Michelangelo – Renaissance Man
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, better known as Michelangelo, is one of the towering
figures of the Italian Renaissance, achieving fame as sculptor, painter, architect and poet. His influence on
the development of Western art is immeasurable, and five hundred years later, his works continue to draw
crowds from every corner of the globe.
Michelangelo's Early Years
Michelangelo was born in 1475 into a small banking family from Florence. As a young boy, his father pushed him to
study grammar, but even in childhood Michelangelo was more interested in the arts than in scholastics. Fortunately,
his father acknowledged the boy's talent, and encouraged him to pursue his artistic inclinations, helping him to
acquire apprenticeships in both painting and sculpture. It was his painting apprenticeship with the artist Domenico
Ghirlandaio that sent Michelangelo on the course to becoming a giant in the field.
Michelangelo's Statue of David
Selected as one of Ghirlandaio's top pupils, Michelangelo was sent to study at the school of Lorenzo de' Medici,
one of the leading cultural advocates and a major financial supporter of the Renaissance. Here, the young man
broadened his artistic knowledge, met prominent artists and writers, and began doing commissioned work for Medici
But political turmoil and fluctuations in power made his work as a commissioned artist somewhat inconsistent.
Eventually, he left Lorenzo de Medici's school, returning home to work intermittently on various pieces for
churches and local and regional governments. It was during this period that he created a statue of John the Baptist
for a church in Rome. The purchasing cardinal was so impressed that he invited the 21-year-old to Rome.
Life in Rome
Michelangelo quickly began working on large commissioned pieces for high-profile clients. Just over a year later,
the French ambassador commissioned what was to become one of the artist's most famous works: the Pieta, in which
Mary holds the body of Christ across her lap.
Thus began a lifetime of important commissioned works ranging from sculptures to frescoes. In 1504 he began work on
the statue of David. Taking more than two years to complete, it is arguably one of his greatest sculptures, and led
to a commission by Pope Julius II. The first project, a large mausoleum, was abandoned by the pope during the
planning stages, but was replaced by a commission for a fresco in the Sistine Chapel.
Michelangelo: Sistine Chapel (portion)
Michelangelo approached this mammoth task with his usual obsessiveness and perfectionism. The project took four
years to complete but stands as his greatest painting, drawing millions of visitors annually. And while the bulk of
his work is in the form of sculptures and paintings, he was also a gifted architect. He helped sketch designs for
St. Peter's Basilica, worked on facades for several others, and designed the Laurentine Library and Medici Chapel,
both in Florence.
As a man, Michelangelo remains an enigma, a man blessed by the gods but driven by internal demons. But as a
creative artist, he has few peers. A brilliant painter, sculptor and architect, he was also a gifted lyric poet and
skilled engineer, making him a true embodiment of a 'Renaissance man'. His pieces are studied in art classes
worldwide, and his works are preserved, celebrated, and visited consistently throughout Rome, Florence, and other
parts of Europe.