Michelangelo Buonarroti lived in the Renaissance period an era which spanned between the 15th and 16th century and saw the rebirth or revival of the Greek and Roman style.This style had been generated back in the 14th century by the Italian poet Petrarch who had divided history into three ages: from the "the golden age of classical antiquity, the dark age after the Roman empire collapsed and his own modern age when the values of antiquity were reborn". Artists began to approach paintings and sculptures with a more scientific eye, turning their backs towards the traditional, medieval way of depicting spaces in a spiritual manner.The revival sees its origin in Italy, in particular in Florence where rich bankers and merchants who took pride in their contribution to society, began to commission works of art from paintings, frescos and sculptures for churches, palaces and even for their own homes.The Renaissance also saw the birth of new paintings techniques, the evolvement of oil paint meant artists were no longer committed to using egg tempera and thus free to explore the layering of colours. The discovery of the laws of perspective, based on mathematical calculations, instead brought depth and proportion to a space.Linear one point perspective in fact became an integral part of all paintings throughout the 15th century.Artists like Raphael relied exclusively on the simple on-point perspective tool to display his shapes in space and give them a three dimensional feel a style clearly visible in his 'School of Athens'.
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During the entire 15th century Florence was the centre of arts in Italy which saw many artists like Massaccio for painting, Donatello in sculpture and Brunelleschi for architecture leading the change in style.Rome instead at this time was facing political problems; in fact the papacy had been transferred to France from 1309 till 1377 and only was it later, in the 16th century, to shine gloriously thanks to the efforts of Pope Julius II, known as the warrior king but also one of the most famous patrons of the arts. Together with his architect Bramante and artists like Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo Da Vinci, he contributed to the rise of the High Renaissance Style which was to bring Rome as the leading centre of the arts casting a shadow over its rival Florence.He in fact laid the foundation stone for St. Peter's Basilica, had painted the Raphael Rooms, and had the Sistine chapel ceilings painted by Michelangelo.
Towards the middle 16th century, the High Renaissance period saw artists like Michelangelo wanting to break free from the central perspective style, recreating three dimensional spaces merely with shading and foreshortening. Rich and flowing drapery would embellish the scene and architectural perspective, if any, would be represented with small traces of perspective thus evoking a two point perspective without though the use of a linear, geometric grid.
Michelangelo Buonarroti was born in 1475 at Caprese in Italy.Second of four children was descendent from the Counts of Canossa, a noble and illustrious family of Reggio.His father, Ludovico di Leonardo Buonarroti Simoni was the magistrate of Caprese and Chiusi, whilst his mother Francesca di Neri di ser Miniato del Sera is not mentioned by Condivi or Vassari, Michelangelo's biographers, if not to pass up that she had died whilst Michelangelo was a young child. In fact Michelangelo was given to a wet nurse who not only was the daughter of a stone carver but also had married one.This must have greatly influenced Michelangelo to the immense creations he was to conceive later when only just a teenager. In fact according to Vasari, Michelangelo once quoted "I sucked in chisels and hammers with my nurse's milk". His father tried to lead Michelangelo towards the world of letters, sending him to the renowned school of Francesco da Urbino in Florence, but Michelangelo's artistic nature was to draw him towards painting.His friend, Franceso Granacci seeing his artistic gift, enticed him to abandon his studies by stimulating him with other artistic sights. He showed him the works of Domenico Ghirlandaio, considered one of the leasing masters at the time, whose workshops he attended.This led Michelangelo to abandon his course creating havoc in his family who were very distressed at his choice.
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In 1488 Michelangelo began his three year apprenticeship in Domenico Ghirlandaio's workshop.Here he learnt to draw, paint and was introduced to the art of frescoing. For a long period he copied the works of past famous artists. He soon began to outshine his fellow scholars and even his master who became more and more jealous of his achievements. After a year, probably due to their frequent conflicts and because he wished to become a sculpture,that Michelangelo left the apprenticeship and began to work for Lorenzo De Medici, patron of the arts and ruler of Florence at the time. Here he began to develop his skills as a sculpture. Unlike Ghiberti and Donatello, who sculptured their figures on very distinctive parallel planes, Michelangelo was able to place his figures so that they merged effortlessly into infinity creating a sense of real space. He was also able to create movement, such as with "the Battle of Centaurs, where limbs "gradually extended themselves and no longer belonged to different planes. "
His genius was being able to visualise within a piece of marble a finished three dimensional object, without the use of drawings. With the "Bacchus" the muscles lost the rigidity of ancient models, and became softer and more rounded.....the strength that can be detected in the musculature, which is suppressed in some points and relaxed in others,"
He acquired an incredible knowledge of human anatomy thanks to his visits to the Hospital of Santo Spirito where he would dissect and analyse corpses.Unlike his predecessors who created rigid and unreal depictions of the human body,he was able to reproduce accurately and harmoniously the articulation of the limbs and joints.
Both pieces reflect his genius in portraying the human body in its fullest, emphasizing muscle tone, ligaments and joints. We also can admire his skill in creating drapery that was so full of movement, like in the Pieta'. It wasn't though until 1508 that he was to face his greatest challenge, one that he wasn't passionate about and was practically forced to undertake by the Papacy of the time, to paint the Sistine Chapel Ceiling.
