Born in: Caprese, near Arezzo, Tuscany
Profile: Sculptor, Painter, Architect and Poet
Death: February 18, 1564
Michelangelo was an Italian Renaissance painter, sculptor, architect, poet and engineer. The versatility of the disciplines he opted for; combined with the perfection with which he accomplished his task, made him the righteous contender for the title of ‘Renaissance Man’, along with his strongest competitor Leonardo da Vinci. Amongst sculptures, two of his best works - the Pieta and the David were completed even before he turned thirty. As a painter, his frescos and the ‘Last Judgment’ on the altar walls of the Sistine Chapel are phenomenal. Moreover, he revolutionized the classical architecture use of the giant order of pilasters, while designing the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Michelangelo was born as Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni on 6th March 1475, in Caprese, near Arezzo, Tuscany. His father, Lodovico di Leonardo di Buonarroti di Simoni did a number of government jobs. Michelangelo's mother was Francesca di Neri del Miniato di Siena. After Michelangelo’s birth, his family moved to Florence, where he was raised. Later, after the death of his mother, Michelangelo moved to the town of Settignano, to live with a stonecutter and his wife. He studied grammar with the humanist Francesco da Urbino, in Florence.
As a young boy, he did not have any interest in school & preferred the company of painters. Michelangelo was apprenticed in painting with Domenico Ghirlandaio and in sculpture with Bertoldo di Giovanni. From 1490 to 1492, he attended Florence’s ruler Lorenzo de' Medici’s school. This significantly helped in modifying his ideas on art and his feelings about sexuality. He even met many distinguished literary personalities during this time, like Pico della Mirandola, Angelo Poliziano and Marsilio Ficino. Michelangelo finished ‘Madonna of the Steps’ and ‘Battle of the Centaurs’, during this time only.
After the death of Lorenzo de' Medici, in 1492, Michelangelo came back to his father’s house. Here, he worked on ‘Wooden Crucifix’, as a gift to the Prior of the church of Santa Maria del Santo Spirito. In 1494, Michelangelo moved to Venice and then to Bologna. Here, he was commissioned to finish the carving of the last small figures of the tomb and shrine of St. Dominic. At the end of 1494, he returned to Florence and worked on two statuettes - a child ‘St. John the Baptist’ and a sleeping ‘Cupid’.
The buyer of these sculptures was so impressed that he called Michelangelo to Rome. Thus, in 1496, at the age of twenty one, he moved to Rome. In 1497, the French ambassador commissioned him for one of his most famous works, the Pieta. During his stay in Rome, though Michelangelo was devoted to sculpture, he kept drawing. He lived near the church of Santa Maria di Loreto. It is believed that here, he fell in love with Vittoria Colonna, marquise of Pescara and poet. However, the relationship was platonic.
During 1499 -1501, Michelangelo was asked to complete an unfinished project that was started 40 years earlier by Agostino di Duccio. It was a statue of David, which was to be placed in front of Palazzo Vecchio. Michelangelo completed the statue in 1504, establishing his prominence as a sculptor. During this time, Michelangelo also painted the Holy Family and St John, also known as the Doni Tondo or the Holy Family of the Tribune. He also may have painted the Madonna and Child with John the Baptist, known as the Manchester Madonna, now in the National Gallery, London.
In 1505, Michelangelo returned to Rome on the invitation of Pope Julius II. He was commissioned to build his tomb. However, due to a number of other tasks to be accomplished at the same time, Michelangelo took 40 years to build Pope’s tomb. The tomb contains a statue of Moses and is located in Church of S. Pietro in Vincoli in Rome. The major hindrance in the construction of the tomb was his commission to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The meticulous work took four years to complete.
In 1513, Pope Julius II died and his successor Pope Leo X commissioned Michelangelo to reconstruct the facade of basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence. However, it could not be realized as the financial patrons backed out. The basilica lacks a façade till now. After this, he was approached for building the family funerary chapel in the Basilica of San Lorenzo. This project continued till 1530s and is still incomplete, as Michelangelo left Florence, leaving the work to his assistants.
From 1534 to 1541, Michelangelo worked on the fresco of ‘The Last Judgment’, on the walls of the Sistine Chapel. It was a massive project but was controversial, due to the nakedness of the figures. After the death of Michelangelo, the genitals of the figures were decided to be covered with perizomas or brief. In 1546, Michelangelo was appointed as the architect of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, and designed its dome.
The other notable Florentine architectural projects by Michelangelo are the unexecuted façade for the Basilica of San Lorenzo, Florence and the Medici Chapel (Capella Medicea) and Laurentian Library there, and the fortifications of Florence. The major Roman projects are St. Peter's, Palazzo Farnese, San Giovanni de' Fiorentini and the Sforza Chapel (Capella Sforzesca), Porta Pia and Santa Maria degli Angeli.
Michelangelo died in February 1564, at the age of 88. His body was taken back from Rome for interment at the Basilica di Santa Croce, fulfilling the maestro's last wish, to be buried in his beloved Tuscany. His house in Rome was demolished in 1874 and the remaining architectural elements were destroyed in 1930. Today, one can see a modern reconstruction of Michelangelo's house, on the Gianicolo hill. In December 2007, Michelangelo's red chalk sketch for the dome of St Peter's Basilica was discovered in the Vatican archives. It is an extremely rare relic, since the maestro destroyed his designs later in life.