Michelangelo and His Works
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti
Simoni was born March 6, 1475 in Caprese, Tuscany. He was an Italian sculptor, painter,
architect and poet and is often described as one of the greatest artist’s of
all time. According to Muntz, “Michelangelo excelled as a sculptor, painter,
and architect, he was most ardently and consistently fond of sculpting. Sculptor
was the only title he ever used” (35). He is also known for his impact on
Western art during and after the High Renaissance.
In 1481, when Michelangelo was just six
years old, his mother died. After her death, he went to live with a family
friend whose husband was a stonecutter. During this time, Michelangelo’s father
owned a small marble quarry, which is where he gained his affection for marble.
“Michelangelo Buonarroti described sculpting as a process whereby the artist
releases an ideal figure from the block of stone in which it slumbers” (Rusbult
At the age of 13, Michelangelo started
his apprenticeship in Florence Italy with the cities most well known painter by
the name of Domenico Ghirlandaio. He started off by duplicating the works of
Ghirlandaio, but left his apprenticeship after only one year. Michelangelo felt
he had nothing more to learn (Gilbert).
Shortly after he began to work with a bronze sculptor, Bertoldo di Giovanni.
Even though Michelangelo did not care for Giovanni’s medium, Giovanni was the
closest teacher to what he wanted to do, which was sculpting. He was later sent
to work for Lorenzo de’ Medici and attended Medici’s Humanist Academy. This is
where he created two of his first relief sculptures, the Madonna of the Steps (1490-1492) and the Battle of the Centaurs (1491-1492). Lorenzo de Medici commissioned
both of these reliefs. During his time at the academy, another student, Pietro
Torrigiano, hit him on the nose and that is why you see a slight disfigurement
to his face in most portraits of Michelangelo.
In 1494, Michelangelo moved to Bologna and was
hired to complete the Shrine of St.
Dominic. After several odd and end jobs, he created the Bacchus
(1496-1497). This is said to be his first surviving large statue (Gilbert). This
statue gained the attention of Rome and he was then commissioned to create one
of his greatest known sculptures, the Pieta
(1498). The Pieta, located in St.
Peter’s Basilica in Rome, is a marble statue of The Virgin Mary sitting with
the lifeless body of Jesus lying in her lap. Because of the overwhelming
success of this statue, he was commissioned by the city of Florence to create
the statue David (1501). This statue
is a biblical representation of the hero David, who is standing naked and is
created entirely out of marble. It took Michelangelo about 4 years to sculpt
the statue of David.
In 1504, Michelangelo was given his first
commission for a painting. He was commissioned to create the Battle of Cascina, a painting that
depicts soldiers being ambushed while they were taking a bath in a river. His
second commissioned painting was the Holy
Family, which is created using tempera on wood and pictures Jesus, Mary and
Joseph. This painting can be found hanging in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.
In 1505, Michelangelo was commissioned by
Pope Julius II to build the Pope’s tomb. Because of the Pope’s ambitious ideas,
lack of funding and their many disagreements, the project took Michelangelo
about 40 years to complete.
In 1506, Michelangelo received a letter
asking him to come to Rome to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel at the
request of Pope Julius II. After denying the Popes request for many years,
Michelangelo finally accepted the request and returned to Rome in 1508. Michelangelo worked on the Chapel for many
years and finally completed the ceiling in 1512.
From 1512 to 1534, Michelangelo created
many different works that stamped his mark all over Rome and Florence. Many of
these works were left unfinished due to the lack of time Michelangelo had to
complete them. Some of these works can be seen today in the Galleria dell’
Accademia in Florence, Italy.
In 1534, Pope Clemet VII commissioned
Michelangelo for another work to be done inside the Sistine Chapel.
Michelangelo was to return to the chapel and paint the alter wall, The Last Judgment, 1534-1541.
After the completion of the Last Judgment, Michelangelo began to
work on many architectural projects. Projects such as, the Capitoline Hill, the
Palazzo Farnese and the interior of the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli. But
his most famous architectural design is the St Peter’s Basilica.
In his old age, Michelangelo continued to
create sculptures and write poetry. Although he never married and did not have
any children, his legacy lives on through his works and as an inspiration to
other sculptors, painters and architects. Michelangelo died in Rome in 1564 at
the age of eighty-eight and was buried in his hometown of Florence, Italy.
