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43. Michelangelo - The Immortal Artist

Updated: Oct 9, 2020

Who Was Michelangelo?

Michelangelo Buonarroti was a painter, sculptor, architect and poet widely considered one of the most brilliant artists of the Italian Renaissance. Michelangelo was an apprentice to a painter before studying in the sculpture gardens of the powerful Medici family

What followed was a remarkable career as an artist, famed in his own time for his artistic virtuosity. Although he always considered himself a Florentine, Michelangelo lived most of his life in Rome, where he died at age 88. 

Michelangelo, in full Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, (born March 6, 1475, Caprese, Republic of Florence[Italy]—died February 18, 1564,Rome, Papal States), Italian Renaissance sculptor, painter, architect, and poet who exerted an unparalleled influence on the development of Western art.

He was born in the Republic of Florence, who exerted an unparalleled influence on the development of estern art. His artistic versatility was of such a high order that he is often considered a contender for the title of the archetypal Renaissance man, along with his rival, the fellow Florentine, Leonardo da Vinci. Several scholars have described Mhelangelo as the greatest artist of his age and even as the greatest artist of all time.

A number of Michelangelo 's works of painting, sculpture and architecture rank among the most famous in existence. His output in these fields was prodigious; given the sheer volume of surviving correspondence, sketches and reminiscences, he is the best-documented artist of the 16th century. He sculpted two of his best-known works, the Pietà and David, before the age of thirty. Despite holding a low opinion of painting, he also created two of the most influential frescoes in the history of Western art: the scenes from Genesis on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, and The Last Judgment on its altar wall. His design of the Laurentian Library pioneered Mannerist architecture.

Pic : Pieta ( Picture taken during our visit to St.Peter's Basilica, Vatican )

At the age of 74, he succeeded Antonio da Sangallo the Younger as the architect of St. Peter's Basilica. He transformed the plan so that the western end was finished to his design, as was the dome, with some modification, after his death.

Michelangelo was the first Western artist whose biography was published while he was alive. In fact, two biographies were published during his lifetime. One of them, by Giorgio Vasari, proposed that Michelangelo's work transcended that of any artist living or dead, and was "supreme in not one art alone but in all three".

Pic : David, Florence

In his lifetime, Michelangelo was often called Il Divino ("the divine one"). His contemporaries often admired his terribilità—his ability to instil a sense of awe. Attempts by subsequent artists to imitate Michelangelo's impassioned, highly personal style resulted in Mannerism, the next major movement in Western art after the High Renaissance.

I. Early life, 1475–1488

Michelangelo was born on 6 March 1475 in Caprese, known today as Caprese Michelangelo, a small town situated in Valtiberina,near Arezzo, Tuscany.For several generations, his family had been small-scale bankers in Florence; but the bank failed, and his father, Ludovico di Leonardo Buonarroti Simoni,briefly took a government post in Caprese, where Michelangelo was born.

At the time of Michelangelo's birth, his father was the town's judicial administrator and podestà or local administrator of Chiusi della Verna. Michelangelo's mother was Francesca di Neri del Miniato di Siena. The Buonarrotis claimed to descend from the Countess Mathilde of Canossa—a claim that remains unproven, but which Michelangelo believed.

Several months after Michelangelo's birth, the family returned to Florence, where he was raised.During his mother's later prolonged illness, and after her death in 1481 (when he was six years old), Michelangelo lived with a nanny and her husband, a stonecutter, in the town of Settignano, where his father owned a marble quarry and a small farm.There he gained his love for marble. That is begining of the his remarkable journey with marbles and statues.

II.Apprenticeships, 1488–1492

The Madonna of the Stairs (1490–92), Michelangelo's earliest known work in marble

as a young boy, Michelangelo was sent to Florence to study grammar under the Humanist Francesco da Urbino.However, he showed no interest in his schooling, preferring to copy paintings from churches and seek the company of other painters.

The city of Florence was at that time Italy's greatest centre of the arts and learning. Art was sponsored by the Signoria (the town council), the merchant guilds, and wealthy patrons such as the Medici and their banking associates.The Renaissance, a renewal of Classical scholarship and the arts, had its first flowering in Florence. In the early 15th century, the architect Filippo Brunelleschi, having studied the remains of Classical buildings in Rome, had created two churches, San Lorenzo's and Santo Spirito, which embodied the Classical precepts.The sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti had laboured for fifty years to create the bronze doors of the Baptistry, which Michelangelo was to describe as "The Gates of Paradise".

The exterior niches of the Church of Orsanmichele contained a gallery of works by the most acclaimed sculptors of Florence: Donatello, Ghiberti, Andrea del Verrocchio, and Nanni di Banco.The interiors of the older churches were covered with frescos (mostly in Late Medieval, but also in the Early Renaissance style), begun by Giotto and continued by Masaccio in the Brancacci Chapel, both of whose works Michelangelo studied and copied in drawings.

