Michelangelo [1475-1564]

Italian sculptor, painter, architect and poet of the High Renaissance

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni

or simply:


was born,

March 6, 1475

in Caprese near Arezzo, Italy
Republic of Florence (present-day Tuscany)

Michelangelo artistic versatility was of such a high order that he is often considered a contender for the title of the archetypal Renaissance man, along with his rival, the fellow Florentine, Leonardo da Vinci. Several scholars have described Michelangelo as the greatest artist of his age and even as the greatest artist of all time. With Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael, he is one of the three giants of the Florentine High Renaissance. Although their names are often cited together, Michelangelo was younger than Leonardo by 23 years, and older than Raphael by eight. Because of his reclusive nature, he had little to do with either artist and outlived both of them by more than forty years.

While extending the tradition of Baroque ceiling decoration, epitomize the lightness and elegance of the Rococo period. Together with Giambattista Pittoni, Canaletto, Giovan Battista Piazzetta, Giuseppe Maria Crespi and Francesco Guardi are considered the traditional Old Masters of that period.

A number of Michelangelo’s works of painting, sculpture and architecture rank among the most famous in existence. His output in these fields was prodigious; given the sheer volume of surviving correspondence, sketches and reminiscences, he is the best-documented artist of the 16th century. He sculpted two of his best-known works, the Pietà and David, before the age of thirty. Despite holding a low opinion of painting, he also created two of the most influential frescoes in the history of Western art: the scenes from Genesis on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome [between 1508 and 1512, at the commission of Pope Julius II], and The Last Judgment on its altar wall. His design of the Laurentian Library pioneered Mannerist architecture. At the age of 74, he succeeded Antonio da Sangallo the Younger as the architect of St. Peter’s Basilica. He transformed the plan so that the western end was finished to his design, as was the dome, with some modification, after his death.

Though Michelangelo took great pride in his artwork he had a much more humble view of his poetry calling it, “something foolish”. Michelangelo wrote over 300 poems. Many of his most impressive sonnets were written to his close friend Vittoria Colonna. Along with his poems of admiration and devotion are poems of a spiritual and mystical nature. I’ve included some of his poems.

“Genius is eternal patience.”

So here’s a glimpse of this master’s work

The Creation of Adam


❝ What should be said of him cannot be said;
By too great splendor is his name attended;
To blame is easier than those who him offended,
Than reach the faintest glory round him shed.
This man descended to the doomed and dead
For our instruction; then to God ascended;
Heaven opened wide to him its portals splendid,
Who from his country’s, closed against him, fled.
Ungrateful land! To its own prejudice
Nurse of his fortunes; and this showeth well
That the most perfect most of grief shall see.
Among a thousand proofs let one suffice,
That as his exile hath no parallel,
Ne’er walked the earth a greater man than he.❞

Translated into English by H.W. Longfellow (1807-1882).

The Rondanini Pietà (1552–1564)
Leda and the Swan
The Pietà of Vittoria Colonna (c. 1540)


❝ Choice soul, in whom, as in a glass, we see,
Mirrored in thy pure form and delicate,
What beauties heaven and nature can create,
The paragon of all their works to be!
Fair soul, in whom love, pity, piety,
Have found a home, as from thy outward state
We clearly read, and are so rare and great
That they adorn none other like to thee!
Love takes me captive; beauty binds my soul;
Pity and mercy with their gentle eyes
Wake in my heart a hope that cannot cheat.
What law, what destiny, what fell control,
What cruelty, or late or soon, denies
That death should spare perfection so complete?❞

English translation of “The Doom of Beauty” was composed by John Addington Symonds (1840-1893).

The Crucifixion of St. Peter
The Madonna of the Stairs (1490–1492), Michelangelo’s earliest known work in marble
A dragon or chimera [© Royal Academy of Arts]
Self-portrait of the artist as Nicodemus
The exterior is surrounded by a giant order of pilasters supporting a continuous cornice. Four small cupolas cluster around the dome.
The dome of St Peter’s Basilica
Angel by Michelangelo, early work (1494–95)

The Doni Tondo (1504–1506)


❝ The prayers I make will then be sweet indeed,
If Thou the spirit give by which I pray:
My unassisted heart is barren clay,
Which of its native self can nothing feed:
Of good and pious works Thou art the seed,
Which quickens only where Thou say’st it may;
Unless Thou show to us Thine own true way,
No man can find it: Father! Thou must lead.
Do Thou, then, breathe those thoughts into my mind
By which such virtue may in me be bred
That in Thy holy footsteps I may tread;
The fetters of my tongue do Thou unbind,
That I may have the power to sing of Thee,
And sound Thy praises everlastingly.❞

This poem was translated into English by William Wordsworth (1770-1850).

