Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) is unarguably one of the greatest artists ever. He is considered among the most prominent icons of the Italian Renaissance. His artwork, paintings, and sculptures were a unique blend of physical realism, psychological insight, and scientific precision, rarely seen in the times before and after him. Michelangelo’s extraordinary talent was acknowledged by his contemporaries and Michelangelo worked as a commissioned artist for several powerful and wealthy people in Italy, including those affiliated to the Catholic Church.
Here are some interesting Michelangelo facts that perhaps are not much known about the legendary artist.
1. Started as a forger
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Michelangelo began his career by carving out a cupid statue in the ancient Greek style. Italian statesman Lorenzo de’ Medici told Michelangelo that he can make a lot of money if he made the figure which appears ‘to have been buried.’ Michelangelo did likewise. Raffaele Riario, a cardinal during the Renaissance, bought the statue but soon realized that it was a fake. Nonetheless, he understood the young sculptor’s talent, and called him to work in Rome.
2. His only signed work
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According to Giorgio Vasari, who wrote a Michelangelo biography, the artist overheard a comment that his installation Pieta was the work of another sculptor Cristoforo Solari. Michelangelo promptly carved the words MICHAELA[N]GELUS BONAROTUS FLORENTIN[US] FACIEBA[T], which means ‘Michelangelo Buonarroti made this’ on the sash across Mary’s chest. The Pieta became his only signed work. Michelangelo, according to Vasari, later regretted his show of pride and never singed another artwork or installation.
3. Sistine Chapel almost didn’t happen
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The Renaissance period had many renowned artistes and sculptors, and jealousy between them was common. According to popular knowledge, famous painter Raphael convinced Pope Julius to hire Michelangelo for painting Sistine Chapel, believing that he would fail and will be shamed. Michelangelo, mostly into sculpting, was reluctant to accept the work but finally took it up. He took four years to finish the job. Sistine Chapel went to become not only a major example of Michelangelo artwork but is still unparalleled anywhere in the world.
4. Worked for nine different popes
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From Julius II to Pius IV, Michelangelo worked for nine consecutive Catholic pontiffs, beginning in 1505. His body of work was vast and spread across the Vatican. But he not always enjoyed cordial relations with all the popes, particularly Julius II. He worked for three years on the Leo X marble façade which was later cancelled by Julius II. Pope Paul III was one of Michelangelo’s major patrons.
5. Was also a poet
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Among the more interesting Michelangelo facts is that the artist was an accomplished poet. He wrote hundreds of madrigals and sonnets and often jotted down a line or two while hammering the statues at his workshop. He used extensive wordplay in his poetry that touched everything from aging to sex. But none of his poetry was published during his lifetime. They mostly circulated among the literati in 16th century Rome.
Also Read: 15 Magnificent Renaissance Paintings
6. Among the wealthiest
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This one is relatively new of Michelangelo facts. Latest research suggests that Michelangelo was extremely wealthy. He was paid well by Julius II and the artist-sculptor invested heavily in property. Michelangelo, in fact, was one of the richest artists of that time. He was wealthier than Leonardo Da Vinci or Raphael Sanzio. Michelangelo’s estate, at the time of his death, was estimated at 50,000 florins which is approximately $50 million today.
7. Designed the Swiss Guard costume
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It’s widely believed that Michelangelo designed the famous pontifical Swiss Guard costume seen in the Vatican. While this may appear as one of the Michelangelo facts for kids, the matter is highly debated. The costume has remained largely unchanged since the late 15th century. But Michelangelo was often ridiculed in his lifetime for his weird dress sense and it may be possible he designed the outfit, being the most prominent painter at that time.
8. Lived unusually long
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Michelangelo was forced to leave Rome in 1557 because of a threat of invasion by Spain. The legendary artiste spent the final years of his life traveling in Europe, much like the way he started his career. He returned to Rome after the Spanish invasion threat passed and lived until 1564. He lived for 89 years which was unusually long considering the average lifespan of humans back then.
9. Biography published during lifetime
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Two biographies of Michelangelo were published during his lifetime. One of them was written by Giorgio Vasari who said that Michelangelo was at the pinnacle of the Italian Renaissance since its beginning. This viewpoint continued to have weight in the following centuries. The artwork by Michelangelo is considered epochal by all standards and has been a subject of constant research. Ascanio Condivi was his other biographer.
10. Disliked Da Vinci
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According to Vasari, Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci had an intense dislike for one another, and the two masters had an irreconcilable attitude. One day, at Florence’s Piazza Santa Trinita, some men who were debating on Dante, asked Leonardo to explain a passage. Leonardo happened to pass by the place. Michelangelo soon appeared at the spot and Leonardo asked the men to request the sculptor explain it. This angered Michelangelo. A heated argument on art soon followed.
