Michelangelo Buonarroti, a famous Renaissance artist, sculptor, poet, and architect, was born on March 6, 1475, in Caprese, Italy. His mother was in failing health when he was born, and his parents decided to entrust the care of Michelangelo to the wife of a stonecutter who lived in a town where his father owned a marble quarry and a small farm. Michelangelo's mother died when he was 6 years old.
From childhood Michelangelo was drawn to the arts. However, his father considered this pursuit below the family's social status and tried to discourage him. Michelangelo's father recognized his son's intelligence and enrolled him in school to prepare him for a career in business. Michelangelo showed no interest in his schooling, preferring to copy paintings from churches.
In time, Michelangelo became an apprentice of Italian painter Domenico Ghirlandaio. Ghirlandaio was so impressed with the work of his apprentice, that he recommended him to the ruler of Florence, Lorenzo de’ Medici. Michelangelo studied in de’ Medici’s workshop for three years, concentrating on sculpture and anatomy. During these years, Michelangelo gained new perspectives on art and met many prominent figures in art and literature. He also painted his first important works, Madonna of the Steps (1490–1492) and Battle of the Centaurs (1491–1492).
Lorenzo de' Medici died in 1492, and the Medici family fell from power. As a result, Michelangelo decided to return to Florence for a short time prior to moving to Rome. n 1497, he sculpted Bacchus, The Roman God of Wine. Bacchus would prove one of Michelangelo’s only works involving a pagan, rather than Christian subject.
He was next commissioned to sculpt a marble depiction of Jesus resting in Mary’s arms after the Crucifixion. It is called Pieta and was made for the Cardinal’s funeral monument. Today, Pieta can be viewed today in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
In 1501, Michelangelo returned to Florence. Recognized, as the most talented sculptor of central Italy, he was commissioned tto complete a marble statue of David started by Agostino di Duccio. The statue was to be a symbol of the Florentine Republic. When he finished the statue in 1504, it stood over 14 feet tall. The statue was immediately recognized as a masterpiece, and is considered one of Michelangelo’s two greatest sculptures.
Seven years later he received one of his most important commissions when Pope Julius II asked him to paint the 12,000 square foot ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Working on scaffolding high above the chapel floor, Michelangelo painted over 400 life-sized figures on the ceiling by 1512. The ceiling features nine scenes from the Book of Genesis, seven Old Testament prophets, and five sibyls (characters from Greek mythology). Of the Old Testament scenes, the Creation of Adam is the most renowned.
In the 1520’s and 1530’s, Michelangelo worked on several major projects including the largest fresco (painting) of the Renaissance period, The Last Judgment. This painting took seven years to complete. Around 1546, at the age of 71, Michelangelo was commissioned as architect of St. Peter’s Basilica and designed its dome.
Michelangelo never married and remained in a relative state of solitude for most of his life. As he grew older, he enjoyed this solitude more and more. In 1564, Michelangelo died of a “slow fever”. He was buried in front of a large crowd in Santa Croce in Florence.