Battle of the Centaurs (1492)
Christ and the Madonna [© Royal Academy of Arts]
The Statue of David
The Marchionnes of Pescara [© Royal Academy of Arts]
Michelangelo’s redesign of the ancient Capitoline Hill included a complex spiralling pavement with a star at its centre.
Bacchus by Michelangelo, early work (1496–1497)
A noble head of a warrior [© Royal Academy of Arts]
Statue of Victory (1534), Palazzo Vecchio, Florence
A sheet of studies
Dying slave, Louvre (1513)


❝ Yes! hope may with my strong desire keep pace,
And I be undeluded, unbetrayed:
For if of our affections none find grace
In sight of Heaven, then wherefore hath God made
The world which we inhabit? Better plea
Love cannot have, than that in loving thee
Glory to that eternal peace is paid,
Who such divinity to thee imparts
As hallows and makes pure all gentle hearts.
His hope is treacherous only whose love dies
With beauty, which is varying every hour;
But, in chaste hearts uninfluenced by the power
Of outward change, there blooms a deathless flower,
That breathes on earth the air of paradise.❞

Translation of “Love’s Justification” was composed by William Wordsworth (1770-1850).

Study for a drapery [© Royal Academy of Arts]

Madonna and Child. Bruges, Belgium (1504)
The Lazarus and two other figures [© Royal Academy of Arts]
The Taddei Tondo (1502)
Moses, c. 1513–1515, for the tomb of Pope Julius II
Pietà, St Peter’s Basilica (1498–99)


❝ Now hath my life across a stormy sea
Like a frail bark reached that wide port where all
Are bidden, ere the final reckoning fall
Of good and evil for eternity.
Now know I well how that fond phantasy
Which made my soul the worshiper and thrall
Of earthly art, is vain; how criminal
Is that which all men seek unwillingly.
Those amorous thoughts which were so lightly dressed,
What are they when the double death is nigh?
The one I know for sure, the other dread.
Painting nor sculpture now can lull to rest
My soul that turns to His great love on high,
Whose arms to clasp us on the cross were spread. ❞

Translation of “On the Brink of Death” was composed by John Addington Symonds (1840-1893).

Sistine Chapel [Cappella Sistina]

Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker

“”The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark. ””

Self portrait as St. Bartholomew after he had been flayed (skinned alive) This is reflective of the feelings of contempt Michelangelo had for being commissioned to paint “The Last Judgement”

Produced for the J. Paul Getty Museum’s exhibition, “Michelangelo: Mind of the Master.”

For more information on Michelangelo:











Be Safe

44 replies »

  1. Can’t believe I didn’t comment on this!
    Michelangelo is perhaps the greatest artist to date.
    Look at all he did, and in the 15th century…. 550 years ago!
    Thank you for this, Marina!

  2. The poetry! Who knew? Thank you for including these translations from other poets. As you know, translating poetry is difficult. My favorite sculptures remain his David and Pieta for their perfection and those last two poems…just wow. Thank you, thank you, dear Marina.

  3. always amazes me how sculptors are able to create such wonderful forms by removing material from the ‘uncarved block’


  4. One of my favourite quotes by Michelangelo is: “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” What joy that sentence gives me.

