A lover of anatomy, a lone genius, Michelangelo is a mark in history of art and architecture, he broke with the paradigms of the Renaissance has created his own language that would be fundamental to the work of later artists.
Michelangelo Buonarroti was born in Caprese in 1475 in Italy. From an early age he knew he would follow the path of art even with stiff opposition from his father. He began his apprenticeship in 1488 in the successful atelie oh the Florentine painter Domenico Ghirlandaio, but restless, soon he moved to the school of the sculptor Bertoldo di Giovanni in the gardens of the Medici family, the Garden of San Marcos. He and Ghirlandio and developed a competitive relationship that motivated him to also leave the atelier.
The Garden of St. Mark was a school that Lorenzo the Magnificent, opened in 1470 near the Convent of San Marco in Florence, formed by groups of artists destined to serve the Medici to have the chance to study ancient parts of the rich collection of this influential Florentine family. It was there that Michelangelo did “The Madonna of the Stairs” (first photo below) a tribute to the sculptor Donatello. In the protected circle Lorenzo, he met Agnolo Poliziano, the largest Renaissance philologist, scholar of Greek and Latin literature, this meeting had a great impact on the work of Michelangelo.
|“Virgin of the Stairs,” Michelangelo
|“Virgin and Child,” Donatello
With the death of Lorenzo in 1492, Michelangelo found himself through the an unstable political situation that caused him to move to Bologna, briefly, in the castle of the noble Bolognese Giovanfrancesco Aldrovandi. He then went to Rome where his fame would grow until it reaches its peak.
The sculpture “Bacchus” was one of his first works in Rome. It was commissioned by Cardinal Raffaele Riario Sansoni who was fanatical about antiquity. It begins to get an idea of the genius of the artist with his total tridimencionality and proportion.
But the work which would give fame to Michelangelo was not “Bacchus” but the “Pietà”.
Result of an order from a French cardinal to his chapel and burial in St. Peter’s Basilica, the “Pieta” is an iconic work of Michelangelo. Made with a single block of Carrara marble, the sculpture clearly shows the artist’s concern with details.
A until then little explored theme in a triangular composition in which Jesus’ body is fully enclosed by the contour of the figure of Maria. The inclination of the head and the expression of Maria are of an huge emotional richness. Michelangelo also makes the fabric of the robes of Maria with a tactile lightness that makes it hard to believe that the sculpture came from a block of marble.
Contracted to finish a work of Donatello in Florence, Michelangelo gets there and finds only one giant block to extract the figure of David. He received two years and a monthly salary to make the sculpture.
Michelangelo showed his ability to hide in his favor and reverse the restrictions of the problematic sketch of Donatello. He has been bold not to retrarct the character in a moment of victory as previously executed, but in hopes of an ideal moment to attack his opponent Goliath.
A full nudity allowed him to make a complete study of the anatomy on a magnificent scale. Veins, ribs, muscles and many other details of the human body are all visible in sculpture, it seems to have a life.
He knew that a grandiose sculpture like this would suffer distortion to the observer’s eyes next to her, so he increases its head and hands so that the viewer does not feel the distortion.
An audacious project, the vault of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican is one of the most fascinating works that I have visited in my life until now. Here he announces his innovative way of conceiving the space: it unites painting and sculpture through cornices painted as the ceiling so that there is a continuity of the wall and ceiling. There are nine central panels surrounded by secondary panels in this transition zone between the wall and vault. This complex organization of space, which simultaneously exalts and nullifies the architectural structure of the dome allowed Michelangelo identified five zones each designed to accommodate different meaning décor.
Michelangelo faced the difficult task of painting this fresco so wide of an area of 800m ² , 20m over the surface alone, he was sole responsibility for design and execution of the fresco in just 4 years. He first drew a small sketch of the position of the figures and decorations, then made a study with live models and accurate drawings in pencil, these were transferred to the fresh plaster. Once finished, Michelangelo stayed about 20 years without painting due to he was so exhaustive of that experience.
He loved to represent his figures in poses of foreshortening (not frontal or profile) to give dynamism and a tension very present throughout his work. He lived in an introspective search that generated many internal conflicts that motivated to seek perfection in his work.
In architecture, Michelangelo transgressed the Renaissance thought by stating that architecture was not the essence of man. I know this column is not about that subject, but below I’ll write a bit about some of his important works.
The tomb of Lorenzo and Giuliano Medici family in the church of San Lorenzo, the church is by the architect Brunelleschi, is an example of how Michelangelo used the classical orders in a free match of continuous recesses and protrusions that give movement and life to the space.
The Laurenziana library is a deconstruction of the idea of this kind of space, there, pillars does not have only structural function, they alsocreate a compositional rhythm of the entire environment and an unusual play of shadows.
The stairs can be considered a sculpture by its form and expressiveness. It is organic by its curves, his contemporaries criticized it for not understanding much the function of the shape of it.
“But who among the dead and alive takes the palm, transcends and surpasses all, Michelangelo Buonaroti is that not only maintains the primacy of one of these arts (architecture, sculpture, painting) but all three together.” Giorgio Vasari
“Michelangelo led his creation, both with the paintbrush as with the chisel, with so much art, grace and vivacity, which surpassed the old and conquered it. He made difficult things look like easy things, giving the impression that his art was born of a simple gesture, naturally . Whoever tried to imitate him found fatigue. “Giorgio Vasari
“In Michelangelo, anatomy becomes music. In him the human body is almost purely architectural material.” Umberto Boccioni
“The passage of the faithful imitation to a free and ideal nature can not happen gradually and not only can be product of the purification of taste and artistic challenge. This, instead, is only possible thanks to the launch of a genial artistic spirit original features, beyond imagination and reproductive representative capacity, also a genuine creative talent. An artist able to animate the images from his own fantasy with the feeling of the sublime, which sees the nature with a philosophical eye and is able to particularize the universality forms there where the philosopher discovers universal concepts; an artist, after all, who uses his predecessors in purely instrumental to develop their strengths. man who provided this important service to modern art service called Michelangelo. “Karl Ludwig Fernow
Under the altar of the Sistine Chapel is the huge fresco of the “Last Judgment” one of the last works of Michelangelo before his death.
The figure of Christ is represented beardless and in the thematic and symbolic center of the panel. He is the judge sitting on a throne of clouds.
In this work he had the help of his artist friend Sebastiano del Piombo because he was busy with a number of unfinished works and still reluctant to paint. But the egocentric and irritable Michelangelo made the partnership and friendship of 20 years end in a dramatic way.
At the end of his life, Michelangelo believed he had not reached the divine, cosmic beauty in his work. Thus, in this fresco he portrays himself as the dead skin of a saint. Some believe that the tension of his work is in his personal conflict between religion and sexuality (it is believed that he was gay), he left a legacy that still served as an influence for later Baroque and artists today.
His final sculptures had a look of unfinished by having parts with the chisel marks, parts not totally flat like most of his work. This unfinished look was passed by the Mannerist and Baroque through then both in painting and in sculpture.
I still have so much to write about this artist, but I do not have time nor do I want you to get too tired with my excessive texts. (laughs)
I hope this post has helped you to understand this genius who thought in a way ahead his time and had the obstacle culture of the time to realize his ideas, his essence. But he still has left his mark in art history with a rich work that goes beyond painting and sculpture, reaching architecture and poetry.