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Michelangelo Buonarroti Biography

Learn more about the Italian sculptor, painter, architect, and poet.

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Portrait of Michelangelo by Marcello Venusti (Casa Buonarroti, Florence; used with permission)

Marcello Venusti (Italian, ca. 1515-1579). Portrait of Michelangelo, post-1535. Oil on canvas. 36 x 27 cm. Inv. 188.

Casa Buonarroti, Florence

The Basics:

Michelangelo Buonarroti was arguably the most famous artist of the High to Late Italian Renaissance, and inarguably one of the greatest artists of all time -- along with fellow Renaissance men Leonardo DiVinci and Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio). He considered himself a sculptor, primarily, but is equally well known for the paintings he was induced (grudgingly) to create. He was also an architect and an amateur poet.

Early Life:

Michelangelo was born on March 6, 1475 in Caprese (near Florence) in Tuscany. He was motherless by the age of six and fought long and hard with his father for permission to apprentice as an artist. At the age of 12, he began studying under Domenico Ghirlandajo, who was the most fashionable painter in Florence at the time. Fashionable, but extremely jealous of Michelangelo's emerging talent. Ghirlandajo passed the lad off to be apprenticed to a sculptor named Bertoldo di Giovanni. Here Michelangelo found the work that became his true passion. His sculpture came to the attention of the most powerful family in Florence, the Medici, and he gained their patronage.

His Art:

Michelangelo's output was, quite simply, stunning, in quality, quantity and scale. His most famous statues include the 18-foot David (1501-1504) and the Pietà (1499), which were both completed before he turned 30. His other sculpture pieces included elaborately decorated tombs.

He did not consider himself a painter, and (justifiably) complained throughout four straight years of the work, but Michelangelo created one of the greatest masterpieces of all time on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (1508-1512). Additionally, he painted The Last Judgement (1534-1541) on the altar wall of the same chapel many years later. Both frescoes helped Michelangelo earn the nickname Il Divino or "The Divine One."

As an old man, he was tapped by the Pope to complete the half-finished St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. Not all of the plans he drew were utilized but, after his death, architects built the dome still in use today. His poetry was very personal and not as grand as his other works, yet is of great value to those who wish to know Michelangelo.

Accounts of his life seem to portray Michelangelo as a prickly-tempered, mistrusting and lonely man, lacking in both interpersonal skills and confidence in his physical appearance. Perhaps that is why he created works of such heartbreaking beauty and heroism that they are still held in awe these many centuries later. Michelangelo died in Rome on February 18, 1564 at the age of 88.

Famous Quote:

"Genius is eternal patience."

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