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Michelangelo Buonarroti

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Michelangelo Buonarroti: March 6,1475-Feb.18,1564...Italy

"If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn't seem so wonderful at all."
~Michelangelo Buonarroti

The second born of the three greatest Renaissance artists was Michelangelo Buonarroti (Yes, he has a last name). Michelangelo was the dominant artist of the Renaissance, and is arguably the greatest artist of all time. He was a sculptor, poet, architect, painter, and inventor. Not only did he work in these areas, but excelled in all of them. His true passion was sculpture, but he recognized the power of drawing, "He who knows how to draw well, even if only a foot, a hand, or a neck, will be able to draw anything in the world."

Born under unique circumstances, Michelangelo’s mother was too sick to care for him when he as born, so he was placed in the care of a wet-nurse in Settignano. His mother, Francesca di Neri, died when he was six years old. At this time his family moved to Via dei Bentaccordi and the young prodigy was developing quite a reputation. He was often beaten by his father and uncle who felt an artist in the family would disgrace the family name. At the age of thirteen, he was apprenticed to Domenico and Daniele Ghirlandaio, fresco painters in Florence, for a year. He was learning to draw by copying and observing things around him. He seen went to study at the Lorenzo de Medici Art Academy under Bertoldo di Giovanni, a student of the renowned sculptor, Donatello Bardi. It was here, when he was about sixteen, that he was looking at the art of another student, Torrigiani, that Michelangelo made an unpleasant remark about the other students work and Michelangelo was punched in the nose so hard that he had a crooked nose the rest of his life.

After returning home in 1492, Michelangelo received special permission to dissect cadavers from the church. The first artist allowed to perform dissections was the Florentine sculptor, Antonio del Pollaiuolo, but Michelangelo did not do it very long because it made him quite sick to his stomach and affected his diet. It was also at this time he would meet one of his biggest intellectual inspirations, a Dominican monk named Girolamo Savonarola. On May 23, 1498 Savonarola was burned at the stake for opposing Pope Alexander VI. At the age of nineteen, he fled to Bologna where he made some sculptures, but was in Florence by 1494. The following year he moved along to Rome where Michelangelo was on the hunt for patrons.
 
It was at this point that Michelangelo created his first important work and the work that was the base for his fame, Pietà. At the age of twenty-five, he creates a youthful Mary holding her dead son. Her slightly larger size maybe to reflect upon the past hen he was a baby. This work was commissioned by French Cardinal Jean Bilhères de Lagravlas. It was originally designed as a burial marker. Today it is on display in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. Michelangelo was twenty-four when it was completed in 1499 and it was his only signed work. Why was it signed? When it was first display, people were amazed by the realistic nature if the work. It was believed only one artist was good enough to create it, Cristofero Solari. Michelangelo overheard these remarks and soon went into the chapel where it was on display. Under the cover of night, he carved his name into the sash running across Mary‘s chest. He did regret his selfishness and never signed another artwork the rest of his life. Michelangelo leaves Rome for Florence when he was twenty-six years old.
 
Pietà
1499. Marble. 68½ × 76¾ inches.  St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican, Vatican City.

Michelangelo began his career as a loner. He once even said, "I have no friends of any sort and want none." He hated honors and dismissed the public that was beginning to seek him out. One such patron signed a contract with the artist on August 16, 1501; Michelangelo was to create another of his masterworks, David. Michelangelo had acquired this block of marble from an inexperienced sculptor that had badly damaged the marble. So badly in-fact, that two other sculptors attempted to fix it, but were unsuccessful. He first made a small wax model of the work with its famous contrapostto stance. He then submerged it into a container of colored water. He worked as fast as the water would evaporate, starting at the top and working his way down. The project began in September and the weather turned cold. In October he build a shed around the work so his progress could continue. The seventeen foot tall work was finished on September 8, 1504 at the cost of 400 ducats. It was put on display in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence, Italy. In 1512 it was hit by lightning. Fifteen years later his arm was broken in a riot. More recently, in 1991, some moron hit his foot with a hammer and damaged his toe.
 
David
1501-1504. Marble. 13 feet 5 inches high. Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence, Italy.

