I’ve long been a fan of Michelangelo’s works, his tremendous attention to detail, passionate motivation, ingenuity and adaptation. It is these traits by which Michelangelo Buonarroti’s art lives on today. So in honor, let’s take a brief look back on this master, and some of his great creations brought to life so long ago.
At an early age Michelangelo’s love of sculpture produced such reliefs as “Madonna of the Stairs” and “Battle of the Centaurs”. Only in his teens at the time of these reliefs, this was only a hint of the talent he possessed and what masterpieces he would later create. It became obvious that young Michelangelo was gifted as a sculptor, but more than capable of producing great painted and architectural engineering feats as well.
Of Michelangelo’s sculptures there were numerous successes. The greatest of which many are quite familiar with today. The “David” for example, in Florence. A 14 foot work of Renaissance and Romanesque, the solid white marble sculpture portrays the David in full detail. Showing no vulnerability and standing fully nude; his physique as strong as his gaze. Michelangelo intended on creating this “giant” to convey a feeling of power and intention, and in 1504 he accomplished that.
David stands depicting not the aftermath of the defeat of Goliath, but directly before. Displaying a look of determination and a hint of stress, he casts his gaze towards the foe. The eyes have supremely deep expression alone, while subtle lines of the face define a surmounting tension. Truly a master work, Michelangelo left nothing but perfection to its detail.
Marble had been chiseled, chipped, scraped and sanded away for three years. Michelangelo’s David burst free with new form from the marble block and came to life. Having utilized the space provided to work his mastery, Michelangelo had thus utilized all techniques of his art. Shape, line, curve, depth, texture, and balance; these were only a few of the tools that had been mastered with David. Every muscle, tendon, wrinkle, and lock of hair was shaped with the greatest of perfection.
A second work of great importance and familiarity is the giant fresco painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. From 1508-1512 Michelangelo labored intensely on the fresco, atop scaffolding he himself had designed specifically for the task. Long hours and poor lighting affected him to the extent of severe physical exhaustion, sickness, and tremendous pain. All had begun with the premonition that he would fail this task, yet he once again surpassed expectations.
A detailed portrayal of biblical scenes, over 400 characters would grace the vaulted ceiling of the Vatican City chapel. After the long process of applying the plaster, then paint; the figures had come to reality. Each scene displays great realism by expert use of depth, color, proportion, and perspective. Even viewed from below the high ceiling, the forms of the biblical characters can clearly be seen. Little did Michelangelo know, one day he would return to also paint the “The Last Judgment”.
It is interesting to note how much Michelangelo used the principles of sculpture even when painting. His ability to use perspective was supreme; with this he was able to create views within his work that built enormous depth. Not only that, but he had the ability to composite elements according to how the work would be viewed. For example the David had a larger head and hands to ensure the main traits would not be lost at even a distance.
Between 1519 and 1534, Michelangelo would commence on the commissioned project of the Medici tombs. Composed of two giant walls of sculptural design, they were to convey Michelangelo’s message of humanity to the viewer. One wall meant for Lorenzo de Medici, the other for Giuliano de Medici; this was the plan. He wanted to depict something much different than any other religious sculpture would depict at the time.
The two main sculptures of course depicted Lorenzo and Giuliano. He named the four supportive sculptures Dawn, Dusk, Day and Night. The walls themselves where they sat were architectural beauty as well. Michelangelo used Renaissance elements and influence from Roman architecture to create his own unique vision. The sculptures denote Michelangelo’s will to display human emotion and suffering, and the statues are indeed moving. He even wrote this verse:
“It is my pleasure to sleep and even more to be stone:
As long as shame and dishonor may last,
My sole desire is to see and to feel no more.
Speak softly; I beg you, do not awaken me.”
The Medici tombs sit in Florence as a representation of Michelangelo’s ability to show beauty, emotion and movement even in stillness. Always utilizing size, shape, perspective and lines of force to draw the viewers eye where needed. The emphasis is always where it should be, the focus is on the most important elements. Supportive sculpture creates strong visual backup for solidifying a thought.
Michelangelo had many other works of course. Many of which were sculpture, some beautiful fresco, and others of architectural ingenuity. To disregard and not receive enjoyment from viewing any of Michelangelo’s works would be unexpected to say the least. By this prodigal artist, the world has forever been left with true artifacts of artistic expression and vision.
- Bonner, Neil. “Michelangelo Buonarroti.” The Medici Tombs. Web. 15 Aug. 2010. <http://www.michelangelo.com/buon/bio-index2.html>.
- Adams, Laurie. The Making and Meaning of Art. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2006. Print.
- Faithful photographic reproductions of two-dimensional, public domain works of art. A work of art itself is in the public domain when its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less. Images of Michelangelo’s works were used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license, original works under public domain. Attributions: * Madonna of the Stairs * The Battle of the Centaurs * The David * Sistine Chapel Ceiling * The Last Judgement * Fresco of Michelangelo