Miguel Ángel, por Daniele da Volterra (detalle).jpg
Portrait of Michelangelo by Daniele da Volterra
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni

6 March 1475
Caprese near Arezzo, Republic of Florence (present-day Tuscany, Italy)
Died18 February 1564(1564-02-18) (aged 88)
Rome, Papal States (present-day Italy)
Known forSculpture, painting, architecture, and poetry
Notable work
MovementHigh Renaissance
Michelangelo Signature2.svg

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (Italian: [mikeˈlandʒelo di lodoˈviːko ˌbwɔnarˈrɔːti siˈmoːni]; 6 March 1475 – 18 February 1564), known best as simply Michelangelo (English: k-/[1]), was an Italian sculptor, painter, architect and poet of the High Renaissance born in the Republic of Florence, who exerted an unparalleled influence on the development of Western art. Considered by many the greatest artist of his lifetime, and by some the greatest artist of all time, his artistic versatility was of such a high order that he is often considered a contender for the title of the archetypal Renaissance man, along with his rival, the fellow Florentine and client of the Medici, Leonardo da Vinci.[2]

A number of Michelangelo's works of painting, sculpture and architecture rank among the most famous in existence.[2] His output in these fields was prodigious; given the sheer volume of surviving correspondence, sketches and reminiscences, he is the best-documented artist of the 16th century. He sculpted two of his best-known works, the Pietà and David, before the age of thirty. Despite holding a low opinion of painting, he also created two of the most influential frescoes in the history of Western art: the scenes from Genesis on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, and The Last Judgment on its altar wall. His design of the Laurentian Library pioneered Mannerist architecture.[3] At the age of 74, he succeeded Antonio da Sangallo the Younger as the architect of St. Peter's Basilica. He transformed the plan so that the western end was finished to his design, as was the dome, with some modification, after his death.

Michelangelo was the first Western artist whose biography was published while he was alive.[2] In fact, two biographies were published during his lifetime. One of them, by Giorgio Vasari, proposed that Michelangelo's work transcended that of any artist living or dead, and was "supreme in not one art alone but in all three".[4]

In his lifetime, Michelangelo was often called Il Divino ("the divine one").[5] His contemporaries often admired his terribilità—his ability to instil a sense of awe. Attempts by subsequent artists to imitate[6] Michelangelo's impassioned, highly personal style resulted in Mannerism, the next major movement in Western art after the High Renaissance.


Early life, 1475–1488

Michelangelo was born on 6 March 1475[a] in Caprese, known today as Caprese Michelangelo, a small town situated in Valtiberina,[7] near Arezzo, Tuscany.[8] 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.[2] At the time of Michelangelo's birth, his father was the town's Judicial administrator and podestà or local administrator of Chiusi della Verna. Michelangelo's mother was Francesca di Neri del Miniato di Siena.[9] The Buonarrotis claimed to descend from the Countess Mathilde of Canossa—a claim that remains unproven, but which Michelangelo believed.[10]

Several months after Michelangelo's birth, the family returned to Florence, where he was raised. During his mother's later prolonged illness, and after her death in 1481 (when he was six years old), Michelangelo lived with a nanny and her husband, a stonecutter, in the town of Settignano, where his father owned a marble quarry and a small farm.[9] There he gained his love for marble. As Giorgio Vasari quotes him:

"If there is some good in me, it is because I was born in the subtle atmosphere of your country of Arezzo. Along with the milk of my nurse I received the knack of handling chisel and hammer, with which I make my figures."[8]

Apprenticeships, 1488–1492

As a young boy, Michelangelo was sent to Florence to study grammar under the Humanist Francesco da Urbino.[8][11][b] However, he showed no interest in his schooling, preferring to copy paintings from churches and seek the company of other painters.[11]

The city of Florence was at that time Italy's greatest centre of the arts and learning.[12] Art was sponsored by the Signoria (the town council), the merchant guilds, and wealthy patrons such as the Medici and their banking associates.[13] The Renaissance, a renewal of Classical scholarship and the arts, had its first flowering in Florence.[12] In the early 15th century, the architect Filippo Brunelleschi, having studied the remains of Classical buildings in Rome, had created two churches, San Lorenzo's and Santo Spirito, which embodied the Classical precepts.[14] The sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti had laboured for fifty years to create the bronze doors of the Baptistry, which Michelangelo was to describe as "The Gates of Paradise".[15] The exterior niches of the Church of Orsanmichele contained a gallery of works by the most acclaimed sculptors of Florence: Donatello, Ghiberti, Andrea del Verrocchio, and Nanni di Banco.[13] The interiors of the older churches were covered with frescos (mostly in Late Medieval, but also in the Early Renaissance style), begun by Giotto and continued by Masaccio in the Brancacci Chapel, both of whose works Michelangelo studied and copied in drawings.[16]

