Michelangelo Buonarroti(1475 – 1564) Italian
Sculptor, painter, architect, poet.
A giant in an age of giants ‘the man with four souls’ who has crowned a lifetime of work with achievements of highest rank in architecture, sculpture, painting and poetry, was born at Caprese on March 6, 1475.
The Buonarroti were a Florentine family of ancient burgher nobility brought to straitened circumstances. With his father’s death the boy was put out to nurse with a stonecutter’s wife. “I drew the chisel and the mallet with which I carve statues in together with my nurse’s milk”. Later he was taught to read and write his native Italian, but art became his dominant passion.
In 1488 he was apprenticed to two leading artists of the day: He turned to nature and his works soon outshined those of his masters.
Next he turned to sculpture in the school formed under the patronage of the Great Lorenzo de Medici. Soon he came under the eye of the Great Lorenzo himself. Forthwith the boy was taken into his household where he remained until Lorenzo’s death in 1492.
(bronze bust by Volterra. done in charcoal, 1978)
A style was being developed on the classical Greek lines; Paganism gave way to Christian piety as he came under the spell of that fierce prophet Savanarola.
In poetry and philosophy Dante provided the inspiration; in his own realm of art, he was very familiar with the styles of Ghirlandais, his early tutors, Ghiberti, Grotto and Donatello.
In one of the scuffles with a fellow student, he got a blow on his nose which marked him for rest of his life. His deeper emotions – for he was in and out of love – he found expression in a series of exquisite sonnets, bulk of which was addressed to V.C…..
After his patron’s death he travelled about Venice, Bologna, Florence and Athens to Rome. The year 1499 marks his first real work of Christian sculpture ‘Pieta’. From then onwards he was prolific. In 1504 he carved out ‘David’ from a spoilt block of Carrara marble, nine cubits in height. In eighteen months he had carved out the masterpiece, a statue of amazing beauty.
Next year he was summoned to Rome by Pope Julius II who set him to work on the construction of his own tomb. This task dragged on for years, causing trouble and bitterness between the sculptor and the pope’s executers: It was never completed, but the famous ‘Moses and the Group of Slaves’ were part of the scheme.
Three years later Michelangelo accepted the commission to decorate the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. A work of more power and loftier conception is hard to find. His agony and the ecstasy is the quientessence of the artist in the throes of creation.
The next decade saw Michelangelo busy on the work for Julius’ tomb and on the colossal figures for the Medici Chapel. After a brief entry in Florentine politics, in 1534, he left Florence for Rome.
In his sixtieth year he was appointed as the chief architect, sculptor and painter to the Vatican by the order of Pope Paul IV.
In the same year he began his fresco in the Sistine chapel, ‘The last Judgement’ which took him seven years to complete. In 1547 he was made architect of St. Peters, whose cupola is his great contribution to architecture. The same year saw the passing of one oasis in his troubled life – the widowed poetess Vittorio Colonna, who was the only woman in his ascetic life and whose love was cerebral as well as spiritual. The bulk of his sonnets – statues in words, roughhewn and beautiful in their rugged vitality – are addressed to her.
Another seventeen years had to pass before he could join her. He had lived long years alone, wedded to his art, “a wife who was too much for him”. A generous man to others and a mean one to himself, he lived frugally. He was irritable, quick tempered and arrogant, but the creative fire in him made him lead an ascetic life only for art! He has enriched the world with what he could carve out of his tormented soul.