Michelangelo - Renaissance Art History - Michelangelo Buonarotti
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statue of a young man, all white
Michelangelo's David

Not long after Leonardo da Vinci began working, in 1475 AD, a new artist was born in northern Italy. His name was Michelangelo. Michelangelo's family said they were descended from the powerful Matilda of Canossa, but Michelangelo's father was a banker in Florence, and also owned a small marble quarry, where the small boy Michelangelo played and worked. Michelangelo never took any interest in school, only in painting, so when he was 13 years old his father apprenticed him to a painter. By the time he was 14, his master was paying him for his work, and he was a well-known artist in Florence before he was 17.

Michelangelo continued to work, like the earlier Fra Angelico, to make his paintings more like real life, both by painting backgrounds and by making the scenes more three-dimensional. He also carved statues in marble. As Italy entered the Renaissance, people in Florence got more and more interested in Ancient Rome. Like Donatello, Michelangelo studied ancient Roman statues and used what he learned in his work. To find out more about real bodies, Michelangelo also (like Leonardo da Vinci) studied the bodies of dead people in the hospital.

painting of naked man reaching out a hand
Michelangelo's Adam (Sistine Chapel, ca. 1508 AD)

In 1496, when Michelangelo was 21 years old, he left Florence for Rome, to work for the Pope there. He carved the Pieta, a large sculpture of Mary mourning for Jesus after he was crucified, and in 1508 he painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Pope's palace in Rome.

Michelangelo was very famous when he was alive, because he brought a new artistic style to Renaissance Europe. In this new Renaissance art, Michelangelo was much more conscious of Roman art than medieval artists were, and much more interested in exactly how the human body worked and how that could be shown in stone. But he still mainly did religious pieces - David, Moses, Adam, Jesus - like earlier medieval artists.

But sculpture and painting weren't enough for Michelangelo: when he was an old man, he also designed the dome for the new basilica of St. Peters in Rome. Michelangelo died in Rome in 1564, when he was 88 years old, and he was buried in Florence, his home town.

Learn by doing: copy one of Michelangelo's paintings
More about Raphael
More about Leonardo da Vinci
More about the Renaissance

Bibliography and further reading about Michelangelo:

More about the Renaissance
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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  • Carr, K.E. . Quatr.us Study Guides, . Web. 24 April, 2017