michelangelo could become a successful merchant or businessman, thereby preserving the Buonarroti position in society [online:].

Battle - c. 1492
Marble, 84.5 x 90.5 cm
Casa Buonarroti, Florence

When he was about 13 he told his father that wished to do some apprentice in affresco (or fresco) with The Ghirlandaio. After one year he moved at the sculpture school in the Medici family garden. There he had an opportunity to converse with the younger Medici, two of whom later became popes (Leo X and Clement VII). He also became acquainted with such humanists as Marsilo Ficino and the poet Angelo Poliziano, frequent visitors to the Medici court [online:].
It is not possible to talk of Michelangelo without referring to political, religious and economical climate of the age, so here will be given some historical notes. One of the problem of this age was that Art was not possible without some sponsor.
A bit later he was called by Lorenzo de Medici, the Magnificent. So he had his opportunity. There his culture grew because he became friend of the humanist Marsilo Ficino and the poet Angelo Poliziano. While attending Medici family he started to study anatomy.
At 16 he made two beautyfull relief sculptures: the "Battle of the Centaurs" and "Madonna of the Stairs", both about 1489-92.

Buonarroti Michelangelo - Madonna of the Stairs
Madonna of the Stairs - 1490-92
Marble, 55.5 x 40 cm - Casa Buonarroti, Florence

From his journal: "My first work was a small bas-relief, The Madonna of the Stairs. Mary, Mother of God, sits on the rock of the church. The child curls back into her body. She foresees his death, and his return on the stairway to heaven. My second work, another small relief. My tutor read me the myth of the battle of the Lapiths against the Centaurs. The wild forces of Life, locked in heroic combat. Already at 16, my mind was a battlefield: my love of pagan beauty, the male nude, at war with my religious faith. A polarity of themes and spiritual, the other earthly, I've kept these carvings on the walls of my studio to this very day ".
During the years he spent in the Garden of San Marco, Michelangelo began to study human anatomy. In exchange for permission to study corpses (which was strictly forbidden by The Church), the prior of the church of Santo Spirito, Niccol Bichiellini, received a wooden Crucifix from Michelangelo. But his contact with the dead bodies caused problems with his health, obliging him to interrupt his activities periodically [online:].

Madonna and Child - detail
Madonna and Child (detail)
1501-05 - Marble
Notre Dame, Bruges

Then Lorenzo the Magnificent died, and into the next years being the political situation of Florence very divided and fighted, he moved at Rome.
Michelangelo then went to Rome, where he was able to examine many newly unearthed classical statues and ruins. He soon produced his first large-scale sculpture, the over-life-size Bacchus (1496-98, Bargello, Florence). One of the few works of pagan rather than Christian subject matter made by the master, it rivaled ancient statuary, the highest mark of admiration in Renaissance Rome.
While finishing that, he started the "Pieta' " - 1498-1500, one of the world most famous masterpiece, and here is astonishing to notice that he was barely 25. Comment of the Vasari: "It would be impossible for any craftsman or sculptor no matter how brilliant ever to surpass the grace or design of this work, or try to cut and polish the marble with the skill that Michelangelo displayed" [Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Artists, first published 1550, 2nd edition 1558].

Saint Peter
St. Peter - 1501-04
Marble - Duomo, Siena

In these years of political confusion, with the Catholic power as usual trying to rise, on August 4th, 1501 a republic was once again proclaimed in Florence. Twelve days after he was commissioned to sculpt for the local Cathedral a statue of David - 1501-04 - marble - gorgeous: 4.34 m. (14.24 ft.).
Of these years are the "Madonna of Bruges" - marble - and the painted "tondo of the Holy Family". In 1508 he went back in Rome and was commissioned by the Pope to paint twelve apostles on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Here it's my humble opinion there are not enough words in the dictionary to describe the beauty of this opera. Not to mention its size: "The chapel is rectangular in shape and measures 40.93 meters long by 13.41 meters wide, i.e. the exact dimensions of the Temple of Solomon, as given in the Old Testament"
Other works of his are:
  • the "Tomb of Julius II";
  • the "Bound Slave" and the "Dying Slave" - both 1510-13.
  • "Imprisoned in the Block" - an unended work, or satisfied with it as is.

