Michael Angelo Buonar(R)Ot(T)I
Michael Angelo Buonar(r)ot(t)I
an Italian artist, who, in an age when Christian art had reached its zenith, stood unrivalled as a painter, sculptor, poet, and architect, was born March 6, 1474, at the Castle of Caprese in Tuscany. He was of noble origin, having descended on his mother's side from the ancient family of Canossa, in Tuscany, while the Buonarotti had long been associated with places of trust in the Florentine republic. Michael Angelo was very early afforded the advantages of association with first-class artists, and this gave rise to the saying that "he sucked in sculpture with his milk." About 1488 he was admitted as a student into the seminary which was established by Lorenzo the Magnificent for the study of ancient art in connection with the collections of statuary in the Medicean Gardens, and there he attracted the notice of Lorenzo by his artistic skill, and was invited by that generous Florentine prince to take up his residence at the palace of the Medici. As an inmate of the palace, he enjoyed the society of eminent literary men, one of whom, Angelo Poliziano (Politian), became his intimate friend. Among his earliest works was a marble bas-relief, the subject of which was The Battle of Hercules with the Centaurs. This work, which was approved by his own mature judgment, is preserved in Florence. Lorenzo's death in 1492, and the temporary reverses which befell the Medici family in consequence of the incapacity of Lorenzo's successor, Pietro, led Michael Angelo to quit Florence for Bologna. There, however, he remained only about a year, and gladly enough turned his face towards Florence again. Michael now found a patron in the person of Pietro Soderini, the gonfaloniere (chief ruler) of Florence. About 1497 he produced an admirable marble group called a "Pieth," representing "The Virgin weeping over the Dead Body of her Son." "In none of his works," says Ernest Breton, "has he displayed more perfect knowledge of design and anatomy, or more profound truth of expression" (Nouv. Biog. Generale, s.v.). This Mater Dolorosanow adorns a chapel in the Church of St. Peter at Rome. After this he executed a gigantic marble statue of the psalmist David, which stands in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, in Florence. He received 400 ducats for this work, on which he spent about eighteen months, and which he finished in 1504. Next in order of time, and, according to some of his contemporaries, first in merit, ranks his great cartoon for the ducal palace at Florence, which, together with the pendant executed by Leonardo da Vinci, has long since perished. This work, which represented a scene in the wars with Pisa, when a number of young Florentines, while bathing in the Arno, are surprised by an attack of the Pisans, showed so marvellous a knowledge of the anatomical development of the human figure, and such extraordinary facility in the powers of execution, that it became a study for artists of every land, creating actually a new era in art. "Such was the excellence of this work," says Vasari, "that some thought it absolute perfection." Another production which belongs to this period, and which is of special interest to the student of Christian art, is an oil-painting of the Holy Family (about 1504). Shortly after his accession to the pontificate, Julius II called Michael Angelo to Rome, and commissioned him to make the pope's monument, which was to be erected within St. Peter's. Although this work was never completed on the colossal scale on which it had been designed, and was ultimately erected in the Church of St. Pietro ad Vincolo, it is a magnificent composition, and is memorable for having given occasion to the reconstruction of St. Peter's on its present sublime plan, in order the better to adapt it to the colossal dimensions of the proposed monument. In 1506 Michael Angelo, incensed by the indifference of the pontiff towards him, quitted Rome;. but after a short time the repeated and urgent entreaties of Julius led him to return, and at the pope's request he now painted with his own hand the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and, although unwillingly, he began in 1508, and completed within less than two years his colossal task, which proved one of the most marvelous of his works. The subjects of these cartoons are taken from the book of Genesis, but between these and the representations of the persons of the Savior's genealogy are colossal figures of prophets and sibyls.
