Michelangelo: The Man

The Real Michelangelo

Michelangelo Buonarroti

Was Michelangelo really the grumpy, taciturn artist portrayed by Charlton Heston in The Agony and the Ecstasy or was he a much nicer person?  Who was the real Michelangelo?

We have many perceptions about the great artist who created the statue of David, the sculpture of the Pieta and painted the Sistine Chapel.  He is often written about as a tortured and bad-tempered man, troubled by his homosexuality, a starving artist, and a recluse with no friends.  Are these perceptions true?

Early Life

Michelangelo certainly had a life filled with difficulty. Born in Caprise, west of Florence in 1475, the artist was the second oldest of six children. His mother died when he was very young and Michelangelo was placed in the care of a wet-nurse from a stonemason's family.  He remarked later that he had absorbed the desire to do sculpting from her 'milk'.

After going to Latin school, he was taken on as an apprentice by the painter Ghirlandaio to do a three year apprenticeship. Ghirlandaio soon said that:: "This Michelangelo knows more than I do!"

The young artist really wanted to become a sculptor, however, which annoyed his father.  Michelangelo's father thought that sculpting was a lowly profession. The artist's talent captured the attention of the great Lorenzo de'Medici who ruled Florence.  At de'Medici's school of sculpture, he not only improved his sculpting, he also received a liberal education in the arts and poetry.  His early sculptures included the Madonna of the Stars and the finely carved Battle of Lapiths and Centaurs.

When Lorenzo died Michelangelo returned to his father's house. He was given some commissions by Lorenzo de Pier-Francesco but the artist's fame came with the incredibly moving and sorrowful sculpture of the Pieta, which was commissioned by the banker, Jacopo Galli in Rome.  His fame grew when he created the great sculpture of David.

The Grumpy Artist

Il Giorno e La Notte - Michelangelo Tombe di Giuliano V

Michelangelo's reputation for being bad-tempered probably arose because of his troubled employment under Pope Julius II.  The Pope demanded that the artist create a huge tomb for him, but he kept delaying it.  After meeting with the Pope every day, Michelangelo got tired of this and left Rome.  According to Michelangelo by Stephanie Penck, he stated: "As far as my departure is concerned, I really did hear on Saturday that he did not wish to pay out another heller either for big or small stones, at which I was quite amazed. His Holiness told me that I should come back on Monday, and on Tuesday and Thursday.  Finally on Friday I was sent out, which means thrown out, and the person who did it said he knew me well, but he was told to do it.  Enough.  He left me with the notion that, if I were to remain in Rome any longer, it would not be the pope's tomb but my own that would come first.  And that occasioned my sudden departure."

They reconciled when Michelangelo created a statue of Julius. The artist didn't want to receive the commission for painting the Sistine Chapel because he regarded himself as a sculptor, not a painter. He even suggested the great artist, Raphael, instead, but he couldn't refuse the Pope.

 

Moses By Michelangelo

There is a myth that he achieved this magnificent work alone.  Certainly he was in charge of this painful, difficult and back-breaking work.  He employed thirteen assistants, however, to help with the plastering, the cartoons and mixing the colors.

Long afterwards, the great artist became the Vatican's principal sculptor, painter and architect.  A very religious man, he worked on this commission without payment.

Was Michelangelo Solitary?

The perception that Michelangelo was a solitary artist is untrue, according to a scholar who studied him for many years.  William Wallace has said that the artist operated his business much like the Chief Executive of a medium-size company.

He was also a much kinder man than is commonly believed.  He paid his workers, whom he was fond of well and never fired them.  When his faithful servant, Urbino, died, he provided for his widow and he took an interest in his motherless child.

Michelangelo also provided for his own family, buying a large farm for them near Florence, and he was close to his nephew.

David by Michelangelo

Although he grumbled about his friends somewhat, he had a large circle of friends whom he was fond of, including the aristocratic Vittoria Colonna.  He regarded her as his confidante and spiritual advisor.

It is also untrue that Michelangelo was a starving artist.  In fact, he was worth 50,000 gold ducats, an enormous sum of money when he died and he owned many properties.  He also kept a large sum in a box beside his bed!  Apparently he liked to give the impression that he had troubles with money when he really didn't.

Was Michelangelo Homosexual?

A very common myth about Michelangelo is that the artist was gay.  He may have had homosexual leanings, and he had a close relationship with a good-looking, young man, Tommaso de Cavalieri.  Professor Beck, the author of The Three Worlds of Michelangelo, told Dalya Alberge of The Times in the article, 'Michelangelo is not gay, says scholar' in February, 1999 that this contention is 'without solid, historical support.'

Michelangelo said: 'The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.' Many would disagree with this when they look at the magnificence of the Sistine Chapel or the Pieta.

 

By Lisa-Anne Sanderson

 


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Comments

Saturday, January 10TH, 2009 by Guest

Great article, very interesting and rich of informations.

An online edition of Michelangelo's Sonnets (in the english translation) is available here:

http://xoomer.alice.it/lettera...

Wednesday, February 15TH, 2012 by Guest

In Irving Stone's book "the Agony and the Ecstasy" Michelangelo loves a/ a daughter of Lorenzo de Medici,b/the mistress of Marco Aldovrandi,c/his greatest love, Vittoria Colonna.
In an article  in The Times about  Michael Hirst's book about Michelangelo,a review,no woman is mentiones but he became besotted by Tommaso di Cavalieri,"the love of his life" etc.So what was he?Loved girls or loved boys?

Saturday, March 03TH, 2012 by Guest

Somebody Should Take Those Nudity Pictures Off Because Thats REALLY INAPPROPRIATE PEOPLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, July 12TH, 2012 by Guest

Please why did the catholic church allow michelangelo to paint naked pictures and statues on the church. Is it a church or a public bath house.  I think they should remove all the naked and nude pictures because it does not speak well for a church like this.

Sunday, July 22TH, 2012 by Guest

I don't know if you people realize this, but we were created naked, we're born nude. He just showed art at it's true nature form. And church has nothing against it since god created us this way.

Monday, May 20TH, 2013 by Guest

Back then naked art was very common-just because his art became famous doesn't mean he was gay!

Tuesday, May 28TH, 2013 by Guest

After reading some of Michelangelo's poetry I feel that he was homosexual and had a strong inner struggle about it. Even did his best to go against it trying to change himself. I think this because in his poetry he speaks of the desire for a woman and how he doesn't feel it (my interpretation).

"... But happier still is the ribbon with the golden points, which touches and strains on the breasts which it binds. and the knotted belt seems to say: I want to hold here forever. What will my arms do then? She burns me and ties me and holds me and is a sugar...

... I would will, my Lord, what I do not will. Between the fire and the ice-cold heart a veil is interposed, which the fire absorbs; meanwhile what I write does not correspond to what I do, and makes a lie of this page." (Michelangelo: His Life and Works, De Ninno pg.84)

It's said that in the last judgment fresco in the sistine chapel the skin of the saint hanging off the cloud is possibly a self portrait which is might have been an expression of how he was feeling about himself during that point in his life. I think he was possibly having a huge conflict with the churches teaching that it is a sin to be gay and you'll be thrown into hell if you conduct actions such as that. His poetry talks of this struggle. it seems that he even wished he didn't have the struggle. Regardless he was undeniably one of the greats. There is a reason why we all know his name even now. it's because of his talent and that's all that matters, really.