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Michelangelo Buonarroti

Who Was Michelangelo?

Michelangelo Buonarotti (6.3.1475–18.2.1564) can rightly be addressed as the most important Florentine sculptor and one of the most influential fresco painters of the 16th century. Alongside Raffael and Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo forms the triumvirate of the Italian High Renaissance (→ Renaissance). He not only created popular works such as the “Pietà” and “David”, the ceiling frescoes and the “Last Judgment” on the altar wall of the Sixtina, but was also involved as an architect in the planning of the dome of St. Peter (→ Michelangelo Buonarroti: Life).

Contemporaries feared the "terribiltà" of the sculptor, painter and architect and at the same time admired his ingenuity. Florence, the “cradle of the Renaissance” (→ Florence and its painters: The invention of the Renaissance), offered the growing artist an excellent starting point, both intellectually and technically. Both at the Medici court in Florence and in papal Rome, Michelangelo Buonarroti knew how to assert himself with his works of art. The work, created in over 60 years, encompasses all genres, although difficult clients (Julius tomb, facade of San Lorenzo) and the political situation, especially in the 1520s, led to many planning changes.

One of the revolutionary moments in Michelangelo's work is his idea of ​​what a work is made of. Michelangelo was the first artist to leave unfinished work and with it that "Non-finito" to an art form he lifted. This attitude is also clearly expressed in the signature of the “Pietà”: Above the breast band of the Madonna, the artist wrote “Michelangelo faciebat” instead of “Michelangelo fecit”. Compared to the perfect tense of “fecit”, the past tense “faciebat” is a tense that emphasizes the duration of an action.

Childhood and adolescence

Michelangelo Buonarroti was born in the early morning of March 6, 1475 in Caprese (province of Tuscany) as the second son of Lodovico di Leonardo du Buonarroti and Francesca di Neri di Miniato des Sera. Lodovico was the mayor of the municipality (podestá), but his term of office was almost over. Since it was not possible for Buonarroti to work and earn money in order not to diminish the reputation of the family, he was almost bankrupt in 1475. The family only owned a share in a house in Florence and a small estate in Settignano. Since his young mother was also weakened by the early births, Michelangelo was given to a stonemason and his wife to be cared for. The sculptor later commented on this fact:

"The love for hammers and chisels, with which I create my sculptures, I already sucked in with my nurse's milk."

When Michelangelo was six years old, his mother Francesca died shortly after the birth of his brother Sigismondo (1481). Whether the frequent portrayals of mother and son in his work can be traced back to the loss of the mother is a matter of dispute, but it is suspected.

In 1485 Michelangelo's father remarried, Lucrezia di Antonio Ubaldini da Gagliani. Ten year old Michelangelo had already started to draw and neglected his Latin and Greek studies. Lodovico wanted his son to have a career in trade, banking, politics or administration. He was opposed to his son's requests to become an artist.

Training with Ghirlandaio

A childhood friend of Michelangelo's, Francesco Granacci, was an apprentice to the Ghirlandaio brothers. Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449–1494) was a highly respected artist, sculptor and painter, and trained Leonardo da Vinci during the 1470s. It was not until 1488 that the now 13-year-old Michelangelo was able to convince his father of the correctness of this career choice. The father contractually agreed the teaching conditions with the bottega of the Ghirlandaio brothers.

“In 1488, in today's recording of April 1st, I, Lodovico di Lionardo di Buonarroti, state that I am apprenticing my son Michelangelo to Domenico and Davide de Currado [Ghirlandaio] for the next three years; according to the following agreements, which read: Michelangelo will stay with you to learn the art of painting and should obey the above, they have to pay him 24 ducats in three years, namely 6 in the first year, 8 in the second, 10th year in the third, a total of 96 lire. "

Ludovico added to the contract in his own writing:

"On that day, April 16, Michelangelo received two gold ducats and I, Lodovico di Lionardo, his father, received twelve lire and twelve soldiers."

This meant that Michelangelo was supposed to be Domenico Ghirlandaio's apprentice in Florence between 1488 and 1491. However, the fast-learning youngster broke his apprenticeship contract after just one year and left the workshop. Domenico Ghirlandaio had introduced him to the Medici family, who accepted the young art student into their circle.

Michelangelo supported Ghirlandaio with the frescoing of the Tornabuoni Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria Novella. The three earliest surviving pen drawings by Michelangelo are copies of frescoes by Giotto di Bondone and Masaccio or his teacher Ghirlandaio. Obviously the growing artist admired the coherence and grandeur of the figurative language.1 Compared to his role models, however, he was looking for a more organic and natural design. The drawings are dated to around 1490/92 and stylistically resemble the drawings of Ghirlandaios. However, Michelangelo's sculptural interest can already be felt in the heavy, earthbound figures. Michelangelo was able to learn both fresco and tempera painting in the workshop of Ghirlandaios, as well as the use of the so-called colori canigianti [iridescent colors], which imagine silky shimmering fabrics that show different shades of color when exposed to light.

