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Michelangelo Buonarroti: A Pioneer of the Renaissance

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Arts
Wordcount: 1790 words Published: 24th Nov 2020

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THESIS: The Italian artist Michelangelo Buonarroti was skilled in the use of various media including painting, sculpting, and architecture. He had an incredible influence on artist throughout the world and is still a major influence on the artist of today. His own personal style ushered in the next major movement in western art through his use of mannerism. Michelangelo Buonarroti was a true pioneer of the renaissance and his artwork is still relevant today.

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Michelangelo as a painter, painting the Sistine chapel, and his views on painting as an art form. Even though he is well known for his painting of the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel Michelangelo never considered himself as being a skilled painter. Michelangelo felt as though painting should not even be considered a true art form and reluctantly took on the commission of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo’s detailed use of human anatomy was involved in creating his famous sculptures that he is world renowned for such as his Moses sculpture. The Moses sculpture is a true masterpiece displaying Michelangelo's true love of sculpting that took over forty years in order to complete his masterpiece. The Moses sculpture displayed the depth of his knowledge of human anatomy that he possessed and use of tension which is a hallmark of his artwork. Michelangelo's use of mannerisms in his architecture in comparison to earlier works of High Renaissance architecture. The Laurentian library architecture that was designed by Michelangelo displays his use of mannerism throughout the library. The architectural work done on the Laurentian library compared to that done by Michelangelo on the Palazzo Farnese displays how his architectural artwork evolved over time.

Michelangelo Buonarroti

A Pioneer of the Renaissance

The Italian artist Michelangelo Buonarroti is most renowned for his work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. He had an incredible influence on artist throughout the world and is still a major influence on the artist of today. He was skilled in the use of various media including painting, sculpting, and architecture. He believed that the image the artist’s hand produces must come from the artist mind which is then the reality that the artist’s genius must bring forth (Gardner and Kleiner 633). Michelangelo’s considered sculpture work to be above all other forms of art and he displays his refined talent as a sculptor with his Moses sculpture that is a true marvel. He shows us his skill in the use of mannerism depicted in his architectural work on the Laurentian library. His own personal style ushered in the next major movement in western art through his use of mannerism. Michelangelo Buonarroti was a true pioneer of the renaissance and his artwork is still relevant today.

Michelangelo as a Painter

As a youth, Michelangelo studied under the painter Domenica Ghirlandaio however he never fully completed his training (Gardner and Kleiner 634). He practiced drawing works of art created by the great Florentines Giotto and Masaccio (Gardner and Kleiner 634). However, the critical opinion of him as a painter during the sixteenth century was that even though he was a great artistic thinker he never had the chance to learn how to paint in a skillfully harmonious way nor did he ever show interest in ever learning such skills (Manca 118). Michelangelo did not consider painting as his profession. He repeatedly had said that it was not his forte that he never actually liked painting, and that it was an inferior form of art (Manca 118).

He never wanted the commission that was granted to him by Pope Julius II to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling and reluctantly took it on (Gardner and Kleiner 622). The fact that Michelangelo was no painter was argued by friend as well as by foe, by writers of the sixteenth century, and by Michelangelo himself in his own private correspondence (Manca 119). By knowing that the cinquecento writers of the sixteenth century thought of Michelangelo as an untrained clumsy painter who lacked knowledge and skill does that give us even more reason to marvel at what he did manage to accomplish? That despite all these handicaps that he was able to still stun the art world with the use of his brush as he painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (Manca 119).

His techniques are considered as bolder and freer as his works progressed throughout on the Sistine Chapel (Manca 119). Critics of today are more inclined to consider his clever coloring which was used to symbolize and display spiritual energy (Manca 119). However, his work as compared to other artist of his time as well as by the critics of his time his colorito was considered conservative and his pictorial skills were rudimentary (Manca 119). Were his paintings ahead of their time in that even though they were not admired among the peers of his time that they were meant to be admired by esteemed artist to come.

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There is much debate by scholars as to the intention of whether his frescoes in the Sistine Chapel true genius or lack luster work performed by someone lacking in the refined knowledge of painting. One thing is clear is that Michelangelo painted with a sculptor's eye for detail as he painted heroic figures that resembled painted statues (Gardner and Kleiner 622). He highlighted the human anatomy in the figures that he painted in the Sistine Chapel by leaving them simply nude many with little to no background and no ornamental embellishment to take the eye away from the elemental aspect of the human form itself which he found to be of simplistic beauty (Gardner and Kleiner 623). He made use of light and shadow in order to reveal volume as well as surface in his paintings (Gardner and Kleiner 623).

