The Life of Michelangelo

Do you wish to know more about Michelangelo and his life, his creations? We’ve created a time line below to highlight the important dates and periods of his life to give you a better sense of all he did and created.

Painter, sculptor, architect and poet Michelangelo, one of the most famous artists of the Italian Renaissance, was born in Tuscany on March 6, 1475, in Caprese, a little village close to Arezzo. Michelangelo’s father, Lodovico, was briefly serving as a magistrate in the small village when he recorded the birth of his second of five sons with his wife, Francesca Neri. They returned to Florence when Michelangelo was still an infant, and he was placed with a family of stonecutters, where he later reported: “I sucked in chisels and hammers with my nurse’s milk.”

Michelangelo is introduced to the painter Domenico Ghirlandaio. Michelangelo’s father in fact, realized early that his son had no interest in the family business, so agreed to apprentice him, at the age of 13, to the well-known Florentine painter’s workshop. There, Michelangelo learns the technique of fresco and panel painting for a few months. He is supposed to stay there for about three years, but an extraordinary opportunity opens to him. At the recommendation of Ghirlandaio, he moves into the palace of Florentine ruler Lorenzo the Magnificent, of the powerful Medici family, to study classical sculpture in the Medici gardens.

1488 – 1492 FLORENCE
This is a fertile time for Michelangelo; his years with the Medici family, permit him access to the social elite of Florence, allowing him to study under the respected sculptor Bertoldo di Giovanni, Donatello’s pupil, and exposing him to prominent poets, scholars and Humanists. Two early relief sculptures survive from those years: “Battle of the Centaurs” and “Madonna Seated on a Step,” now exhibited at casa Buonarroti in Florence.

Piero de’ Medici introduces Michelangelo to the Augustinian friars of the Church of Saint Spirit in Florence, who hosted the young talent within their convent. He obtained a special permission to study cadavers for insight into anatomy, though exposure to corpses had an adverse effect on his health. These combined influences laid the groundwork for what would become Michelangelo’s distinctive style: a muscular precision and reality combined with a touching beauty. As a sign of gratitude to the friars Michelangelo sculpted a wooden Crucifix which is still today located inside the Sacristy of the Church of Saint Spirit.

Before the Medici family were banished from Florence, Michelangelo moves to Bologna hosted by Gianfranco Aldrovandi and then to Venice, where he continues his studies of literatures and sculpture practice. He returns to Florence in 1495 to begin work as a sculptor, modeling his style after masterpieces of classical antiquity,

1496 – ROME
In 1496 Michelangelo moves to Rome as a result of the famous “Sleeping Cupid affair” which had made him a reputation. He hopes to find in the “Eternal town” new donors for his creations. He starts modeling a marble “Bacchus”, under the patronage of the banker Jacopo Galli. On August 27, 1498 Michelangelo signs his first great commission for cardinal Jean Bilheres de Lagrualas. Buonarroti is entrusted to sculpt a “Pietà”, a sculpture of Mary holding the dead Jesus across her lap, and the work was at first erected in the church of the cardinal’s tomb. The estimated length of the working was a year, which was fully respected by Michelangelo. At that time the genius is only 25 years old, and with the reward of 450 ducats he is acknowledged to be one of the best and most paid artists in his days. Michelangelo’s “Pietà” is now displayed at the Vatican City, in St. Peter’s Basilica.

david-full-front1501 – 1504 FLORENCE
So famous, Michelangelo returns to Florence, where he accepts the challenge for a large statue of “David” which is commissioned for the Cathedral of Florence. In about two and a half years of work he completes a 14feet tall giant figure for a value of four hundred ducats. In the same years, Michelangelo is already considered the greatest living artist, therefore he is entrusted for several works by different patrons at the same time. He carves in secrecy a marble “Madonna and Child” promptly sent to the Flanders for family Mouscron, erected inside the Cathedral of Bruges. The highest charge of the Republic of Florence requests a large fresco for Palazzo della Signoria inside the Hall of the Five Hundreds with the subject “Battle of Cascina”. Michelangelo only completes a preparatory cartoon which is now unfortunately lost. Again for the Florentine Cathedral, he is requested to sculpt twelve apostles. Michelangelo only starts modeling one, “Saint Matthew”, which remains unfinished and which can be seen at the Accademia Gallery. He abandons the rest of the project. For rich Florentine families, Buonarroti completes the outstanding painted “Holy Family” (Tondo Doni) now showcased at the Uffizi Gallery, and a round-shaped marble “Madonna and Child” (Tondo Pitti) today exposed at the Bargello Museum in Florence.

1505 – ROME
Michelangelo has just completed “David” and is called back to Rome for the ambitious project for the tomb of Pope Julius II. The grandiose idea includes forty statues to be completed within five years. The first drawings and plans were featured on the same year, and Michelangelo starts selecting the materials at the marble quarries of Carrara. Michelangelo actually keeps on working on the tomb of Julius II for the next several decades in various phases, defining this project “the torment of my life” until 1545.

1508 – 1514 ROME
The commission for the tomb is interrupted: Pope Julius II asks Michelangelo to switch from sculpting to painting to decorate the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Buonarroti completes the 65-foot ceiling alone, spending endless hours on his back and guarding the project jealously until revealing the finished work, on October 31, 1512. The breathtaking cycle of frescoes stretches over 500 square meters of ceiling and contains over 300 stunning figures.

