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Portrait of Michelangelo

In 1475 Michelangelo Buonarroti was born into a poor family who considered themselves noble. His talent for art was discovered when he was 13 when he assisted Domenico Ghirlandaio, who at the time was painting a chapel in the church of Santa Maria. This knowledge earned him a chance to study at Lorenzo (the Great) de' Medici's house (Honour 448). He remained there for three years. During this time he was exposed to the Neoplatonic thought of classic scholars such as poet Angelo Poliziano and philosopher Marisilio Ficino. Thus his early drawings and sculptures such as the Madonna of the Stairs and Battle of the Centaurs were greatly influence by Giotto, Masaccio, and Donatello. From 1494 to 1501 he turned his attention to the church producing several pieces including the statuettes for San Petronio (Bologna), Bacchus (Bargello, Florence) and the Pietà (St. Peter's, Rome) (Michelangelo Buonarroti).

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These statues were only slightly influenced by classical art, however his next job the David relies heavily on that antiquity. (Weinberg 74). This statue embodies an idealistic and naturalistic view of man. The David was constructed for the new Florence republic in 1504 to symbolize their new superior form of government (Honor 449). It exhibits many of the Hellenic ideas which could be found in classic Greek art. For example, his feet and hands are disproportionately large. This portrays the idea that man is powerful (Honor 448). The name of the statue could also be used to illustrate the Renaissance idea of secularism. Schaeffer, a contemporary art historian, argues that the David does not refer to the biblical character due to the fact that the statue is uncircumcised. Instead the David represents the ideal human (72). This can be connected to the famous Greek philosopher, Protagoras, whose theory that 'man is the measure of all,' was developed in the Hellenic era. Taking into account the perfection of David's body the choice of name, and his overpowering stance, one can infer that mankind was the standard for all. This was one of the main themes of the Renaissance.

After the David, he left the secular art world to sculpt the Bruges Madonna (Notre Dame, Bruges) and paint the The Holy Family (Uffizi) (Michelangelo Buonarroti). Then In 1505 Pope Julius II commissioned him to do his sepulchral monument. The outcome of this 40 year project was a larger than life size, bronzed sculpture of Moses and two unfinished slaves. It made up an entire wall of Julius II tomb (Honour 449). During this project Julius II also convinced him to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Starting in 1508 Michelangelo spent 4 years painting scenes detailed in the Bible such as the Creation, Moses receiving the laws, David defeating Goliath and the coming of Christ (Honour 451).

From 1520 to 1534 Michelangelo worked on the Medici Chapel (San Lorenzo, Florence), which serves as the Medici family's mausoleum. He also designed the Laurentian Library which, like the Medici Chapel, was attached to the church of San Lorenzo (Michelangelo Buonarroti). He then returned to the Sistine Chapel to paint the Last Judgment, which was another fresco on the end wall. However, this contained offensive nude figures which bothered many church officials. He was eventually denounced as an 'inventor of filthiness.' This Controversy forced him to leave art and study architecture (Honour 455).

In 1547 Michelangelo began design works for the Palazzo Farnese. He also played a role in designing the Capitoline Hill. These credentials enabled him to obtain the position as head architect for the redesigning of St. Peter's cathedral. The major attraction of his proposal was a revolutionary new domed ceiling. Unfortunately, his death in 1564 was thirty years prior to its completion (Michelangelo Buonarroti).

With works such as the David, Michelangelo is arguably the most influential artist of the Renaissance era. However, his versatility allowed him to move beyond the classical ideal of most Renaissance pieces. In fact, some considered his work to fit the Mannerist archetype better. Either way both his spiritual and secular art are still praised and studied throughout the world.

Edited by: Andrew J. Newlin
Researched by: Vanessa R. Ahmed
Written by: Anthony A. Ragona
November 21, 1997

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