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 david
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 himself.

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.

portion of michelangelo's 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.

Michelangelo's Legacy

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.