Michelangelo among the Medici (1489–1494)

In Lorenzo de ‘Medici's house, the reliefs, which are astonishingly mature for a seventeen year old, were created. Michelangelo's father was initially concerned about his son's appropriation by the Medici clan, as he feared that he would work as a stonemason [scalpellino] end up. But the decision in favor of a private patron turned out to be a stroke of luck for Michelangelo, because Michelangelo received the basis for his humanistic education in the Medici sculpture garden. Lorenzo de ‘Medici was an avid collector of antiquities and had set up a sculpture garden in the garden of his palace near San Marco. Under the direction of the sculptor Bertoldo di Giovanni, reports Giorgio Vasari, a "school" was formed, a kind of precursor to an academy. Eminent philosophers and rhetoricians met in the sculpture garden to bring together the teachings of Plato and the Christian belief system. Ficino, Poliziano and Pico della Mirandola discussed Neo-Platonism, which years later significantly influenced the iconography of the Sistine ceiling and the tomb of Julius II.

Bertoldo di Giovanni was an assistant to Donatello (around 1386–1466). From him, as his first sculptural works show, Michelangelo was able to use the technique of the rilievo schiaccato [flat relief] to learn. The "Madonna della Scala [Madonna on the stairs]" (around 1489–1492, Casa Buonarroti) is the first work of art that Michelangelo created in the Medici household. Teacher and patron were delighted with the delicacy of the execution. The “Centaur Battle” (around 1492, Casa Buonarroti), inspired by Donatello's “Cantoria” (1433–1436) and ancient battle sarcophagi, dates from the same period. With the "Battle of the Centaurs", Michelangelo broke away from the Florentine tradition of relief and developed the figures in a spatial continuum. He concentrated entirely on the fighting, neither narrative nor narrative accessories are of importance to him. The second technical innovation is that non-finito, the consciously unfinished or completed work of art. With that he advanced the idea [concetto] and not the perfect execution in the foreground.

At a young age, Michelangelo had to learn that his talent could also provoke the envy of his professional colleagues: Pietro Torrigiani is said to have given the fifteen-year-old such a violent punch on the nose out of jealousy that he broke his nose. The smashed and poorly healed nose is easy to spot in the artist's portraits.

This intellectually exciting phase came to an abrupt end with the death of Lorenzo de’Medici on April 18, 1492. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Piero di Lorenzo de ‘Medici (1472–1503), who, however, turned out to be neither interested nor skillful enough politically. Another son, Giovanni de ‘Medici, ascended the papal throne as Pope Leo X (1513–1521). After Piero di Lorenzo had allied himself with Naples against Milan, he was jointly responsible for the invasion of the French king Charles VIII. On the peninsula and in 1494 after the voluntary surrender of Florence with the entire clan expelled from the city. Between 1494 and 1498 the Dominican penitential preacher Girolamo Savonarola (1452–1498), who had been elected prior of San Marco in 1490 through the intercession of Lorenzo de ‘Medici, ruled the city. Before Savonarola was burned as a heretic in 1498, he had stoked the fears of the Florentine people, conjured up the Apocalypse and protested against luxury and the secular courtship of the Pope.

In these politically troubled times, Michelangelo lost his most important patron and access to the antiquities in the Medici sculpture garden. The budding artist moved back to his father's house and made do with studies in the monastery hospital of Santo Spirito. Although the dissection of corpses was strictly forbidden, the prior of the Augustinian Convention provided him with a room and the deceased. It was there that he secretly acquired in-depth knowledge of the structure of the human body for the first time - something that, besides Michelangelo, only Leonardo da Vinci could show. Drawings by Michelangelo on bone structure, muscles and the course of the tendons were used by artists and medical professionals as illustrative material. As a protégé of the Medici, Michelangelo had to fear reprisals in 1494. In addition, his brother Lionardo was a follower of Savonarola. Therefore, Michelangelo left Florence on October 10, 1494 for Bologna.

Trips to Bologna and Rome

At first Michelangelo stayed in Venice, but he was unable to find clients here. His stay in the lagoon city, whose paintings were influenced by the brothers Gentile and Giovanni Bellini, therefore lasted almost a month.

Further in Bologna he made the acquaintance of the noble Gianfrancesco Aldovrandi. Michelangelo had failed to get a seal on entering the city. He was caught and sentenced to 50 Bolognese lire. Since Michelangelo did not have this amount, he was arrested. Aldovrandi freed him from his predicament and took the aspiring sculptor into his house for a year.

Michelangelo's only commission in Bologna was mediated through Gianfrancesco Aldovrandi: Figures for the tomb of St. Dominic in San Domenico, which Niccolò dell’Arca (1435? –1494) left unfinished. In 1494/95 Michelangelo created three sculptures for the high grave, the so-called "Arca di San Domenico": a "kneeling, luminous angel", a "Saint Petronius" and a "Saint Proculus". Michelangelo adapted to the style of dell’Arcas, which was probably part of the contract with Aldovrandi. The figure of “St. Prokulus ”anticipates the famous“ David ”in his posture and tension.

In the winter of 1495 Michelangelo returned to his father in Florence. Not all members of the Medici clan had to leave the city. Michelangelo quickly made friends with Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco, a cousin of Lorenzo the Magnificent. For him he created a "Saint John" and a sleeping "Cupid", both of which have not survived. Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco is said to have had the idea to pass the "Cupid" off as antiquity and to sell it to Rome through an intermediary. Cardinal Raffaele Riario bought the piece for 200 ducats. However, the middleman paid Michelangelo only 30 ducats, which is why the double fraud was exposed. The cardinal got his money back and invited Michelangelo to come to Rome. At the age of 21 he traveled to the Eternal City for the first time in the summer of 1496.