Also Read: Albrecht Durer Biography and Paintings
10 Famous Michelangelo paintings
Here are some of the famous paintings by Michelangelo who lived and worked in Rome for the better part of his life.
1. Sistine Chapel
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The fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, is undeniably the best of Michelangelo paintings. It was created between 1508 and 1512. The painting depicts nine tales from the Book of Genesis. The Sistine Chapel artwork is widely considered the best work of Michelangelo. More than five million people visit the monument every year. The scenes include the Creation, the appearance and downfall of Adam and Eve, and the three stories from Noah’s life.
2. Crucifixion of St Peters
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This world famous Michelangelo fresco is located in Cappella Paolina in the Vatican. St Peters is a prominent figure in the New Testament and has been widely depicted in religious art over the centuries. He was also one of the Catholic Church founders. But most artists painted St Peters in the typical way. But in a marked departure Michelangelo painted the saint being crucified by the Romans. St Peters is shown heads down as he said it’ll be unworthy of him to die the Jesus way.
3. The Last Judgment
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This is another masterpiece from the Michelangelo facts. The fresco occupies the front altar of the Sistine Chapel and was completed 25 years after Michelangelo finished the Book of Genesis. He was commissioned by Pope Clement VII but the original design was The Resurrection. The design changed when Pope Paul III replaced Clement VII. The new pope thought The Last Judgment would be more fitting in the 1530s Italy. This too was unlike other typical religious paintings done earlier.
4. The Torment of Saint Anthony
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This one is widely believed to be the first-known painting by Michelangelo. It’s currently owned by the Kimbell Art Museum at Texas. Michelangelo is said to have painted the picture when he was 12-13 years old. The Torment of Saint Anthony is inspired from a 15th century engraving by German printmaker and painter Martin Schongauer. According to Ascanio Condivi, The Torment of Saint Anthony is a particularly accomplished piece of creative work and Michelangelo was widely praised for it.
5. Doni Tondo
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The only mature Michelangelo painting that exists in the present times. The painting still retains its original framing which is among the notable Michelangelo facts. Also known as Doni Madonna, the Tondo refers to the painting’s circular shape. Such a type of presentation was extremely popular in Renaissance Italy. The foreground of the painting features Saint Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. There are some vague, nude male figures in the background that have been variously interpreted by critics.
Also Read: 15 Most Famous Rembrandt Paintings
6. Leda and the Swan
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Abducted women seduced by divinities were a common theme among the Renaissance and Baroque artists. Several artists explored the mythical love conquests. The transformation of Zeus into a swan to seduce Leda, is taken from an ancient Greek tale. Leda was the wife of Spartan king Tyndareus. The original Michelangelo painting no longer exists. However, Peter Paul Rubens made a perfect copy of Leda and the Swan in 1601, as he had seen the original in 1601. Rubens retained the Michelangelo style as closely as possible.
7. Madonna and Child
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The Madonna and Child is also known as Manchester Madonna, and the painting can be seen at the London National Gallery. Some art experts questioned that Michelangelo was a less famous painter but Madonna and Child silenced them. The painting resurfaced during the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition. Hence the alternative name. The painting’s subject is derived from Mary and Jesus’ meeting with St John the Baptist. There are several Devanagari elements in the painting.
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This one is perhaps the most famous sculptures of all time. Michelangelo took three years to sculpt David and work commenced when he was only 26 years old. He was the first artist to portray the Biblical hero in a tense and alert position, unlike earlier works that showed a triumphant David after the battle with Goliath. The 14-feet sculpture was moved from the Piazza della Signoria in Florence to Galleria dell’Accademia in 1873. It’s kept under a skylight particularly designed for the statue.
9. The Battle of Cascina
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This is an incomplete work by Michelangelo. A prominent statesman of Florence, Piero Soderini commissioned the work. A wall of Salone dei Cinquecento in Palazzo Vecchio was the original site of the artwork. The opposite wall was supposed to be decorated by Da Vinci. The Battle of Cascina still survives as a cartoon. According to a biography on Michelangelo, the cartoon’s original copy was destroyed by one of the legendary artiste’s rival. The thematic battle was fought between Pisa and Florence in 1364 and the latter won.
10. The Conversion of Saul
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Michelangelo created a beautiful Biblical themed fresco at Cappella Paolina in the Vatican. The style used by the master artist was exaggerated and asymmetrical and not particularly liked by his contemporaries. The Conversion of Saul had an artistic depiction of human beauty. The mannerist painting looked contrary to most works of the Italian Renaissance. Later critics labeled the work as progressive. Michelangelo took the painting’s theme from the story of Saul which is well known by the Christians.
Also Read: 15 Ancient Greek Vase Paintings
The Italian Renaissance produced some of the best painters, sculptors, and illustrators and Michelangelo was certainly among the most prominent of all them. Many Michelangelo facts can be learnt from the biography written by Giorgio Vasari during the sculptor’s lifetime.