People Who Kick Buts: Michelangelo
The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.
- Born on March 6, 1475 in Caprese near Arezzo, Tuscany and passed away on February 18, 1564.
- Despite making few forays beyond the arts, his versatility in the disciplines he took up was of such a high order that he is often considered a contender for the title of the archetypal Renaissance man, along with fellow Italian Leonardo da Vinci.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- For several generations, his family had been small-scale bankers in Florence, but his father, Ludovico di Leonardo di Buonarotto Simoni, failed to maintain the bank’s financial status, and held occasional government positions.
- At later times, during the prolonged illness and after the death of his mother in 1481 when he was just six years old, Michelangelo lived with a stonecutter and his wife and family in the town of Settignano, where his father owned a marble quarry and a small farm.
- Giorgio Vasari quotes Michelangelo as saying, “If there is some good in me, it is because I was born in the subtle atmosphere of your country of Arezzo. Along with the milk of my nurse I received the knack of handling chisel and hammer, with which I make my figures.”
- Michelangelo’s father sent him to study grammar with the Humanist Francesco da Urbino in Florence as a young boy. The young artist, however, showed no interest in his schooling, preferring to copy paintings from churches and seek the company of painters.
- In his personal life, Michelangelo was abstemious. He told his apprentice, Ascanio Condivi: “However rich I may have been, I have always lived like a poor man.”
Condivi said he was indifferent to food and drink, eating “more out of necessity than of pleasure” and that he “often slept in his clothes and … boots.” These habits may have made him unpopular.
His biographer Paolo Giovio says, “His nature was so rough and uncouth that his domestic habits were incredibly squalid, and deprived posterity of any pupils who might have followed him.”
He may not have minded, since he was by nature a solitary and melancholy person, bizzarro e fantastico a man who “withdrew himself from the company of men.”
Nor was he by nature libidinous: when an employee of his friend Niccolò Quaratesi offered his son as apprentice, suggesting that he would be good even in bed, Michelangelo refused indignantly, suggesting Quaratesi fire the man.
- Late in life, Michelangelo nurtured a great love for the poet and noble widow Vittoria Colonna, whom he met in Rome in 1536 or 1538 and who was in her late forties at the time. They wrote sonnets for each other and were in regular contact until she died. Condivi recalls Michelangelo’s saying that his sole regret in life was that he did not kiss the widow’s face in the same manner that he had her hand.