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Michelangelo Buonarroti Essay, Research Paper

Michelangelo Buonarroti, born in the sixteenth century, was perhaps one of the

greatest artisans of all time. He was an accomplished artist, sculptor,

architect, and poet who demonstrated his great skill with the creation of many

astounding works. Michelangelo’s artwork consisted of paintings and sculptures

that showed humanity in its natural state. He is remembered today as the man who

had sculpted the “David” and the “Pieta”, which are two of the most stunning

sculptures to come out of the Renaissance period. Although sculpting was the

love of his life, his paintings of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and “The

Last Judgement” are considered by many his best masterpieces.

Michelangelo’s artistic career can be divided into two periods. In the early

period he focused on realism. During this early period Michelangelo’s works

included the Pieta and the David. At the age of 24 he completed a statue called

the “Pieta,” which is still in its original place in Saint Peter’s Basilica.

This marble sculpture shows the dead Jesus Christ in his mother’s arms. In 1501

Michelangelo returned to Florence, Italy to sculpt the famous nude sculpture

called the “David.” The “David” measures 18 feet tall, and is so massive that

it took 40 men to move it from Michelangelo’s workshop (Liebert, 72).

The second period of Michelangelo’s career was based upon his own imagination.

In 1505 Michelangelo was summoned by Pope Julius II to fabricate a monumental

tomb for him. We have no clear sense of what the tomb was to look like, since

over the years it went through at least five conceptual revisions, and was never

actually finished due to frustrating delays. A short time after starting the

tomb, Pope Julius II selected Michelangelo to fresco the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

When other artists were asked to paint ceilings they lied down on the

scaffolding. Michelangelo painted in a standing position which caused him much

discomfort (Liebert 146-147). Michelangelo even wrote a sonnet in which he

described the pain he felt while painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

My belly’s pushed by force beneath my chin

My beard toward Heaven, I feel the back of my brain

Upon my neck, I grow the breast of a Harpy;

My brush, above my face continually

Makes it a splendid floor by dripping down

My loins have penetrated to my paunch

My rump’s a crupper, as a counterweight,

And pointless the unseeing steps I go

In front of me my skin is being stretched

While it folds up behind and forms a knot

And I am bending like a Syrian bow (Liebert 148).

Pope Julius’ chief architect Bramante questioned Michelangelo’s experience with

frescos, but as he was a friend of the Pope, it was insisted upon that he be

given the job. Michelangelo worked on the ceiling from July of 1508 to October

31, 1512. He had hired five assistants to aid him in painting process. All in

all, Michelangelo had painted three hundred and thirty-six assorted figures on

the Sistine ceiling. This was an incredible feat and in the present, three

hundred thirty-five and one-half of these figures still remain (Brandes, 162).

The overall organization of the fresco consists of four large triangles at the

corner; a series of eight triangular spaces on the outer border; an intermediate

series of figures; and nine central panels, all bound together with

architectural motifs and nude male figures. The corner triangles depict heroic

action in the Old Testament, while the other eight triangles depict the biblical

ancestors of Jesus Christ. Michelangelo conceived and executed this huge work in

only four years, the first half taking almost three years to complete. The

paintings were done with the brightest colors that attracted attention to the

whole ceiling as one entered to look. The ceiling was completed just a little

after the Pope had died but has given the Sistine Chapel tremendous appeal for

having the best fresco ever done.

In painting “The Last Judgment,” Michelangelo was given the chance to

incorporate all that he had learned about the human body. He was able to show

the way the body moved, as well as its displays of unrestrained passion,

overwhelming grief, or endless torment. Michelangelo received a commission from

Pope Clement VII to paint “The Last Judgment” on the altar wall of the Sistine

Chapel in 1534. He was also commissioned at this time to paint a “Fall of the

Angels” on the entrance wall, but this second work was never executed (Brandes,

198). Sebastiano del Piombo had persuaded the pope that the painting would look

best in oil, and the wall was therefore prepared to receive oil pigments. This

delayed the beginning of the work, since Michelangelo declared oil painting to

be an “effeminate art” and insisted on painting “al fresco,” as he had done with

the ceiling. Although he had painted the ceiling of the chapel twenty-eight

years earlier, the style of “The Last Judgment” was greatly different. On the

ceiling, the ideas of hope and exaltation seem to rule, but on the altar wall,

there is the depiction of Christ as the unforgiving Judge. “The Last Judgment”

has a “drastically plain and direct style, with squarish rather than supple

figures,” (De Tolnay, 30) whereas the ceiling has a more complicated style.

Also, the figures on the altar wall do not have the same amount of beauty as the

figures of the ceiling.

Michelangelo followed the tradition of others in having Christ at the top with

his hand raised, and also brighter than the rest of the angels and demons.

Christ seems to have a harsh and cold expression that furthers Michelangelo’s

depiction of Christ as the Judge. Christ puts into motion the inevitable

separation, with the saved ascending on the left side of the painting and the

damned descending on the right into hell. The saved souls rise from their graves

and then begin their ascent toward Heaven. One may expect there to be as much

joy on the left as there is torment on the right, but these souls are don’t even

look happy as they all rush past each other. Michelangelo has filled them with a

similar amount of horror as those who are on the right. The chosen ones are not

even greeted with a smile from Christ who seems far less inclined to acquit than

to condemn. (Brandes 385) It was completed in October of 1541 and unveiled on

Christmas Day two months later. Many were appalled to see the great amount of

nudity which filled the painting. They did not feel that it was appropriate for

such holy people to be depicted without clothes on. Michelangelo felt that it

was the body which ascends to Heaven, not the clothes. Unfortunately,

Michelangelo’s masterpiece only remained intact for fourteen years, at which

point artists were commissioned to paint clothes on the “most beautiful nudes.”

(Brandes 392-394)

“The Last Judgement” seems to stress the importance of the human body and the

ways in which the body can move. Michelangelo’s skill with the human anatomy

allowed him to capture the feelings and emotions which were very

characteristical of this time. The torment and horror we can see in the fresco

are also perhaps and indication of the hardships which Michelangelo felt during

this time in his life. “The Last Judgment” however is a beautiful painting by

the master artist, Michelangelo. This painting along with many others, allows a

greater understanding of the Renaissance era as well as an insight into his own


Although born in the small village of Caprese, Michelangelo continued to have a

deep attachment to his city, its art, and its culture throughout his long life.

However, in his will he left instructions that he be buried in Florence, and his

body was laid rest in a fine monument in the church of Santa Croce. Michelangelo

was arguably one of the most inspired creators in the history of art and one of

the contributory forces to the Italian High Renaissance. Even after his death,

this sculptor, architect, painter, and poets’ many contributions have exerted a

tremendous influence on his generation and on subsequent western art in general.

Works Cited:

Brandes, Georg. Michelangelo, His Life, His Times, His Era. New York: Frederick


Publishing Co., 1963.

De Tolnay, Charles. The Art and Thought of Michelangelo. New York: Random



Liebert, Robert S MD. Michelangelo, A Psychoanalytic Study of His Life and


New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983.

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