The Renaissance man of Italian origins, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni was considered the leader of his time. He was a painter, a sculptor, an architect and a poet, often juggling multiple things at the same time.
When you talk about the master, you instantly visualize his greatest creation, the Statue of David. Now take a closer look at the paintings that Michelangelo made, the works of inspiration that made the whole world talk.
Standing opposite Leonardo's Battle of Anghiari, the combined effort would have been legendary, had it been completed. Amidst claims that the paintings were lost in time or were never done at all, what we are left of The Battle of Cascina are only cartoons that the artist drew as preparation for the main work.
Although it is unfortunate that the piece was never completed, Michelangelo Buonarroti contributed epic works to his society and the world.
► His Early Works
Although Michelangelo was born in Caprese, Tuscany, he and his father always considered themselves as citizens of Florence.
It was his strong sense of patriotism for Florence and his undying love for God, coupled with a relentless pursuit of perfection and Modernism that helped him reach unparalleled greatness as an artist from a young boy to an old man (6th of March, 1475 to 18th of February 1564).
The Torment of Saint Anthony remains Michelangelo's earliest recorded paintings, which he made at the age of 12 or 13 years. He made The Manchester Madonna around 1497 when he was commissioned on Bacchus, the Roman wine god and The Entombment between 1500-1501 when he returned to Florence.
Within 1503 to 1505, he was commissioned for The Battle of Cascina, which he (and so did Leonardo, his work) left incomplete, painted the Bruges Madonna, a sculpture of Mary and baby Jesus (in Notre Dame), The Holy Family (in Uffizi) and was summoned to Rome to build a tomb for Pope Julius II.
► The Sistine Chapel
Before he could start on the tomb, he was called forth by the Pope to create what was perhaps his most stunning work ever, the 12 Apostles on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. It was at this time that Michelangelo's mettle was tested for the first time. He was disliked by the other painters also commissioned for the Sistine Chapel.
Now, at this time (1508), Michelangelo was not considered an accomplished painter, by himself or others, which posed a dilemma for him - rejecting the offer and facing the wrath of the Church, or accepting the mammoth fresco and while never having done a fresco before, and produce work better than any other artist there to silence them.
He finally accepted, which proved the right choice. Such was the work of the artist, that even the Pope marveled at the beauty when he lay eyes on the ceiling.
By October 31st, 1513, Michelangelo Buonarroti had completed painting over 300 figures on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. The fresco was the most daunting task he had ever undertaken. He finally fired all his assistants for incompetence, he erased all that he had already made and went further ahead to suggest that the entire ceiling be given to him and no other.
Such was his dedication to his work, Ascanio Condivi (an artist and a biographer of Michelangelo) explained, that whenever he had to read a letter, he had to hold it above his head as his eyes could hardly see when he looked down.
Michelangelo himself felt the burden, believing himself to have gotten too old already at the age of 37, alone and friendless with over 400 figures looming over his head on the ceiling. The Sistine Chapel ceiling inspired, and to this day continues to inspire, artists all over the world.
The fresco consisted of Nine scenes from the Book of Genesis that includes God's separation of light from darkness and the creation of Adam and Eve, pictures of Prophets and Sibyls (including Libyan).
He also composed poems to describe the works and his own experience of painting the fresco, explaining how his physical discomfort and the rants of the conservationists made him feel like he was living in Hell as he painted God's pictures.
► Starting on the Tomb of Julius II
After finishing the fresco, he resumed work on the tomb of Julius II, creating the statues and carvings of the famous "Horned" Moses and the Slaves for the tomb. After the Pope's demise in 1513 (the work on the tomb was left incomplete by Michelangelo), the Medici family's Leo X was elected as the new Pope.
In 1534, he bid farewell one last time to Florence and moved to Rome to live under the protection of Pope Clement VII.
Historical records show that although Michelangelo did commence work on the tomb, left it incomplete for other works and continued on it later, this cycle repeating itself multiple times, he could not finish the tomb before 1545. Pope Julius II, who died in 1513, was buried in St. Peter's in the Vatican.
►The Master Against the World
Upon the suggestion of Pope Clement VII, Michelangelo undertook the fresco The Last Judgment, the largest one in its century, to be painted on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel. After scaffolding was put up against the wall in 1535, Michelangelo began his work that later became embroiled in some of the largest controversies of that time.
The work was finished in 1541. The fresco was meant to depict the Salvation of Humanity, instead became the target of protestations and criticism, regarding it as a black spot on the human moral character. Artists, religious leaders and commoners alike cried against the painter, condemning his portraits of nudity on the walls of the church.
Some even called for bringing down the entire fresco to paint a new one. The Master of Ceremonies for the Sistine Chapel, Biagio da Cesena, damned the fresco, calling it a disgraceful work meant not for the papal chapel, but "for public baths and taverns".
As an act of revenge, Michelangelo painted the face of Cesena onto the figure of Minos, the Judge of Hell, with donkey ears. All the commotion, however, failed to turn the Pope Paul III or even Julius III - his successor, against Michelangelo.
It was decided in 1564 by the Council of Trent to clothe the naked figures. This decision was made a month before Michelangelo's demise.
►The Pauline Church
The last of his paintings (he carried on to become and architect while continuing to sculpt) were the frescoes at the Pauline Chapel. Michelangelo was still struggling to finish the tomb of Julius II when he was commissioned for the paintings by Paul III in 1541.
The 2 paintings - The Conversion of Saul and The Crucifixion of St. Peter were completed between 1542-1545. It so happened that the Pauline church was close to the Sistine Chapel (both churches separated by the Regal Hall between them), which is why all those who entered the Pauline church had already (or would have in the future) been to the Sistine Chapel.
This was the main reason why the frescoes at both places were compared and the ones at the Pauline church were considered failures of Michelangelo's. The Conversion of Saul fresco describes the persecutor of Christians, Saul, hit by divine light, which blinds him.
The fresco of The Crucifixion of St. Peter shows St. Peter in pain yet revealing daunting features of strength on his face, surrounded by Roman soldiers and fearful women.
► Final Years
And so are the paintings of the master, amid gaining and losing Luigi del Riccio and Vittoria Colonna, close friends, along with his faithful servant Urbino who died in 1556, accepting old age before them and yet living on as an old man, alone, sculpting away with the same vigor as when he was young.
He worked on the Rondanini Pietà from around 1550 to his last breath on 18th February, 1564, when he passed away of a fever. His body was buried in a sarcophagus in Florence, next to his father's grave.
Complete or half-finished, controversial or undisputed, the works of The Master stay with the world as long as the world survives, for we know the artwork produced by Michelangelo can never be replicated, or maybe even bested. It is also without a doubt that the works will forever inspire all social creatures, just like the millions they already have.