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.[13] In 1488, at age 13, Michelangelo was apprenticed to Ghirlandaio.[17] The next year, his father persuaded Ghirlandaio to pay Michelangelo as an artist, which was rare for someone of fourteen.[18] When in 1489, Lorenzo de' Medici, de facto ruler of Florence, asked Ghirlandaio for his two best pupils, Ghirlandaio sent Michelangelo and Francesco Granacci.[19]

The Madonna of the Stairs (1490–92), Michelangelo's earliest known work in marble

From 1490 to 1492, Michelangelo attended the Humanist academy the Medici had founded along Neo-Platonic lines. There his work and outlook were influenced by many of the most prominent philosophers and writers of the day, including Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola and Poliziano.[20] At this time, Michelangelo sculpted the reliefs Madonna of the Steps (1490–1492) and Battle of the Centaurs (1491–1492),[16] the latter based on a theme suggested by Poliziano and commissioned by Lorenzo de Medici.[21] Michelangelo worked for a time with the sculptor Bertoldo di Giovanni. When he was seventeen, another pupil, Pietro Torrigiano, struck him on the nose, causing the disfigurement that is conspicuous in the portraits of Michelangelo.[22]

Bologna, Florence and Rome, 1492–1499

Lorenzo de' Medici's death on 8 April 1492 brought a reversal of Michelangelo's circumstances.[23] 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.[24] Between 1493 and 1494 he bought a block of marble, and carved a larger-than-life statue of Hercules, which was sent to France and subsequently disappeared sometime in the 18th century.[21][c] On 20 January 1494, after heavy snowfalls, Lorenzo's heir, Piero de Medici, commissioned a snow statue, and Michelangelo again entered the court of the Medici.[25]

In the same year, 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.[23] In Bologna, he was commissioned to carve several of the last small figures for the completion of the Shrine of St. Dominic, in the church dedicated to that saint. 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.[26] Towards the end of 1494, the political situation in Florence was calmer. The city, previously under threat from the French, was no longer in danger as Charles VIII had suffered defeats. Michelangelo returned to Florence but received no commissions from the new city government under Savonarola. He returned to the employment of the Medici.[27] During the half year he spent in Florence, he worked on two small statues, a child St. John the Baptist and a sleeping Cupid. According to Condivi, Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici, for whom Michelangelo had sculpted St. John the Baptist, asked that Michelangelo "fix it so that it looked as if it had been buried" so he could "send it to Rome ... pass [it off as] an ancient work and ... sell it much better." Both Lorenzo and Michelangelo were unwittingly cheated out of the real value of the piece by a middleman. Cardinal Raffaele Riario, to whom Lorenzo had sold it, discovered that it was a fraud, but was so impressed by the quality of the sculpture that he invited the artist to Rome.[28] [d] This apparent success in selling his sculpture abroad as well as the conservative Florentine situation may have encouraged Michelangelo to accept the prelate's invitation.[27]

Pietà, St Peter's Basilica (1498–99)

Michelangelo arrived in Rome 25 June 1496[29] at the age of 21. On 4 July of the same year, he began work on a commission for Cardinal Raffaele Riario, an over-life-size statue of the Roman wine god Bacchus. Upon completion, the work was rejected by the cardinal, and subsequently entered the collection of the banker Jacopo Galli, for his garden.

In November 1497, the French ambassador to the Holy See, Cardinal Jean de Bilhères-Lagraulas, commissioned him to carve a Pietà, 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.[30] The contract was agreed upon in August of the following year. Michelangelo was 24 at the time of its completion.[30] 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."[31] It is now located in St Peter's Basilica.

Florence, 1499–1505

The Statue of David, completed by Michelangelo in 1504, is one of the most renowned works of the Renaissance.

