Buonarroti Michelangelo Biography | Oil Paintings
3-6-1475 Caprese, ITA - 2-18-1564 Rome, ITABack to Artist IndexView Artists Paintings
“Non Sendo Inloco Buon, Ne Io Pinttre.”
Michelangelo wrote these words in a sonnet he composed when he was painting the frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. While creating one of the greatest masterpieces in the world, the thirty-five-year-old Michelangelo felt ill at ease and denied being a painter: “I am not in a good place, nor am I a painter”. In fact, in this same sonnet, he describes his work as “dead painting”. It was in this spirit that he served as the critical conscience of the Renaissance and the intense witness of its demise. Michelangelo dominates and characterizes the entire sixteenth century in Europe, not only in his consummate mastery as a sculptor but also as a superb architect and painter.
His apprenticeship took place where he was raised in the Florence of the Medici's, in the workshop of Ghirlandaio, where he studied painting, not sculpture. He was drawn into the humanist circles of Lorenzo the Magnificent at an early age and was soon tackling monumental marble statuary. Soon his obvious talent brought him to the notice of important patrons. By 1490, he was already producing sculptures for the Medici family and, a few years later, he began his long association with the papacy in Rome. Before the age of twenty-five, he had already sculpted masterpieces like the Pieta for the Basilica of Saint Peter's in Rome, and a little later, the David in Florence.
In the first decade of the sixteenth century, Michelangelo frequently devoted himself to painting, beginning in Florence, where he vied with Leonardo in the frescoes of Palazzo Vecchio (now lost). During this time, he also executed his only completed painting on wood, the exemplary yet controversial Holy Family (Doni Tondo).
Michelangelo’s fame proved a double-edged sword. He was often inveigled into accepting huge commissions, which either lasted years or went unfinished. The most notorious of these projects was the Tomb of Julius II, which occupied the artist for over 40 years. Michelangelo always considered himself primarily a sculptor, and he was extremely reluctant to take on the decoration of the Sistine Chapel. Fortunately, he was persuaded, and the resulting frescoes are among the greatest creations of Western art.
The Sistine Chapel, built around 1480 by Pope Sixtus IV, is a rectangular room within the Vatican complex that hosts the most sacred ceremonies of the Catholic Church, including the election of new popes. The side walls were frescoes when the construction was first completed by various artists, including Botticelli, Perugino, and Ghirlandaio. The ceiling at the time was painted as a starry night sky. In 1508, Julius II obdurately forced Michelangelo to undertake the decoration of over 1,000 square meters of the ceiling with a novel cycle of frescoes. He was then commissioned by Pope Julius II and went to Rome to begin the daunting task of decorating the Sistine Chapel ceiling, a dramatic history of man and also the triumphant celebration of the beauty of Creation. Despite the fact that Michelangelo considered himself a sculptor at heart and not a painter, he began painting the work that would undermine his health and bring him world renown. He worked on scaffolding for four and a half years, often on his back, which gave him scoliosis, arthritis, cramps, and an eye infection from the paint that dripped onto his face.
After this exhausting work, executed with hardly a break, the ceiling alone took four years from 1508 to 1512, Michelangelo virtually abandoned painting for twenty years, devoting himself to sculpture and architecture (the new sacristy of the Church of San Lorenzo in Florence). In these, Michelangelo displayed the sculptural forms and the terribiliui (‘awesome power’), which made him the most revered artist of his time he has since also been described as one of the greatest artists of all time.
The Hand of the Artist is Nothing but an Instrument of the Mind.
He took up the paintbrush again in the 1530's, for the long and tormented creation of the Sistine Chapel's Last Judgment. With total creative freedom and impassioned, personal involvement, Michelangelo produced one of the most stirring and controversial works in the history of art. In many ways, The Last Judgment is the antithesis of Michelangelo's Creation frescoes on the ceiling of the chapel. The gesture of Christ the Judge dividing the elect of the damned is very similar to that of God the Father as he separates the waters from the land. Set against a clear, uniform sky with neither spatial or temporal depth, the dynamic vision of Christ is the fulcrum of a devastating scene, populated by over four hundred figures. An impressive mass of bodies, nearly all of them naked, is suspended between Heaven and Hell in a terrifying chaos informed, however, by a superior intelligence and prevailing foresight. The nudes are no longer heroic, they are simply the shadows of terrified men who are shaken, stunned, and deafened by the sound of the trumpets. The Last Judgment overwhelms both the spirit and the flesh. Man, whom Michelangelo had exalted in his nude figures on the ceiling, is now crushed. The time of illusions has come to an end.
This extraordinary masterpiece was followed by two other frescoes for the Pauline Chapel in the Vatican, the Crucifixion of St. Peter and the Conversion of St. Paul. In his last years, he produced a final pair of Pieta, two marble meditations on death.
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, was a multi-talented painter, sculptor, architect, engineer and a poet, one of the greatest artists of the High Renaissance and a forerunner of Mannerism. In one of Michelangelo's poems, he writes a crucial line, where he writes that the “hand of the artist is nothing but an instrument of the mind”.
Art Movement: Renaissance, Mannerism.
Artists Influencing Michelangelo: Giotto di Bondone, Masaccio, Domenico Ghirlandaio.
Painters Michelangelo Influenced: Francesco Granacci, Raphael.
Artist Biography compiled by Albert L. Mansour at The World's Artist.