Today, March 6, we are celebrating the birth of Michelangelo, one of the prominent luminaries of Renaissance art. He was a sculpture, poet, and painter. He was considered by his peers to be the greatest living artist during his lifetime, and since then he has been noted as one of the best-known artists of all time. Vasari, his contemporary and biographer, called him “Il Divino” – the divine one.
Michelangelo was born in Caprese near Arezzo, in Tuscany, and later apprenticed in Florence under the guidance of Domenico Ghirlandaio. In Florence, he absorbed the styles of other famous artists, Filippo Brunelleschi, Lorenzo Ghiberti, Donatello, and Verrocchio.
In 1489, Lorenzo de’ Medici, ruler of Florence invited Michelangelo to his court where the young boy attended the Humanist academy that the Medici had founded. He attended school with Lorenzo’s children. Michelangelo worked in Florence, and later Rome creating astounding works of art, such as the world had never seen before — The David, The Pietà, the Laocoön, and the Sistine Chapel — to name just a few.
Unlike his counterpart, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo was far from elegant. According to his contemporaries, he was rough and uncouth with incredibly squalid domestic habits. He preferred to live like a poor man, indifferent to food and drink. Instead of attending balls and flirting with young ladies, he fell into a smelly, exhausted sleep each night in a plain and simple room he shared with other manual laborers and stone cutters, often forgetting to remove his boots!
Michelangelo’s approach to art was also dramatically different from that of Leonardo. Da Vinci did not believe in improving on or idealizing nature. He contended that the job of an artist was to mirror everything he saw. He was fascinated by every twig, leaf, and branch. He was as intrigued by the face of a lovely maiden as he was by flying machines, bicycles, and drawings of skeletons, even a fetus in utero. Michelangelo, on the other hand, saw nature as the enemy. He viewed it as something that needed to be overcome. As a result, his figures are forceful and dynamic, each a highly idealized and perfect specimen, set apart from the outside world.”
Michelangelo was a man committed to his work. Case in point he taught himself to paint in fresco and tackled the three-thousand-square-foot-ceiling in the Sistine Chapel! When Michelangelo accepted a commission, he devoted all of his creative powers to complete it. He derived satisfaction from seeing beauty where others saw none. He had superhuman stamina and overcame countless obstacles.
You can read more about Michelangelo and about the contentious relationship he had with Leonardo da Vinci in my novel “Dreaming Sophia.” Find out also what advice Michelangelo gives to our imaginative protagonist when they meet in one of her dreams.
To celebrate Michelangelo’s birthday, I “gift” you with this link to view the inside of the Sistine chapel. It is a 3D tour produced by the Vatican.
At your leisure, you can study Michelangelo’s magnificent jewel-toned angels and Old Testament prophets, each exhibiting muscular grace and idealized beauty.
Take all the time you need! There is no guard to hurry you out the door or Sssshhhhh you!
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