It is right to consider Michelangelo Buonarroti as the dominant figure of the whole sixteenth century and of the entire Italian Renaissance. Leonardo was already considered “divine” by contemporaries. Michelangelo, on the other hand, was not only equally “divine”, but – as the Italian artist and art historian Giorgio Vasari said – even “most divine”, a spirit sent to earth by God to show the perfection of art in all its aspects.
Pietta Drawing by MichaelAngelo is part of the Boston Museum of Art
Others say that Michelangelo represents the man who ends the evolutionary process of art started with Cimabue and Giotto centuries earlier.
In short, there is no artist of his own time who has not suffered from his personality. To understand Michelangelo it is necessary to study him historically, inserted in the cultural, political and social environment of his century, one of the darkest and most dramatic but also one of the most profitable in the field of art.
In addition, his life (almost 90 years) allowed him to move from the age of Lorenzo the Magnificent to the age of the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation, allowing him to witness the wars between the French and the Spanish for dominance over Italy.
In fact Michelangelo, like Donatello, is continually renewed, does not age with the passing of years and becomes the interpreter of an entire era.
Michelangelo was born in a family of small nobility. At the age of thirteen he began to study in Domenico Ghirlandaio’s workshop.
The difference in temperament between teacher and pupil was such that the effect of this first apprenticeship is not found in his later works. Lorenzo the Magnificent, lord of Florence, took the young as his protégé keeping him in his own house together with his children. In the Medici house Michelangelo met and lived with some of the greatest cultural personalities of the time. It is here that he learns to deal with the problem of art as a cultural commitment, rather than a manual one, just as Leonardo da Vinci had done.
Unlike what had happened at the Ghirlandaio workshop, Lorenzo il Magnifico Michelangelo learned the sense of proportions and relationships according to a classic understanding, detached from the contemporary age. It is the same that happens today in art schools: at that time authentic marble statues were copied, while today students copy the “plaster”. The purpose, however, does not change and is to learn the rules from tradition art schools and apply to contemporary Art sculptures.
The tradition teaching of coping from a great pieces of Art like the Moses of Michaelangelo is the best practice to become a masters in Stone Sculpture.
Usually we talk about “Michelangelo’s poetics”. By reproducing in marble an object he keeps fixed before his eyes, Michelangelo gets used to considering that what he carves already exists before.
Then, when he begins to sculpt freely, the figure he carves in marble must be very precise and visible in his mind, as if it already existed: in marble he will have to find that idea that lives in his imagination.
This is Michelangelo’s poetics. If the vision of what is to be represented is already in the artist’s mind even before he puts his hand to the chisel, the execution will consist only in obtaining the vision from the marble, stripping it of any oversize until the image is left free.
This procedure is common to all the sculptural tradition, but Michelangelo goes beyond technical practice. He says, in fact, that the hand is the instrument that mechanically executes the will of the intellect, who cannot have any idea that does not already exist inside the marble in the deep of the stone.
It is, therefore, the idea that lives eternally and that the artist has the task of freeing from matter, struggling with it, with the total commitment of himself, with effort, until he finds it intact. The constant motive of Michelangelo’s art is precisely the struggle of man, imprisoned, oppressed, defeated, to reach an unattainable goal, but towards which we must strive for moral will, to safeguard our dignity. In this sense Michelangelo stands as direct heir of Giotto, Masaccio and Donatello.
First Master Sculpture Work
David one of the great work in Cararra marble by Michaelangelo
The first works created by Michelangelo are some drawings that already reveal an unmistakable personality. Those that have been preserved were considered important by the artist himself. He decided to destroy the others, Among the surviving drawings are some copies of the works of Giotto and Massaccio.
The reason? These two artists had expressed the dignity of man and made their forms volumetrically, revealing them with chiaroscuro and capturing not the inner appearance, but the essence.
The copies did not serve to passively transcribe, but to study, analyze and understand. Michelangelo’s copies are very personal: the chiaroscuro, which follows the pattern of the protrusions and recesses, brings the surfaces to life as well as the chiseling work present in his marbles.
When Lorenzo the Magnificent died, Michelangelo left for Venice, but moved almost immediately to Bologna where he sculpted three small statues: an angel and the saints Petronio and Procolo.
Back in Florence, Michelangelo sculpted a sleeping Cupid. This is the statue that will change the life of the great artist. The man who commissioned the work had buried the statue to give it an aging patina and sent it to Rome. Here it was sold at a price much higher than that paid to Michelangelo. Irritated at being cheated, Michelangelo left for Rome to settle this controversy.