Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (March 6, 1475 – February 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.
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni was born near Arezzo, in Caprese, Tuscany, Italy. His 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. Michelangelo once said to the biographer of artists Giorgio Vasari, “What good I have comes from the pure air of your native Arezzo, and also because I sucked in chisels and hammers with my nurse’s milk.”
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 was 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 that time, the ideas of Savonarola became popular in Florence. Under those 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 those were the monumental paintings on the ceiling of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel which took four years (1508 – 1512) to complete. Due to those and later interruptions, Michelangelo worked 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. The three years he spent in creating drawings and models for the facade, as well as attempting to open a new marble quarry at Pietrasanta specifically for the project, were among the most frustrating in his career, as work was abruptly cancelled by his financially-strapped patrons before any real progress had been made.
Apparently not the least embarassed by this turnabout, the Medici later came back to Michelangelo with another grand proposal, this time for a family funerary chapel at the church of San Lorenzo. Fortunately for posterity, this project, occupying the artist for much of the 1520s and 1530s, was more fully realized. Though still incomplete, it is the best example we have of the integration of the artist’s scuptural and architectural vision, since Michelangleo created both the major sculptures as well as the interior plan. Ironically the most prominent tombs are those of two rather obscure Medici who died young, a son and grandson of Lorenzo. Il Magnifico himself is buried in an obscure corner of the chapel, not given a free-standing monument, as originally intended.
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 went 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. Completely out of sympathy with the repressive reign of the ducal Medici, Michelangelo left Florence for good in the mid-1530s, leaving assistants to complete the Medici chapel. Years later his body was brought back from Rome for interment, fufilling the maestro’s last request to be buried in his beloved Tuscany.
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 1546, Michelangelo was appointed architect of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.
On February 18th, 1564, Michelangelo died in Rome at the age of 89