Michelangelo Buonarroti created some of the most recognizable images in the history of art. In fact, he became so famous he has become known simply as Michelangelo. Working in the early 16th century, he was the embodiment of the “Renaissance Man” – a painter, sculptor, architect, and poet.
Even as a young man, Michelangelo exceled in art. At 14 he was discovered by one of the most powerful and wealthiest citizens in Florence. For centuries the Medici family held considerable influence in Florence, influencing politics and art. As a generous supporter of artists, Lorenzo de Medici provided a young Michelangelo the opportunity to study art with little distraction. During this time, Michelangelo not only learned from artists, but also from politicians and philosophers.
Michelangelo’s career as an artist spans 65 years, from his early works for the Medici family to his death in 1564.
One of his first major sculptures was The Pieta. Showing the Virgin Mary holding the body of her son Jesus after he was crucified, this statue showed the talent that Michelangelo had and reinforced his reputation as a sculptor without an equal.
Following the success of the Pieta, Michelangelo was given the task of taking a used and badly cared for slab of marble and carving something for the city of Florence. Being young and full of confidence, Michelangelo set out to carve the figure of David, the biblical hero who with his sling killed the giant Goliath. His depiction was received with such high acclaim that a fellow artist would remark, “Anyone who sees this statue need not be concerned with seeing any other piece is sculpture…”
Much of Michelangelo’s artwork was commissioned by the church, and Pope Julius II often requested him. Tasked with designing and carving an enormous tomb for the Pope, Michelangelo began work after completing the Sistine Chapel ceiling. His depiction of Moses was a statement of his unmatched skill as a sculptor and was among his favorite of his own works.
Even though primarily a sculptor, Michelangelo was given the opportunity to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by Pope Julius II in 1508. After four years of vigorous work, his paintings showing biblical figures and stories would establish Michelangelo as the preeminent artist of his time.
His Creation of Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel would become one of the most recognizable images in art – changing the way generations would imagine the creation of man happening.
On the altar wall of the chapel, Michelangelo’s painting of the Last Judgment would show a scene with a composition and ambition that would rival the ceiling of the same chapel – a feat he completed almost thirty years prior. Many who saw the Last Judgment, including Michelangelo himself, felt that once again the artist has surpassed all other artist’s and even his own previous works.
As a renaissance man, Michelangelo was in touch with the delicacies of human nature. Not just aware of the human body, an astute learned man was also in touch with human emotion. The same delicacy that can be seen in the faces of his sculptures can be read in Michelangelo’s poetry.
Often done as a study for larger sculptures or paintings, Michelangelo’s drawings show the human body with anatomical detail that rival the real thing. Michelangelo’s faces show love, anguish, or longing, that, although meant to just be preparatory, stir emotion in viewers just as his finished images do.