Biography Base Home
  Biography Base Home | Link To Us
Search Biographies:
Michelangelo Buonarroti Biography
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (March 6, 1475 - March 18, 1564*) was a Renaissance painter, sculptor, poet and architect. He is famous for creating the fresco ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, one of the most stupendous works in all of Western art, as well as the Last Judgment over the altar, and "The Martyrdom of St. Peter" and "The Conversion of St. Paul" in the Vatican's Cappella Paolina; among his many sculptures are those of the Pieta and David, again, sublime masterpieces of their field, as well as the Virgin, Bacchus, Moses, Rachel, Leah, and members of the Medici family (see article for more information on them); he also designed the dome of St. Peter's Basilica.

Life history
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni was born on March 6th, 1475, in Caprese, Tuscany, Italy. Michelangelo's father, Lodovico, was the resident magistrate in Caprese. However, Michelangelo was raised in Florence and later lived with a sculptor and his wife in the town of Settignano where his father owned a marble quarry and a small farm.

Against his father's wishes, Michelangelo chose to be the apprentice of Domenico Ghirlandaio for three years starting in 1488. Impressed, Domenico recommended him to the ruler of Florence, Lorenzo de' Medici. From 1490 to 1492, Michelangelo attended Lorenzo's school and during his stay, Michelangelo would be influenced by many prominent people who modified and expanded his ideas on art and even his feelings about sexuality. It was during this period that Michelangelo created two reliefs: Battle of the Centaurs and Madonna of the Steps.

After the death of Lorenzo in 1492, Piero de' Medici (Lorenzo's oldest son and new head of the Medici family), refused to support Michelangelo's artwork. Also at this time, the ideas of Savonarola became popular in Florence. Under these two pressures, Michelangelo decided to leave Florence and stay in Bologna for three years. Soon afterwards, Cardinal San Giorgio purchased Michelangelo's marble Cupid and decided to summon him to Rome in 1496. Influenced by Roman antiquity, he produced the Bacchus and the Pietà.

Four years later, Michelangelo returned to Florence where he produced arguably his most famous work, the marble David. He also painted the Holy Family of the Tribune.

Michelangelo was summoned back to Rome in 1503 by the newly appointed Pope Julius II and was commissioned to build the Pope's tomb. However, under the patronage of Julius II, Michelangelo had to constantly stop work on the tomb in order to accomplish numerous other tasks. The most famous of which was the monumental paintings on the ceiling of the Vatican's Sistine Chapel which took four years (1508 - 1512). Due to these and later interruptions, Michelangelo would work on the tomb for 40 years without ever finishing it.

In 1513 Pope Julius II died and his successor Pope Leo X, a Medici, commissioned Michelangelo to reconstruct the exterior of the Church of San Lorenzo in Florence and to adorn it with sculptures. Michelangelo agreed reluctantly, but was unable to accomplish this feat (the church's exterior is unadorned to this day).

In 1527, the Florentine citizens, encouraged by the sack of Rome, threw out the Medici and restored the republic. A siege of the city ensued, and Michelangelo came to the aid of his beloved Florence by working on the city's fortifications from 1528 to 1529. The city fell in 1530 and the Medici were restored to power.

The fresco of the Last Judgment on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel was commissioned by Pope Paul III, and Michelangelo worked on it from 1534 to 1541. Then in 1547, Michelangelo was appointed architect of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.

Seven years later, on February 18th, 1564, Michelangelo died in Rome at the age of 89. His life was described in Giorgio Vasari's "Vite".

Controversy, censorship and the 'Fig-Leaf Campaign'

When the work was finished on the Last Judgment in (October 1541), Michelangelo was accused of intolerable obscenity for his depictions of naked figures showing genitals (and inside the private chapel of the Pope). A violent censorship campaign was organized by Cardinal Carafa and Monsignor Sernini (Mantua's ambassador) to remove the frescoes, but the Pope resisted.

In coincidence with Michelangelo's death, a law was issued to cover genitals ("Pictura in Cappella coopriantur"). So Daniele da Volterra, an apprentice of Michelangelo, covered with sort of perizomas (briefs) the genitals, leaving unaltered the complex of bodies (see details [1] ( When the work was restored in 1993, the restorers chose not to remove the perizomas of Daniele; however, a faithful uncensored copy of the original, by Marcello Venusti, is now in Naples, at the Capodimonte Museum.

Censorship always followed Michelangelo, once described as "inventor delle porcherie" (inventor of obscenities, in a sense that in Italian sounds like he had created genitals).

The "fig-leaf campaign" of the Counter Reformation to cover all representations of human genitals in paintings and sculptures started with Michelangelo's works. To give two examples, the bronze statue of "Cristo della Minerva" (church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome) was covered, as it remains today, and the statue of the naked child Jesus in "Madonna of Bruges" (Belgium) remained covered for several decades. A similar campaign occurred in Victorian Britain.

