Michelangelo Buonarroti

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Buonarroti, Michelangelo:

see Michelangelo BuonarrotiMichelangelo Buonarroti
, 1475–1564, Italian sculptor, painter, architect, and poet, b. Caprese, Tuscany. Early Life and Work

Michelangelo drew extensively as a child, and his father placed him under the tutelage of Ghirlandaio, a respected artist of the day.
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Michelangelo Buonarroti

(mīkəlăn`jəlō, Ital. mēkālän`jālō bwōnär-rô`tē), 1475–1564, Italian sculptor, painter, architect, and poet, b. Caprese, Tuscany.

Early Life and Work

Michelangelo drew extensively as a child, and his father placed him under the tutelage of GhirlandaioGhirlandaio or Ghirlandajo, Domenico
, 1449–94, Florentine painter, whose family name was Bigordi. He may have studied painting and mosaics under Alesso Baldovinetti. Ghirlandaio was an excellent technician.
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, a respected artist of the day. After one unproductive year, Michelangelo became the student of Bertoldo di Giovanni, a sculptor employed by the Medici family. From 1490 to 1492, Michelangelo lived with the Medicis; during this time he learned from such philosophers as FicinoFicino, Marsilio
, 1433–99, Italian philosopher. Under the patronage of Cosimo de' Medici, Ficino became the most influential exponent of Platonism in Italy in the 15th cent.
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, Landino, PolizianoPoliziano, Angelo
, or Politian
, 1454–94, Italian poet, philologist, and humanist. Of middle-class origin, he was given a classical education, completed under the patronage of Lorenzo de' Medici. He became Lorenzo's companion and was tutor to the young Medici.
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, and SavonarolaSavonarola, Girolamo
, 1452–98, Italian religious reformer, b. Ferrara. He joined (1475) the Dominicans. In 1481 he went to San Marco, the Dominican house at Florence, where he became popular for his eloquent sermons, in which he attacked the vice and worldliness of the
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. Although Michelangelo claimed that he was self-taught, one might perceive in his work the influence of such artists as LeonardoLeonardo da Vinci
, 1452–1519, Italian painter, sculptor, architect, musician, engineer, and scientist, b. near Vinci, a hill village in Tuscany. The versatility and creative power of Leonardo mark him as a supreme example of Renaissance genius.
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, GiottoGiotto
(Giotto di Bondone) , c.1266–c.1337, Florentine painter and architect. He is noted not only for his own work, but for the lasting impact he had on the course of painting in Europe. Training

Giotto reputedly was born at Colle, near Florence.
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, and Poliziano. He learned to paint and sculpt more by observation than by tutelage. Michelangelo was known to be extremely sensitive, and he combined an excess of energy with an excess of talent.


Michelangelo's earliest sculpture was made in the Medici garden near the church of San Lorenzo; his Bacchus and Sleeping Cupid both show the results of careful observation of the classical sculptures located in the garden. His later Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs and Madonna of the Stairs reflect his growing interest in his contemporaries. Throughout Michelangelo's sculpted work one finds both a sensitivity to mass and a command of unmanageable chunks of marble. His Pietà places the body of Jesus in the lap of the Virgin Mother; the artist's force and majestic style are balanced by the sadness and humility in Mary's gaze.

In 1504 he sculpted David in a classical style, giving him a perfectly proportioned body and musculature. Michelangelo's approach to the figure has been contrasted to that of Donatello, who gave David a more youthful and less muscular frame. In 1505 Michelangelo was offered a commission for the design and sculpting of the tomb of Pope Julius II. The original dimensions of the tomb were 36 × 34.5 × 23 ft (11 × 10.5 × 7 m); it would include almost 80 oversized figures. Because of various complications, the tomb was reduced drastically in size. Michelangelo made only one figure for the tomb, Moses, his last major sculpture. The artist made the statue from a block of marble deemed unmalleable by earlier sculptors; his final product conveys his own skill for demonstration of mass within stone and a sense of Moses' anguish.


Michelangelo showed mastery of the human figure in painting as well. His Doni Tondo (c.1504), a significant early work, shows both balance and energy; influence by Leonardo da Vinci is clear. When plans for the construction of the tomb of Pope Julius II were forestalled, Michelangelo left Florence.

The artist was recalled to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. He placed 12 figures about the ceiling's edge; originally these figures were to represent the 12 apostles of Jesus. Finally, Michelangelo painted seven prophets and five sybils. Within the ring of prophets and sybils were nine panels on biblical world history. Three panels were devoted to the Creation, three to the story of Adam and Eve, and three to the story of Noah and the great flood. At the rear of the chapel Michelangelo painted The Last Judgment (1534), considered by many to be his masterwork. The painting depicts Christ's damnation of sinners and blessing of the virtuous, along with the resurrection of the dead and the portage of souls to hell by Charon.


