Michelangelo is widely regarded as one of history’s greatest painters. Many of his achievements are considered some of the best examples of the Italian Renaissance and many of his works are the focus of travel plans every year. Growing up in Florence during the late 15th century, he always had a fascination with religious artwork. He would copy paintings from churches instead of doing his school work and eventually that brought him to an artistic apprenticeship.
Unlike other artists that died an early death, Michelangelo lived to be 88 years old, a remarkable achievement for that time period. Giorgio Vasari, who works as an art historian, described the work of this great artist as a revelation of all the potentialities and force of the art of sculpture that could be created by one artist.
1. The Sistine Chapel Wasn’t Going to Be His Job
At the time of Michelangelo’s rising to fame, the greatest artist of the era was actually considered to be Raphael. This young upstart, however, was starting to eat into the business that Raphael was able to get. To prove that he was the better artist, Raphael convinced the Pope to hire Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel.
As the story goes, Raphael would often go into the Sistine Chapel to check on the progress that was being made. One look at the work speaks for itself, so Raphael couldn’t have been very pleased by what he was seeing. His work was supposed to look superior and it was not. To get even with Michelangelo, Raphael reportedly took one day out of his schedule to paint over the face of Isaiah.
2. Michelangelo Was Very Loved
The nickname that Michelangelo developed during his lifetime was “Il Divino.” As a direct translation, it means “the divine.” His work was loved by everyone in every class, culture, and demographic. His work was revered back then during his lifetime and it is still revered today. Not bad for a young boy who couldn’t focus on his schoolwork because he wanted to paint instead.
That’s a lesson for every parent who sees their children trying to be creative instead of trying to work out specific phonic sounds or mathematics equations.
3. Poetry Was a Bit of a Hobby
The best creators find a way to outlet their talents so that ideas stay fresh and new. For Michelangelo, his outlet was poetry. Over his lifetime, he created over 300 sonnets and madrigals. Many of them are actually quite erotic in nature and discuss in great detail the whole act of procreation from his point of view.
Because it was more of a hobby than part of his life’s work, he often took a very humble approach to discussing this work. Michelangelo would often just call it a foolish venture. Many of his poems were written directly to one of his close friends. It isn’t just erotic poetry, however, because spirituality, loyalty, and mysticism are also explored.
4. Michelangelo Wasn’t Always Honest
St. John the Baptist was sculpted by Michelangelo for a prominent banker and politician named Medici. There was one request given for the sculpture. Could Michelangelo be able to make it look like the sculpture had been buried so that it looked like a piece from antiquity? Michelangelo obliged the request and the sculpture was sold as an “ancient work of art” to a Cardinal of the Catholic Church.
Needless to say, it didn’t take long for the Cardinal to realize that the sculpture wasn’t ancient at all. Instead of being upset by the art fraud that had taken place, however, the Cardinal invited Michelangelo to come to Rome because the work was so impressive.
5. He Has an Interesting Self-Portrait
Most artists create at least one self-portrait of themselves. Many create multiple pieces of art. For Michelangelo, this Renaissance painter might just one the award for the most creative self-portrait that’s been considered a famous work of art. In his painting of the Last Judgment, which he spent 5 years creating in 1536, Bartholomew is shown to be holding the knife that caused him to be a martyr in one hand and a chunk of his skin in the other hand.
Taking a close look at the flayed skin, there is the shape of a face present. That face is very clearly a self-portrait of Michelangelo.
6. He Built City Walls
The Medici family was thrown out of Florence in 1527 through the use of a public violent uprising. For the next two years, the city’s fortifications needed to be rebuilt. Michelangelo helped to work on those city walls and towers for the next two years. In 1530, however, the Medici’s were brought back into power once again. This allowed Michelangelo to return to his life’s work.
7. It Took 40 Years
Pope Julius II had a grand plan in 1505. It would be 8 years before his death, but he didn’t know that. What he did know was that there needed to be a very tall, very grandiose monument that would mark where the pope’s tomb would be. To make sure that this plan was brought to fruition, Pope Julius II gave Michelangelo a commission to create a three story freestanding monument that had more than 40 unique sculptures in it. A challenge to say the least.
It took 40 years to full complete not because of the procrastination of Michelangelo, but because the papal seat kept offering more “important” commissions to the artist, including the Sistine Chapel ceiling in 1508. When Pope Julius II died in 1513, the Catholic Church commissioned a scaled down version of the monument that could be completed in 7 years instead. By the time the final design was settled, however, it was 1545 and there were further changes made to reduce the size of the monument.
That’s where you can find the famous statue of Moses that Michelangelo created.
8. He Was the Second Architect
In desperation for a completed project, the Catholic Church essentially called Michelangelo out of retirement so that St. Peter’s Basilica could be completed. When Michelangelo got the notice, he was already 74 years old. It wouldn’t be completed until after his death, but the 14 years of oversight made this building one of the true gems from the Renaissance era and millions make the effort to undertake a pilgrimage to see the building.
9. Censorship Was Common
Many of Michelangelo’s works involve the human form in the nude. Because of this, many of his statues have been censored in some way over the years. It’s been said that a portable box with a fig leaf was made available for the statue of David copy whenever women would come to see the incredible work of art in London. Michelangelo’s statue of Christ still carries a drapery over it so that the male parts aren’t visible.
Most of this censorship came about as part of the counter-renaissance movement that occurred. The artwork during Michelangelo’s life, however, was widely accepted and people craved to know more about this artist. This made Michelangelo the first Western artist to have his autobiography published during his lifetime.
As with everything that is Michelangelo, this too was done on a grand scale. There were actually two autobiographies published.
10. He Hated Baths As Much As a Cat
Michelangelo really hated to take a bath. He loathed bathing about as much as anyone can loathe anything in this world. This caused his skin to become very difficult to manage, especially in his older age. You can’t fault the man too much, however, when he lived twice as long as the average life span of his era.
After his death, the clothing that he was wearing had to literally be peeled away from his skin so that his body could be prepared. Imagine peeling an orange and you’ve got an idea of what it took to get the clothes off of Michelangelo.
Part of that may have been the fact that he had become quite rich and popular from a young age. Almost all of his famous works were completed before he reached the age of 30. He was able to prove his skill time and time again, even from the 5 foot statue of David that was carved from a 19 foot tall block of marble.
11. You Can Instantly Tell It’s His Work
Out of all of the works that Michelangelo created, the artist only signed his name to one piece. The Rome Pieta bears his signature because there was a great debate that the statue was not a creation of his. When you look at the Rome Pieta for the first time, it is understandable to see why people might not think the work is his. The style is slightly different, as are the lines of the work, but the realistic details are clearly his. The signature was to settle the debate and it certainly did that.