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Along with Botticelli and Da Vinci, there are very few artists in the history of human art who enjoy world-wide recognition and they name are recognized wherever they are spelled, and Michelangelo is definitely one of them. This is an artist who would leave humanity a series of works of art that would become invaluable treasures, and a sample of the artistic abilities that a person can have, all thanks to the patronage he received from the Medici family, one of the most powerful at the moment of his life.
Michelangelo was born on March 6, 1475, in Florence, a city that at that time was in an age of splendor thanks to the businesses and altruistic works of the Medici family. He was the second of five children and came from a family of Florentine merchants and bankers, where his father was a senior official with a good socio-economical position in the city. Since childhood Miguel Ángel showed his love for the arts, so he was inclined to the artistic career, which caused discomfort and dislike among his parents who wanted him to follow in his father’s footsteps and enter politics like him.
At the age of 13, a close friend of the family took him to the workshop of Domenico Ghirlandaio, so he could learn the various painting techniques that the Master of Arts was teaching, including the wall-fresco technique, which he would later apply with exceptional mastery in the Sistine chapel. His parents initially opposed this decision, but they would end giving up and accepted this fate for their beloved son, so they would begin to support him to make his way into the world of the arts more accessible.
The months would pass in his stay in this workplace where he was being instructed and by 1489, a year after entering the workshop, an opportunity came that would change his life, as Lorenzo de Medici the Magnificent, known at that time as a great Patron of the arts, would visit the workshop and at that moment he met Michelangelo and noticed the talent of the young artist, so he did not miss the opportunity and extended an invitation to join the ranks of his private school of artists in his palace.
At that time, the school of arts that Lorenzo the Magnificent had running, was composed of the most famous poets, philosophers, and artists in those golden years, because by the time Michelangelo arrived, Botticelli, Da Vinci and other virtuosos of the time had already passed by, so this place became for him his great source of learning and inspiration.
Sometime after his arrival in the Medici family, he began to frequent the Garden of San Marcos, where he would be in charge of the ornamentation of some marbles, thus learning the fine art of sculpture.
In 1492 Lorenzo the Magnificent died and his son, Piero de Médici, nicknamed ‘Il Fatuo’, decreed that Michelangelo will remain at his service. Even thou the family kept Michelangelo in his payroll, he would not receive large commissions in this period, because as detailed later in this book, this character did not share his father’s ideals and the stimuli to the arts would decrease dramatically, to the point where many artists had to abandon Florence to seek fortune elsewhere. The bad fortune of the young artist of 20 years would not end with the decrease in art commissions, the entry of French troops in the region by 1494, forced him to flee to Venice, where he would have to continue his career one way or another.
Thanks to the fact that he was initiated in the world of the arts by the Medici, his patrons were always relevant men, like Pope Julius II, since Michelangelo did not waste time while in the Medici academy of arts, and began to relate with the elite of that time, in order to continue his experiences in the art world. It would not be long before this artist managed to return to Florence, and in 1501 he arrived again at the city that saw his techinique flourish, but this time with a lot of success behind him, because while he was away, he managed to become very renowned as an artistic genius.
It is necessary to make a parenthesis and mention a fact that is important not only for this narrative, but for the history of mankind. During his exile after the fall of the Medici regime and the invasion of Florence by French troops, in 1496 the artist moved to Rome, where he spent five years performing several commissions.
The papal city, in full pontificate of Alexander VI, known as the lavish Pope established by the Borgias, had become a center of attraction for artists, in a similar way to Lorenzo de Medici’s Florence, which offered generous prospects of patronage and wealth for any artists with enough talent. To prove his talent, Michelangelo was commissioned with a work that could give any proof that he was an exemplary artist, so he was commissioned to do what would become one of his masterpieces, “La Pietà dil Vaticano”.
With this beautiful sculpture, the technique of MIchelangelo was proven to everyone, as that classic perfection of the figures in marble made by him remain to this day as a testament to the perfection in arts, a fact that filled his contemporaries with astonishment and with that he would gain critical acclaim and success.
After the election of a new pope in the Medici family in 1513, Leo X, Miguel Angel will be hired again to conclude the works of the church of San Lorenzo in Florence. With this new task, Michelangelo designed a facade that was never built, the new library, and the New Sacristy.
The idea of the Sacristy arises in 1519 after the death of the Pope’s brother, Giuliano, Duke of Nemours, and Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino. Michelangelo takes as a model the ancient sacristy of Brunelleschi but adds a second floor that complements the building as a whole. He also plays with the different architectural elements, breaking some canons of classical architecture at the time, which he conceived rather in a sculptural way.
Something in which historians agree is that Michelangelo was a person very sensitive to his surroundings because he used to analyze what was happening around him and tried so hard to capture that feeling, being the historical events that he was forced to live as a good example of it, because his work “Il Sacco di Roma”, captures with great detail, the disastrous event that took place in 1527 in the Italian capital.
Another outstanding example is the painting he made about the monk Savonarola, where he began to see the violent preaching against luxury and corruption that reigned in Florence, protests that stimulated Michelangelo’s religious concerns. Two years later from this event, Charles VIII invaded Italy, just as Savonarola had predicted, forcing the Medici to leave Florence.
It is said that in his last years of life, Michelangelo experienced a deeply spiritual and religious crisis, since the artist entered into a relationship with Vittoria Colonna, a beautiful and pious aristocrat, for whom he composed numerous sonnets. Linked to the circle of Juan de Valdés, a Spanish humanist resident in Naples who advocated a profound reform of the Catholic Church, Vittoria Colonna could influence the religious questioning of Michelangelo.
In any case, a kind of regret began to dominate the artist, who stopped thinking that the beauty of the human body in art was an expression of Divinity. The fear of death and the eternal condemnation that it could carry led him to renounce hedonism so the ways that served as a muse for his creations in the past were over. Since the death of his great friend Vittoria, the idea of death will be a predominant theme in his poetry and his paintings.
This new sensibility was especially reflected in his sculptures, as those works from this artist underwent a profound change in the last phase of his life. A testimony for this can be seen in his latest works, a series of representations of the piety of man and his merciful expressions, a theme that Michelangelo would give a meaning of a requiem.
Thus, in the dramatic Piedad Rondanini the bodies of mother and son merge in their agony. It is said that the sculptor worked on this work until the day before he died. The life and his work were like that for Michelangelo, a series of feelings that could be reflected in the world, because in the end, that was what determined his creations, as his works would be the reason for his existence.
Michelangelo Buonarroti died in Rome on February 18, 1564, a little while later after finishing one of his most beautiful works at the St. Peter’s Basilica, following the scheme of Bramante, where he designed a Greek cross-plan temple crowned by a spacious and monumental dome on scallops 42 meters in diameter. Subsequently, Carlo Maderno modified the original plant and transformed it into a Latin cross plant.