Cardinal Raffaele Riario had put together a select collection of ancient sculptures. He was the great-nephew of Pope Sixtus IV and an opponent of the Medici. When the Cardinal asked him if he could do something as beautiful as the antiquities in his collection, Michelangelo confidently replied that although he could not do “big things”, the Cardinal could convince himself of the quality of a single figure. On July 4, 1496, he therefore began with the "Drunken Bacchus" (1496/97, Bargello), which was very popular with contemporaries and represents Michelangelo's first independent, life-size sculpture. The ancient god of wine is drunk and wavering. The group of Bacchus, staggering with a smile, and the little satyr is designed to be viewed from all angles. Vasari also emphasized the androgynous character of the figure, such as the smooth roundness of the limbs and joints.

Pietà (1498/99): Michelangelo's breakthrough

Before Michelangelo dealt with the famous “Pietà” (1498/99, St. Peter's Cathedral), he briefly turned to painting. The “Manchester Madonna” (National Gallery, London) is unfinished, as is the “Entombment”, which began shortly afterwards.

On August 27, 1498, Michelangelo signed a contract for a marble pietà with the French bishop Jean Bilhères de Lagraulas, Cardinal of Saint-Denis. The price he negotiated was 455 gold ducats. The Roman banker Jacopo Galli brokered the assignment to the cardinal and envoy of the French king Charles VIII in Rome. Originally the sculpture was in the chapel of St. Petronilla in Alt-St. Peter set up. This chapel of the French kings was demolished before 1520 to make way for the new building of St. Peter. It was not until 1794 that Michelangelo's “Pietà” was installed in the first side chapel in the right aisle of St. Peter.

The iconography could represent a concession by the sculptor to the client, as in the “Pietà” he follows the pictorial type of the Mother of Sorrows, which is widespread in France and Germany. According to Kerstin Schwedes, a tree stump could be interpreted as a reference to the tree of knowledge, the fall of man and the redemption on the cross. The youthful Mother of God holds her crucified Son in her lap. Its lifelessness is convincingly portrayed, as are the wounds and the sliding of the head. Loads and carrying are in a balanced relationship to one another. Mary presents the body of Christ, her pain is internalized, she has a meditative effect. The youthfulness of the Madonna was already unpleasant to the contemporaries. Michelangelo wanted to allude to the chaste lifestyle of Mary; Theologically, Mary can thus be grasped as the mother and daughter of God.

“Don't you know that the chaste women keep themselves much fresher than the unchaste women? […] Yes, I will even tell you that such a freshness and youthful bloom, apart from the fact that it has been preserved naturally in it, also becomes believable because, through divine action and help, the virginity and eternal purity of the world Mother should be witnessed. "(Michelangelo, after Condivi)

Michelangelo used an antiqua capital for the legible signature above the upper body of Our Lady: "MICHAELA (N) GELUS BONARTUS.FLORENT.FACIEBA (T)". The "Michelangelo Buonarroti from Florence did this" is the only signature that Michelangelo has ever put on a work of art. He also used the imperfect time stage, which marks an ongoing action. This indicates the work process, while the common "FECIT" means a completed action.
When the Cardinal of Saint-Denis died in August 1499, the "Pietà" was not yet completed. However, the sculpture group spread the fame of its creator Michelangelo.

Michelangelo, Entombment (or Christ is carried to the grave), c. 1500–1501, oil on poplar, 161.7 x 149.9 cm (The National Gallery, London, NG790)

Piccolomini altar in Siena (1501)

In the spring of 1501 Michelangelo returned to Florence and was immediately showered with orders. Cardinal Francesco Piccolomini, later Pope Pius III. became aware of Michelangelo and entrusted him with the completion of the figurative decorations on the Piccolomini altar in the cathedral of Siena. Piero Soderini, elected Gonfaloniere della Giustizia [chief administrative officer of Florence] in 1502, acted as mediator. On the 5thIn June 1501 Michelangelo signed a contract for 15 niche figures for a fee of 500 ducats. Michelangelo only made four sculptures: Saints Peter and Paul and Pius and Gregory. In the same year the wool weavers' guild and the cathedral building workshop turned to him to commission the "David".

Madonna of Bruges (1501–1504)

Michelangelo had also been working on the “Madonna of Bruges” from 1501, which he completed around 1504. The respected cloth merchant Jean Mouscron in Bruges had ordered them from the Florentine. Similar to the “Pietà” in St. Peter's Cathedral, the Madonna is shown youthfully and with a graceful facial expression. Contrary to the Florentine tradition, the baby Jesus stands between his mother's knees and does not sit on her lap. The divinity of the child is now shown through his beauty and freedom in his actions. Neoplatonic ideas are likely to be hidden here.

Apostle for the Florence Cathedral (1503–1505)

In April 1503, Michelangelo received another major order from the wool weavers' guild. Twelve larger-than-life statues of the apostles for the Florence Cathedral. One figure should be completed every year. But only the unfinished “Saint Matthew” can be assigned to this group. In 1505 the contract was canceled. This shows what Michelangelo brought to mastery in his late work: that concetto alone is implied that non-finito ignites the imagination. Only the front is carved and shows how the saint seems to wriggle out of the stone.