Michelangelo the architect
Medici Chapel
Laurentian Library
Palazzo Farnese
St Peter's Basilica

Michelangelo at the Campidoglio
Michelangelo's first designs for solving the intractable urbanistic, symbolic, political and propaganda program for the Campidoglio dated back in the 1530s. The commission was from the Farnese Pope Paul III, who wanted a symbol of the new Rome to impress the emperor Charles V, who was expected in 1538. The hill was the Capitoline, the heart of pagan Rome, though that connection was largely obscured by its other role as the center of the civic government of Rome, revived as a commune in the 11th century. The city's government was now to be firmly in papal control, but the Campidoglio was the former scene of many movements of urban resistance, such as the dramatic scenes of Cola di Rienzi's revived republic. Approximately in the middle, not to Michelangelo's liking, now stood the only equestrian bronze to have survived since Antiquity, Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher emperor. He apparently owed his suvival largely because popular culture had mistaken him for Constantine the Great, revered as the first Christian emperor by plebs and popes alike.

It was slow work: little was actually completed in Michelangelo's lifetime, but work continued faithfully to his designs and the Campidoglio was completed in the 17th century, except for the paving design.

Michelangelo provided new fronts to the two official buildings of Rome's civic government, which very approximately faced each other, the Palazzo dei Conservatori and the Palazzo Senatore, which had been built over the Tabularium that had housed the archives of ancient Rome. He devised a monumental stair (the "Cordonata") to reach the high piazza, so that the Campidoglio resolutely turned its back on the Forum that it had once commanded, and he gave the space a new building at the far end, to close the vista.

The Palazzo dei Conservatori was the first use of a giant order that spanned two storeys, here with a range of Corinthian pilasters and subsidiary Ionic columns flanking the ground-floor loggia openings and the second floor windows. Another giant order would serve later for the exterior of St Peter's. A balustrade punctuated by sculptures atop the giant pilasters capped the composition, one of the most influential of Michelangelo's designs. The sole arched motif in the entire design are the segmental pediments over the windows, which give a slight spring to the completely angular vertical-horizontal balance of the design.

The bird's-eye view of the engraving (illustrated, above right) shows, better than a photograph could, Michelangelo's solution to the problems of the space in the Piazza del Campidoglio. Even with their new facades centering them on the new palazzo at the rear, the space was a trapezoid, and the facades did not face each other squarely. Worse than that, the whole site sloped (to the left in the engraving). Michelangelo's solution was radical. Since no "perfect" forms would work, his apparent oval in the paving is actually egg-shaped, narrower at one end. The travertine design set into the paving is perfectly level: around its perimeter, low steps arise and die away into the paving as the slope requires. Its center springs slightly, so that one senses that one is standing on the exposed segment of a gigantic egg all but buried at the center of the city at the center of the world. An interlaced twelve-pointed star makes a subtle reference to the constellations. Michelangelo's historian Charles de Tolnay connected this design to the umbilicus— the navel of the world.

The paving design was never executed by the popes, who may have detected a subtext of less-than-Christian import. Benito Mussolini ordered the paving completed to Michelangelo's design— in 1940.

Michelangelo the man
Michelangelo, who was often arrogant with others and constantly unsatisfied with himself, thought that art originated from inner inspiration and from culture. In contradiction to the ideas of his rival, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo saw nature as an enemy that had to be overcome. The figures that he created are therefore in forceful movement; each is in its own space apart from the outside world. For Michelangelo, the job of the sculptor is to free the forms that, he believed, were already inside the stone. This can most vividly be seen in his unfinished statuary figures, which to many appear to be struggling to free themselves from the stone.

He also instilled into his figures a sense of moral cause for action. A good example of this can be seen in the facial expression of his marble statue David. Arguably his second most famous work (after David) is the fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel which is a synthesis of architecture, sculpture & painting. His Last Judgement, also in the Sistine Chapel, is a depiction of extreme crisis.

Several anecdotes reveal that Michelangelo's skill, especially in sculpture, was deeply appreciated in his own time. It is said that when still a young apprentice, he had made a pastiche of a Roman statue (Il Putto Dormiente, the sleeping child) of such beauty and perfection, that it was later sold in Rome as an ancient Roman original. Another better-known anecdote claims that when finishing the Moses (San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome), Michelangelo violently hit the knee of the statue with a hammer, shouting, "Why don't you speak to me?"

Fundamental to Michelangelo's art is his love of male beauty, which attracted him both aesthetically, and emotionally. Such feelings caused him great anguish, and he expressed the struggle between platonic ideals and carnal desire in his sculpture, drawing and poetry.

Michelangelo developed a romantic but apparently non-sexual relationship with at least one man, Tommaso de' Cavalieri, who was 23 years old when they met in 1532. This infatuation caused Michelangelo to write a series of sonnets.

The homoeroticism of Michelangelo's poetry was obscured when his grand nephew, Michelangelo the Younger, published an edition of the poetry in 1623 with the gender of pronouns changed. John Addington Symonds undid this change by translating the original sonnets into English and writing a two-volume biography, published in 1893.
Michelangelo Buonarroti Resources
Contact Us | Privacy Policy | Sitemap

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Michelangelo Buonarroti.