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In Italy, in the Casentino, on March 6,1475, a son was born to Signor Lodovico di Lionardo di Buonarroti Simoni. Michelangelo's father was a man filled with vanity, self-pity, meanmindedness and complete indifference to the needs and dreams of others. Michelangelo's mother, Francesca di Neri di Miniato del Sera was a dim and pathetic figure, who married early, served her husband's wishes and died young. She bore Lodovico five sons, four of whom were quite ordinary. Michelangelo never really knew her, and in all the voluminous correspondence that he carried on later with his father and brothers, she never is mentioned.
Michelangelo's desire to become an artist was initially opposed by his father, since to be a practicing artist was then considered beneath the station of the member of the gentry. However he was eventually apprenticed in 1488 for a three-year term to Domenico Ghirlandaio. In that workshop he learned the rudiments of the technique of fresco painting. Before the end of his apprenticeship, however, he transferred to the school set up by Lorenze the Magnificent in the gardens of the Palazzo Medici. In October 1494 he transferred to Bologna; in June 1496 he was in Rome. In both places he executed several commissions for which he received much praise. Among them is the Pieta for St. Peter's (1498-9), considered to be the masterpiece of his early years. He returned to Florence a famous sculptor and was awarded the commission for the colossal figure of David to stand in the Piazza della Signoria, flanking the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio.
He was a proud man, stubborn and solitary. He made life difficult for the people around him and for himself as well. He was preoccupied with his health and obsessed with the idea that his death was imminent. He complained constantly that he was overworked while showing off his prowess and taking on far more work than he could handle. His father was appalled when he showed a precocious passion for art and played hooky from school to watch local artists.
Michelangelo was summoned by Pope Julius II to Rome to design his tomb. What should have been the most prestigious commission of his career, a free-standing tomb with some forty figures became a fiasco. Julius died in 1513; the contract was redrawn several times over with less and less funding and the project was finally ended in 1545. It is now principally famous for the colossal figure of Moses, one of Michelangelo's greatest sculptures.
While in the early stages of work on the Tomb, Julius also commissioned Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo was evidently reluctant to abandon his sculptural project for one of painting which was always much less satisfying to him. Nevertheless he began work in 1508, completed the first half by 1510 and the whole ceiling by 1512. Dissatisfied with traditional methods of fresco painting and mistrustful of assistants who could not meet his evolving demands, he dismissed his workshop at an early stage and completed the monumental task almost single-handedly.
In addition to everything else, Michelangelo was a gifted poet. In one of his sonnets Michelangelo gives a poignant account of his gruelling task, painting bent over backwards, his neck permanently arched to look up, his arm stretching upwards to wield his brush. The recent restoration has also revealed Michelangelo to have been a brilliant colorist.
Michelangelo did have two friends. Tommaso del Cavalieri was a young Roman nobleman, very handsome and virtuous. Michelangelo often used him as a model and wrote sonnets to Tommaso, testifying his love and affection. Vittoria Colonna is the only woman known to have been important in Michelangelo's life. He was sixty-three and she in her mid-forties when they met. She was known for her piety and intelligence but she was not beautiful, in fact, she seemed to have been quite masculine in appearance. Under her influence he was led to believe that all his past life had been sinful. He was old and tired but he forced himself to work for no payment with much conflict from his enemies.
His woes increased as he grew older; his eyesight was failing and he tired easily. In 1561 he suffered a stroke but recovered sufficiently to return to work. His final illness began in February of 1564, but he persisted in working until his close friends actually forced him to stop. He died on February 18, 1564.
Written and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.
The Sistine Cleanup, Agony or Ecstasy? by Alexander Eliot in Harvard Magazine, March-April 1987
Michelangelo Rediscovered by M.Kirby Talley, Jr. ARTnews, Summer 1987
Memorable Lines, article in ARTnews, December 1988
The World of Michelangelo by Robert Coughlan and the Editors of Time-Life Books
From the internet, the Artchive
Article in either Look or Life Magazine by Mary Grant Hager (Date unknown)
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