A True Visionary

The man who looked at stone or a boring ceiling and saw biblical heroes, saints, sinners, prophets, horrific scenes of head chopping, and nudes didn't have the word "moderation" in his creative genius. He was an architect, sculptor, painter, and writer whose magnificent work was imitated in his style. He was such an overwhelmingly influential artist in the Renaissance times that even in the present times his vast artwork is still being surmised and decoded. The true mystery of Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (baptismal name) lives on and deepens with other perspectives.

Michelangelo facts are easily found because so many are/were so curious about this giant of artistic output. He lived away from his family for awhile in his childhood. Interestingly enough, he lived at the humble home of a stonecutter. There he learned to use the chisel and hammer, and perhaps he also saw much more than a hunk of rock when he was chiseling. "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free."

He showed a flair for drawing, but his father thought artists had a commonplace, lowly occupation because art was a manual craft. Michelangelo was beaten to be discouraged yet when he turned 13 he was allowed to begin an arts apprenticeship. He had a feel for ancient stone carvings and sculpture was his love. Soon enough he came to the attention of the wealthy Lorenzo de' Medici (Italian statesman and benevolent philanthropist to artists), who had Michelangelo live and study at the Medici court. Evidently he was attracted to a faun sculpture that the young artist had done.

The Medici collection in Florence had many great masters from the past (like Donatello), and Greek and Roman sculptors that Michelangelo could study. Michelangelo was exposed to brilliant folks at dinner conversations, science, politics, philosophy, poetry, and art were discussed. He began to write poetry at the Medici home, and continued for life. He was also a prolific letter writer and more than 500 of his letters exist today.

by: Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)

O mortal thing enthralled these longing eyes

When perfect peace in thy fair face I found;

But far within, where all is holy ground,

My soul felt Love, her comrade of the skies:

For she was born with God in Paradise;

Nor all the shows of beauty shed around

This fair false world her wings to earth have bound:

Unto the Love of Loves aloft she flies.

Nay, things that suffer death, quench not the fire

Of deathless spirits; nor eternity

Serves sordid Time, that withers all things rare.

Not love but lawless impulse is desire:

            That slays the soul; our love makes still more fair
            Our friends on earth, fairer in death on high.

The English translation is by John Addington Symonds (1840-1893).

The Architect

Laurentian Library PlanCredit: Michelangelo Buonarroti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


The Laurentian Library was designed by Michelangelo for the Medici family. Their huge collection of books and manuscripts needed a home of their own. The prominent family chose a great artist to give great distinction to their library. He used Classical elements like columns and scrolls and pediments, yet they were of original Michelangelo design and didn't reflect the classical models. For example, the pilasters (flattened columns) on the sides of windowless niches are broader at the top and narrower at the bottom which is opposite from the general pilasters before Michelangelo's design.

Laurentian Library VestibuleCredit: See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The vestibule stairway also departed from the Classical form. It is expressive, grand, and more expressive than those preceding it. A reverence for a learning spirit, a place associated with a Roman Catholic place of worship, and a manipulation of architectural decoration lends to the beauty of the library.

Among the many artists who worked on St. Peter's Basilica (at the Vatican), Michelangelo's designs inspired the immense dome which is capped by a lantern tower.

He designed the base for the statue of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (reportedly the only bronze statue remaining intact from antiquity times).  He redesigned the buildings in the Piazza del Campidoglio, and transformed the space on the square between buildings with a dazzling starburst pattern. Today one of his transformed buildings serves as the city hall of Rome.

Some buildings he was commissioned to restore, some to complete, and some for fortification during the Roman war with the Florentine Medicis. Some of the works had begun with other well known architects, yet Michelangelo enhanced the original works and expanded the rebirth of the times in art.

The Sculptor
Michelangelo sculptures are all so famous and meaningful to those interpreters of his work that one must make his/her own decisions about the description, like all art - it is personal. I read that there has been queries about the Pieta possibly representing Michelangelo and his mother (she died when he was 6 years of age). It is also said to be the best known of treasures remaining in St. Peter's. There was an attack on it in 1972, and it has been impeccably restored. A discovery was made about 6 months after the attack. Vatican restorers discovered a signature of Michelangelo on the palm of the Madonna's left hand - an "M" designed from the skin lines reproduced in marble. Who knows if the discovery would have occurred without a madman wielding a sledgehammer, hacking away at the masterpiece while shouting, "I am Jesus Christ."

PietaCredit: By Stanislav Traykov, Niabot (cut out)Stanislav Traykov, Niabot (cut out) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia

Fortunately for us, his first true love of sculpting did give way to painting eventually, although to him sculpting always came first.

The Painter
This writing is just going to touch on the Sistine Chapel ceiling painting because there is more mystery associated with it. It is the most visited site in Rome, with 20,000 people moving through it in a single day. Michelangelo's creative vision grew after he learned how to paint fresco technique even though the original commission was just to be the twelve apostles and some ornamentation. The finished product is one of the finest masterpieces in Western painting.

The masterpiece is seen as a connection between the Roman Catholic church and the Jewish faith with secretly coded Hebrew symbols or letters that have meaning from the Kabbalah (ancient esoteric teachings meant to decode the Hebrew bible) by some. The book titled, The Sistine Secrets: Unlocking the Codes in Michelangelo's Defiant Masterpiece, is where those beliefs are from.  The authors aren't the first to see a deeper mystery in Michelangelo's painting. It is almost comparable to conspiracy theories floating around about government agencies, where there is such genius, there is mystery, and that is worthwhile. It gets back to perspective, and one's personal take on mystery.

Great art does seem to lend itself to mystery, and the fabulous Michelangelo has given much to enhance this.