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Happy Birthday Michelangelo

Posted March 06, 2013 by Alex Lim
Michelangelo's Art & Quotes

Michelangelo Bounarroti
Born: March 6, 1475, Died: February 18, 1564

Celebrated in pop culture, books, movies and songs, the name Michelangelo has become synonymous to Renaissance art of the 15th and16th century. Considered the greatest artist of his time, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni cemented his lasting place in the firmament of the arts with his Pietà, David, Moses and the Sistine chapel, to mention the most famous ones.
His favorite medium was marble and stone. One of his most famous quotes has inspired generations of sculptors when he said "Every block of stone has a statue inside and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it." Often referring to marble, Michelangelo said that marble "not yet carved holds the form of every thought the greatest artist has." He further believed that the mind is seminal to what can be formed out of marble and has been quoted as saying: "the greatest artist has no concept that marble alone does not contain, but only a hand obedient to the mind can penetrate to this image.

Most of Michelangelo's opus had been commissioned by high level art patrons like the Pope, Cardinals and noted families such as the Medici. He has often struggled with his patrons and was known to have declared:" I cannot live under pressure from patrons." Among his earliest major works that have survived to this day was the bigger-than-life stone statue of the Roman god of festival Bacchus, commissioned in Rome by Cardinal Raffaele Riano. However, the good Cardinal rejected the work when it was done, proving that Michelangelo didn't always live up to his patron's wishes. The statue ended up in the collection of his banker Jacopo Galli who had a similar collection.

As an artist, Michelangelo was a perfectionist and this was nowhere evident than in his masterful Pieta which not only included real-world details, but exuded an elegant charm and grace from every angle it is viewed. Michelangelo once said the man's greater error is "not is setting his goals too high and falling short, but in setting them to low and succeeding." Indeed, Michelangelo was not satisfied even in some of his works he felt could have been better. In 1505, after returning to Rome from Florence where he sculpted his iconic statue of David, Michelangelo was commissioned by the church to create the statue of Moses for the tomb of Pope Julius II which now sits at the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli. It was not a work that Michelangelo was happy about as he felt it did not live up to his perfectionist nature.

But three years later, he embarked on a journey of perfection that defined the peak of High Renaissance when he accepted the commission from Pope Julius II to paint the Sistine Chapel. Despite the fact that painting was not his forte, his 4-year long masterpiece remains unparalleled to this day in sheer beauty, scope and expanse, depicting 12 biblical prophetic figures and the drama of 9 episodes from the Book of Genesis on a fresco style that covered a 14-meter wide by 4.5-meter long ceiling. He would follow this with another 7-year opus depicting Christ's Last Judgement that covered the entire wall behind the Sistine chapel's altar.

Needless to say, controversy over his depiction of nudity followed his major works as the prudish conventions of his time did not as yet recognize the beauty of the human body as God's own work of art - something the Popes of his time already knew. Indeed, it was to his lay critics that he said: "What spirit is so empty and blind, that it cannot recognize the fact that the foot is nobler than the shoe, and skin more beautiful than the garment with which it is clothed?

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