Only one person can be “The Best Ever” and, in the world of art, that person is Michelangelo Buonarroti. Born on this day in 1475, Michelangelo was in the right place at the right time. Or, perhaps thanks to Michelangelo, his time became the right place and the right time. A sculptor, painter, architect, engineer and poet, Michelangelo typifies the “Renaissance Man.” He was called “Il Divino” and “The Greatest Artist of His Time” during his lifetime and few would dispute he still holds the title.
Born to a modest, middle class family, Michelangelo’s family moved to Florence when he was an infant. His mother died when the artist was six and the boy was raised by a family of stonecutters. He picked-up a chisel as a youngster and probably had marble dust in his hair for the rest of his life. Two of his sculptural masterpieces—La Pieta and David—were completed by the time the artist turned thirty.
Although he did not like to paint, two of the most-famous paintings in the world are his: the Genesis frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel and The Last Judgement fresco done on that chapel’s altar wall. And, let’s not forget, he also designed St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Peter’s Square just outside the Sistine Chapel.
Michelangelo’s Florence was a hotbed of artistic creativity, fueled with the money and passion of the Medici family. With patrons like them, a young, ambitious artist was able to exercise and reach his potential. The Medici family sponsored the teenaged Michelangelo at their Humanist Academy. It was here that Michelangelo was schooled in the Classics and the art and culture of the Greeks and Romans. He was also exposed to the great Renaissance writers of the day.
Throughout his career, Michelangelo was the most in-demand of artists. Popes and princes—anyone with power, taste and money—jockeyed to commission him for their chapels, tombs, and monuments.
Michelangelo had an enormous influence on the course of Western Art. Not only did he reign during The Renaissance—the greatest period in Western Art—but his painting established the Mannerist school which continued after his death. Furthermore, for 500 years, Michelangelo has remained seminal to the study of artists and art historians.
Michelangelo died at the age of 88 on 18 February 1564. He is buried in the Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence.
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