Michelangelo Buonarroti (b. 1475 Caprese, d. 1564)
Michelangelo's Marble and Sculpture
Michelangelo insisted on being called by his surname, even if
the title of sculptor suited him best. Sculpture was his favorite art and his main
activity. In 1489 he was invited in the so-called "Medici Garden" in San Marco,
where he met the most famous men of the Florentine Renaissance.
His first sculptures, which date back to his years under the guidance of Bertoldo di Giovanni, were the Faun's Head (now lost), the Madonna of the Stair and the Battle of Centaurs (both can be found in the Casa Buonarroti in Florence). When Lorenzo the Magnificent died in 1492, Michelangelo returned home, but didn't stay long. In 1494, when Charles VIII was about to arrive in Florence, he left for Venice. Afterwards he went to Bologna and made three statues there for the church of San Domenico.In 1496, before leaving for Rome, he sculpted the Sleeping Cupid, which was sent to Rome without his knowledge and sold as an ancient work. In Rome the milieu was stimulating and the young artist was able to contemplate the antiquity of the city. He spent much time admiring the Belvedere, which would become inspiration for many of his later works.
The statues Michelangelo sculpted during his first stay in Rome were inspired by classical models, in particular, the Bacchus ordered by Cardinal Riario (now in the Bargello in Florence), and the PietÓ, commissioned in 1498 by the French Cardinal Jean Bilheres de Lagraulas for St Peter's. The Madonna with Infant, now in Notre Dame in Bruges, Belgium, also belongs to this period (1498-1501).
In 1501 Michelangelo returned to Florence and began working on fifteen small statues for the Cathedral of Siena. He completed only four of them, as in 1501 the Opera del Duomo of Florence commissioned his David. For this enormous statue, Michelangelo used a single block of marble that had previously been worked on by Agostino di Duccio and then discarded in the courtyard of the Opera. The David - intended, like the PietÓ, to be looked at from the front, even though it was properly finished on every side - confirmed Michelangelo's concept of art, already elaborated a few years before: "to sculpt" meant "to take away", not "to add", as the sculpture already existed inside the block of marble. The stone was just the covering that contained a work of art; the sculptor only had to take away the part in excess. The notion of the statue that potentially existed inside the marble was expounded in several of Michelangelo's letters as well as in afamous sonnet. This idea, already partly expressed by Alberti, attained with Michelangelo a higher philosophical meaning: the sculptor's hand, guided by intellect, could only take out what was that already extant inside the block of marble and needed to free the "idea" inside from the superfluous surrounding it. The endless struggle of man, imprisoned by matter, striving to attain the his goal was the leitmotiv of all Michelangelo's sculptures and a concept perfectly in line with the Florentine Neo-Platonic tradition, popular during the time of Lorenzo il Magnifico.
In Michelangelo's next statue - the St Matthew on display at the Academy of Florence - the changed relationship between the artist and his work is shown by the fact that the saint was not completely liberated from the original block of marble.Something in the artist had obviously been modified: in those years Savonarola was preaching his apocalyptic sermons in Florence and the preacher's influence on Michelangelo was great enough to make him leave the original untreated stone next to, and not entirely separate from, a statue of classical beauty. The rough-hewn marble testifies that it is impossible for man to free his soul from matter, from the burden of bodily form.
In 1506, after various disagreements with Julius II, Michelangelo agreed to meet the Pope in Bologna and finally accepted the latter's request that the artist make large bronze statue of Julius for the fašade of San Petronius. This work was exhausting for Michelangelo and, though the statue was finished in 1508, it was destroyed in 1511.
Michelangelo returned to Rome in 1508, hoping to finish his project for the Pope's tomb, but instead was commissioned to execute the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel.
Michelangelo resumed his studies for the Tomb of Julius II in February 1513, but the Pope suddenly died soon afterwards and his heirs modified the original plan many times. Newer and more urgent engagements prevented Michelangelo from finishing the mausoleum, which was only completed in 1542. The only statue which would be actually set on the sepulchre - Michelangelo's famous Moses - was, however, finished in 1515.
In the same year, the artist returned to Florence and stayed there until 1534 and began a new career as architect. In 1520 he completed the Medici tombs, probably commissioned by Cardinal Giulio de' Medici and Pope Leo X though no documents attest this.
The tombs were intended for Lorenzo the Magnificent, his brother Giuliano, Duke Lorenzo of Urbino and Duke Giuliano of Nemours; but only the last two were actually built.These tombs, adorned with sculptures and embedded in the walls, are intended to fit into the circular architectural structure, conceived by Michelangelo, in which they are set.
Each sepulchre is surmounted by two reclining nudes together with a statue of the deceased set in a centred niche. On Lorenzo's tomb are figures of Dawn and Twilight, on Giuliano's, Day and Night.
Their meaning is allegorical: the transience of life and its brevity. Dawn is a woman with a slightly knitted brow, slowly waking to face an arduous day; Twilight, a male figure, is leaning upon his elbow. Night is a female figure soundly sleeping while Day is, surprisingly, a stooped man who shows no vitality at all. The latter is undoubtedly the most allegorical figure: through him, Michelangelo intended to represent action impeded by reason. All these figures are colossal and seem tired and tormented. The main figures, Lorenzo and Giuliano, look pensive as well and, from their niches, turn their eyes to the image of the Madonna and Child, which thus becomes the centre of the monument.
Michelangelo's pessimism worsened as a result of both old age and the invasion of Italy by foreign mercenaries. He continued working on the Medici tombs until 1534, leaving them unfinished when he was commissioned to paint the Last Judgement in the Vatican.
In Rome, Michelangelo devoted little time to sculpture, partly because he was engaged in other works. Above all, however, he did not wish anymore to execute sculptures for his patrons, but only for himself, as an outlet for his own passions and anxieties.The subjects of his last sculptures are pervaded with religiosity and repeat the themes of his earlier PietÓ of St Peter's.
The PietÓ (1550-1555), now at the Museum of the Opera del Duomo in Florence, was made, according to Vasari, for Michelangelo's own tomb and depicts four figures (Jesus, the , Mary Magdalene and Nicodemus).
The Palestrina PietÓ (1555), now at the Academy Museum of Florence, depicts Jesus, the and Mary Magdalene. Not mentioned in any traditional source, this sculpture is nevertheless generally attributed to Michelangelo. Found in one of the chapels of Palazzo Barberini in Palestrina, it was brought to Florence in 1939.
The Rondanini PietÓ (1552-1564) is in the museum of the Sforza Castle in Milan. In Michelangelo's studio at the time of his death, this sculpture was acquired by the Rondanini family, later by the Sanseverino family and finally, in 1952, by the Municipality of Milan.
These last sculptures show that Michelangelo, towards the end of his life, slowly abandoned the ideals of classical beauty to create lean bodies, almost deprived of weight and strongly spiritual. The Age of the Renaissance was ending and the artist, with his works, embodied the passage to a different period, in which works of art, instead of representing the ideals of beauty, expressed the miserable condition of Man.
[ Michelangelo's Life ]
[ Michelangelo's Painting ]