David (1501-1504)

→ Michelangelo Bounarroti: David

The most famous work of the Florentine artist is undoubtedly the marble sculpture "David" (1501–1504), which was actually made for the Florentine Cathedral. On August 16, 1501, Michelangelo Buonarroti, who was barely 26 years old, received the order from the cathedral building administration and the Florentine weavers' guild to manufacture the colossus. Within just two years he was to carve the gigantic figure of a young David out of an existing block. The sculptor should have finished before September 1, 1503, which turned out to be impossible. Therefore, the client granted a postponement of the completion until February 25, 1504. Today, the "David" is considered the first monumental statue of the Renaissance; the figure is 5.17 meters high. Their weight is estimated at almost six tons.

The outstanding quality and the convincing quote from antiquities as well as the importance of their creator made the client refrain from the planned list. A commission of artists, including Sandro Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci, discussed presentation locations in the city. Finally, the "David" found its place on the left in front of the entrance to Palazzo Vecchio. In 1873 the original was brought to the Galleria dell'Accademia and a copy was placed in front of the Palazzo Vecchio.

Tondo Doni (1503/04), Tondo Pitti, Tondo Taddei

While Michelangelo was finishing the "David", he was working on one of the important panel paintings of this early period. On the occasion of his wedding to Maddalena di Giovanni Strozzi (1504), the patrician Angelo Doni ordered a circular painting for his wife, the so-called "Tondo Doni" (Uffizi). The round picture is the only secured panel painting by Michelangelo made in tempera. According to Vasari, Agnolo Doni should bring the artist only 40 instead of the required 70 ducats. The enraged artist then asked for double the price, and Doni had to pay 140 ducats for the tondo.

The connection between the naked, anatomically detailed figures in the background and the Johannesknabe (right in the middle distance behind a parapet) and the Holy Family in the foreground remains a mystery. Researchers of the 19th century emphasized the acrobatic turning of the Mother of God, to whom the Christ boy is passed from behind over the pupil. The complexly braced figures in the center of the circle are subject to a strict orthogonal system. At the same time, Michelangelo only reacts to the round shape of the picture with the background figures. Intense colors, sharp plasticity of the figures and garments suggest a sculptor-painter. This shows the figure treatment and the radiant coloring that is striking in the Sistine frescoes.

The tondi for the Florentines Bartolomeo Pitti and Taddei Taddei are relief versions of the mother-child representations that were so popular in this decade. The two circular images are very different in their charisma: the Tondo Pitti (Bargello) appears calm, the Tondo Taddei (Royal Academy of Arts, London) is moving. More recent research emphasizes that Michelangelo's Madonnas are based on the wealth of opposites8 Allegedly, Agnolo Doni is supposed to bring the artist only 40 instead of the required 70 ducats. The enraged artist then asked for double the price, and Doni had to pay 140 ducats for the tondo.2

Michelangelo, Madonna with Child and St. Johannes (Tondo Taddei), head of the Madonna at an angle, around 1504-1505, marble, 106.8 cm dm (Royal Academy of Arts)
Michelangelo, Madonna with Child and St. Johannes (Tondo Taddei), overall, around 1504-1505, marble, 106.8 cm dm (Royal Academy of Arts)

Battle of Cascina (1504)

As a follow-up order for the "David", Michelangelo received the invitation to make a mural in the great council chamber of the Palazzo Vecchio. Piero Soderini also invited Leonardo da Vinci to submit a competition entry. The two leading artists of Florence ‘were challenged to honor the history of the city-state with two battle pictures. Michelangelo worked on the "Battle of Cascina", a victory of the Florentines against the Pisans on July 28, 1364, until December 1504. The box is lost. Once again the sculptor-painter decided to let naked soldiers fight for Florence, because the soldiers bathing in the Arno near Cascina because of the great heat quickly get dressed before they drove the army out of Pisa. The fresco, begun in November 1506, was never completed and is already covered by the wall painting by Giorgio Vasari.

Even though contemporaries admired the composition very much - Benvenuto Cellini described the “Battle of Cascina” as the “school of the world” - the fresco never got beyond the design stage. The box was probably destroyed in 1516. Bastiano (Aristotile) da Sangallo made a complete copy of the "bathers" in grisaille, there are also some fragments and drawings (sketches) by Michelangelo himself. The copy only survives the central part of the picture and not the entire project. In a further distance you should still see scenes of a cavalry battle, which is only known from drafts. After working on the fresco cycle in the Church of Santa Maria Novella, Michelangelo had no further experience in fresco painting. It is all the more surprising that he painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel using this technique as the next major work.