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, and the rise of the gonfaloniere Piero Soderini. 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.[32] 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.[33]

With the completion of the David came another commission. In early 1504 Leonardo da Vinci had been commissioned to paint The Battle of Anghiara in the council chamber of the Palazzo Vecchio, depicting the battle between Florence and Milan in 1440. Michelangelo was then commissioned to paint the Battle of Cascina. The two paintings are very different: Leonardo depicts soldiers fighting on horseback, while Michelangelo has soldiers being ambushed as they bathe in the river. Neither work was completed and both were lost forever when the chamber was refurbished. Both works were much admired, and copies remain of them, Leonardo's work having been copied by Rubens and Michelangelo's by Bastiano da Sangallo.[34]

Also during this period, Michelangelo was commissioned by Angelo Doni to paint a "Holy Family" as a present for his wife, Maddalena Strozzi. It is known as the Doni Tondo and hangs in the Uffizi Gallery in its original magnificent frame, which Michelangelo may have designed.[35][36] He also may have painted the Madonna and Child with John the Baptist, known as the Manchester Madonna and now in the National Gallery, London.[37]

Sistine Chapel ceiling, 1505–1512

Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel; the work took approximately four years to complete (1508–12)

In 1505 Michelangelo was invited back to Rome by the newly elected Pope Julius II and commissioned to build the Pope's tomb, which was to include forty statues and be finished in five years.[38] Under the patronage of the pope, Michelangelo experienced constant interruptions to his work on the tomb in order to accomplish numerous other tasks. Although Michelangelo worked on the tomb for 40 years, it was never finished to his satisfaction.[38] It is located in the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome and is most famous for the central figure of Moses, completed in 1516.[39] Of the other statues intended for the tomb, two, known as the Rebellious Slave and the Dying Slave, are now in the Louvre.[38]

During the same period, Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which took approximately four years to complete (1508–1512).[39] According to Condivi's account, Bramante, who was working on the building of St. Peter's Basilica, resented Michelangelo's commission for the pope's tomb and convinced the pope to commission him in a medium with which he was unfamiliar, in order that he might fail at the task.[40] Michelangelo was originally commissioned to paint the Twelve Apostles on the triangular pendentives that supported the ceiling, and to cover the central part of the ceiling with ornament.[41] Michelangelo persuaded Pope Julius to give him a free hand and proposed a different and more complex scheme, representing the Creation, the Fall of Man, the Promise of Salvation through the prophets, and the genealogy of Christ. The work is part of a larger scheme of decoration within the chapel that represents much of the doctrine of the Catholic Church.[41]

The composition stretches over 500 square metres of ceiling[42] and contains over 300 figures.[41] At its centre are nine episodes from the Book of Genesis, divided into three groups: God's creation of the earth; God's creation of humankind and their fall from God's grace; and lastly, the state of humanity as represented by Noah and his family. On the pendentives supporting the ceiling are painted twelve men and women who prophesied the coming of Jesus, seven prophets of Israel, and five Sibyls, prophetic women of the Classical world.[41] Among the most famous paintings on the ceiling are The Creation of Adam, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the Deluge, the Prophet Jeremiah, and the Cumaean Sibyl.

Florence under Medici popes, 1513 – early 1534

In 1513, Pope Julius II died and was succeeded by Pope Leo X, the second son of Lorenzo dei Medici.[39] Pope Leo commissioned Michelangelo to reconstruct the façade of the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence and to adorn it with sculptures. He agreed reluctantly and spent three years creating drawings and models for the façade, as well as attempting to open a new marble quarry at Pietrasanta specifically for the project. In 1520 the work was abruptly cancelled by his financially strapped patrons before any real progress had been made. The basilica lacks a façade to this day.[43]

In 1520 the Medici came back to Michelangelo with another grand proposal, this time for a family funerary chapel in the Basilica of San Lorenzo.[39] For posterity, this project, occupying the artist for much of the 1520s and 1530s, was more fully realised. Michelangelo used his own discretion to create the composition of the Medici Chapel, which houses the large tombs of two of the younger members of the Medici family, Giuliano, Duke of Nemours, and Lorenzo, his nephew. It also serves to commemorate their more famous predecessors, Lorenzo the Magnificent and his brother Giuliano, who are buried nearby. The tombs display statues of the two Medici and allegorical figures representing Night and Day, and Dusk and Dawn. The chapel also contains Michelangelo's Medici Madonna.[44] In 1976 a concealed corridor was discovered with drawings on the walls that related to the chapel itself.[45][46]