Pope Julius II dies in 1513: the commission for the tomb is downsized in scale by the heirs and Michelangelo works at “Moses” and the first two “Slaves”, now showcased at the Louvre in Paris.

When Pope Julius II dies, he is succeeded by the Florentine Pope Leo X, the second son of Lorenzo dei Medici. Pope Leo, who was born in the same year of Michelangelo, commissions Buonarroti to reconstruct the facade of the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence. The artist features drawings and wooden models for the facade, as well as attempts to open a new marble quarry at Pietrasanta specifically for the project. In 1520 the work was abruptly canceled due to financial shortening and the basilica lacks a facade still today.

In 1520 the Medici entrust Michelangelo another grand proposal, for a family funerary chapel in the “New Sacristy” at San Lorenzo Basilica in Florence. It houses the large tombs of two of the younger members of the Medici family, Giuliano, Duke of Nemours, and Lorenzo, his nephew, but it also serves to commemorate their more famous predecessors, Lorenzo the Magnificent (Pope Leo’s father) and his brother Giuliano (Pope Leo’s uncle). The tombs display statues of the two Medici and allegorical figures representing “Night” and “Day”, opposite to “Dusk” and ”Dawn”. In the New Sacristy one can also admire Michelangelo’s Medici Madonna.

Pope Leo X died in 1521, to be succeeded briefly by the austere Adrian VI, then his cousin Giulio Medici as Pope Clement VII. In 1524 Michelangelo receives another architectural commission from the last Medici pope: the “Laurentian Library” next to San Lorenzo’s Church. In these years, Michelangelo tries to model other five blocks of marble for Pope Julius’s tomb, starting other four “Slaves” which will remain unfinished inside his studio in Florence. These powerful figures are now showcased along the Hall of the Prisoners at the Accademia Gallery in Florence. The fifth statue, the “Genius of Victory”, is composed by a young figure polished to perfection and a rough incomplete figure of nude male, today displayed inside the Hall of the Five Hundreds of Palazzo Vecchio (Florence).

1527 – 1534 FLORENCE
In 1527, the Florentine citizens banish the Medici and restore the republic. Charles V put the town under siege to restore the Lordship, supporting the Medici family. Michelangelo actively works on the city’s fortifications from 1528 to 1529 around San Miniato Church. The city falls in 1530 and the Medici were restored to power. Michelangelo fell out of favor with the young Alessandro Medici who had been installed as the first Duke of Florence, and fearing for his life, he fled to Rome, leaving assistants to complete the Medici chapel and the Laurentian Library. The artist will never get back to Florence in the following years.

1534 – ROME
Shortly before his death in 1534 Pope Clement VII commissions Michelangelo to paint a fresco of “The Last Judgement” on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel. His successor, Paul III follows the artist in the project till completion in October 1541. In Rome Michelangelo meets the poet, Vittoria Colonna, marchioness of Pescara, who was to become one of his closest friends until her death in 1547. A long epistolary correspondence linked them, such as the deep friendship with Tommaso dei Cavalieri who was 23 years old when Michelangelo met him in 1532, at the age of 57. The artist dedicated to him several sonnets and madrigals.

1539 – ROME
Niccolò Ridolfi enthrusts Michelangelo to sculpt a bust of “Brutus”, now on display at the Bargello Museum in Florence. Michelangelo works on a number of architectural projects during these mature years. They included a design for the Capitoline Hill with its trapezoid piazza displaying the ancient bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius. He designed the upper floor of the Palazzo Farnese, and the interior of the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, in which he transformed the vaulted interior of an Ancient Roman bathhouse. Other architectural works include San Giovanni dei Fiorentini, the Sforza Chapel (Capella Sforza) in the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore and the Porta Pia. In 1546, Michelangelo is appointed architect of St. Peter’s Basilica, at the Vatican City.

1547 – ROME
In his old age, Michelangelo created a number of Pietas in which he apparently reflects upon mortality.

The “Pietà Rondanini” was begun around 1547, and the artist worked at this subject in various phases until his death, leaving it unfinished . The work is now showcased at the Castello Sforzesco in Milan.

1550 – ROME
Between 1550 and 1555 Michelangelo begins sculpting the “ Bandini Pietà “, a work which was intended for the artist’s tomb. In this Florentine Pieta, Michelangelo depicts himself as the aged Nicodemus lowering the body of Jesus from the cross into the arms of Mary his mother and Mary Magdalene. In a moment of anger and frustration Michelangelo suddenly smashes the left arm and leg of the figure of Jesus. His pupil Tiberio Calcagni repaired the arm and drilled a hole in which to fix a replacement leg. The work is now showcased at the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Florence. Dating from 1555 is also the “Palestrina Pietà”, a marble group which is now housed at the Accademia Gallery. The attribution of the work is still controversial. Due to the lack of official documents, it is mostly considered to have been outlined by some pupils or followers.

1564 – ROME
According to Giorgio Vasari chronicles, Michelangelo’s friend Daniele da Volterra, watches him work all day on February 12 on the Rondanini Pietà. Two days later he comes down with a fever but goes for a walk in the cold night air, saying he just can’t rest. The next day he spends sitting next to the fireplace but finally must crawl into bed. He dies on February 18. Michelangelo dies just weeks before his 89th birthday at his home in Macel de’ Corvi, Rome.

The Pope would like to have him buried in St. Peter’s but Michelangelo’s nephew and heir, Leonardo, transports secretly the body back to Florence, where it is still today buried inside Santa Croce.

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