Julius Tomb: Part 1 of the tragedy

Pope Julius II (1503–1513) summoned Michelangelo to Rome in March 1505. The sculptor was actually supposed to create a monumental, free-standing tomb for the Rovere Pope. The tomb was thought to have a size of 10.5 by 7 meters, it should have over 40 larger than life statues in a complex spatial arrangement and be set up in St. Peter. Michelangelo should have finished this work by 1510. Because of this honorable commission, Michelangelo probably broke off the execution of the fresco of the “Battle of Cacina” and traveled to the Carrara quarry for eight months in order to select the appropriate marble blocks. But there were numerous difficulties that ultimately prevented the execution of this tomb. On the one hand, Michelangelo planned such a bombastic facility that he annoyed the Pope with it. On the other hand, he turned to the even larger project, namely the new building of St. Peter. Finding a suitable location for the Pope's tomb also proved difficult. And communication problems between the irascible, art-loving and strong-willed client and the impulsive and stubborn artist made collaboration difficult. As a result, Michelangelo returned to Florence disappointed in May 1506. One day later, on April 18, 1506, the cornerstone of Neu-St. Peter laid.

Michelangelo's ceiling painting in the Sixitine

Between May 8, 1508 and 1511, Michelangelo Buonarroti frescoed the vault of the Sistine Chapel, which, after his sculpture "David", became a major pictorial work of High Renaissance painting in central Italy. The last restoration made the work shine again and the colors shine. Even though Michelangelo always pushed his self-view in his letters and contemporary biographies that he was an untalented and less enthusiastic painter, this judgment can confidently be contradicted in view of the painting on the ceiling of the Sistine.

Michelangelo, Scheme for the Decoration of the Vault of the Sistine, Studies of Arms and Hands (recto), 1508 (British Museum)

Michelangelo designed an illusionistically painted architectural framework for the Sistine ceiling. He painted the ancestors of Christ in the lunettes on the walls and stitch caps. In between there is space for sibyls and prophets. In the middle strip, Michelangelo painted the creation of the world, including the famous fresco “The Creation of Adam”, up to the Fall, the Flood and Noah's drunkenness. These narrative representations are from the famous male nudes [ignudi], the importance of which is still discussed today.

Since Buonarroti painted the ceiling in two phases, and the campaign lasted from 1508 to 1512, Michelangelo's stylistic development can be traced from the entrance wall to the altar wall. For example, if one compares the representations of the prophets with one another, one notices their increasingly violent turning movement (Zaccharias - Jonas). This change in the conception of characters may also have animated Raffael, who had secretly gained access to the Sixtinia and the sketch material Michalgenlos, to design more dramatic figures and to deal with dynamic movements.

Moses and slaves from the Julius tomb: Part 2 of the tragedy

When Julius II died in February 1513, his heirs became his negotiating partners, which delayed the project even more. It was not until 1545 that a version, reduced in size several times, could be installed in San Pietro in Vincoli. Michelangelo executed seven of the originally planned 40 figures, including the famous "Moses".

The seated figure of "Moses" from the Julius tomb goes back to an earlier phase, as does the "Dying Slave" and the incomplete "Bound Slave" (both Louvre). They were created between 1513 and 1516, but Michelangelo reworked the figure of "Moses" in 1542. The Old Testament hero sits tense with the tablets of the law - as was seen earlier on the "David".

“The prophet sits in a dignified position, his arm resting on the tablets, which he holds with one hand, while with the other he grips the beard, which is long and flowing down in marble, so that the hair is so in sculpture difficult to carry out, here woolly, soft and as if appearing individually, and it is almost unbelievable that the chisel has become a brush. […] Moreover, the garments are openwork and chiseled with beautiful folds, the muscles of the arms, the bones and nerves of the hands are of such beauty and perfection, the legs, the knees, the feet with their appropriate clothing, in short, all parts are so delicious perfected that one can now more than ever call Moses a favorite of God. "(Vasari on" Moses ")

Originally Michelangelo planned to set up the slaves in the base zone, in niches on both sides of the "Moses". In 1546 the sculptor gave the two slave figures to the Florentine Robert Strozzi out of gratitude for taking in Michelangelo in his Roman home in 1544 and 1545 during two serious illnesses. Strozzi, in turn, gave them to King Francis I as a gift, which is why they came to Paris in 1749. They were given the name "Louvre slaves" because the French state acquired the two Michelangelo sculptures in 1794.

Ten years after the Laocoon group was excavated on the Esquiline, Michelangelo is likely to have taken inspiration for the two slaves from the ancient group. Michelangelo was in the house of Giuliano da Sangallo in Rome in 1506 when she was found. He is said to have been present at the rescue and inspected it. The arm position of the “dying slave” is interpreted as a homage and a reminder of the ancient statue. If "David" was still understood very strictly and classically, these youths are

The "Bearded Slave", the "Awakening Slave", the "Young Slave" and the "Atlas Slave" were created between 1519 and 1525 while Michelangelo was working on the Medici graves in San Lorenzo. At this stage he planned to show the slave figures on the first floor of the tomb. With the twisted bodies, Michelangelo goes beyond the classic ideal of beauty (symmetry and harmony). Mannerism began to take hold in Florence during these years. Since she was never included in the final ensemble, Michelangelo left the figures unfinished. Some parts are perfectly executed, others are left raw so that traces of the chisel can be traced. Other parts are still in the stone.
Today the four sculptures are known as "Boboli slaves" because Duke Cosimo I had them set up in a grotto in the park. Michelangelo bequeathed it to his nephew Lionardo, who passed it on to the Duke. In 1908 they were brought to the Accademia.