It is sometimes odd to consider that Michelangelo actually knew other great artists. One that he not only know, but had a huge rivalry with was Leonardo da Vinci. It all came about around 1504 after Michelangelo finished David. The city of Florence contacted Leonardo to create a mural of the Battle of Anghiari in the Council Room in the Plazzo della Signoria. A wall that was about fifty-four feet by twenty feet in size. Well, on the opposite wall was also to be placed a mural, twenty-two feet high and fifty-four feet wide, of the Battle of Cascina to be created by Michelangelo. During this event the city took some pleasure in this competition of sorts that caused each to like the other less and less. It was a battle: young against old, the champ defending against the underdog, Its more exciting than a Rocky movie. Leonardo, always the experimentalist used an untested fresco formula and had to start over before he picked up a brush. It seemed that throughout the project Leonardo couldn’t catch a break. He had unevenly dry paints, sections dried too fast and others that ran down the wall. But the young and aggressive Michelangelo sped past the older Leonardo in placing the drawing onto the wall. Just as Michelangelo was to coast into the painting of the wall and taking down the master of his time, Pope Julius II sends for Michelangelo to come to Rome to do a sculptural work, the media of his true passion, and left Leonardo to the task. In Leonardo’s mind, if he has better things to do than finishing the project, than so should he, and the project was abandoned completely and he was soon on the return to Milan. The only things that remain of the works are sketches done mostly by other artists that wanted to learn from the masters in the post Renaissance time periods.

Pope Julius II was elected pope in 1503 and was big into having the Vatican decorated by the greatest artists around. In March of 1505, just after finishing David, Michelangelo was paid a craftsman’s yearly salary in advance, as well as an annual salary and a huge bonus when it was finished, for his work on his funerary tomb. The tomb was to be carved in his Florence workshop and shipped peace by peace to Rome. Setting to work, Michelangelo went to Carrara for eight months to hand select ninety wagonloads of marble to build the massive tomb. While he was off, the pope was looking to rebuild St. Peter’s Basilica. The design selected was created by Donato Bramante. Putting all his resources behind the construction project, he placed the tomb on hold, even though this was not communicated to Michelangelo after he spent a considerable amount of money shipping 100 tons of marble to Rome. He had designed a three-layered monument with forty plus statues and reliefs in honor of Pope Julius II. He went to see the pope to get answers; "I returned on Monday, and on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, and on Thursday…Finally on Friday morning I was turned out, in other words, I was sent packing." This did not set well with that artist, known for his bad temper. He was beyond angered and left for Florence with the intention on never returning to Rome: he left on April 18, 1506. Several requests to return to Rome by the pope, but he refused to go. The pope was in Bologna, where he again asked Michelangelo to meet him. This time he went and was commissioned to create a life-sized bronze statue of the pope. Michelangelo was uneasy in Bologna; it was a known to be a dangerous town and he felt in danger much of the time. After two castings, the job was done with success and the statue was placed above the church door. Pope Julius II was known as a violent warrior who thrashed insubordinates with his walking stick. He must have known this the way to get Michelangelo back to work. While in Bologna, Pope Julius II was devastated and desperate. In an unprecedented attempt to get Michelangelo to return to Rome, the pope apologized and allowed him to work on both projects in due time. Michelangelo left Bologna for Florence on February twenty-first, 1508. The talk must have also done some good, because the official contract to begin the work on the Sistine Chapel was signed on May 10,1508, with an advance in pay equivalent to high-end craftsman’s four year salary.

The Sistine Chapel was built as a personal sanctuary for the pope, built for Sixtus IV. Work began to restore the Cappella Magna into Sistine Chapel between 1477 and 1480. The Sistine Chapel Ceiling is an 85 foot high and 133 feet by 43 feet ceiling in area (the same size as the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem). Artists were brought in to decorate the place and it had its first mass on August 15, 1483. Pope Julius II, nephew of Pope Sixtus IV, was elected pope in 1503 and one of the many items on his wish list was to have the ceiling of his uncle's chapel repainted by the greatest artists around. Bramante, who along with other jealous artists, convinced Pope Julius II to have Michelangelo paint the ceiling. Why? Because he was the greatest artist and they wanted to show off his talents? NO! It was to distract Michelangelo form his sculptural projects. The hope was that the product would be so poor in quality compared to the work of the Pope’s official painter, Raphael Sanzio, that Michelangelo would be rejected as an artist. Also, if Michelangelo was painting 12,000 square feet of ceiling, he wouldn’t have time to sculpt. This was further realized when the Pope placed the stipulation on the tomb project. If he wanted to make the tomb, he first had to paint the Sistine. Michelangelo was very angered and asked to have Raphael paint it, but Raphael was working on the School of Athens, and the pope’s mind was made up.