Dying Slave
Slave (dying), detail
c. 1513 - Marble
Muse du Louvre, Paris

In the 1519 began and grew his architectural side. Then he was called again by the Medici family for two tombs: Lorenzo de' Medici and Giuliano de' Medici, other two marvellous wonderfull gorgeous works, and from which is evident his madness. Obviously the madness of one is the genius of another.
His personal comment was:
"It is my pleasure to sleep and even more to be stone
As long as shame and dishonor may last,
My sole desire is to see and to feel no more.
Speak softly, I beg you, do not awaken me
Then he left Florence in 1534 forever and came back in Rome under the protection of Pope Clement VII, who commissioned him the affresco "The Last Judgement" for the Sistine Chapel. With this work Michelangelo exposed hiself to some critics. "Vasari relates that Biagio da Cesena, the Vatican's master of Ceremonies, said that "it was mostly disgraceful that in so sacred a place there should have been depicted all those nude figures, exposing themselves so shamefully, and that it was no work for a papal chapel but rather for the public baths and taverns"
But are well known the hypothesis about his supposed homosexuality, or bisexuality.

David - 1504
Marble, height 434 cm
Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence

Then he met Vittoria Colonna, a poetess, and between the two was love (he was 61 and she 46). Here we can notice the polyedricity of his art: he donated her 3 drawings; and over tons of letters, he left us sonnets and madrigals. All inspired by a "cruel and beautiful" woman, relative of Popes.

Portrait of Vittoria
Portrait of Vittoria Colonna
1540s - Chalk
British Museum, London
In this age his madness, driven by his genius, reached the top as his "unsociableness": "I am here in great distress and with great physical strain, and have no friends of any kind, nor do I want them; and I do not have enough time to eat as much as I need; my joy and my sorrow / my repose are these discomforts".
It appears he paid a big price for the divine gift of his art: "I am a poor man and of little worth, who is laboring in that art that God has given me in order to extend my life as long as possible" (January 29th, 1542).
Its required to consider also his works as architect:
  • the Campidoglio (Capitol) - 1538-39 - the remodelling of the buldings of that age political hearth of Rome, with in the middle the bronze equestrian statue of the roman emperor Marco Aurelio. All the job was so great that was ended in the 17th century;
  • the St. Peter Basilica - another gorgeous work, whose building and remodelling was forced by the local mob Sangallo chief, who gained alot with the Church: so he decided to be paid not.

Moses (detail)
1515 - Marble
S. Pietro in Vincoli, Rome

His life was heavily influenced by religion, by both his faith and by some Popes.
In his last days he wrote: "Many believe - and I believe - that I have been designated for this work by God. In spite of my old age, I do not want to give it up; I work out of love for God and I put all my hope in Him".
And later: "I spend my days supervising the construction of St. Peter's. The Vatican's financial superintendent keeps harassing me for a progress report. My response: your lordship, I am not obliged to, nor do I intend to, tell you anything. Your job is to keep the money rolling in, and out of the hands of thieves. I will see to the building".

Brutus - 1540
Marble, height 95 cm
Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence

In these last years, now he is over 70, he keeps on producing studies and drawings of The Lament over the Dead Christ and about the Crucifixion. But his soul, not tired, pushes him to another masterpiece: the Pieta'. Then he started the Rondanini Pieta' but left unfinished. Almost 90 he starts the Mother and the Christ. His words: "the course of my life has finally reached In its fragile boat, over stormy seas The common port where we must account For all our past actions. No painting or sculpture can quiet my soul" and on February 18, 1564 he passed away.

Rachel and Leah
Rachel and Leah
1545 - Marble
S. Pietro in Vincoli, Rome

Here is an example of his sonets:
This comes from dangling from the ceiling
I'm goitered like a Lombard cat
(or wherever else their throats grow fat)
it's my belly that's beyond concealing,
it hands beneath my chin like peeling.
My beard points skyward, I seem a bat
upon its back, I've breasts and splat!
On my face the paint's congealing.

Loins concertina'd in my gut,
I drop an arse as counterweight
and move without the help of eyes.

Like a skinned martyr I abut
on air, and, wrinkled, show my fat.
Bow-like, I strain toward the skies.

No wonder then I size
things crookedly; I'm on all fours.
Bent blowpipes send their darts off-course.

Defend my labor's cause,
good Giovanni, from all strictures:
I live in hell and paint its pictures

       Michelangelo Buonarroti

Vincenzo Maggio