Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (1475-1564), commonly known as just Michelangelo, was one of the most influential artists of the Italian Renaissance. Known for his sculptures, paintings, and architecture, Michelangelo created some of the most iconic works of Western art including the statue of David and frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Over his long and productive career spanning nearly seven decades, Michelangelo left an indelible mark on art history as one of the founders of the High Renaissance style.
When and where was Michelangelo born?
Michelangelo was born on March 6, 1475 in Caprese, a small town in the province of Arezzo, Tuscany in Italy. He came from an upper middle class family and his father, Lodovico di Buonarroti Simoni, served as a magistrate in the municipal government of Florence. Michelangelo had four other brothers. As the family maintained a residence in Florence, Michelangelo spent much of his childhood and youth in the bustling center of art and culture.
|Date of Birth
|March 6, 1475
|Place of Birth
|Caprese, near Arezzo, Republic of Florence (present-day Tuscany, Italy)
|Date of Death
|February 18, 1564 (aged 88)
|Place of Death
|Rome, Papal States (present-day Italy)
What was Michelangelo’s early life and training as an artist?
As a 13-year old, Michelangelo became an apprentice to Domenico Ghirlandaio, one of the most renowned painters in Florence at the time. He learned the technique of fresco which would become a signature of his later works.
After less than a year of apprenticeship, Michelangelo caught the attention of the powerful Medici family who invited him to study classical sculptures in their garden. This would be Michelangelo’s introduction to humanist culture and spark his lifelong passion for sculpture.
At the young age of 16, Michelangelo moved to Rome where he produced early works like the Bacchus (1496) and Pietà (1498). The latter, completed when Michelangelo was only 24 years old, showcased both his talent and audacity. The life-sized Pietà depicting Mary holding the body of Christ immediately became one of the most renowned sculptures in Rome and affirmed his fame as an artist.
What were some key works early in Michelangelo’s career?
At age 26, Michelangelo took on a commission from the Opera del Duomo for a colossal statue of the biblical hero David to be displayed in Florence. The 18-foot tall masterpiece, carved from a single block of marble, depict David poised in contrapposto stance just before his battle with Goliath.
With accurate anatomical detail and a confident pose, David expressed the ideal of human beauty and embodied the spirit of Florence against more powerful rivals. The statue was unveiled in 1504 to immediate acclaim and established Michelangelo’s prominence in his homeland. It continues to attract millions of visitors every year to the Accademia Gallery where it is displayed.
Ceiling Frescoes in Sistine Chapel (1508-1512)
In 1505, Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to design and paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, an important site of papal activity in the Vatican Palace. Spanning over 5,000 square feet between 1508-1512, Michelangelo painted nine central panels from the Book of Genesis surrounded by prophets and ancestors of Christ.
Marked by his strong, twisting forms and vivid color palette, the ceiling frescoes stand out for their physicality and emotional intensity with the iconic image of God giving life to Adam. The ambitious project cemented Michelangelo as the foremost painter of his era.
|Key Early Works
|Ceiling of Sistine Chapel
What commissions occupied Michelangelo in his later career?
Michelangelo returned to Florence and between 1520-1534 worked on the Medici Chapel, the burial place for the prominent Medici family. He designed the basic architectural structure of the chapel and over several years created the remarkable tomb sculptures of Giuliano and Lorenzo de Medici, two of the most powerful Medici rulers.
The Last Judgment (1534-1541)
In 1534, Michelangelo began his second major work at the Sistine Chapel – the massive fresco The Last Judgment on the altar wall. Here Christ judges souls and separates the blessed from the damned. Continuing his style from the ceiling, Michelangelo create powerfully built figure in emotionally charged poses to depict this solemn biblical scene. The fresco draws visitors from across the world and is often regarded among his finest achievements.
St. Peter’s Basilica (1546-1564)
Near the end of his life, Michelangelo turned to architecture taking over the ambitious project to rebuild St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Although the basic structural design was established, Michelangelo created numerous drawings tweaking details.
His prominent contributions include a 138.5 feet dome, the mother design of which served as inspiration for domes of important buildings for centuries to come. Even in his old age, Michelangelo continued overseeing this landmark church that stands today as a testament to his creative genius.
|Key Late Works
|St. Peter’s Basilica
How was Michelangelo different than other artists of his time?