The Sistine Chapel is a rectangular shaped building, measuring 41 m by 13,5 m built by Pope Sixtus VI between 1475 and 1483 and is said to reflect the dimensions of the temple of Salomon. The sides were painted in 1481 by Botticelli, Ghirlandaio and Rosselli and later by Signorelli. The ceiling instead is thought to have been painted originally by the artist Pier Matteo D'Amelia who depicted the ceiling with a starry sky, a method used by artists in the thirteenth and fourteenth century for Gothic ceilings.
In 1508 Pope Julius II summoned Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the chapel.He reluctantly began to work on the ceiling with the help of a few of his trusted Florentine friends who very able in the art of frescoing.It must be remembered that Michelangelo for the last 20 years had been restricted to sculpturing and his only training in frescoing went back to his childhood years in the Ghirlandaio workshop. Not only did Michelangelo have to learn the fresco technique but also some very impressive perspective technique considering his figures had to be painted on a barrel vaulted ceiling at 60 feet from the ground.The Fresco technique consists of the artist painting directly on freshly laid plaster, "intonaco", so that once the plaster is dry, the paint becomes an integral part of the wall.The artist transfers his paper drawings to the walls and pricks the surface along the outlines of the images. Such holes are then dusted with a bag of soot (spolvero) to reproduce dots on the walls' surface. The artist then joins the lines to reproduce the drawing accurately.
Pope Julius expected him to depict the 12 apostles but instead Michelangelo was able to convince him that such an immense ceiling deserved an impressive work of art, worthy of its grandeur.Here he portrayed the story of human kind before the arrival of Jesus Christ. He began painting from the entrance of the chapel towards the altar finishing with the below lunettes depicting static figures in meditation. The central part of the vaulted ceiling features nine squares in various sizes, illustrating the journey of human kind from the creation of the world to the beginning of sin and its consequences. He focused his work entirely on the human figure and therefore landscapes and architecture were practically omitted. It can be noticed how he left plenty of space around his figures, creating a pathway for the human eye to wonder in-between and around his figures, creating inevitably movement in the viewer. He conceived false architectonic squares called "quadri riportati"which resemble framed easel pictures, inhabited by real figures going about their different activities.Here Michelangelo reminds us of his sculpturing genius, where the figures he depicts move towards the viewer as if to leap out of the flatness of the painted surface. Michelangelo used the "cangiante" technique to do this, where he applied deeply contrasting colours next to each other and applied strokes of white paint, thus attracting the light and reflecting it so as to create extraordinary realism and sense of physical presence within space.These strongly contrasting colours also increase the volumes and underpin the strength and movement of the figures. The foreground figures have distinctive and clear outlines whereas the background figures are less clear or "sfumato, a technique where the image outlines are blurred into the background" as if only the foreground images were in focus.One notices that this is not apparent in all the cartoons, as some show no perspective at all, like the creation of Adam, or that of the words.
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In fact Michelangelo turns his back to the rigid laws of perspective and by the use of colour and the way he denotes human emotions though the movement of the limbs and facial expression he manages to bring these figures to life and create a real sense of space and activity. This is clearly visible in the flood, where the arc sits in the background and is less emphasized, unlike the foreground figures that are moving, slowly and painfully towards the shore to find rescue.
He also brings movement simply by depicting garments in a flowing and moving state, sometimes as if the wind was blowing beneath them, as in "the creation of Adam" where the green scarf is clearly being moved by the wind. Here the use of white is evident, which when used in the green and red scarf add extra movement to the scene. Michelangelo created movement also through the positioning of the extremities of his figures, placing feet and hands in opposite directions. Movement is again clearly represented in Michelangelo's initial drawings of the the Lybian Sibyl where her body is twisted or in "contrapposto" in the act of holding a book. Here the musculature is quite exaggerated for a woman, but is accountable to the fact that his original drawings were made using a male model. This strong masculine figure aids in creating an illusion of movement as these muscles are depicted under tension, as if on the verge of undertaking a task.The use of "chiaroscuro", shadows is also an integral part of his work adding depth and emphasizing the three dimensional space.
Michelangelo is depicted as the greatest painter of the Renaissance period but you could argue that his greatness was in how he applied the techniques of others. You could also question if he was the originator of any of the techniques he adopted as it would seem that the only revolutionary break attributed to him, was the complete rejection of the laws of perspective which were commonly used by others at the time.
He wasn't the first to achieve movement in art. Before him artists like Da Vinci and Botticelli had achieved this. In Leonardo's "Last supper" dated 1447 one can notice in the depiction of the apostles how movement is suggested thanks to the carefully placed hands pointing in various directions.
With Botticelli's "Primavera" dated 1482 the flowing garments and the positioning of the very expressive hands clearly denote moment throughout the scene.
Although his work was clearly that of a genius, his brilliance for me lies in the way he portrayed the figures in the Sistine chapel. He managed to carve them out of the flat surface, as if creating a sculpture in every piece he painted. His style though was not entirely unique as it is was very much reminiscent of other great masters of the time, like Ghirlandaio and Luca Signorelli but still magnificent as unlike these masters he brought great expression to the human figures together with great and imposing muscle tone.
The Guildhall Carpet shall be given three dimensionality thorough the use of techniques which Michelangelo himself adopted on the Sistine Chapel when he created sculptures in his painting. Michelangelo's use of colour, which was inspired by Leonardo's "chiaroscuro", will inspire me also to add shadows to my objects, creating depth and intensity. Through Giotto's use of "cangianti" adopted greatly in the ceiling by Michelangelo, I will add movement and flow to the shapes. The aim is to create a three dimensional piece through use of colour and shadows.