Thursday, March 6, 2014

Happy Birthday Michelangelo

Today's birthday guy is one of the most important and influential artists in the Western canon. I remember the first time I saw the Sistine Chapel. I must have been 12 or 13 and my father was stationed in Italy. We were visiting Rome and seeing the sights.  I just about dislocated my neck trying to see everything on the ceiling. After that, I went every chance I could get - that was back in the old days, before the frescos had been "restored." I think I like the old, subtle work better than the new, brightly colored and far less mysterious version. One of these days, we may discover that the work was overcleaned, just as various critics claim. I also remember the first time I saw his "Moses." I stopped dead in my tracks. I didn't know a thing about him but my 12 year old self sure knew genius.

The Madonna of the Steps (1490–92), Michelangelo's earliest known work

Michelangelo was considered the greatest living artist in his lifetime, and ever since then he has been held to be one of the greatest artists of all time. A number of his works in painting, sculpture, and architecture rank among the most famous in existence. His output in every field during his long life was prodigious; when the sheer volume of correspondence, sketches, and reminiscences that survive is also taken into account, he is the best-documented artist of the 16th century.

 Michelangelo's Pietà, St Peter's Basilica (1498–99)

 Two of his best-known works, the Pietà and David, were sculpted before he turned thirty. Despite his low opinion of painting, Michelangelo also created two of the most influential works in fresco in the history of Western art: the scenes from Genesis on the ceiling and The Last Judgment on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel in Rome.

As an architect, Michelangelo pioneered the Mannerist style at the Laurentian Library. At the age of 74 he succeeded Antonio da Sangallo the Younger as the architect of St. Peter's Basilica. Michelangelo transformed the plan, the western end being finished to Michelangelo's design, the dome being completed after his death with some modification.

 In his lifetime he was also often called Il Divino ("the divine one"). One of the qualities most admired by his contemporaries was his terribilità, a sense of awe-inspiring grandeur, and it was the attempts of subsequent artists to imitate.

His homoerotic nature was a scandal to former biographers but should come as no shock to those who read his poems to Cavalieri. Michelangelo dedicated approximately 30 of his total 300 poems to Cavalieri, which made them the artist's largest sequence of poems. Most were sonnets, although there were also madrigals and quatrains. The central theme of all of them was the artist's love for the young nobleman:
My so much desired, my so sweet lord.
In my unworthy ready arms for always

Michelangelo's tomb in the Basilica of Santa Croce, Florence

Michelangelo, with Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael, is one of the three giants of the Florentine High Renaissance. He died on February 18, 1564 (aged 88) in Rome.  in the 500 or so years since his death, we have not stopped looking and learning from his legacy.

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