Sculpting Michelangelo’s true passion

Michelangelo believed sculpture superior to painting in that the sculptor can share in the divine power to “make men” (Gardner and Kleiner 623).  As a child he grew up around stone as his wet nurse was the wife of a stone cutter (Muntz 1516). He reveled in the fact that the sculptor pulls the idea from the block and can bring forth the living form that the artist had envisioned (Gardner and Kleiner 633). He did not rely on mathematical proportions in order to ensure beauty in his sculptors but relied on his eyes to reveal the beauty he created. He studied sculpture under Bertoldo di Giovanni who was a former collaborator of Donatello’s (Gardner and Kleiner 634). Afterward he went to Venice then moved onto Bologna where he became the protégé of Francesco Aldobrandi where he completed many statuettes for San Domenico church (Muntz 1468).

After creating his captivating seventeen-foot-tall sculpture David which sparked the interest of Pope Julius II who sought out Michelangelo to begin work on his memorial tomb in the early 1500’s (Muntz 1409). Michelangelo’s commission was quite ambitious at first in which he was to create nearly 40 statues for the two-story tomb to memorialize Pope Julius II, which was later scaled down due to lack of funding (Gardner and Kleiner 637). One of the statues that now resides as the centerpiece of the tomb is the Moses sculpture which is one of his famous works of art (Muntz 1508). Michelangelo was a perfectionist and had exceedingly high expectations which is why many of his statues where left unfinished for many years. So, it is no surprise that the statue of Moses was over forty years in the making (Wallace 9). Out of all the sculptures for the tomb Moses was the only statue that Michelangelo retained for the final version (Wallace 14).

Michelangelo lived with this statue day to day he made alterations here and there for many decades (Wallace 9). The statue would almost taunt him with its unnerving fiercely accusatory glare that only reminded him that the commission to finish Julius II tomb was yet to be finished which loomed over Michelangelo for over forty years (Wallace 9). It is ironic coincidence that in the bible it tells of Moses spending forty years wandering the wilderness and that Michelangelo spent over forty years perfecting the statue before it reached its final resting place (Wallace 10).

The Moses statue was one of the largest that Michelangelo had sculpted after David of course (Wallace 9). Even seated the Moses statue stands taller than any standing person which displays the immensity of the figure (Wallace 19). Michelangelo was able to capture movement of the human body and anatomy of the human figure in the statues he carved like no other artist. He created a figure so realistic that it easily can be imagined that the statue possesses the ability to move and speak (Wallace 19). His piercing eyes and sideways gaze as though addressing God seems more than that of a mere human because it has seen divinity (Wallace 19).  Moses face shows his rippling facial muscles, lustrous long beard, and his head which is adorned by two horns all contribute to the transforming power of Moses' expression (Wallace 19). His fingers are exaggeratedly long in length as they pull at strands of his voluminous beard (Wallace 19). This is typical of Michelangelo's art to depict subconscious thought animating unconscious nervous movement (Wallace 19). The figure reveals a muscular build underneath drapery of his loose sleeveless tunic and the commandments are tucked under the figures right muscular arm (Wallace 19). He carved the torso disproportionately but knowing that it was going to be raised it is hardly noticed by viewers (Wallace 19). With this statue much like his David statue Michelangelo depicts a scene of contemplation and intense evoking of emotion before the action occurs in the stories that are depicted. Michelangelo is masterfully skilled at displaying the rising tension in the statues bodies as well as in their faces.

Works Cited

  • Gardner, Helen, and Fred S. Kleiner. Gardner's Art Through the Ages: A Global History. , 2015. Print.
  • Manca, Joseph. “Michelangelo As Painter: A Historiographic Perspective.” Artibus Et Historiae, vol. 16, no. 31, 1995, pp. 111–123.
  • Müntz Eugène. Michelangelo. Parkstone International, 2012. https://lmulibrary.on.worldcat.org/oclc/787847676. Accessed 17 Feb. 2020.
  • WALLACE, WILLIAM E. Michelangelo, God's Architect: The Story of His Final Years and Greatest Masterpiece. Princeton University Press, 2019. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvg252vv. Accessed 16 Feb. 2020.


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