With St. Peter’s Basilica being rebuilt, the Sistine Chapel needed to keep open for the public. Michelangelo designed a scaffolding system, that was built by Piero "Shorty" Basso, so that the floor was open for mass and the work of demolition and reconstruction could get under way above. A scaffold that was basically a stepped archway that ran with the same profile of the ceiling that was half as large as the room and accessible by ramps. This allowed Michelangelo, and the other workers, to stand with comfort as they worked. The bottom of the scaffold was covered with canvas to prevent paint from dripping down, as well as to prevent anyone from seeing the progress of the painting. When half of a phase was done, the structure was dismantled and reassembled on the other end of the room.

Michelangelo is the man whose reputation is on the line with this project, however, it took a team or workers to pull it off. He had not frescoed in some time and was quite rusty. This team would help with the construction process, plaster, mix pigments, and work on other aspects of the project. His oldest, closest and most trusted friend on the project was Florentine painter, Francesco Granacci; who recruited, organized and paid the workers. He was a rather lazy guy that was no threat to steal ideas from Michelangelo. Michelangelo additionally liked his sense of humor that he brought to the work site. Other known workers included: Bastiano "Aristotle" da Sangallo, Giuliani "Beato" (Happy) Bugiardini, Agnolo "Il Mazziere" (The Card-Dealer) di Donnino, Jacopo del Tedesco , Giovanni Michi, Pietro Urbano, Giovanni Trignoli, Bernardino Zacchetti, and Jacopo "Indigo" Torni. These Florentine fresco painters were hired for a short time to get things moving in the right direction and once things were up and running, they were replaced with cheaper workers. Other work was done by Piero Rosselli, Giovanni Michi, and Pietro Urbano.

Originally, Michelangelo was to paint the twelve apostles around the chapel with a simple geometric design on the actual ceiling, but Michelangelo disliked the idea. It was the practice for the patron to direct the artist to direct the artist. The artist was nothing more than a skilled laborer. In an unique move, after some debate on the topic, the pope finally allowed Michelangelo to paint whatever he wanted. There may have been some discussions with pope’s official theologian (Giovanni Rafanelli), but appears that there was no creative contribution from those officials. This may be due to Michelangelo’s studies that included extensive work in theology under numerous scholars. In the end, the painting of each Genesis panel is a painting that can stand alone as a work of art. They all have their own perspective and composition. Over a Thousand preparatory drawings were done for this project. He began with The Flood, then advanced to The Drunkenness of Noah; The Sacrifice of Noah; The Temptation and Expulsion; Creation of Eve; Creation of Adam; Creation of the Sun, Moon and Planets; and God Separating Light from Darkness. If one looks at the whole of the work, it can all pool together but looking at the first works, and the sections painted after Creation of Eve, we can see that he drasticly changes his paintings after he is able to view them from the floor. A total of twenty ignudi (all men) surround the vaulted Genesis panels. "I say that painting is at its most beautiful when it succeeds in imitating volume, and sculpture may be deemed bad when it seeks to imitate painting. And yet, it seems to me that sculpture was the lamp that illuminated painting, and that between the two arts there is the same relationship as between the sun and the moon." Prefering to paint with hog bristle brushes, the four spandrels in the corners of the sanctuary with illustrations of the Old Testament: David slaying Goliath (I Samuel 17:1-52); Judith fleeing with her maid and the head of Holofronies (Judith 13:6-10); The Crucifixion of Haman after persecuting the Hebrew people (Esther 8:7); and the serpents unleashed on the Hebrews that lost faith in Moses and God in Transjordania (Numbers 21:6). The spandrels that were proposed to contain the twelve apostles were replaced with depictions of seven Old Testament profits and five pagan sibyls. The vaulting compartments depict the ancestors of Christ, listed in the beginning verses of the New Testament. These ninety-one relatives are all painted as very humble and down-to-earth characters that reveal a wide range of emotions. Having a family with fights, drama, and issued demands; Michelangelo imagined Christ having a family as unruly as his was. Due to his inexperience and the sheer difficulty in fresco painting, many parts of the work were chiseled out and reworked multiple times.

