Beyond David and The Sistine Chapel
Michelangelo’s name instantly conjures images of the Sistine Chapel and its breathtaking frescos, or of his sculpture of Dave, which is considered to be one of the most important works of art. Michelangelo was a master of sculpture and painting, as well as architecture, over his almost 89-year career.
Let’s look at some other Michelangelo pieces that are less well-known, but no less impressive.
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni is best known for his first name. He was born in Caprese, Tuscany, on March 6, 1475. His father was a stonecutter and he started working with marble and stone at an early age. Michelangelo began his apprenticeship at the workshop of Renaissance master Domenico Ghirlandaio when he was only 13. Here he learned how to paint frescoes. From the beginning, his raw talent was obvious.
Soon he found himself at the court of Lorenzo de Medici (also known as Lorenzo The Magnificent), a wealthy banker who was also an art patron. Michelangelo was then exposed to the greatest thinkers and artists of his time.
Michelangelo was just 20 years old, and his work is still very little-known. Cardinal Jean de Bilheres, the French ambassador to Rome, hired Michelangelo as a sculptor for a chapel in Saint Peter’s Basilica. This sculpture would be known as the Pieta and it was one of Michelangelo’s most beloved works.
Michelangelo was still unsure of what to do with the piece after the Cardinal died. According to the legend, he and his friend sneaked it into the basilica at night. The Pieta depicts Mary holding her son after the crucifixion. It is made from one block of marble. This sculpture is striking because of several things:
First, Michelangelo painted Mary young, about the same age of Jesus. Michelangelo chose to show Mary much younger because she is chaste, and has kept her youth.
Second, the majority of pietas before then featured a bloody, gritty version of Christ and a weeping Mary nearly disfigured by her grief. Michelangelo’s Pieta shows the Virgin as serene, and her son almost asleep. This was a radical departure form convention.
Michelangelo signed only one sculpture, the Pieta. He signed it because it was the only sculpture that he could sign.
The Doni Tomondo
Michelangelo was a sculptor at this stage. However, wealthy patrons wanted him to do other types of work. Michelangelo was asked to paint the Holy Family by Agnolo Doni, a wealthy Florentine merchant.
The Doni Tondo, which is on display at the Gallery gallery, is a circular painting that depicts the Holy Family as though they were sculpted. The background is populated by nude bathers, which seems strange in relation to the Holy Family.
While Michelangelo was working to complete this painting, many antiquity sculptures were discovered in Rome in 1506 while Michelangelo worked on it. These sculptures had a significant impact on Michelangelo’s art and were particularly influential in two cases. These were the Apollo of the Belvedere (or Laocoon ). The nudes in this painting of Holy Family show that Michelangelo had already been inspired by these ancient Roman structures.
Michelangelo was well-known by this point. This is when Pope Julius II (della Rovere) was elected to Rome as Pope.
Tomb at Pope Julius II
Pope Julius II was a determined man. His nickname was “The Warrior Pope”. He was, in fact, the last pope to engage in combat.
Julius had many ideas for things to do at the Vatican. These included a new design for the basilica which was in disarray, a gradiose grave for himself, and paintings of many rooms in the papal Palace, including the ceiling of Sistine Chapel.
Julius knew the right sculptor to build his tomb. He asked Michelangelo for a huge sculpture that would fit in Old Saint Peter’s basilica. Also, the basilica would need to be rebuilt.
Michelangelo was busy working on the huge plans for Julius’ tomb when the Pope interrupted him and asked him to paint Sistine Chapel’s ceiling. (The Sistine Chapel had been named after Julius’ uncle, Pope Sixtus IV and whose walls were already beautifully frescoed in Florentine style by the great Florentine artist of the 1400s.
Michelangelo refused. He claimed he was a sculptor and not a painter. Pope Julius II disagreed. We all know who won this argument.
Michelangelo famously never finished Julius’ tomb. It was actually completed in 1545, long after the death of Pope John Paul II.
Sculptures by Moses & The Dying, and Rebellious Slaves
After Michelangelo had finished the Sistine Chapel ceiling in 1512, he felt the urge to finish one of the incomplete statues of Julius’ tomb. The statue of Moses he made for Julius’ tomb is now in the church Saint Peter in Chains in Rome. This sculpture is said to be the most lifelike. Michelangelo also created two additional sculptures for this project, the Dying and Rebellious Salves, which are now at the Louvre in Paris.
The Slaves at Accademia Florence
Michelangelo said that he was only doing God’s work by sculpting, which meant that he was freeing existing sculptures from the marble. The Accademia in Florence is the best place to see exactly what he meant. This museum is a popular destination for Michelangelo’s David monumental sculpture.
Take note of his other works.
You can see four unfinished sculptures: “The Awakening Slave”, The Young Slave”, The Bearded Slave, and “The Atlas.” They all show Michelangelo’s “freeing” technique to remove the statue from marble. Some art historians think Michelangelo might have wanted to leave these works alone to demonstrate the struggle of human beings to get rid of their material possessions.
Piazza del Campidoglio
Michelangelo lived a long and productive career, which saw him prove so skilled that he was selected as an architect to design several important buildings in Rome. He began work on The Last Judgement at the chapel’s altar wall in 1536, 25 year after Michelangelo had completed his ceiling work. Pope Clement VII (Medici), initially commissioned the artist, but it was completed by Pope Paul III (Farnese). Pope Paul III ruled for 15 years, and he enjoyed a productive and harmonious relationship with the great artist.
Pope Paul III had Michelangelo also redesign the Piazza of the Campidoglio (Rome’s City Hall). Michelangelo wouldn’t see the project completed, but you can view a model of his design when you visit Capitoline Museums.
It was actually not until 1940 that Michelangelo would realize his visions for the beautiful pavement.
St. Peter’s Basilica
After many starts and fits, many great Renaissance artists and architects, such as Bramante and Sangallo had started projects. Finally, Pope Paul III appointed Michelangelo chief architect of Saint Peter’s Basilica. It is his design that we still enjoy today.
Although Michelangelo wasn’t the last architect to have worked on the Papal basilica, the harmonious design of his dome and the majestic remembrance of his great artistry are the two most lasting reminders of his legacy.
We recommend taking a Walks of Italy expert guide on a tour to really appreciate the beauty and magnificence of these Michelangelo masterpieces. To see the Sistine Chapel in Rome, you can climb St.Peter’s Basilica up close to the dome. You can visit David in Florence and take a tour of the Uffizi.