  5. I will say that I have only been totally stunned by confronting a work of art twice in my life, and I have seen a piece or two, if not as many as some – after spending an hour in the Raphael rooms and shaking my head at the fools rushing by, I finally walked in the Sistine Chapel and my breath was taken away. There is little on Earth like it. And, strangely enough, after studying seemingly every statue in the world, from Greek to Roman to Bernini and including most of Michelangelo’s own works, I was very surprised at how much David effected me.I mean, Bernini’s works look like they can talk to you they are so life like, and yet they did not touch me as much as this simple work did. There is something about him that is magic, which I think most people feel, thus calling him, if not the greatest, up there in the top handful. (All that being said, I’d rather spend a day in Musée de l’Orangerie with Monet’s waterlilies, or hang out with Rodin’s sculpture…)

    • I love your description. I’m pretty sure I’d have felt the same if I’d seen him live. He has that magical effect from photos already! I hope to see him one day and visit Musée de l’Orangerie again and so many other works… sigh

  6. Absolutely wonderful, Marina. Having seen David in Firenze, I was completely blown away. Pictures just don’t do him justice. I didn’t make it to Rome (yet) but will one day…

    • I can imagine! I haven’t seen him live, just from various photos and with sculpture it’s even more imperative to see up close. Living in Athens, I’ve naturally seen all the Acropolis sculptures etc quite a few times. However, whenever I visit, I will discover a different view or notice something I hadn’t before.
      Here’s to you getting to Rome soon! 😉

  7. I love Michelangelo. Here’s a rather long story you might enjoy. When we flew to Rome from Madrid many years ago, our flight ran very late, so once we got all our luggage, the train that would have gotten us close to the hotel we were going to stay in had stopped running. While we were trying to figure out what we were going to do, a young woman heard us speaking English and ran over and asked if we could help her figure things out. She was Australian, didn’t speak or understand a word of Italian, and the friend she was supposed to meet had arrived early in the morning, and it was after midnight when we all got in. We told her to come with us and we’ll figure out something. The only train that was running would get us to Trastevere, which was still a long way from our hotel, but much closer than the airport.

    At Trastevere we found a bar open and called a taxi and we told the young woman to come with us that there should be room in the hotel. When we got to the hotel, the owner said she had a room with a bunk bed and a queen bed for the same price as what we had reserved, so the young Aussie and Tristan could sleep in the bunk beds and Laurie and I in the queen-sized bed. The next day the young Aussie found her friend who was in a youth hostal with 20 other people paying three-times the price we were paying, so she asked if she could stay with us fro the next 5 days. We had no problem with that.

    She decided to go to the Vatican with us. Laurie, Tristan and I had our Spanish residency ID cards which had EEUU for United States, but the Italians thought they were some weird Spanish version of EU ID cards, so they gave us all the EU privileges, which included children under 18 getting free admission to everything. Tristan was 13 years old and the Aussie was 23, but Tristan was tall and looked like she was 16, and the Aussie looked really young and could easily pass for 15 to 17. When we got to the ticket booth Tristan showed her ID card and got her free ticket. We told the clerk that the Aussie was Tristan’s sister, so they simply gave her free admission, without checking her ID. All she had was a passport.

    When I told that story to my programmer, who is very religious, he gave me a rather shocked look and said “Oh my! You LIED at the Vatican!” I hadn’t thought about it, but yes we did. Shame on us.

    It didn’t stop there. There were signs saying no photography in most areas, especially in the Sistine Chapel, where guards would admonish people for trying to take photos. Once inside I sneaked all kinds of photos, including photos of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I was using a Nikon F3 back then, which is a rather large camera, but I pointed it at the ceiling from waist level and hoped for the best. I got some pretty decent photos.

    • Hi Dale – I was posting my response at the same time as you, and said there were only two times in my life that art has totally and completely taken my breath away – one, Sistine Chapel, two David in Firenze (OK, I might have said “Florence” 😉 ).

    • Wow!!!! So not only did you lie to the Vatican, you took pictures of the Sistine Chapel too!!!!!! 😂🤣😂🤣
      I’d love to see those shots!!! 😉
      Thank you for sharing that story.
      Sigh… I wonder if we’ll ever get our lives back.

      • I’ll look for the photos. They are prints and negatives so they are stored somewhere.

        • I hope you find and share them. For some reason whenever I hear the word ‘store’ / ‘storage’ etc I get shivers as I’m reminded of the tons of things ‘stored’ in various places!!!! 😱

          • Storage is a nightmare. We have pulled over a 1000 file boxes out of storage and shredded or recycled the contents in our preparation to move. Sadly, we still have another 1000 file boxes full of stuff in storage.

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