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 Michelangelo Buonarroti

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PostSubject: Michelangelo Buonarroti   Mon Feb 28, 2011 10:51 am

Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)

Born in Florentine territory, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni - usually called simply Michelangelo - was one of the greatest masters of Italian Renaissance art. His nickname - il divino, the divine one - was an apt illustration of his exceptional gifts as a painter, sculptor, architect and engineer. Twenty years younger than his rival Leonardo da Vinci, his diversity of talent caused him (along with Da Vinci and Raphael) to be regarded as one of the three great creators of the High Renaissance in the sixteenth century. Above all, he promoted the idea that painting and sculpture merited the same status as architecture, and that painters and sculptors were genuine artists, rather than mere decorators or stone masons. Michelangelo's creative output has made him one of the most scrutinized Old Masters of the sixteenth century, and he is arguably the greatest artist in the history of art.


In 1492, after the death of his patron, Lorenzo de' Medici, the 17 year old Michelangelo moved to Bologna, and, in 1496, to Rome. There he carved the first of his major sculptures: the St Peter's Pieta, which was completed at the turn of the century. His mastery of anatomy and composition as revealed in this sculpture, made his name. He returned to Florence in 1501 as a famous artist, remaining there until 1505. Here he completed his masterpiece David, the Bruges Madonna and began the Twelve Apostles (unfinished). At about this time he painted the Doni Tondo. He may also have painted the Madonna and Child with John the Baptist.

Considered one of the most famous artists of the day, in 1505 Michelangelo was offered a commission by Pope Julius II for the design and sculpting of his tomb. The original dimensions of the tomb had room for almost 80 oversized figures. Due to various problems, the tomb was reduced drastically in size and Michelangelo made only one figure - Moses, his last major sculpture. He left Rome during wrangles over the tomb, but returned not long afterwards.

In 1508, Michelangelo was commissioned by the Pope to repaint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The work took four years to complete (1508-1512). Painted from a scaffold supported by beams built out from holes in the wall, high up near the top of the windows, using a new plaster-mixture, called intonaco, the paintings contain bright colour, easily visible from floor-level. On the lowest part of the ceiling Michelangelo painted the Ancestors of Christ. Above these he alternated male and female prophets, with Jonah over the altar. See also Sistine Chapel frescoes.

On the highest section Michelangelo painted nine stories from the Book of Genesis, including The Creation of Adam. In the end, Michelangelo painted over 300 figures, including seven prophets and five sybils (prophetic women of the Classical world). Within the ring of prophets and sybils were nine panels on Biblical world history. Three panels were devoted to the Creation, three to the story of Adam and Eve, and three to the story of Noah and the great flood. The Creation of Adam, depicts the Biblical story in which God breathes life into Adam, the first man. Chronologically the fourth in the series of panels portraying episodes from the book of Genesis on the Sistine ceiling, it is probably one of the most famous and appreciated religious images in the world. In this fresco, God is portrayed as an elderly bearded man wrapped in a swirling cloak. His left arm is wrapped around a female figure, usually interpreted as Eve, who is yet to be created, while his right arm is outstretched to transmit the spark of life from his own finger into that of Adam, whose left arm is extended in a pose mirroring God's. God is shown airborne in contrast to the earthbound Adam, lying on a stable triangle of barren ground (the name 'Adam' derives from a Hebrew term meaning "earth").

Although distracted by painting the Sistine Chapel, as soon as it was finished Michelangelo returned to work on Julius' tomb (1513-1516). He then returned to Florence to work for the Medici family in the person of Pope Leo X, the younger son of his former patron Lorenzo de' Medici. During the years 1516-1527 he performed a number of sculptural and architectural tasks for the Medici popes. Political upheaval followed. Michelangelo remained in Florence working on the Medici Chapel but left in 1534 to return to Rome where he settled for the remainder of his life. Almost at once he received his next great commission from Pope Paul III Farnese: to paint The Last Judgement, on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel. Many art experts consider this to be his masterwork. When unveiled in 1541 it caused a sensation equalled only by his fresco on the Sistine Chapel ceiling of 30 years earlier. The standard of figure drawing and figure painting drawing that each displays, is breathtaking.

Michelangelo's two religious frescos (Genesis, and The last Judgement) were a study in contrasts. Genesis expressed the confident humanism and Christian Neoplatonism of the early 1500s. Since then, the Sack of Rome and the Reformation had brought about a pessimism and despondency which was perfectly captured by the composition and style in The Last Judgement. The wall-painting depicts Christ's damnation of sinners and his blessing of the virtuous, along with the resurrection of the dead and the transport of souls to hell by Charon. The mouth of Hell gapes over the altar itself.

The painting illustrates the new movement of Mannerism (a reaction against the perfection and self-assuredness of the Renaissance) which gripped artists throughout the unstable areas of Central Italy following the Sack of Rome in 1527.

Other Notable Works

David, (now in the Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence) created in Carrara Marble is - along with the Pietà - seen as one of Michelangelo's two greatest masterpieces of sculpture, and is arguably the most celebrated and recognizable statue in the history of art. Standing 17 feet in height, the statue depicts the Biblical King David at the moment that he decides to do battle with Goliath. Politically, it symbolised the Florentine Republic, an independent city state threatened on all sides by more powerful neighbours, a view supported by its original setting outside the Palazzo della Signoria, the seat of civic government in Florence.

• Although Leonardo da Vinci and other artists were consulted about the commission, it was the 26-year old Michelangelo Buonarroti, who convinced the authorities that he should be entrusted with the task.
• Originally, a gilded wreath was added to David's head and a gilt-bronze belt to cover his nudity.
• Michelangelo's David was sculpted in the manner of disegno - a rather convoluted theory of 'ideal design' - and is a good example of contrapposto, meaning a pose in which one part of the body is twisted in the opposite direction from that of the other.

The Doni Tondo (now in the Uffizi, Florence) is the only known preserved panel painting by the Florentine artist. It is in the form of a tondo, or round frame, which, during the Renaissance, was typically associated with marriage.

One of the most versatile artists of the High Renaissance and the later Mannerist style, Michelangelo used two media for this work - tempera and oil. By applying the oils in successive tones from intense color to the lightest value, in the manner of tempera painting, Michelangelo produced a quite different colour-effect to that of Flemish painters at the time. Flemish painters tended to use the opposite oil painting technique - viz, shading from highlights down to darker tones of pigment. Michelangelo’s method is called cangianti and is typical of his painting style.

Building on the achievements of Giotto, Andrea Mantegna and Botticelli, Michelangelo's sculptural masterpieces Pieta and David, and his frescos on the ceiling and altar wall of the Sistine Chapel in Rome - are regarded as some of the most influential artistic accomplishments in the history of Western Art. Michelangelo also initiated the idea that the nude human body is a sufficient vehicle for the expression of all emotions which a painter can depict. This idea had an enormous influence on the subsequent development of Italian art - especially on Mannerist artists like Jacopo Pontormo (1494-1556), and later Academic art - and on art as a whole. In addition, he sketched some of the greatest drawings of the Renaissance. Works by Michelangelo can be seen in the best art museums across the world.
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