Christ on the Scourge Column (around 1516) - a collaboration with Sebastiano del Piombo

“Christ on the Scourge Column” or “The Flagellation” and the “Transfiguration” are also the themes of the Borgherini Chapel in San Pietro in Montorio, which Sebastiano del Piombo carried out for the Florentine banker from 1516 to 1524. Michelangelo provided the figure of Christ on the scourge column, as suggested by two red chalk drawings in the British Museum (→ Michelangelo & Sebastiano del Piombo). The representation is supplemented by the Saints Peter and Francis of Assis (flanking) as well as the prophets Isaiah and Matthias on the outer arch. The "flagellation" was carried out by Sebastiano del Piombo in oil painting on plaster, as he proudly reported to his friend in Florence.

The irony of history is that it was precisely the technical innovation that led to the rift between the two painters in 1534. When Michelangelo, after a decade-long absence, was invited to perform the “Last Judgment” on the Sistine altar wall, his friend prepared the wall for oil paints. After a few months, Michelangelo had the background changed and insulted Sebastiano savagely. Although their careers in the 1510s were closely linked, their highly different views on fresco and oil painting pushed them to the limits of their understanding of one another.

Sebastiano del Piombo, Lamentation of Christ, detail, 1516, oil on canvas, transfer of wood, 260 × 193 cm (Hermitage, St Petersburg)
Sebastiano del Piombo, Lamentation of Christ, 1516, oil on canvas, transfer of wood, 260 × 193 cm (Hermitage, St Petersburg)

Return to Florence

In February 1513, Giovanni de’Medici (1475–1521) succeeded the Popes as Leo X. The art lover (especially music) preferred Raphael in both painting and architecture. Although he had known Michelangelo since his youth at his father's court in Florence and valued him as an artist, he judged him to be a difficult character, a "terribile". He removed the artist from Rome by persuading his family to let Michelangelo design the facade of the San Lorenzo. In the autumn of 1516, Michelangelo moved back to his hometown, where he worked on the project that was ultimately unrealized for the next four years. Then the Medici commissioned him to build the New Sacristy and the library in San Lorenzo.

Risen Christ (1519-1521)

The larger than life "Risen Christ" ("Giustiniani Christ" 1514/15, completed in the early 17th century) by Michelangelo is carved from marble and was intended for the heirs of the patrician Marta Porcari († June 1512). The client wanted a naked Christ, and Michelangelo wanted to convey the Christian message of the Eucharist in the classic form of a perfect male body. The Church of San Vincenzo Martire, Bassano Romano (Italy) sent the first version of the statue, which was left unfinished due to discoloration in the stone. The second, famous version of the "Risen Christ" (1519–1521) from Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome never leaves the country, but its placement opposite the tabernacle demonstrates the emphasis on change.

Michelangelo, Studies for a Statue of the Risen Christ (recto), 1518 (private collection)
Michelangelo (and anonymous artist), The risen Christ (The Giustiniani Christ), 1514/15, Carrara marble, 250 (201 without cross) x 90 x 51 cm (San Vincenzo Martire, Monastero dei Silvestrini, Bassano Romano (Viterbo) © Photo Alessandro Vasari)

The victor (1519-1525)

It is not known which title Michelangelo chose for this sculpture. Other dates assume an origin between 1532 and 1534. Stylistically, the "winner" or the "victory" is close to the sculptural decoration of the Medici graves.

Medici tombs in San Lorenzo

Cardinal Giulio de ‘Medici and his cousin Pope Leo X planned from 1519 to make the mausoleum and the burial chapel for their family in the New Sacristy. Planning can begin in November 1520. The cubic room was designed by Michelangelo between 1521 and 1524 with a gray dome pietra serena and whitewashed walls. Then the sculptor set about designing funerary monuments for some important family members. In addition to full-length portraits, from January 1524 he planned recumbent sculptures on the architraves, in which he depicted the four times of the day. These representations of day and night or morning and evening were to influence many generations of sculptors and painters. At the same time, Michelangelos was busy building the Biblioteca Laurenziana with a vestibule and reading room.

The difficult political situation of the 1520s - above all the temporary exile of the Medici from 1527 to 1530 and the death of Pope Clement VII (= Giulio de 'Medici) - but also the final move of Michelangelo to Rome in 1534 prevented that the original plans were carried out in full. Although most of the sculptures had already been completed by Michelangelo's departure, they had not yet been erected. It was not until Niccolò Tribolo installed in 1545 what Michelangelo had left scattered in the chapel. On the orders of Cosimo I, Giorgio Vasari and Bartolomeo Ammannati completed the burial chapel in 1555.

Of the four planned Medici grave monuments, only two were carried out. The tomb for Lorenzo the Magnificent and that for his murdered brother Giuliano were never begun. Interestingly, the sculptor turned to two less well-known and important Medici: Lorenzo di Piero, Duke of Urbino (1525–1531), and Giuliano di Lorenz, Duke of Nemours (1526–1531). Lorenzo di Piero de ‘Medici is a son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, Giuliano is a grandson. The architectural solution is identical in both monuments, only the portraits show opposing treatment. Because of his thoughtful, contemplative attitude, Lorenzo is referred to as "il penseroso" and interpreted as a Saturnian disposition. Giuliano, on the other hand, symbolizes the vita activa and thus the active element, symbolized by the god Jupiter. On the unfinished wall, Michelangelo's unfinished “Madonna and Child”, screwing upwards in a twisting motion, flanked by Saints Cosmas and Damian, executed by Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli and Raffaello da Montelupo, found their place.

