Michelangelo Buonarroti Essay, Research Paper
Michelangelo Buonarroti, born in the sixteenth century, was perhaps one of the
greatest artisans of all time. He was an accomplished artist, sculptor,
architect, and poet who demonstrated his great skill with the creation of many
astounding works. Michelangelo’s artwork consisted of paintings and sculptures
that showed humanity in its natural state. He is remembered today as the man who
had sculpted the “David” and the “Pieta”, which are two of the most stunning
sculptures to come out of the Renaissance period. Although sculpting was the
love of his life, his paintings of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and “The
Last Judgement” are considered by many his best masterpieces.
Michelangelo’s artistic career can be divided into two periods. In the early
period he focused on realism. During this early period Michelangelo’s works
included the Pieta and the David. At the age of 24 he completed a statue called
the “Pieta,” which is still in its original place in Saint Peter’s Basilica.
This marble sculpture shows the dead Jesus Christ in his mother’s arms. In 1501
Michelangelo returned to Florence, Italy to sculpt the famous nude sculpture
called the “David.” The “David” measures 18 feet tall, and is so massive that
it took 40 men to move it from Michelangelo’s workshop (Liebert, 72).
The second period of Michelangelo’s career was based upon his own imagination.
In 1505 Michelangelo was summoned by Pope Julius II to fabricate a monumental
tomb for him. We have no clear sense of what the tomb was to look like, since
over the years it went through at least five conceptual revisions, and was never
actually finished due to frustrating delays. A short time after starting the
tomb, Pope Julius II selected Michelangelo to fresco the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
When other artists were asked to paint ceilings they lied down on the
scaffolding. Michelangelo painted in a standing position which caused him much
discomfort (Liebert 146-147). Michelangelo even wrote a sonnet in which he
described the pain he felt while painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
My belly’s pushed by force beneath my chin
My beard toward Heaven, I feel the back of my brain
Upon my neck, I grow the breast of a Harpy;
My brush, above my face continually
Makes it a splendid floor by dripping down
My loins have penetrated to my paunch
My rump’s a crupper, as a counterweight,
And pointless the unseeing steps I go
In front of me my skin is being stretched
While it folds up behind and forms a knot
And I am bending like a Syrian bow (Liebert 148).
Pope Julius’ chief architect Bramante questioned Michelangelo’s experience with
frescos, but as he was a friend of the Pope, it was insisted upon that he be
given the job. Michelangelo worked on the ceiling from July of 1508 to October
31, 1512. He had hired five assistants to aid him in painting process. All in
all, Michelangelo had painted three hundred and thirty-six assorted figures on
the Sistine ceiling. This was an incredible feat and in the present, three
hundred thirty-five and one-half of these figures still remain (Brandes, 162).
The overall organization of the fresco consists of four large triangles at the
corner; a series of eight triangular spaces on the outer border; an intermediate
series of figures; and nine central panels, all bound together with
architectural motifs and nude male figures. The corner triangles depict heroic
action in the Old Testament, while the other eight triangles depict the biblical
ancestors of Jesus Christ. Michelangelo conceived and executed this huge work in
only four years, the first half taking almost three years to complete. The
paintings were done with the brightest colors that attracted attention to the
whole ceiling as one entered to look. The ceiling was completed just a little
after the Pope had died but has given the Sistine Chapel tremendous appeal for
having the best fresco ever done.
In painting “The Last Judgment,” Michelangelo was given the chance to
incorporate all that he had learned about the human body. He was able to show
the way the body moved, as well as its displays of unrestrained passion,
overwhelming grief, or endless torment. Michelangelo received a commission from
Pope Clement VII to paint “The Last Judgment” on the altar wall of the Sistine
Chapel in 1534. He was also commissioned at this time to paint a “Fall of the
Angels” on the entrance wall, but this second work was never executed (Brandes,
198). Sebastiano del Piombo had persuaded the pope that the painting would look
best in oil, and the wall was therefore prepared to receive oil pigments. This
delayed the beginning of the work, since Michelangelo declared oil painting to
be an “effeminate art” and insisted on painting “al fresco,” as he had done with
the ceiling. Although he had painted the ceiling of the chapel twenty-eight
years earlier, the style of “The Last Judgment” was greatly different. On the
ceiling, the ideas of hope and exaltation seem to rule, but on the altar wall,
there is the depiction of Christ as the unforgiving Judge. “The Last Judgment”
has a “drastically plain and direct style, with squarish rather than supple
figures,” (De Tolnay, 30) whereas the ceiling has a more complicated style.
Also, the figures on the altar wall do not have the same amount of beauty as the
figures of the ceiling.
Michelangelo followed the tradition of others in having Christ at the top with
his hand raised, and also brighter than the rest of the angels and demons.
Christ seems to have a harsh and cold expression that furthers Michelangelo’s
depiction of Christ as the Judge. Christ puts into motion the inevitable
separation, with the saved ascending on the left side of the painting and the
damned descending on the right into hell. The saved souls rise from their graves
and then begin their ascent toward Heaven. One may expect there to be as much
joy on the left as there is torment on the right, but these souls are don’t even
look happy as they all rush past each other. Michelangelo has filled them with a
similar amount of horror as those who are on the right. The chosen ones are not
even greeted with a smile from Christ who seems far less inclined to acquit than
to condemn. (Brandes 385) It was completed in October of 1541 and unveiled on
Christmas Day two months later. Many were appalled to see the great amount of
nudity which filled the painting. They did not feel that it was appropriate for
such holy people to be depicted without clothes on. Michelangelo felt that it
was the body which ascends to Heaven, not the clothes. Unfortunately,
Michelangelo’s masterpiece only remained intact for fourteen years, at which
point artists were commissioned to paint clothes on the “most beautiful nudes.”
“The Last Judgement” seems to stress the importance of the human body and the
ways in which the body can move. Michelangelo’s skill with the human anatomy
allowed him to capture the feelings and emotions which were very
characteristical of this time. The torment and horror we can see in the fresco
are also perhaps and indication of the hardships which Michelangelo felt during
this time in his life. “The Last Judgment” however is a beautiful painting by
the master artist, Michelangelo. This painting along with many others, allows a
greater understanding of the Renaissance era as well as an insight into his own
Although born in the small village of Caprese, Michelangelo continued to have a
deep attachment to his city, its art, and its culture throughout his long life.
However, in his will he left instructions that he be buried in Florence, and his
body was laid rest in a fine monument in the church of Santa Croce. Michelangelo
was arguably one of the most inspired creators in the history of art and one of
the contributory forces to the Italian High Renaissance. Even after his death,
this sculptor, architect, painter, and poets’ many contributions have exerted a
tremendous influence on his generation and on subsequent western art in general.
Brandes, Georg. Michelangelo, His Life, His Times, His Era. New York: Frederick
Publishing Co., 1963.
De Tolnay, Charles. The Art and Thought of Michelangelo. New York: Random
Liebert, Robert S MD. Michelangelo, A Psychoanalytic Study of His Life and
New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983.