Michelangelo (1475–1564) is widely regarded as one of the most brilliant Renaissance polymaths. He was an excellent sculptor and architect, a terrific painter, and a poet as well.
From the various talents he possessed, the field of art that made him famous was sculpting, which he had a great interest in since his childhood. As a young boy, he was already chosen to attend the Medici family's Humanist academy, which was an acknowledged institute that served as the foundation for his talent to be recognized by the social elites of Florence. This gave him the opportunity to learn from the famous sculptor Bertoldo di Giovanni in the palace of Lorenzo where he also had the privilege to study the human body with permission from the Catholic church. The great insight into anatomy he acquired during this time was crucial for his later works that in line with the Renaissance approach, focused on the beauty and the lifelike portrayal of the body.
Some of Michelangelo’s most known masterpieces were created as early as in his twenties. His Pieta sculpture, ordered by the French Cardinal Jean de Bilhères-Lagraulas, was completed when he was only 23 years old. It is a monumental achievement considering the size and the unbelievable details of this Carrara marble sculpture that depicts the body of Jesus on the lap of his mother Mary after the Crucifixion. The marble used proved to be such high quality, that it became the frequent material Michelangelo had used for a number of his subsequent works. The Pieta is currently housed in St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City.
Another world-famous piece, Michelangelo’s David was also completed in his early years, but unlike the Pieta which was his own work from the start, the David statue was originally commissioned to the Florentine sculptor Agostino di Duccio in 1464 and made perhaps under Donatello's direction. Agostino only got as far as beginning to shape the legs before his association with the project ceased. After almost 30 years from when the work on the statue stopped Michelangelo was offered a contract to finish the piece. He worked on it between 1501 and 1504 when it was finally complete with all the exceptional details preserved on the original six-ton artwork, currently on display in the Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence, Italy.
Moses by Michelangelo
Michelangelo’s Moses sculpture is also one of his most renowned artworks. It was commissioned by Pope Julius II in 1505 for his own tomb that was completed in 1545. The more than 2 meters (92.5 inches) high statue is a colossal masterpiece that depicts the biblical figure with horns on his head which is based on a description in the Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible that was used during that time.
Aurora or Dawn by Michelangelo
Among his numerous commissions, one of the most prestigious was the Sagrestia Nuova, a mausoleum for members of the Medici family, Giuliano di Lorenzo de' Medici and Lorenzo II de' Medici. Their tombs were designed by Michelangelo, however, he departed from the project before its completion. Despite this, he finished four of the statues accompanying the effigies of the Medicis buried there. Two for each tomb, one male and one female, symbolizing the unavoidable circle of life with the four parts of the day reflected in their names Night, Day, Dusk, and Dawn.
Besides the highly regarded sculptures of Michelangelo, his paintings were also of excellent quality, recognized by Pope Julius II, who gave him a free hand in the composition of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling. Originally it would have featured the figures of the twelve Apostles that Michelangelo changed to Prophets and Sibyls who heralded the coming of the Messiah.
Michelangelo is rightfully regarded as one of the most influential artists of the Renaissance whose artworks shaped culture in many ways. His contribution to sculpting, painting and literature are the legacy of a great polymath that shall never be forgotten.
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