Welcome to the Renaissance Period
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Michelangelo was born on 6 March 1475 in Caprese, known today as Caprese Michelangelo, it’s small town situated in Valtiberina, near Arezzo, Tuscany.
For several generations, his family had been small-scale bankers in Florence, but the bank failed, and his father, Ludovico di Leonardo Buonarroti Simoni, briefly took a government post in Caprese, where Michelangelo was born.
As a young boy, Michelangelo was sent to Florence to study grammar under the Humanist Francesco da Urbino.
However, he showed no interest in his schooling, preferring to copy paintings from churches and seek the company of other painters. The city of Florence was at that time Italy's greatest centre of the arts and learning. Art was sponsored by the Signoria (the town council), the merchant guilds, and wealthy patrons such as the Medici and their banking associates. The Renaissance, a renewal of Classical scholarship and the arts, had its first flowering in Florence.
During Michelangelo's childhood, a team of painters had been called from Florence to the Vatican to decorate the walls of the Sistine Chapel.
Among them was Domenico Ghirlandaio, a master in fresco painting, perspective, figure drawing and portraiture who had the largest workshop in Florence. In 1488, at age 13, Michelangelo was apprenticed to Ghirlandaio. The next year, his father persuaded Ghirlandaio to pay Michelangelo as an artist, which was rare for someone of fourteen.
When in 1489, Lorenzo Medici, de facto ruler of Florence, asked Ghirlandaio for his two best pupils, one of them was Michelangelo.
From 1490 to 1492, Michelangelo attended the Platonic Academy, a Humanist academy founded by the Medici.
Lorenzo de' Medici's death on 8 April 1492 brought a reversal of Michelangelo's circumstances. Michelangelo left the security of the Medici court and returned to his father's house. In the following months he carved a polychrome wooden Crucifix (1493), as a gift to the prior of the Florentine church of Santo Spirito, which had allowed him to do some anatomical studies of the corpses from the church's hospital. This was the first of several instances during his career that Michelangelo studied anatomy by dissecting cadavers.
On 20 January 1494, after snowfalls, Piero de Medici, commissioned a snow statue, and Michelangelo again entered the court of the Medici.
In 1494, the Medici were expelled from Florence as the result of the rise of Savonarola. Michelangelo left the city before the end of the political upheaval, moving to Venice and then to Bologna. At this time Michelangelo studied the robust reliefs carved by Jacopo della Quercia around main portal of the Basilica of St Petronius, including the panel of The Creation of Eve, the composition of which was to reappear on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
In 1496 Michelangelo began work on a commission for Cardinal Riario, an over-life-size statue of the Roman wine god Bacchus.
The work, one of Michelangelo's earliest, caused much controversy. It was originally commissioned by Cardinal Riario and was inspired by a description of a lost bronze sculpture by the ancient sculptor Praxiteles. But when Riario saw the finished piece he found it inappropriate and rejected it. Michelangelo sold it to his banker Jacopo Galli instead.
Despite its colored past though, the piece is evidence of Michelangelo's early genius. His excellent knowledge of anatomy is seen in the androgynous figure's body which Vasari described as having the "the slenderness of a young man and the fleshy roundness of a woman." A high center of gravity lends the figure a sense of captured movement, which Michelangelo would later perfect even further for David.
In November 1497, the French ambassador to the Holy See, Cardinal Jean de Bilhères-Lagraulas, commissioned him to carve a Pieta, a sculpture showing the Virgin Mary grieving over the body of Jesus.
The subject, which is not part of the Biblical narrative of the Crucifixion, was common in religious sculpture of Medieval Northern Europe and would have been very familiar to the Cardinal. The contract was agreed upon in August of the following year.
Michelangelo was 24 at the time of its completion. It was soon to be regarded as one of the world's great masterpieces of sculpture, "a revelation of all the potentialities and force of the art of sculpture". Contemporary opinion was summarised by Vasari: "It is certainly a miracle that a formless block of stone could ever have been reduced to a perfection that nature is scarcely able to create in the flesh." It is now located in St Peter's Basilica.
Michelangelo returned to Florence in 1499. The republic was changing after the fall of its leader, anti-Renaissance priest Girolamo Savonarola, who was executed in 1498.
Michelangelo was asked by the consuls of the Guild of Wool to complete an unfinished project begun 40 years earlier by Agostino di Duccio: a colossal statue of Carrara marble portraying David as a symbol of Florentine freedom to be placed on the gable of Florence Cathedral.
Michelangelo responded by completing his most famous work, the statue of David, in 1504. The masterwork definitively established his prominence as a sculptor of extraordinary technical skill and strength of symbolic imagination. A team of consultants, including Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci, was called together to decide upon its placement, ultimately the Piazza della Signoria, in front of the Palazzo Vecchio. It now stands in the Academia while a replica occupies its place in the square.
1512, The Creation of Adam
This legendary painting, part of the vast masterpiece that adorns the Sistine Chapel, shows Adam as a muscular classical nude, reclining on the left, as he extends his hand toward God who fills the right half of the painting. Some have noted that the shape of the red cloud resembles the shape of the human brain, as if the artist meant to imply God's intent to infuse Adam with not merely animate life, but also the important gift of consciousness.
For Michelangelo, it was important to depict the all-powerful giver of life as one distinctly intimate with man, whom he created in his own image. This reflected the humanist ideals of man's essential place in the world and the connection to the divine. The bodies maintain the sculptural quality so reminiscent of his painting, carrying on the mastery of human anatomy signature to the High Renaissance.
Michelangelo died in Rome in 1564, at the age of 88 (three weeks before his 89th birthday). His body was taken from Rome for interment at the Basilica of Santa Croce, fulfilling the maestro's last request to be buried in his beloved Florence.
Michelangelo is regarded as one of the three giants of the Renaissance, and a major contributor to the Humanist movement.
Humanity, in both its relationship to the divine and non-secular reality was central to his painting and sculpture. He was a master at depicting the body with such technical accuracy that marble was seemingly transformed into flesh and bone. His adeptness with human emotionality and expression inspired humility and veneration. The psychological insight and physical realism in his work had never been portrayed with such intensity before. His Pieta, David, and the Sistine Chapel have been maintained and preserved and continue to draw crowds of visitors from all over the world.