The pope and Michelangelo did not always see eye-to-eye. On several occasions the Pope would clime the scaffold up to the ceiling and say "When will you finish?" To this Michelangelo would reply, "When I can." There are several accounts of the violent arguments between the Pope and Michelangelo, usually because of the speed of the project. On one occasion the frustrated Pope asked, "Do you want me to have you thrown down from the scaffolding?" To this Michelangelo replied, "You shall not have me thrown down." This biggest thing to Michelangelo was the frustration of the Pope interrupting the progress to show off the work and then turn around to complain that is was not finished. There are severa; accounsts of work going litherally months without progress because of the Pope was not giving payments. There was also several times the Pope was out of town overseeing battles against the French or in reballious terratories, or ill with gout, syphilis, or malaria, so the formal steps to progress were frozen. Michelangelo was anxious about the Pope unfeiling the Eastern half if the work when the scaffold was moved to work on the Western half. He had an unease about people seeing his unfinished work. He was so protective of his sketches and the thought process behind his works that he burned most of his study materials in 1564. Why? He wanted to be remembered as an artist whose ideas leaped into his mind and off his hands into the world. Michelangelo, living and working in close proximity with so many great and popular artists often also found himself conflicting with them as well. On one occasion Raphael Sanzio, who was seen as a Prince of Rome, strolled into the area where Michelangelo was also coming back to work. Lacking the ability to keep quiet, Michelangelo said, "You look like a prince in the midst of his court." Which sparked Raphael to reply "And you alone, like an executioner." At the half way point in the work, Raphael went with Bramante to ask the Pope to allow him to finish the ceiling. Michelangelo protested. The work obviously continued under Michelangelo and Raphael went on to paint other rooms in his appartments, as well as be seen by Michelangelo as a snot nosed punk.

The fourteen-phase painting was finished after four years of labor on October 31, 1512. It took a few days prior to remove the scaffold and view the whole work without obstruction. The finished product had 343 figures that were thoughtfully organized. As one looks at the ceiling now, we can see that Michelangelo chose not to place the images in a chronological order. The nine major compositions that illustrate the book of Genesis are actually organized based on their content of nudity. Nudes are placed further away from the alter. It is also a progression from common man to God, starting with the drunk Noah and ending with God creating light. One figure stood out from the rest. Many of our modern time might think that this is Adam, however, at the time of its first viewers, most were blown away by Jonah. Although it was painted on a curved surface, Jonah appeard to bend backward in space. A masters application of the most complicated foeshortened image the workd may have ever seen.

Michelangelo breaks from the tradition of depicting some of these Biblical scenes. For example, the tradition in depicting the flood was to see receding waters with a dove flying with a laurel leaf. However, it is seen on the Sistine as a terrifying scene with sixty-two figures and a donkey (representing Christ). The images in the panels show influences not only from the Bible, but also Plato, Savonarola, as well as his own personal belief. There are several Sistine figures that are androgynous. This is possibly linked to the bisexual nature from Greek mythology. There are also Christian doctrines that consider the androgynous being one who is superior. It is also a fact that Michelangelo only had one positive relationship with a woman, Vittoria Colonna.

Although this is an old work of art, it remains in great condition. The only damage to it occurred in 1797, when there was an explosion in the Castle Sant' Angelo that shook the ground and damaged a section of the fresco. To history's benifit. Pope Adrian IV did not get his way. He saw the paintings inapproprate for the chapel and wanted them destroyed. He fortunately died after only serving as pope for some twanty months.

In 1979 a multimillion dollar restoration and cleaning began on the ceiling. Parts were retouched and sealed with am acrylic resin coating. It was documented with thousands of photos, many hours of video footage and the network assumed all rights to the ceiling's work. The ceiling was finished by the end of 1989. All photography is banned in the chapel because the photo rights to the chapel are currently owned by Fuji Film.

Sistine Chapel
1475-83. 40 feet wide x 130 feet long. Vatican, Vatican City.