Julius II died in 1513, and was succeeded by Leo X, who, together with successive popes, is censured for illiberal conduct towards Michael Angelo. Leo ordered him to build the fa9ade of the Church of San Lorenzo, at Florence, and compelled him, against his will, to spend several years in procuring marble for that purpose. "It is a mortifying reflection," says Duppa, "that the talents of this great man should have been buried and his time consumed, during the whole reign of Leo X, in little else than in raising stone out of a quarry and making a road to convey it to the sea" (Life of M. Angelo). Under the patronage of Clement VII (1523), Michael Angelo devoted himself to the library and sacristy of San Lorenzo, at Florence, and in 1528 or 1529 he spent his time at Florence in the erection of fortifications to resist the attempts of the expelled Medici to recover possession. He also fought in the defence of that city against the papal troops. On the surrender of Florence he returned to Rome, and after the accession of pope Paul III, in 1534, was permitted to resume the monument of Julius II, which he completed on a smaller scale than he had first designed. It consists of seven statues, one of which represents Moses, and was placed in the Church of San Pietro ad Vincolo. This statue of Moses is called one of his masterpieces. Another great production of this period is his great picture of the Last Judgment, painted' for the altar of the Sistine Chapel. This colossal fresco, nearly 70 feet in height, which was completed in 1541, after some eight years of close confinement, was regarded by contemporary critics as having surpassed all his other works for the unparalleled powers of invention and the consummate knowledge of the human figure which it displayed. On a comparison with Raphael it loses, however, much of its value, for, as has been truly said, "one will seek in vain for that celestial light and divine inspiration which appears in the Transfiguration." After its completion, Michael Aigelo devoted himself to the perfecting of St. Peter's, which by the touch of his genius was converted from a mere Saracenic hall into the most superb model of a Christian church. He refused all remuneration for this labor, which he regarded as a service to the glory of God. He never married; and upon his death in 1563, at Rome, his remains were removed to Florence, and laid within the Church of Santa Croce. His piety, benevolence, and liberality made him generally beloved; and in the history of art no name shines with a more unsullied lustre than that of Michael Angelo. "He was the bright luminary," says Sir Joshua Reynolds, "from whom painting has borrowed a new lustre, under whose hands it assumed a new appearance and became another and superior art, and from whom al his contemporaries and successors have derived whatever they have possessed of the dignified and majestic" (Discourses on Painting, volume 2). Always a student, always dissatisfied with what he had done, many of his works were left unfinished; but his fragments have educated eminent men. In disposition he was proud and passionate, but highminded; not greedy of gold, but princely in his generosity. His mind was full of great conceptions, for which he was ready to sacrifice and forego physical comforts. Of his, merits as an artist, it is enough to say that Raphael thanked God that he was born in the time of Michael Angelo Buonarotti. Comparing him with Raphael, Quatremere de Quincy marks Michael Angelo as "the greatest of draughtsmen." "In painting," says Duppa, "the great work on which Michael Angelo's fame depends, and, taking it for all in all, the greatest work of his whole life, is the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel... His sibyls and prophets exhibit with variety and energy the colossal powers of his mind... In his great works, his superior abilities are shown in the sublimity of his conceptions, and the power and facility with which they are executed." See Condivi, Vita di Michael Angelo Buonarotti (Rome, 1553; new ed. Pisa, 1823); Vignali, Vita di Michael Angelo (1753) ; Richard Duppa, Life of Michael Angelo (London, 1806); Hauchecorne, Vie de Michel-Ange; Quatremere de Quincy, Vie de Michel Ange (1835); J.S. Harford Life of Michael Angelo (1856-7, 2 volumes, 8vo); Hermann Grimm, Michael Angelo's Leben, and English version of the same (London, 1865, 2 volumes,); Vasari, Lives of Painters and Sculptors; Lanzi, Storia della Pittura; Winckelmann, Neues Maler-Lexikon, s.v.; Nagler, Kiinstler-Lexikon, s.v.; Marie Henri Bavle, Histoire de la Peinture en Italie, Pater, Studies in the History of the Renaissance (Lond. and N.Y., Macmillan & Co., 1873, 8vo), chapter 5, contains an interesting essay on the poetry of Michael Angelo.