Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonrroti Simoni is a contender for the title of the archetypal Renaissance man, after Leonardo da Vinci who is universally regarded as so. A Renaissance man is someone who has gained knowledge in and has achieved proficiency in a great variety of subject areas, including those in physical development, social accomplishments and in the arts.
Besides being a master sculptor, the art of which he loved the most; he was also a great painter, architect, poet, engineer and a deeply religious man, well versed in scriptures. Michelangelo was also an exponent for the principle of disegno in art.The term Disegno in Italian translated literally means simply drawing or design but it has more complex layers of meaning to it. Apart from drawing skills and the ability to establish tonal relationships, the term also encompasses the intellectual ability to create or conceive of an idea or vision and the imaginative and inventive skills (Michelangelo invented and drew all the human poses from his head without the need for models) necessary to execute it in an original and novel way. This is what justifies the elevation of art from a craft to a fine art, on par with other arts such as literature and poetry. And this is what gave the greatest of the artists their almost Divine stature even in their own times. To put it in another way, true art is something much more than that which is beautiful to look at, it is that which has the living force of a lofty and pure idea behind it.
Born on 6th March, 1475 in Caprese, Tuscany, Central Italy, he was sent to live in the town of Settignano, where his father owned a marble quarry and a small farm, with a stonecutter and his family. This was when he was at the tender age of six, after the death of his mother. Giorgio Vasari, himself an artist, but more famous for his biographies of great artists in and before his time quoted Michelangelo (who was his friend) as saying “If there is some good in me, it is because I was born in the subtle atmosphere of your country of Arezzo. Along with the milk of my nurse, I received the knack of handling chisel and hammer, with which I make my figures.” He enjoyed copying figures from paintings and reliefs in churches and after persuading his father, he started to work, at the age of 13, as an apprentice to painter Domenico Ghirlandaio. He later studied sculpture under Bertoldo di Giovanni while attending the Humanist academy which the Medici had founded along Neo Platonic lines. His art and thinking came to be influenced by the prominent philosophers of the day. During this time, he sculpted the reliefs Madonna of the steps and Battle of the Centaurs. He then returned to his father`s town where he was permitted to make anatomical studies on corpses from the Church`s hospital.
A few years and sculptures later, at the age of 22, and in Rome, he received a commission for his most famous work of Pietà. I have had the good fortune to see quite a few of his masterworks, it is always quite an experience, breathtaking to say the least, to see masterpieces in the original, but this is true specially of sculptures as they are meant to be seen in the three dimensions. In his highly original Pietà, (housed in St. Peter`s Basilica in the Vatican city) he has solved the compositional difficulty of placing the grown up figure of the Christ on his mother`s lap without it looking awkward, a problem which had not been satisfactorily solved in other artists` versions of Pietà and Lamentation of Christ. He did this by forming a pyramidal composition and making the figure of Mother Mary bigger than that of the Christ. It is not immediately noticeable that she is larger because it is such a stable and harmonious composition. The beautifully arranged folds of the drapery lead the eye upward towards the lifeless body of the Christ which offers no resistance as his Mother holds him in her lap, leaning backwards a little in order to balance his weight, but with head turned towards him. We can see how he had already, at such a young age, perfected his knowledge in the human anatomy, from his life like depiction of the muscles, nerves and bones on the body of the Christ; the fold of flesh of his upper arm, underneath Mary`s right hand really makes it look like this scene is coming alive before us. Michelangelo has chosen to portray this poignant moment from a spiritual perspective. He does not show us the grief stricken Virgin and the Christ with the wounds of the Passion, like it had been done before. Rather, he shows us the Virgin`s majestic acceptance of her immense Sorrow, the Son is also shown as having peacefully accepted his fate. The scene looks even more poignant to us because of her calm forbearance. His Pietà also differs from others` in that the Virgin is shown to be very young, around 20, as opposed to the 50 or so years that she must have been at the time of Christ`s death. He argued with his critics that age could not mar the features of such a Blessed One. The purity of this image leaves the viewer with strength and courage to face his own battles in life.
(Carved in Marble, 6 feet tall and housed in the Basilica of St Peter in the Vatican city)
The above image is licenced by Stanislav Traykov under the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts.
Continued in my next post…..