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MICHELANGELO (MICHELAGNIOLO BUONARROT...

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Originally appearing in Volume V18, Page 364 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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MICHELANGELO (MICHELAGNIOLO BUONARROTI) (1475-1564), the most famous of the great Florentine artists of the Renaissance,, was the son of Ludovico Buonarroti, a poor gentle-man of that city, and of his wife Francesca dei Neri. The Buonarroti Simoni were an old and pure Florentine stock of the Guelf faction: in the days of Michelangelo's fame a connexion of the family with the counts of Canossa was imagined and admitted on both sides, but has no foundation in fact. Ludovico was barely able to live on the income of his estate, but made it his boast that he had never stooped to add to it by mercantile or mechanical pursuits. The favour of the Medici procured him temporary employment in minor offices of state, among them that of podesta or resident magistrate for six months, from the autumn of 1474, at Castello di Chiusi and Caprese in the Casentino. At Caprese, on the 6th of March 1475, his second son Michelagniolo or Michelangelo was born. Immediately afterwards the family returned to Florence, and the child was put to nurse with a marble-worker's wife of Settignano. His mother's health had already, it would seem, begun to fail; at all events in a few years from this time, after she had borne her husband three more sons, she died. While still a young boy Michelangelo determined, in spite of his father's opposition, to be an artist. He had sucked in the passion, as he himself used to say, with his foster-mother's milk. After a sharp struggle his stubborn will overcome his father's pride of gentility, and at thirteen he got himself articled as a paid assistant in the workshop of the brothers Ghirlandaio Domenico Ghirlandaio, bred a jeweller, had become by this time the foremost painter of Florence. In his service the young Michelangelo laid the foundations of that skill in fresco with which twenty years afterwards he confounded his detractors at Rome. He studied also, like all the Florentine artists of that age, in the Brancacci chapel, where the frescoes of Masaccio, painted some sixty years before, still victoriously held their own; and here, in reply, to a taunt he had flung at a fellow-student, Torrigiano, he received the blow on the nose which disfigured him to his dying day. Though Michelangelo's earliest studies were directed towards painting, he was by nature and predilection much more inclined to sculpture. In that art he presently received encouragement and training under the eye of an illustrious patron, Lorenzo dei Medici. On the recommendation, it is said, of Ghirlandaio, he was transferred, before the term of his apprenticeship as a painter had expired, to the school of sculpture established by Lorenzo in the Medici gardens. Here he could learn to match himself against his great predecessor, Donatello, one of whose pupils and assistants, the aged Bertoldo, was director of the school, and to compare the works of that master and his Tuscan contemporaries with the antiques collected for the instruction of the scholars. Here, too, he could listen to discourses on Platonism, and steep himself in the doctrines of an enthusiastic philosophy which sought to reconcile with Christian faith the lore and the doctrines of the Academy. Michelangelo remained a Christian Platonist to the end of his days; he was also from his youth up a devoted student of Dante. His powers of mind and hand soon attracted attention, and secured him the regard and favour of his patrons in spite of his rugged exterior and scornful unsociable temper. Michelangelo had been attached to the school and household of the Medici for barely three years when, in 1492, his great patron Lorenzo died. Lorenzo's son Piero dei Medici inherited the position but not the qualities of his father; Florence soon chafed under his authority; and towards the autumn of 1494 it became apparent that disaster was impending over him and his adherents. Michelangelo was constitutionally subject to dark and sudden presentiments : one such seized him now, and without awaiting the popular outbreak, which soon followed, he took horse with two companions and fled to Bologna. There, being now in his twentieth year, he was received with kindness by a member of the Aldovrandi family, on whose commission he executed two figures of saints and one of an angel for the shrine of St Dominic in the church of St Petronius. After about a year, work at Bologna failing, and his name having been included in his absence on the list of artists appointed to provide a new hall of assembly for the great council of Florence, Michelangelo returned home. The strange theocracy established by Savonarola was now in force, and the whole character of civic life at Florence was for the time being changed. The influence of the fervent Dominican upon the mind and character of the young Michelangelo became as profound as that of the Platonists and of Dante. He was not left without employment. He found a friend in another Lorenzo, the son of Pierfrancesco dei Medici, for whom he at this time executed a statue of the boy St John. Having also carved a recumbent Cupid in imitation of the antique, it was suggested to him by the same patron that it should be so tinted and treated as to look like a real antique, and sold accordingly. Without increasing the price he put upon the work, Michelangelo for amusement lent himself to the counterfeit, and the piece was then actually sold for a large sum, as a genuine work of antiquity, to a Roman collector, Rai-ladle Riario, cardinal di San Giorgio; the dealer appropriating the profits. When the cardinal discovered the fraud he caused the dealer to refund; but as to Michelangelo himself, it was represented to the young sculptor that if he went to Rome the amateur who had just involuntarily paid so high a tribute to his skill would certainly befriend him. He set forth accordingly, and arrived at Rome for the first time at the end of June 1496. Such hopes as he may have entertained of countenance from the cardinal di San Giorgio were quickly dispelled. Neither did the banished Piero dei Medici, who also was now living at Rome, do anything to help him. On the other hand Michelangelo