Michelangelo Buonarroti

Michelangelo Buonarroti

Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) exerted enormous influence. He, too, was universally

acknowledged as a supreme artist in his own lifetime, but again, his followers all too often present us

with only the master ‘s outward manner, his muscularity and gigantic grandeur; they miss the

inspiration. Sebastiano del Piombo (c.1485-1547), for example, actually used a drawing (at least a

sketch) made for him by Michelangelo for his masterwork, The Raising of Lazarus. Masterwork it is;

yet how melodramatic it appears if compared with Michelangelo ‘s own painting.

Michelangelo resisted the paintbrush, vowing with his characteristic vehemence that his sole tool was

the chisel. As a well – born Florentine, a member of the minor aristocracy, he was temperamentally

resistant to coercion at any time. Only the power of the pope, tyranical by position and by nature,

forced him to the Sistine and the reluctant achievement of the world ‘s greatest single fresco. His

contemporaries spoke about his terribilit', which means, of course, not so much being terrible as being

awesome. There has never been a more literally awesome artist than Michelangelo: awesome in the

scope of his imagination, awesome in his awareness of the significance – the spiritual significance – of

beauty. Beauty was to him divine, one of the ways God communicated Himself to humanity.

Like Leonardo, Michelangelo too had a good Florentine teacher, the delightful Domenico Ghirlandaio (c.1448-94). Later, he was to claim that he never had a teacher, and figuratively, this is a meaningful

enough statement. However, his handling of the claw chisel does reveal his debt to Ghirlandaio ‘s early

influence, and this is evident in the cross – hatching of Michelangelo ‘s drawings – a technique he

undoubtedly learned from his master. The gentle accomplishments of a work like The Birth of John the Baptist bear not the slightest resemblance to the huge intelligence of an early work of Michelangelo ‘s

like The Holy Family, also known as the Doni Tondo. This is somehow not an attractive picture with its

chilly, remote beauty, but its stark power stays in the mind when more acessible paintings have been


Madonna of the Steps

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