Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (6 March 1475 – 18 February 1564), known best as simply Michelangelo was an Italian sculptor, painter, architect and poet of the High Renaissance born in the Republic of Florence, who exerted an unparalleled influence on the development of Western art. His artistic versatility was of such a high order that he is often considered a contender for the title of the archetypal Renaissance man, along with his rival, the fellow Florentine, Leonardo da Vinci. Several scholars have described Michelangelo as the greatest artist of his age and even as the greatest artist of all time.
A number of Michelangelo’s works of painting, sculpture and architecture rank among the most famous in existence. His output in these fields was prodigious; given the sheer volume of surviving correspondence, sketches and reminiscences, he is the best-documented artist of the 16th century. He sculpted two of his best-known works, the Pietà and David, before the age of thirty. Despite holding a low opinion of painting, he also created two of the most influential frescoes in the history of Western art: the scenes from Genesis on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, and The Last Judgment on its altar wall. His design of the Laurentian Library pioneered Mannerist architecture. At the age of 74, he succeeded Antonio da Sangallo the Younger as the architect of St. Peter’s Basilica. He transformed the plan so that the western end was finished to his design, as was the dome, with some modification, after his death.
Michelangelo was the first Western artist whose biography was published while he was alive. In fact, two biographies were published during his lifetime. One of them, by Giorgio Vasari, proposed that Michelangelo’s work transcended that of any artist living or dead, and was “supreme in not one art alone but in all three”.
In his lifetime, Michelangelo was often called Il Divino (“the divine one”). His contemporaries often admired his terribilità—his ability to instil a sense of awe. Attempts by subsequent artists to imitate Michelangelo’s impassioned, highly personal style resulted in Mannerism, the next major movement in Western art after the High Renaissance.
Michelangelo was a devout Catholic whose faith deepened at the end of his life. His poetry includes the following closing lines from what is known as poem 285 (written in 1554); “Neither painting nor sculpture will be able any longer to calm my soul, now turned toward that divine love that opened his arms on the cross to take us in.”
Michelangelo was abstemious in his personal life, and once told his apprentice, Ascanio Condivi: “However rich I may have been, I have always lived like a poor man.” Condivi said he was indifferent to food and drink, eating “more out of necessity than of pleasure” and that he “often slept in his clothes and … boots.” His biographer Paolo Giovio says, “His nature was so rough and uncouth that his domestic habits were incredibly squalid, and deprived posterity of any pupils who might have followed him.” He may not have minded, since he was by nature a solitary and melancholy person, bizzarro e fantastico, a man who “withdrew himself from the company of men.”
Feuds with other artists
In a letter from late 1542, Michelangelo blamed the tensions between Julius II and himself[which?] on the envy of Bramante and Raphael, saying of the latter, “all he had in art, he got from me”. According to Gian Paolo Lomazzo, Michelangelo and Raphael met once: the former was alone, while the latter was accompanied by several others. Michelangelo commented that he thought he had encountered the chief of police with such an assemblage, and Raphael replied that he thought he had met an executioner, as they are wont to walk alone.
Michelangelo, with Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael, is one of the three giants of the Florentine High Renaissance. Although their names are often cited together, Michelangelo was younger than Leonardo by 23 years, and older than Raphael by eight. Because of his reclusive nature, he had little to do with either artist and outlived both of them by more than forty years. Michelangelo took few sculpture students. He employed Francesco Granacci, who was his fellow pupil at the Medici Academy, and became one of several assistants on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Michelangelo appears to have used assistants mainly for the more manual tasks of preparing surfaces and grinding colours. Despite this, his works were to have a great influence on painters, sculptors and architects for many generations to come.
While Michelangelo’s David is the most famous male nude of all time and now graces cities around the world, some of his other works have had perhaps even greater impact on the course of art. The twisting forms and tensions of the Victory, the Bruges Madonna and the Medici Madonna make them the heralds of the Mannerist art. The unfinished giants for the tomb of Pope Julius II had profound effect on late-19th- and 20th-century sculptors such as Rodin and Henry Moore.
Michelangelo’s foyer of the Laurentian Library was one of the earliest buildings to utilise Classical forms in a plastic and expressive manner. This dynamic quality was later to find its major expression in Michelangelo’s centrally planned St Peter’s, with its giant order, its rippling cornice and its upward-launching pointed dome. The dome of St Peter’s was to influence the building of churches for many centuries, including Sant’Andrea della Valle in Rome and St Paul’s Cathedral, London, as well as the civic domes of many public buildings and the state capitals across America.