Aurora (dawn), Crepuscolo (dusk), Notte (night) and Giorno (day) are personifications of the times of the day. Together they make up the allegory of the passing of time, to which the rulers and important Medici families are at the mercy. The night [la notte] in its rotated position is already an anticipation of the figura serpentinatawhich populated Mannerist and Baroque designs during the 16th and 17th centuries. Michelangelo's sculptures for the tombs have been studied intensively by artists such as Giambologna and Peter Paul Rubens. The Kunstsammlungen Dresden recently attributed four alabaster sculptures of the times of day, true art chamber pieces, to the young Giambologna: Giambologna, Michelangelo and the Medici Chapel

The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel (1536–1541)

Legend has it that Michelangelo met Pope Clement VII on September 22, 1533 in San Miniato, where they developed the idea of ​​realizing a fresco with the "Resurrection of Christ" and the "Last Judgment" on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel. However, this concept was only realized under the Farnese Pope Paul III.

The depiction of the “Last Judgment” on the front wall of the Sistine Chapel is extraordinary in several ways. Usually it was depicted on the entrance wall, while the front wall was reserved for the triumph of Christ. All of the decorating campaigns in the Sistine Chapel that took place before the “Last Judgment” was carried out had this aim, including the tapestries whose boxes Raphael created for Pope Leo X in 1515/16. In order to attach the huge fresco by Michelangelo, the frescoes of the Quattrocento had to be removed, including the altarpiece by Perugino. As a result, the chapel's patronage, the Assumption of the Virgin, can no longer be found in the image program. A most unusual circumstance.

The “Last Judgment” extends over the entire height and width of the altar wall and, in stark contrast to the pictures of the previous furnishings, is used without an architectural framework. Michelangelo reinterpreted the image iconographically and created an almost unmanageable number of figures. These are extremely moved, they look like “shipwrecked people who use the last of their strength to save themselves on a bank of clouds or are heaved there by angels; in contrast to those who are pulled down or carried down by devils "3. (Fillitz) Are the souls happy at all? Real bliss can only be found in the group of parents with their children on the right at the level of the judge of the world, who find each other again and love one another. Instead of the apostles as assessors of the court, a large group of witnesses of faith appear who hold the torture devices against their tormentors. It seems as if Michelangelo wanted to portray the "Last Judgment" as a drama in which the inexorability of fate, the clash of fighting, troubled people, prevails.

In Michelangelo's biography, published in Rome in 1553, written by his friend Condivi, one can read that Pope Clement VII, after long deliberations, decided in favor of Michelangelo's depiction of the “Last Judgment”. Vasari adds that the Pope could also have imagined the fall of Lucifer and the apostate angels. The painter had been involved in this process of reflection for a long time with sketches and drawings, until he was finally commissioned to devote himself to cardboard. When Pope Clement VII died in 1534, the concept must have already been in a very developed state, because the front wall was prepared for painting (mortar was thrown at it). Pope Paul III decided to pursue the project. A motupproprio dates from November 17, 1536, in which the Pope ordered the execution of the fresco.

The Pope “thought that with the diversity and magnificence of the subject, he would open up a new field for him where he could display all his strength [... and] that the whole painting is not only permeated with a divine conception, but also in a human one Body expresses everything that nature can make of it. "(Ascanio Condivi on the" Last Judgment ")

Presumably Michelangelo only changed the concept in two elements: towards the overpainting of the altarpiece, i.e. in the lowest area, as well as the U-shaped group of figures around Mary and Christ. In the composition of the “Last Judgment”, the two vertically arranged groups of figures stand out, which would have framed the altarpiece if it had been retained. In this place Michelangelo now placed Charon, the angel blowing the trumpet and the books of life holding.
This group around Mary and Christ cannot be found in any design drawing. This group is led by two men whose movements are directed towards Christ. The man on the left is referred to by Condivi as John the Baptist, but by Vasari as Adam, the man on the right holds the keys of the kingdom of heaven, which is why he is called St. Peter is identified. Hermann Fillitz emphasized that the faces of the two portraits of Clemens VII (as Peter with unusable keys) and Emperor Charles V can be interpreted. Comparisons with portraits of the two on coins by Benvenuto Cellini and Leone Leoni at the same time make the historical-political dimension of the depiction tangible.

Even if most of the figures are difficult to name due to a lack of attributes, the martyrs in front of them show their instruments of torture: St. Laurentius with the rust and St. Bartholomew with his skin on which Michelangelo painted his contorted face. On October 31, 1541 the fresco “The Last Judgment” was unveiled. The Pope found it good and immediately engaged Michelangelo to paint the Cappella Paolina.

At first, praise and criticism were balanced, but the papal master of ceremonies, Biagio da Cesena, showed early on his rejection of the portrayed nude. Michelangelo promptly painted the portrait of the adversary as King Minos in the group of the damned. Daniele da Volterra was probably commissioned in 1564 to cover up the sexes of the figures. Since the mannerist was a great admirer of Michelangelo's art, he tried to make do with a minimum of changes. Counter-Reformation Kerikern, however, the veils did not go far enough, which is why the artist had to lend a hand a second time. The figures of Saint Catherine and the horny Bishop Blasius were completely removed, as the position of the two made a physical interaction conceivable.