The Sistine Chapel and The Creation of Adam, 1508-1512
In 1508, Michelangelo accepted the task
to paint the Sistine Chapel, commissioned by Pope Julius II. Upon his arrival
back in Rome, his first task was to design and construct scaffolding that would
allow him to reach the ceiling. Painting the ceiling would become a daunting
task, as he would have to lie on his back for many hours a day. After
construction of the scaffolding and preparing the ceiling to be frescoed, he
began to create his design. His design consisted of scenes from Genesis,
Victory, The Human Family, Prophet and Sibyls, and the Ancestors of Jesus. Together
this scheme would depict the history of God and man working together. (Nickerson
Working your way down the center of the
ceiling you will find scenes depicting the Book of Genesis from the bible. In the
triangular spaces of each corner of the room, known as spandrels, Michelangelo
painted the story of the Jewish peoples victory over peril. Along the sides of
the ceiling are Prophets and Sibyls who predicted the coming of Christ. These
images tend to grab your eye as Michelangelo used a technique called
trompe-l’oeil. A technique that uses realistic imagery that creates an optical
illusion which tricks your eye into thinking the image is a three dimensional
object. In this case the Prophets and Sibyls look like actual statues. In
between each of the statue like figures, you will see triangular frames with
Mothers, Fathers and children that create the Human Family aspect of the
scheme. Next, you will see lunettes, which are half moon shaped spaces that
line the entire ceiling. The lunettes show the lineage from Moses to Jesus
Christ, known as the Ancestors of Jesus aspect. Michelangelo used a
crosshatching effect that helped to create all the shadows and give each
When standing on the ground and looking
up at the ceiling, you would notice that the first half of the ceiling is
painted smaller in scale and has much more intricate and refined details. This
side is also harder to read. It was because of this that Michelangelo decided
to create the second half on a larger scale using fewer figures but painting
the figures larger so they can be seen from the ground. This is when he decided
to paint the Chapels most recognized piece, The
Creation of Adam, which is also a staple of Western Art.
Creation of Adam is one
of the center most pieces of the ceiling. Continuing in fresco, Michelangelo
painted God creating Adam, but not in a typical sense. In the background, you
will see the use of whites and light blues, which sets the scene of Heaven;
then the use of darker blues and greens, which sets the scene of an earthly
landscape. As you move forward you will see dark red drapery, which creates a
circular shape. Inside the circle are angel figures that seem to be holding up
and supporting the weight of God. Although you do not see wings on the angels,
the use of drapery makes them appear as though they are flying. Next you will
notice a figure that represents God, depicted as an elderly man with grey hair,
a long waving beard and is wearing a soft, white tunic. God has his arm
stretched out, which gives him the illusion of forward movement. In the center,
you will see the finger of God reaching out to touch the hand of Adam. Closer
to the foreground, you will see Adam’s nude body that appears to be lying in a
concave shape on the ground with his arm stretched out toward God.
My eye is immediately drawn to the hands
of God and Adam due to them being in the center and they have nothing behind
them, which makes them stand out from the other figures. I feel the hands resemble
the creation of life and hope. In the Bible, it is stated that God created Adam
in his image. I believe Michelangelo painted God to look more like mankind and
represented that fact. In most paintings of God, prior to this, he is dressed
in robes and crowns that signify royalty. I believe this work is a success, not
just the painting, but also the Sistine Chapel as a whole. Just like artwork,
the bible is also interpreted in many different ways throughout many different
cultures and religions. Michelangelo painted the Creation of Adam through how he interpreted it to be written in
The Last Judgment, 1536
In 1534, Michelangelo was once again
called back to the Sistine Chapel to paint The
Last Judgment on the alter wall under the commission of Pope Paul III.
According to Nickerson, a friend of Michelangelo, Sebastiano del Piombo had
prepped the alter wall, but had prepped it for an oil painting and not a
fresco. When Michelangelo returned and found out, he was outraged and stated
that only women and lazy people painted with oils. (89) In 1536, Michelangelo
began his work on the alter wall.
