Michelangelo 1475-1564

Michelangelo was born in Italy, and was brought up by his nurse on the family farm. Her husband was a stonemason, and Michelangelo attributed his fascination with stone, and making statues, to his childhood, spent close to the famous quarries in Settignano.

At the age of thirteen, he persuaded his father to let him study art, and he showed such promise that he was chosen, along with a handful of other boys, to learn sculpture from one of Florence’s most respected sculptors. The school was held in the gardens of the Duke’s palace, and Michelangelo and the other boys spent hours making copies of the ancient statues of Greece and Rome, which were in the Duke’s possession.

Michelangelo soon outshone all his schoolfellows and, jealous of his talent, one of the boys hit him in the face. Poor Michelangelo’s nose was broken, and he was greatly upset by the incident. From that time forth he was wary of trusting others, and preferred to keep his own counsel.

Before long he had learnt all the old sculptor could teach him, and, at the age of twenty he carved a statue of a sleeping Cupid. In those days no one had ever surpassed the Ancient Greeks in sculpture, painting, or indeed in anything else, and their work was considered the height of perfection. However, the young Michelangelo’s Cupid was so brilliant that people could scarcely believe it was not a work of one of the old masters. Michelangelo’s reputation was established, and he received commissions to create sculptures for some of the most wealthy and influential men in Italy.

It was at this time that Michelangelo carved one of his greatest masterpieces, the statue of David. At first there were many difficulties, for the piece of marble he was given was too shallow, and contained numerous flaws, but he contrived to overcome these obstacles, and created a figure of surpassing beauty.

Not long after, the Pope in Rome asked Michelangelo to decorate the ceiling of the great domed Sistine Chapel. Although Michelangelo protested that he "was no artist" he accepted the commission, and set to work in his usual independent and original way.

The Pope had employed five young artists to assist Michelangelo in the great project, but when they arrived they found the doors bolted, and had no choice but to return home.

Michelangelo insisted on painting the entire ceiling himself, and despite great bodily discomfort, and the mounting impatience of the Pope, who would come and shake the scaffolding, whilst demanding to know when it would be finished, the work was finally unveiled to a wondering public.

Michelangelo received universal praise, but he remained as modest and self-motivated as ever. He was devoted to his family, to whom he always sent a portion of whatever he earned. He had close friendships with a lady called Vittoria Colonna, and a young man called Tommaso Cavalieri.

He continued to create great sculptures, and also designed many buildings and public spaces until his death, at the age of 89.

 ~Bethan Lewis~        

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