In his architectural works Michelangelo defied the conventions of his time. His Laurentian Library (c.1520), designed for the book storage purposes of Pope Leo X, was memorable for its mixture of mannerist architecture; it demonstrates Michelangelo's free approach to structural form. The Capitoline Square, designed by Michelangelo during the same period, was located on Rome's Capitoline Hill. Its shape, more a rhomboid than a square, was intended to counteract the effects of perspective. At its center was a statue of Marcus Aurelius. From 1540 to 1550 Michelangelo redesigned St. Peter's ChurchSaint Peter's Church,
Vatican City, principal and one of the largest churches of the Christian world. The present structure was built mainly between 1506 and 1626 on the original site of the Vatican cemetery and an early shrine to St. Peter. In the 4th cent.
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 in Rome, completing only the dome and four columns for its base before his death.


See W. E. Wallace, Michelangelo: The Complete Sculpture, Painting, Architecture (2009); C. C. Bambach, Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer (museum catalog, 2017); biographies by A. Condivi (1975, repr. 2007), A. Forcellino (2009), W. E. Wallace (2009), and M. Hirst (Vol. I, 2010); J. S. Ackerman, The Architecture of Michelangelo (2 vol., 1961); D. Summers, Michelangelo and the Language of Art (1981); R. S. Liebert, Michelangelo: A Psychoanalytic Study of His Life and Images (1983); M. Hirst, Michelangelo and His Drawings (1988); L. Barkan, Michelangelo: A Life on Paper (2010).

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Michelangelo Buonarroti

Architect, sculptor, painter, and poet; represents the Italian Renaissance at its height. In 1546, he was appointed architect of St. Peters, Rome.
Illustrated Dictionary of Architecture Copyright © 2012, 2002, 1998 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Michelangelo Buonarroti


Born Mar. 6, 1475, in Caprese, now Caprese Michelangelo, Tuscany; died Feb. 18, 1564, in Rome. Italian sculptor, painter, architect, and poet.

Michelangelo’s works in many respects determined the development of European art in the 16th century and later. They powerfully reflected not only the deeply humane and heroic ideals of the High Renaissance but also the tragic sense of crisis in the humanist outlook that characterized the culture of the Late Renaissance.

Michelangelo, the son of a magistrate, trained under the painter Ghirlandaio (1488–89) and the sculptor Bertoldo di Giovanni (1489–90). However, the greatest influence on Michelangelo’s creative development was exerted by the works of Giotto, Donatello, Masaccio, and Jacopo della Quercia, as well as by ancient Greek and Roman works of the plastic arts. Michelangelo’s works are marked by the plastic strength and dramatic quality of images, emphasis on the monumental, and reverence for the beauty of man. These qualities appear even in the artist’s earliest works, such as the marble reliefs Madonna of the Stairs and Battle of Centaurs (c. 1490–92, Casa Buonarroti, Florence).

In Rome, Michelangelo carved the statue Bacchus (1496–97, Bargello, Florence), which reflected his interest in ancient Greek and Roman monuments. He also sculpted the Pietd (1498–1501, St. Peter’s, Rome), in which a traditional Gothic motif is combined with a new, humanist expression of grief by a young, beautiful woman over her lost son. In 1501, Michelangelo returned to Florence, where he produced works symbolizing the valor of the republic’s citizens, who had cast off the yoke of the Medici tyranny. The colossal statue David (1501–04, Accademia, Florence) creates the impressions of awesomeness (Michelangelo’s contemporaries called this distinctive feature of his works terribilitd} and of an impulse to heroic action held in check by a strong effort of will. In the full-size cartoon for a fresco for the Palazzo Vecchio (Battle of Cascina, 1504–06; the composition is known through copies and studies), Michelangelo depicted the readiness of the Florentine citizens to rise in defense of the republic.

In 1505, Pope Julius II summoned Michelangelo to Rome, where the artist was commissioned to create the pope’s tomb. Work dragged on, plans were often changed, and the project was not completed until 1545. (Only a small part of the final plan for the majestic sculptural-architectural complex was designed by Michelangelo.) For the tomb, Michelangelo carved a number of statues, including Moses (1515–16, Church of San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome), which became the central element of the tomb when it was finally completed. His Moses has titanic grandeur and is endowed with a powerful temperament and equally powerful will. Here, for the first time, Michelangelo introduced into sculpture the temporal aspect: when walking around the statue, the viewer perceives impending movement that is complemented by an increase in tension.

Also intended for the tomb of Julius II were the two statues Bound Slave and Dying Slave (both 1513–16, Louvre, Paris), which were meant to contrast a beautiful, strong youth who is struggling to free himself from his chains with an equally fair captive who hangs powerlessly in them. Four other statues of slaves intended for the tomb, which were never completed (c. 1532–34, Accademia, Florence), reveal the artist’s carving technique. He did not treat the block uniformly from all sides but, as if seeing the end product in the uncut stone, concentrated on some parts of the block while leaving others almost untouched. Such a method excluded the participation of assistants.