Although he did not use frames to section out each story of images like
he had done before, he still used his favorite painting technique, which was
fresco. He also did not use a fixed viewpoint and all of the images seem to run
together in a very chaotic manner. The piece as a whole depicts what
Christianity calls Judgment day, a day in which your soul is judged and you are
either sent to Heaven or Hell. “Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment is among the most powerful renditions of the
moment in the history of Christian art” (Camara).
Michelangelo started by using a base of
blue that helped to create the illusion that the Chapel is open to the sky
almost like a window. Throughout the painting he used colors such as vine
black, ivory black, marks brown, yellow ochers, red ochers, green earth, smalt,
and lapis lazuli. (Colalucci 13) In the very center, you will see a Christ like
figure in a golden glow that appears to be providing his verdict over people’s
souls, allowing them into Heaven or damning them to Hell. Curled up next to the
figure is the Virgin Mary who has already been saved. Surrounding these two
main figures are saints, groups of saved soles, and a group that awaits
judgment. Moving just outward from Christ, on the left is John the Baptist and
on the right is Saint Peter who appears to be trying to hand back the keys to
Heavens gates as they will no longer be needed. Just below Saint Peter is Saint
Bartholomew who is holding his own skin, which I believe, symbolized the
shedding of his physical body. During my tour of the Chapel, our tour guide
stated that the face of the skin was a self-portrait of Michelangelo. It is
said that he uses many familiar faces throughout this painting (Nickerson 79,
91-92). Moving down towards the bottom left are people who have died and are
leaving their physical body behind, Angels help guide them through the air. On
the bottom right you will find souls that have been damned to Hell and are
being ferried to Hells entrance by Charon on a boat. Although the devil is not
shown, Michelangelo uses Minos as he overlooks those going to Hell. Minos has donkey-like
ears and has a snake wrapped around his bottom. The head of the snake appears
to be biting Minos male genitalia. According to Nickerson, the face and ears of
Minos resembles the likeness of Biagio de Cesena, which Michelangelo painted in
retaliation for Cesena’s comment in regards to not liking all the nude bodies
being painted in a holy place. (92)
In looking at the painting, the one thing
that stands out to me the most is the faces of the people who have been allowed
into Heaven. Each of their faces seems to show fear, confusion and sorrow. One
would naturally think this would be a joyous occasion. Further research shows
that Catholics believe no one deserves to be saved because everyone is a sinner,
but the faithful will be spared. I believe that Michelangelo was using this to
represent his Catholic faith. In comparing the two works of the Sistine Chapel,
Michelangelo utilized the same medium and techniques. But the Creation of Adam is about life and The Last Judgment is about death, which
symbolized the complete life cycle of a human. Again, he uses the metaphor of
God and man working together. I believe both of these works are original as the
images are created through the biblical eye of Michelangelo.
In closing, I will
discuss why I chose this topic for my paper. In week one, during our
introductory forum, we were asked why were taking this course and what we hoped
to learn from it. I stated that the reason I am taking this course is due to my
trip to Italy this past summer. While visiting the Sistine Chapel in Rome I
realized I did not understand much about art and did not know how to interpret
it. I thought it would be fitting to learn more about Michelangelo and his
works. I am proud to now say that I have gone from being art illiterate to
being art smart.
Camara, Dr. Esperanca. “Last Judgment- Essay by
Dr. Esperanca Camara .” Khanacademy.org, www.khanacademy.org/humanities/renaissance-reformation/high-ren-florence-rome/michelangelo/a/michelangelo-last-judgment.
Colalucci, Gianluigi. “Michelangelo
Buonarroti: Restoration of the Frescoes on the Vaulted Ceiling and the Last
Judgment in the Sistine Chapel.” Conservation Science in Cultural HeritageOnline, 16.1 (2016): 89-126. Web. 14 Jan.
Gilbert, Creighton E. “Michelangelo.” Encyclopædia
Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 7 Nov. 2017,
Müntz, Eugène. Michelangelo, Parkstone
International, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy2.apus.edu/lib/apus/detail.action?docID=886990.
Nickerson, Angela K. A Journey Into
Michelangelo’s Rome, Roaring Forties Press, 2008. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy1.apus.edu/lib/apus/detail.action?docID=1599007.
Rusbult, Caryl E., et al. “The
Michelangelo Phenomenon.” Current Directions in Psychological
Science, vol. 18, no. 6, Dec. 2009, pp. 305-309. EBSCOhost,