Julius Tomb: Part 3 of the tragedy

When Julius II died in February 1513, his heirs became his negotiating partners, which delayed the project even more. It was not until 1545 that a version, reduced in size several times, could be installed in San Pietro in Vincoli. Michelangelo executed seven of the originally planned 40 figures, including the famous "Moses". In 1542 he excluded the two slave figures (1513–1516, Louvre) from the project. Instead, Michelangelo conceived the figures of the standing "Leah" and "Rachel" with hands clasped in prayer at the side of "Moses". They embody the active and the contemplative life (vita activa / vita contemplativa), as well as a symbol for Caritas (Christian charity) and faith. “Lea” and “Rachel” were already included in the first draft on the first cornice; Michelangelo, however, only carried out them from 1542.

The free-standing, four-sided mausoleum became a wall tomb. In 1533 Michelangelo began the masonry work in San Pietro in Vincoli. Until the summer of 1543 - ten years later - he was busy completing the sculptures. The list lasted until 1545 and follows the agreements that had been concluded between the Della Rovere and the artist in 1532. In the upper floor zone he placed the Sibyl, a Madonna and Child and the Prophet. These sculptures are mainly made by Raffaello da Montelupo, Michelangelo's collaborator. The reclining figure of the Pope (1541–1545) may have been made by Maso di Bosco. The most exciting detail on this figure are the hands: Instead of a gesture of blessing or resting, Julius II's hands appear limp. This - as well as the reduced decoration - manifests the change in meaning from the High Renaissance to the art of the Counter-Reformation: futility and vanity of human action meet hardly any display of magnificence.

Cappella Paolina (1542–1549)

On August 20, 1542, Michelangelo signed the fifth contract for the Julius tomb. At the same time he began work on the frescoes in the Cappella Paolina, where he depicted the conversion of Paul and the martyrdom of Peter in the form of the erection of the cross. For Pope Paul III. had the papal private chapel executed by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger between 1538 and 1540. In addition, the chapel serves to prepare the cardinals for a conclave, i.e. a mass is read here before they retreat to the Sistine Chapel for deliberations and elections.

The two opposite frescoes show the “Conversion of Paul” (1542–1545) and the “Crucifixion of Peter” (1545–1549). Even before the “Last Judgment” was completed in 1541, Pope Paul III. determined to commission Michelangelo with the frescoing, although he was looking forward to the completion of the Julius tomb. Michelangelo's work was probably started as early as November 1542. The painter's late style is much less determined by classical ideals than the “Last Judgment”. Here Michelangelo Buonarroti approaches mannerism in the popular scenes (cf. Jacopo Tintoretto).


Michelangelao, Pietà, around 1530-36, red chalk over black chalk and pen drawing (© Albertina, Vienna).

Late Pietà sculptures

In the 1550s, Michelangelo dealt almost exclusively with the depiction of the Pietà: "Pietà" (around 1550, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Forenz), "Pietà" by Palestrina (around 1555, Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence), " Pietà Rondanini ”(1552–1564, Museo del Castello Sforcesco, Milan).


In 1537/38 between Michelangelo Buonarroti, Vittoria Colonna and Lanttazzio Tolomei “Four Conversations about Painting”, published by Francisco de Hollanda, Michelangelo was certain that there was only one art and science on earth, that of drawing or painting. About 600 drawings by Michelangelo have survived. This can be seen in his early work, in which Michelangelo first tried to describe his figures in three dimensions with dense cross-hatching and then with increasingly vibrating layers of lines. In the course of the preparatory work for the ceiling frescoes of the Sistine Chapel, the development of the drawing style in the direction of clay values ​​is clearly noticeable, at the same time Michelangelo increasingly preferred red chalk pencil and black chalk.

Among the most beautiful drawings are those from the private collection of the Queen of England in Windsor Castle, which Michelangelo gave to his adored Tommaso de` Cavalieri ("The Punishment of Tityos" and "Half-length figure of Cleopatra"). The then 57-year-old artist met the 17-year-old Roman patrician in Rome at the end of the year, treasured him for life, dedicated sonnets to him and gave him his most beautiful drawings as an expression of his admiration. The late, large-format depictions of the Crucifixion are of the same high quality and perfection. The delicacy of the modeling, the figure compositions that are limited to the essentials and the emotional depth of the pictures that this evokes are the most prominent characteristics of these late works. They confirm Michelangelo's fame to this day and prove that his creative power did not diminish in old age, but rather led to true masterpieces in the hope of redemption.

Michelangelo Buonarroti used drawing not only for drafts, sketches or pictorial compositions. As Leonard Barkan 2011 in “Michelangelo. A Life on Paper ”, texts by the Renaissance master can be found on a third of the papers that have been preserved (→ Michelangelo. Thinking and Drawing).


With the “Battle of Cascina” and the “Last Judgment” including the “Resurrection of Christ”, he shaped the representation of dramatic crowd scenes up to the 20th century: Artists like Théodore Géricault for the “Raft of the Medusa” (→ Théodore Géricault) and Auguste Rodin for his "Hell Gate" could not avoid studying these works.