Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Born Today In 1475, Renaissance Artist Michelangelo

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni or more commonly known by his first name Michelangelo was born today, March 6, in 1475. He was an Italian sculptor, painter, architect and poet of the High Renaissance born in the Republic of Florence, who exerted an unparalleled influence on the development of Western art. 

Considered by many the greatest living artist during his lifetime, he is also considered one of the greatest artists of all time. Despite making few forays beyond the arts, his artistic versatility was of such a high order that he is often considered a contender for the title of the archetypal Renaissance man, along with his rival, the fellow Florentine and client of the Medici, Leonardo da Vinci.

A number of Michelangelo's works of painting, sculpture and architecture rank among the most famous in existence. His output in these fields was prodigious; given the sheer volume of surviving correspondence, sketches and reminiscences, he is the best-documented artist of the 16th century. He sculpted two of his best-known works, the Pietà and David, before the age of 30. 

Despite holding a low opinion of painting, he also created two of the most influential frescoes in the history of Western art: the scenes from Genesis on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, and The Last Judgment on its altar wall. His design of the Laurentian Library pioneered Mannerist architecture. At the age of 74, he succeeded Antonio da Sangallo the Younger as the architect of St. Peter's Basilica. He transformed the plan so that the western end was finished to his design, as was the dome, with some modification, after his death.

Michelangelo was the first Western artist whose biography was published while he was alive. In fact, two biographies were published during his lifetime. One of them, by Giorgio Vasari, proposed that Michelangelo's work transcended that of any artist living or dead, and was "supreme in not one art alone but in all three."

The Sistine Chapel

In his lifetime, Michelangelo was often called Il Divino ("the divine one"). His contemporaries often admired his terribilità—his ability to instil a sense of awe. Attempts by subsequent artists to imitate Michelangelo's impassioned, highly personal style resulted in Mannerism, the next major movement in Western art after the High Renaissance.

Michelangelo was a devout Catholic whose faith deepened at the end of his life. He was abstemious in his personal life, and once told his apprentice, Ascanio Condivi: "However rich I may have been, I have always lived like a poor man." Condivi said he was indifferent to food and drink, eating "more out of necessity than of pleasure" and that he "often slept in his clothes and ... boots." 

His biographer Paolo Giovio says, "His nature was so rough and uncouth that his domestic habits were incredibly squalid, and deprived posterity of any pupils who might have followed him." He may not have minded, since he was by nature a solitary and melancholy person, bizzarro e fantastico, a man who "withdrew himself from the company of men."

It is impossible to know for certain whether Michelangelo had physical relationships (Condivi ascribed to him a "monk-like chastity"), but the nature of his sexuality is made apparent in his poetry. He wrote over 300 sonnets and madrigals. The longest sequence displaying a great romantic friendship, was written to Tommaso dei Cavalieri (c. 1509–1587), who was 23 years old when Michelangelo met him in 1532, at the age of 57. These make up the first large sequence of poems in any modern tongue addressed by one man to another:

I feel as lit by fire a cold countenanceThat burns me from afar and keeps itself ice-chill;A strength I feel two shapely arms to fillWhich without motion moves every balance.— (Michael Sullivan, translation)
Cavalieri replied: "I swear to return your love. Never have I loved a man more than I love you, never have I wished for a friendship more than I wish for yours." Cavalieri remained devoted to Michelangelo until his death.

In 1542, Michelangelo met Cecchino dei Bracci who died only a year later, inspiring Michelangelo to write 48 funeral epigrams. Some of the objects of Michelangelo's affections, and subjects of his poetry, took advantage of him: the model Febo di Poggio asked for money in response to a love-poem, and a second model, Gherardo Perini, stole from him shamelessly.

The openly homoerotic nature of the poetry has been a source of discomfort to later generations. Michelangelo's grandnephew, Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger, published the poems in 1623 with the gender of pronouns changed, and it was not until John Addington Symonds translated them into English in 1893 that the original genders were restored. Even in modern times some scholars continue to insist that, despite the restoration of the pronouns, they represent "an emotionless and elegant re-imagining of Platonic dialogue, whereby erotic poetry was seen as an expression of refined sensibilities".

Late in life, Michelangelo nurtured a great platonic love for the poet and noble widow Vittoria Colonna, whom he met in Rome in 1536 or 1538 and who was in her late forties at the time. They wrote sonnets for each other and were in regular contact until she died. These sonnets mostly deal with the spiritual issues that occupied them. Condivi recalls Michelangelo's saying that his sole regret in life was that he did not kiss the widow's face in the same manner that he had her hand.

Michelangelo died in Rome in 1564, at the age of 88 (three weeks before his 89th birthday).

1 comment:

Raybeard said...

What words can one add? And Charlton Heston, who played him in 'The Agony and the Ecstasy', claimed that Mich wasn't gay - the silly man! However, it takes all sorts, he also having been a fervent supporter of the NRA, of course!

The Sistine Chapel's literally awesome ceiling must be one of the greatest of the Vatican's many ironies in terms of the artist - some might say 'hypocrisies'. Maybe they ought to donate that section of the building to some Humanist organisation which won't be subjecting it to the ravages of burning incense from below - or maybe they don't do that here any more, though if they do they jolly well ought to cease forthwith!