won the favour of a Roman nobleman, Jacopo Galli, and through him of the French cardinal Jean de Villiers de la Grolaie, abbot of St Denis. From the former he received a commission for a " Cupid " and a " Bacchus," from the latter for a " Pieta " or " Mary lamenting over the body of Christ "—works of which the two last named only are preserved. Equal originality of conception and magnificence of technical execution mark the two contrasted subjects-one as noble and the other as nearly ignoble as any-thing Michelangelo ever did—of the mother with the dead son on her lap, indicating with a contained but eloquent gesture of her left hand a tragedy too great for outcries, and the titubant sensual young wine-god (a condition in which ancient art would never have exhibited the god himself, but only his satellites). Michelangelo's stay in Rome at this time lasted five years —from the summer of 1496 till that of 1501. The interval had been one of extreme political distraction at Florence. The excitement of the French invasion, the mystic and ascetic regimen of Savonarola, the reaction which led to his overthrow, and finally the external wars and internal dissidences which preceded a new settlement, had all created an atmosphere most unfavourable to art. Nevertheless Ludovico Buonarroti, who in the troubles of 1494 had lost a small permanent appointment he held in the customs, and had come to regard his son Michelangelo as the mainstay of his house, had been repeatedly urging him to come home. A spirit of family duty and family pride was the ruling principle in all Michelangelo's conduct. During the best years of his life he submitted himself sternly and without a murmur to pinching hardship and almost super-human labour for the sake of his father and brothers, who were ever selfishly ready to be fed and helped by him. Having now, after an illness, come home in 1501, Michelangelo was requested by the cardinal Francesco Piccolomini to adorn with a number of sculptured figures a shrine already begun in the cathedral of Siena in honour of the most distinguished member of his house, Pope Pius II. Four only of these figures were ever executed, and those not apparently, or only in small part, by the master's hand. A work of greater interest in Florence itself had diverted him from his engagement to his Sienese patrons. This was the execution of the famous colossal statue of David, popularly known as " the Giant." It was carved out of a huge block of marble on which another sculptor, Agostino d'Antonio, had begun unsuccessfully to work forty years before, and which had been lying idle ever since. Michelangelo had here a difficult problem before him. Without much regard to the traditional treatment of the subject or the historical character of his hero, he carved out of the vast but cramped mass of material an adolescent, frowning colossus, tensely watchful and self-balanced in preparation for his great action. The result amazed every beholder by its freedom and science of execution and its victorious energy of expression. All the best artists of Florence were called in council to determine on what site it should be set up, and after much debate the terrace of the palace of the Signory was chosen, in preference to the neighbouring Loggia dei Lanzi. Here accordingly the colossal " David " of Michelangelo took, in the month of May 1504, the place which it continued to hold until in 1882 it was removed for the sake of protection to a hall in the Academy of Fine Arts, where it inevitably looks crushed and cabined. Other works of sculpture belong to the same period: among them a second " David," in bronze and on a smaller scale, commissioned by the marechal Pierre Rohan and left by the young master to be finished by Benedetto da Rovezzano, who despatched it to France in 1508; a great rough-hewn " St Matthew " begun but never completed for the cathedral of Florence; a " Madonna and Child " executed on the commission of a merchant of Bruges; and two unfinished bas-reliefs of the same subject. Neither was Michelangelo idle at the same time as a painter. Leaving disputed works for the moment out of sight, he in these days at any rate painted for his and Raphael's common patron, Angelo Doni, the " Holy Family " now in the Uffizi at Florence. In the autumn of 1504, the year of the completion of the " David," he received from the Florentine state a commission for a work of monumental painting on a heroic scale. Leonardo da Vinci had been for some months engaged on his great cartoon of the " Battle of Anghiari," to be painted on the wall of the great hall of the municipal council. The gonfaloniere Piero Soderini now procured for Michelangelo the commission to design a companion work. Michelangelo chose an incident at the battle of Cascina during the Pisan war of 1364, when the Florentine soldiery had been surprised by the enemy in the act of bathing. He dashed at the task with his accustomed fiery energy, and had carried a great part of the cartoon to completion when, in the early spring of 1505, he broke off the work in order to obey a call to Rome which reached him from Pope Julius II. Ilis unfinished cartoon, in its power over the varieties and contrasts of energetic and vitally significant action, showed how greatly Michelangelo had profited by the example of his elder rival, Leonardo, little as, personally, he yielded to Leonardo's charm or could bring himself to respond to his courtesy. The work of Michelangelo's youth is for the most part comparatively tranquil in character. His early sculpture, showing a degree of science and perfection unequalled since the antique, has also something of the antique serenity. It bears strongly the stamp of intellectual research, but not by any means that of storm or strain. In the cartoon of the " Bathers " the qualities afterwards proverbially associated with Michelangelo—his feria, his terribilitd, the tempest and hurricane of the spirit which accompanied his unequalled technical mastery and knowledge—first found expression. With Michelangelo's departure to Rome early in 1505 the first part of his artistic career may be said to end. It will be convenient here to recapitulate its principal results in sculpture and painting, both those preserved and those recorded but lost.
End of Article: MICHELANGELO (MICHELAGNIOLO BUONARROTI) (1475-1564)
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