2005 Mathematics May Seminar

Michelangelo and Some of His Most Significant Sculptures

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Michelangelo and Some of His Most Significant Sculptures

Lauren Bah

Italian sculptor, painter, architect, and poet, Michelangelo created some of the most famous works of art in the world today. The paintings found on the Sistine Chapel being one of the most famous not to mention his sculptures of Pieta`, David, Moses, and those found in the Medici Chapel.

Though born in Caprese, Italy in 1475, Michelangelo grew up in Florence. His father who was a magistrate was displeased to learn his son was becoming an artist. Despite this, Michelangelo began an apprenticeship with Domenico Ghirlandaio for three years. During these three years Michelangelo tried to suppress his apprenticeship because he didn’t want his work to be classified as a product of the workshop system, which was thought to produce crafts rather than Liberal Arts. However, this is where Michelangelo learned his techniques for fresco painting. He then attended Lorenzo de Medici’s school in the Palazzo Medici. Here Michelangelo created two marble works Madonna of the Steps and Battle of the Centaurs both of which are found in Casa Buonarroti, Florence. During his apprenticeship and schooling he studied many great artists work such as Donatello, Giotto, and Masaccio.

Throughout his life Michelangelo received many commissions to sculpt. In fact, in 1498, when he was in his mere twenties, he received a commission to complete three marble figures, one of those being his first great sculpture, the Pieta`, for St. Peter’s.

The Pieta is the first of the four sculptures that was created and completely finished. Michelangelo made this scultpture from a slab of marble and managed to finish it in less than two years. In it he depicts the Virgin Mary holding her son Jesus Christ’s corpse. Many artists have portrayed this image, however, Michelangelo’s seems to stand out from the rest because he depicts the Virgin Mary as a youthful and serene, and not broken hearted and older as other artist had previously done. The Pieta has often been described as one of the most magnificent sculptures ever created. It’s exquisitely beautiful, moving, and highly finished compared to his later works. When it was unveiled in 1500 in St. Peter’s Basilica for the Jubilee, people admired the beautiful sculpture but when Michelangelo overheard a group of people crediting the work to other artists he became furious. Enraged he added his signature down the sash of Virgin Mary. He later regretted this and swore never to sign another piece of work. Today, the Pieta sculpture can be seen at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Italy.

In 1501, he received a commission for the figure of David, which stood in the Piazza della Signoria and is now displayed in the Galleria dell’ Accademia in Florence, Italy. Usually, David is portrayed as a victor over Goliath as in the works of Verrochio’s and Donatello’s Davids. However, Michelangelo decides to portray David before the battle. He is mentally tense, and Michelangelo wanted to show David’s victory as a result of his cleverness and not merely by force. He does this by not emphasizing the slingshot David holds over his shoulder. At the time Michelangelo made this statue from 1501 to 1504 Florence was young and surrounded by enemy cities that were stronger than them. When David, the statue, was placed in the square in front of the city hall (where the copy of David now currently resides) the people of Florence found it to be a symbol and inspiration of victory over the their surrounding enemies. David encompassed strength and wrath for the city. In this statue David’s character traits are more important than his actual victory of Goliath, which is why Michelangelo choose to depict him this way before battle. Today, the original statue of David is found in the Galleria dell' Accademia in Florence. There is also a copy of Michelangelo's David in front of Palazzo Vecchio in the Florentine square Piazza Signoria, which is outdoors and can be seen 24 hours a day. There is also another copy of David in Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence.

Michelangelo was also commissioned to design Pope Julius II’s tomb which was to include forty standing figures, but when the Pope died in 1513 the contract was redone several times and never achieved it’s original potential. However, included in these works for the tomb was the statue o f Moses, one of his greatest sculptures. It’s considered to be the summary of the monumental tomb of Pope Julius II. Here, Michelangelo was able to bring together the elements in the statue with the flowing beard suggesting water, the wildly twisting hair fire, and the heavy drape earth. The statue is now located in Rome at the church of St. Peter in Chains which is part of the Tomb of Pope Julius II.

In 1520, Medici Pope Leo X commissioned Michelangelo to design a facade for San Lorenzo, the Medici Parish Church. The pope wanted to combine the tombs of Giuliano, Duke of Nemours, and his nephew Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino, with the tombs of Lorenzo the “Magnifici” and his brother Giuliano, who was murdered in 1478. Their tombs and statues are at the Medici Church Chapel (or New Sacristy) today, which houses the many monuments of the Medici family. When the Pope commissioned Michelangelo to design the tomb he gave him much liberty in completing the task and though the chapel today remains unfinished, one can get an idea as to what Michelangelo wanted was planning. In the Chapel, each Dukes’ tomb is divided into two areas and the border is marked by a cornice. The lower part of the tomb contains the remains of the Dukes, and here lies the statues Twilight and the Dawn, and Night and Day as the symbol of the vanity of things both sculpted by Michelangelo. Above this area sits the statues of the Dukes’ “the subtlety of the richly decorated architecture which surrounds them represent a higher sphere: the abode of the free and redeemed spirit.” Today one can view the many monuments honoring the Medici family in Florence, Italy.

Michelangelo was an extraordinary artist, yet he was a man that was always unsatisfied with himself. However, he was deeply appreciated especially for his sculptures in his time. The works described above are a mere few of his many amazing works of art. Michelangelo’s painting, sculpting, and architecture have made an immense impact in the world of art and are still studied today with great honor and admiration.









Uffizi Gallery Guide

Pope Leo X with Cardinals Giulio de' Medici and Luigi de' Rossi

By Raphael

Uffizi Gallery

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