There are several qualities that set Michelangelo apart from his contemporaries:
Having performed many dissections early on, Michelangelo acquired an expert understanding of musculature and skeletal structure. As evident in works like the David or Sistine Chapel ceiling, he could depict the human body with an unprecedented sense of volume and human athleticism. Where previous artists often failed to correctly proportion their figures, Michelangelo brought a newfound anatomical accuracy.
Beyond physical realism, Michelangelo introduced a deep psychological expressiveness in the faces and poses of his human figures. In scenes like the iconic Creation of Adam, the outstretched hands seem to almost touch conveying divine connection. Such emotionally and physically complex compositions stand out for their raw, unvarnished depiction so different than more decorative contemporaries.
Mastery of Multiple Mediums
While many Renaissance artists tended to specialize in painting or sculpture, Michelangelo excelled in both forms producing towering masterpieces from marble and painting epic fresco cycles. Later on, he even dedicated himself to architecture. This versatility across mediums – applying his signature expressive style regardless of form – was unmatched among contemporaries.
Michelangelo demonstrated an unrivaled humanistic expression that gave rise to the High Renaissance style and left an immense impact for centuries to come.
What was Michelangelo’s impact on Western art?
As one of the most renowned names of the Italian Renaissance, Michelangelo’s impact on art and culture both in his life and posthumously has been immense.
Height of High Renaissance Style
Michelangelo’s work marked the peak of the High Renaissance style with his humanistic focus and naturalistic depictions. Along with contemporaneous masters like Leonardo and Raphael, Michelangelo was a key figure in this Golden Age of art. His frescoes for the Sistine Chapel remain a cornerstone for the Italian Renaissance.
Michelangelo Buonarroti was undoubtedly one of the most significant creative forces of the Italian Renaissance. Over his long career spanning over seven decades, he produced a phenomenal body of work including iconic sculptures like David, the towering frescoes of the Sistine Chapel, the soaring dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, and countless other masterpieces.
Driven by a tireless work ethic and intense perfectionism from early youth, Michelangelo demonstrated complete mastery across sculpture, painting, and architecture while introducing a powerfully expressive and emotionally dynamic style. His anatomical accuracy, skillful composition, and depiction of human physical and psychic expression were unparalleled in his time. Along with other High Renaissance masters Leonardo and Raphael, Michelangelo elevated the Renaissance arts to new heights in the early 16th century.
Centuries after his death, Michelangelo’s innovations continue to astonish and inspire. His creative output set a towering standard for later generations of artists. Visited by millions every year, the David and Sistine Chapel stand today not just as icons of Renaissance Italy but of all human achievement. Through his enduring legacy, Michelangelo remains an artistic genius of the highest tier whose contributions to visual culture live on worldwide.
What works is Michelangelo best known for?
Some of Michelangelo’s most well-known and acclaimed works include the statue of David (1501 – 1504), the Vatican Pieta (1498), the frescoes on the ceiling (1508-1512) and altar wall of the Sistine Chapel (1534-1541), and the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica (1546-1564). These works demonstrate his mastery as a sculptor, painter, and architect.
Where can I see Michelangelo’s most famous works?
Many of Michelangelo’s most iconic sculptures, paintings, and buildings are located in Florence and Rome. Key places to view his art include:
- Florence: Accademia Gallery (David, Prisoners), Medici Chapels (New Sacristy sculptures)
- Rome: St. Peter’s Basilica and Square, Sistine Chapel in the Vatican Museums (ceiling frescoes & Last Judgement)
What makes Michelangelo such an innovative and influential artist?
Michelangelo was incredibly innovative for his time with his twisting poses, anatomical precision in human figures, skill with fresco and marble sculpture, mastery of architecture, and sheer epic ambition of his works. The expressive, emotionally intense style of his painting and sculpture had an enormous impact on later generations of artists in the Mannerist and Baroque eras.
What was Michelangelo’s personality and work style like?
While capable of kindness, Michelangelo had an intense perfectionism that made him difficult to work with. He was solitary and remained devoted to his art above all else, subsisting primarily on bread and wine while spending days alone painting or chiseling works. However, this tireless work ethic allowed him to create masterpieces of astonishing scale and vision.
Did Michelangelo have any rivals or contemporary competitors?
During his era, Michelangelo was peer to other creative titans – the older Leonardo da Vinci and younger Raphael. While the three artists were collaborative at times, they also competed for important commissions. Ultimately, Michelangelo’s reputation eclipsed these two contemporaries in his later life and endures to this day