As the Sistine Chapel was being worked on, Michelangelo was spending a lot of time pulling double duty; working on the several sculptures for the Popes tomb including his Moses and six slaves that would be on the final tomb, as well as his day job painting the chapel. The pope’s tomb project was soon scaled down and then stopped completely, ironically, because of Michelangelo’s desire to complete the Sistine Chapel painting. When Pope Julius died 1513, the tomb design was again modified. Ten years later the Pope’s family was going to take legal action against Michelangelo when he created a fourth plan, then a fifth in 1532, and finally a sixth in 1542 when it was completed in 1545 (Yes, a forty year project!).
 
Time moves forward for the now acknowledged master. Michelangelo buys a farm, La Loggia, as an investment of his money and a house near Florence. It was close to the work he was doing at the time on San Lorenzo in Florence. Like a stereotypical Italian story, a hit for his assassination was ordered by Baccio Valori for vocal political beliefs, so he moves back to Rome, and thirty years after painting the Sistine, the sixty year old Michelangelo was summoned back to the Sistine Chapel. This time it was by Pope Paul III to paint the 2,250 square foot front of the sanctuary now known as the Last Judgment. He built a scaffold between April and August 1535 and got to work. It is thought he was going to paint a Resurrection, but obviously decided otherwise. He did need to take a break in the work when he fell off the scaffold and injured his leg and refused to see a doctor. The wall has over 400 figures. Two of those are believed to be his self-portraits. The most recognized was discovered by Francesco la Cava. He noted the facial characteristics of the flayed skin held by St. Bartholomew (who was a martyr that was skinned alive) strongly resemble the face of Michelangelo. The second is seen in the far lower left. His design was strongly based on scripture, but there is also a Dante Alighieri influence on his representations of Hell. At the time this was painted, it this was a scary work, and at the same time very controversial. The nude figures were seen as inappropriate for the subject of an alter in the Vatican. He was asked to paint over them but refused. Other artists were later paid to add drapes over many of the nudes. The Pope's master of ceremonies, Biagio da Cesena, was a major protester, calling it "highly dishonest" and saying it would be better suited for a bar. As pay back for his disrespect, he was pained as Minos in Hell. When he complained to the Pope asking his likeness be removed, the Pope said "I have power over heaven and earth, but not over Hell." The work was revealed to the public on Christmas day 1541. It was planned that a resurrection scene was to be painted on the other wall, but this was never started.
 
Last Judgment
Fresco. 44 feet 7 inches x 39 feet 2 inches. Sistine Chapel, Vatican City.

Michelangelo goes on to other projects and life. He buys a house in Florence and helps finish work on the new basilica of St. Peter’s; he is denounced as a heretical Lutheran as the inquisition spreads; parts of his Last Judgement are covered; and other projects around Rome. In 1564, at the age of eighty-nine, the very elderly master returns to his artistic roots as he developes his Pietà Rondanini. The many years of working by candlelight had affected his sight. He was working on this sculpture late when weak with a fever, went to bed and remained there for six days. He passed away with this work, like several other works, unfinished. At a time when the average age was forty years old, Michelangelo lived to the age of eighty-nine (he was three weeks from his birthday). He passed in Rome and his nephew Lionardo took his remains to Florence where his remains were placed in a tomb created by Giorgio Vasari housed in Santa Croce.
 
Pietà Rondanini
1564. Marble. Castello Sforzesco, Milan, Italy.

Michelangelo was remembered as being: temperamental, a devout Christian, slovenly, tormented with the idea of death, a hypochondriac, very forceful, suspicious of others, antisocial, blunt, and a hard worker. It is said the he worked so hard and so long, that he would go so many days without undressing or washing, that when he finally removed his boots, a layer of skin came with them. He had bad hygene during a time when washing yourself was a weekly task. On one occasion he compared himself to a scarecrow with a scragally beard. Although he was extremely wealthy, overly thrifty with his money. Even when it came to food. He ate out of necessity rather than pleasure, often having meals of bread and wine. Well, extremely wealthy has always been a relative term. In this case, we know Michelangelo's lifetime earnings were 50,000 large gold florens. What does this mean? To put it in perspective, an upper middle class person at this time earned about 50 large gold florens a year. But having a poor self image he saw himself as a "poor, ignoble, and crazy man."

michelangelo_pieta.jpg
Michelangelo. Pieta.

Mr. Mike Burgher * PO Box 247 * Dallas Center, Iowa. 50063