July 30, 2021 4 min read
Michaelangelo Buonarroti, simply known as Michaelangelo, is widely regarded as one of the greatest artists of all time. Epitomizing the Renaissance Era, he was a renowned sculptor, painter, architect, and much more. During his illustrious career, he sculpted pieces, including the famous David in Florence and the Pieta in Rome. He painted the Sistine Chapel’s ceilings and designed the dome for St. Peter’s Basilica. But behind this world-renowned artist was a man with a few quirks.
Here are 7 interesting facts about Michelangelo Buonarroti, some of which we think will surprise you:
Michaelangelo’s paintings and sculpting are well known, but one of his lesser-known superpowers was his ability to write great poems. During his lifetime, he wrote hundreds of poems and letters, over 300 of which are still available today. His poetry was pretty suggestive, with many of them discussing ecstasy, spirituality, love, lust, the human soul, and loyalty.
Just before his rise to prominence, Raphael was the most sought-after painter in Italy. As a result, it was Raphael who Pope Julius II chose to carry out the Sistine Chapel paintings. At this time, a fierce rivalry was brewing between Raphael and Michaelangelo as the latter was growing in fame and consequently stealing some of Raphael’s business.
Driven by jealousy and in a bid to badly taint Michaelangelo’s reputation, Raphael convinced Pope Julius to hire Michaelangelo instead. This move was made in a bid to show Michaelangelo up as an inferior painter to Raphael. Needless to say, it backfired badly as Michaelangelo went on to paint the masterpiece which over 25,000 people still view every day.
In what was a surprise move, Michaelangelo sculpted his signature on the Pieta, as it was his first real sculptural work—and it was so good that only a few believed it could have come from an artist so young. However, afterwards, he never signed his name on a piece of art he made, opting to paint a mini version of himself into them instead. The most iconic of these self-portraits is in The Last Judgment fresco. This painting covers an entire wall of the Sistine Chapel and in it, St. Bartholomew appears to be holding the skin of Michaelangelo’s face.
Michaelangelo also had the odd day where he counterfeited certain items. He got his start in 1496 when he copied an old Roman sculpture named Sleeping Cupid and passed it off as his original work. Having completed the reproduction, Michaelangelo buried it and dug it up to give off a worn, scratched look.
It is often said that on the suggestion of his patron, Lorenzo de Medici, he ended up selling the copy sculpture to the Cardinal of the Catholic church, Riario, for a hefty sum. However, it must be mentioned that quite unlike today, embellishment of art wasn’t frowned upon in that era. Good artists were allowed to copy great artists and their artworks. This sly act eventually helped young Michaelangelo launch his career.
This is perhaps the most impressive fact about Michaelangelo’s life and career. He had a reputation for being notoriously picky with the kind of marble he used for his sculpture. For David, he selected a tall, slender piece, making many believe it would be impossible to make the sculpture.
The marble slab he used (called ‘the Giant’) had been abandoned for over four decades before Michaelangelo claimed and used it. When he claimed it, the stone had deteriorated and had become extremely worn out from the elements.
Despite these frailties, Michaelangelo was still able to create the 17-foot-tall statue of David, a sculpture deemed to be perfect by many of the world’s best sculptors. Unfortunately, the crowds that flock to see it may not have much time to adore the masterpiece anymore as the quality of the marble has contributed to its faster-than-usual deterioration. Impressively, many replicas of David exist today with the original safely tucked away at the Academia Gallery.
Michaelangelo was a great artist, but he had serious character flaws. One of these flaws was that he never really looked after himself. Although he grew to be wealthy, he lived in squalor and rarely bathed or changed his clothes. It is said that his clothes were so dirty and plastered on his body that when he died, they had to be peeled off of him. In his old age, he rarely had any social interactions, except when forced to do so by work. He was never married and remained childless for life, although he was rumored to have had romantic relationships with a variety of men and women.
Perhaps because of his interesting personality—or despite it—Italians absolutely adored Michaelangelo, both during and after his lifetime. He was popularly known as ‘Il Divino’ which translates to ‘the Divine.’ Everyone in Italy wanted to know about the facts of his life and works. This is likely what made Michaelangelo publish two full-length autobiographies while he was alive. The autobiographies include details about his growing up, his work, and his personal life.
Interestingly, Michaelangelo is the artist whose details about his life, opinions, and work is most known from the Renaissance Era. Each of his commissions for government or papal projects were meticulously documented, giving further insight into his work and wealth.
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