Pope Leo X died in 1521 and was succeeded briefly by the austere Adrian VI, and then by his cousin Giulio Medici as Pope Clement VII.[47] In 1524 Michelangelo received an architectural commission from the Medici pope for the Laurentian Library at San Lorenzo's Church.[39] He designed both the interior of the library itself and its vestibule, a building utilising architectural forms with such dynamic effect that it is seen as the forerunner of Baroque architecture. It was left to assistants to interpret his plans and carry out instruction. The library was not opened until 1571, and the vestibule remained incomplete until 1904.[48]

In 1527, 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.[39] Michelangelo fell out of favour with the young Alessandro Medici, who had been installed as the first Duke of Florence. Fearing for his life, he fled to Rome, leaving assistants to complete the Medici chapel and the Laurentian Library. Despite Michelangelo's support of the republic and resistance to the Medici rule, he was welcomed by Pope Clement, who reinstated an allowance that he had previously granted the artist and made a new contract with him over the tomb of Pope Julius.[49]

Rome, 1534–1546

The Last Judgement (1534–1541)

In Rome, Michelangelo lived near the church of Santa Maria di Loreto. It was at this time that he met the poet Vittoria Colonna, marchioness of Pescara, who was to become one of his closest friends until her death in 1547.[50]

Shortly before his death in 1534 Pope Clement VII commissioned Michelangelo to paint a fresco of The Last Judgement on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel. His successor, Paul III, was instrumental in seeing that Michelangelo began and completed the project, which he laboured on from 1534 to October 1541.[39] The fresco depicts the Second Coming of Christ and his Judgement of the souls. Michelangelo ignored the usual artistic conventions in portraying Jesus, showing him as a massive, muscular figure, youthful, beardless and naked.[51] He is surrounded by saints, among whom Saint Bartholomew holds a drooping flayed skin, bearing the likeness of Michelangelo. The dead rise from their graves, to be consigned either to Heaven or to Hell.[51]

Once completed, the depiction of Christ and the Virgin Mary naked was considered sacrilegious, and Cardinal Carafa and Monsignor Sernini (Mantua's ambassador) campaigned to have the fresco removed or censored, but the Pope resisted. At the Council of Trent, shortly before Michelangelo's death in 1564, it was decided to obscure the genitals and Daniele da Volterra, an apprentice of Michelangelo, was commissioned to make the alterations.[52] An uncensored copy of the original, by Marcello Venusti, is in the Capodimonte Museum of Naples.[53]

Michelangelo worked on a number of architectural projects at this time. They included a design for the Capitoline Hill with its trapezoid piazza displaying the ancient bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius. He designed the upper floor of the Palazzo Farnese and the interior of the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, in which he transformed the vaulted interior of an Ancient Roman bathhouse. Other architectural works include San Giovanni dei Fiorentini, the Sforza Chapel (Capella Sforza) in the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore and the Porta Pia.[54]

St Peter's Basilica, 1546–1564

While still working on the Last Judgement, Michelangelo received yet another commission for the Vatican. This was for the painting of two large frescos in the Cappella Paolina depicting significant events in the lives of the two most important saints of Rome, the Conversion of Saint Paul and the Crucifixion of Saint Peter. Like the Last Judgement, these two works are complex compositions containing a great number of figures.[55] They were completed in 1550. In the same year, Giorgio Vasari published his Vita, including a biography of Michelangelo.[56]

In 1546, Michelangelo was appointed architect of St. Peter's Basilica, Rome.[39] The process of replacing the Constantinian basilica of the 4th century had been underway for fifty years and in 1506 foundations had been laid to the plans of Bramante. Successive architects had worked on it, but little progress had been made. Michelangelo was persuaded to take over the project. He returned to the concepts of Bramante, and developed his ideas for a centrally planned church, strengthening the structure both physically and visually.[57] The dome, not completed until after his death, has been called by Banister Fletcher, "the greatest creation of the Renaissance".[58]

As construction was progressing on St Peter's, there was concern that Michelangelo would pass away before the dome was finished. However, once building commenced on the lower part of the dome, the supporting ring, the completion of the design was inevitable.

On 7 December 2007, a red chalk sketch for the dome of St Peter's Basilica, possibly the last made by Michelangelo before his death, was discovered in the Vatican archives. It is extremely rare, since he destroyed his designs later in life. The sketch is a partial plan for one of the radial columns of the cupola drum of Saint Peter's.[59]