Michelangelo’s fresco cycles were painted almost singlehanded. These frescoes included his masterpiece, the painting for the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican (1508–12). Among the complex narrative panels the following stand out: scenes from Genesis, beginning with the separation of light from darkness and ending with the drunkenness of Noah; the prophets and sibyls in the triangular shapes between the windows; and the ancestors of Christ and episodes from the Bible depicting miraculous deliverances of the Jews in the pendentives, spandrels, and lunettes. The strongly marked architectural framework of the ceiling expresses not only the visual integrity of each figure and scene individually but also the majestic decorative unity of the gigantic painting as a whole. The frescoes are a hymn to the physical and spiritual beauty of man, an affirmation of man’s boundless creative possibilities.

In the 1520’s, Michelangelo’s thinking acquired a tragic undertone. The artist’s principal works of these years were the new sacristy of the Church of San Lorenzo in Florence, its tomb for the Medici family (1520–34), and statues for its embellishment. The two statues of the deceased dukes are not portraits but idealized figures, one alert and one pensive. At the feet of each of the dukes is a pair of reclining carved figures depicting the times of day and symbolizing the rapid passing of time. The serious meditation of Lorenzo, the aimless movement of Giuliano, the somber emotion and unstable poses of the reclining figures reflect the crisis in Renaissance ideals and the deep pessimism that seized Michelangelo as he faced Italy’s loss of freedom in the Italian Wars of 1494–1559.

During the siege of Florence by Imperial and Medici troops in 1529, the republic chose Michelangelo to direct the construction of fortifications. After the fall of the city, he remained in Florence to complete the Medici Chapel; in 1534 he moved permanently to Rome.

In the last 30 years of his life, Michelangelo gradually abandoned sculpture and painting and turned primarily to architecture and poetry. In Rome he painted the huge fresco Last Judgment on the wall above the altar of the Sistine Chapel (1536—41). In this work, which is filled with an avalanche of supernaturally powerful nude bodies, the central figure is the young and beautiful Christ, the merciless judge of humanity. Tragic suffering is also expressed in the frescoes of the Pauline Chapel in the Vatican (Martyrdom of St. Peter and Conversion of St. Paul, 1542–50), which in some respects anticipated baroque wall paintings.

Up to the last days of Michelangelo’s life, he engaged in sculpture. However, he destroyed the Pietd that he was carving for his own tomb; it was pieced together and completed by his pupil T. Calcagni (until c. 1550–55 it was in the Florence Cathedral). The Rondanini Pietd (1555–64, Sforza Castle, Milan) was left by the artist in an early stage of execution. In these two pietas the deeply spiritual mood of Michelangelo’s late years was expressed with particular force.

However, in Michelangelo’s final years, he was involved above all in large-scale architectural projects. Strong modeling is characteristic of his structures. Undulating wall surfaces, strongly projecting pilasters, sculpturally expressive platbands, and the colossal order play an important role in creating dynamic contrasts of masses. Michelangelo’s buildings prepared the way for baroque architecture, but they are purely Renaissance in spirit.

Between 1523 and 1534, Michelangelo worked on the Laurendan Library in Florence; around 1568 its vestibule, with a staircase that, owing to the organic dynamics of its composition, creates the impression of a flow of lava, was completed according to Michelangelo’s plans.

From 1546 until his death, Michelangelo’s principal architectural activities were the construction of St. Peter’s Church and the group of buildings of Capitoline Hill in Rome—the spiritual and secular center of the “eternal city.” Both projects were completed according to the artist’s plans after his death. The piazza of Capitoline Hill acquired a trapezoidal plan. In back of the piazza is the Conservatori Palace; two lateral palaces symmetrically face the piazza. The fourth side is open, with a wide staircase leading up to the square. In the center of the piazza is the ancient Roman equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius. This piazza, the first square designed to have a view of of the entire city, demonstrates Michelangelo’s deep understanding of the laws of optical perception in architecture. In his design of St. Peter’s Church, he preserved Bramante’s central plan but achieved a greatly unified composition, with the central crossing predominating over the remaining parts. The eastern part of the church, with the drum for the massive dome, was built during Michelangelo’s lifetime, but the dome itself was built after his death by Giacomo della Porta, who increased its proportions somewhat.

In old age Michelangelo turned increasingly to poetry. His lyric poetry is noted for its depth of thought and tragic quality. He writes of love as man’s eternal striving for beauty and harmony, relates the loneliness of artists in a hostile world, and expresses the bitter disappointments of a humanist facing the triumph of force. Michelangelo’s madrigals and sonnets, his most widely acclaimed poetry, were not published during his lifetime, but his contemporaries (B. Varchi, F. Berni) greatly admired them. The first edition of Poems came out in 1623. Michelangelo’s writings were among the influences that gave impetus to the development of mannerism. However, unlike the mannerists, who had a one-sided understanding of his legacy, Michelangelo was able to the end to retain and express in his works love for man and faith in his majesty and beauty.


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M. IA. LIBMAN and R. I. KHLODOVSKII (literature)

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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