Michelagniolo di Lodovico di Lionardo di Buonarroti Simone was born in Caprese in Tuscany in 1475. The son of a civil servant, he attended Latin School and then studied painting in the workshop of the Ghirlandaio brothers and sculpture with Bertoldo, a formal pupil of Donatello. Michelangelo’s early training derived from the great Florentine masters of the Low Renaissance: Giotto, Masaccio, Donatello, and Signorelli. A true Renaissance man, he was gifted as a painter, a sculptor, an architect, an engineer, and a poet, but his preference was for sculpture with its plastic possibilities for the revelation and exaltation of the human body. By the time he was fifteen, Michelangelo had attracted the attention of Lorenzo de’Medici and was invited to join the scholars, writers and artists who frequented the Medici palace. This early experience and exposure to Neoplatonic thought influenced his ideal and concepts throughout his life. Michelangelo began as a sculptor and made his first statues between 1496 and 1501 in Rome. His first and possibly his only easel painting was painted in about 1503, a tondo of The Holy Family in a closely knit triangular composition.
Michelangelo’s life coincided with a period of enormous papal power, and from 1505, when he signed the contract for the tomb of Pope Julius, he was subject to political pressures, wars, papal orders and counter orders.
His greatest painting, the decoration of the Sistine Chapel, was painted single-handedly between 1508 and 1512. The awe-inspiring work represents scenes of the Creation and the Old Testament through the story of Noah, and begins with Adam receiving the spark of divine life from God. The symbolic themes, divided architectonically, present a complicated vision, miraculous in its variety and complete unification. In 1537, Michelangelo began his Last Judgment, the fresco on the far wall of the chapel.
Here sculptural and architectural vision is replaced by swirling; space and more pictorial representation of tortured humans corresponding to the artist’s own unhappiness, frustrations, and increasing religious doubts. In this and in his last paintings (1541-50), for the Paolino Chapel, he was no longer the exponent of classicism but the forerunner of the Mannerist School. Michelangelo’s genius influenced Raphael, whose work sums up the best of the classical Renaissance, and then Correggio, Tintoretto, and countless other painters who have succeeded him through the centuries. He died in 1564.