III.The Middle Years

After the success of the David in 1504, Michelangelo’s work consisted almost entirely of vast projects. He was attracted to these ambitious tasks while at the same time rejecting the use of assistants, so that most of these projects were impractical and remained unfinished. In 1504 , he agreed to paint a huge fresco for the Sala del Gran Consiglio of the Florence city hall to form a pair with another just begun by Leonardo da Vinci. Both murals recorded military victories by the city (Michelangelo’s was the Battle of Cascina), but each also gave testimony to the special skills of the city’s much vaunted artists.

Leonardo’s design shows galloping horses, Michelangelo’s active nudes—soldiers stop swimming and climb out of a river to answer an alarm. Both works survive only in copies and partial preparatory sketches. In 1505, the artist began work on a planned set of 12 marble Apostles for the Florence cathedral, of which only one, the St. Matthew, was even begun. Its writhing ecstatic motion shows the full blend of Leonardo’s fluid organic movement with Michelangelo’s own monumental power.

IV.Last Years

Michelangelo spent most of his golden years overseeing construction on St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. Even after he became too weak to go to the work site regularly, he still supervised the job from home by sending drawings and designs to trusted foremen. Sculpture remained Michelangelo’s true love, however, and he continued chiseling away in his home studio until the very end. Only days before he died at the age of 88, he was still working on the so-called “Rondanini Pieta,” which depicts Jesus in the Virgin Mary’s arms.

Pic : St.Peter's Basilica , Vatican ( where Michelangelo overseen the construction of Church and worked his projects )

V. Lessons from Michelangelo's Life :

( How this Renaissance master approached his own professional development)

1. There’s no short cut for hard work

Michelangelo was a sculptor, painter, architect, poet, and engineer. In each field he produced masterpieces that took years to complete. His sculpture of David took 3 years, the Sistine Chapel took 4 years.

Michelangelo lived to be 88, impressive in an era when the average age was 39 ! He never stopped his crafts, completing his last sculpture only 5 days before his death.

If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all. ~ Michelangelo

In the book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell explains that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. To quote great poets of our time:

“The great’s weren’t great because they could paint, the greats were great because they painted a lot” ........Ten Thousand Hours ~ Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

In our time of hyper-learning, information overload and constant rushing, it’s hard to imagine committing ten thousand hours to a single skill. We watch a 15 minute TED talk and believe we understand complex neuroscience theories. We often dip into a subject, rather than mastering it.

2. Look for unusual inspiration

Sculptures before the Renaissance often showed noblemen dressed in their finery. They were a little overweight, to show they had plenty of wealth and therefore food. Michelangelo’s David was different. David had a lean, muscular physique that changed the way we looked at the ideal male figure.

To craft David, Michelangelo spent a year at a hospital. He performed autopsies on bodies to understand how muscles and ligaments worked. This was knowledge he couldn’t learn from his direct peers.

Close up of David’s hand. Despite being carved from marble, Michelangelo achieved a life-life quality.

We can get very close to our products and businesses. Stepping back (or sidewards) can provide inspiration or new techniques.

3. Surround yourself with smart people

Michelangelo wasn’t quick to compliment others. In response to one of his peer’s sculptures he remarked “what a beautiful piece of marble you have ruined”. Even so Michelangelo surrounded himself with other brilliant artists and thinkers of his time, including Leonardo da Vinci.

There must have been a tangible energy within the palace walls. Similar to innovation hubs and co-working spaces sprouting up in tech cities today.

Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci were staunch rivals, and were once commissioned to complete murals on opposite walls of a great hall in the palace. With each trying to out-do the other, it must have sparked the competitive fires in both!

4. Have a vision

Modern business practices require us to embrace Agile. Start small, test and iterate. But having a vision is equally important. Agile helps us move forward and learn as we go, but it doesn’t tell us where we are heading. The vision acts as a compass, guiding your refinements, ensuring you reach your destination.

Michelangelo made no mocks or clay tests of David. He just started sculpting. From a single block of marble he created one of the most famous depictions of the male body today. He famously said:

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

As Michelangelo chipped away at the marble, he always knew he was creating a sculpture of David, and not a woman or a horse. His vision kept him heading in the right direction.

5. Have a long term plan

Michelangelo built his reputation over a period of time with long term planning by working in several projects each with the span of 4 to 5 long years. That has made the base for him to be the main artist of St. Peter's Basilica at Vatican as he worked for 9 Popes. In short, Popes have changed, but not the Master Artist. Thats how, he bacame a Indespensable Artist and non-redundant.

VI. Want to be like Michelangelo ?

Sadly we can’t all work in a palace of masters, but our colleagues and peers can still help us achieve our own greatness.

Executive Education with acclaimed participants in the diverse fields can help to hone the skills and can create challenging and vibrant environment.

Pic : Oil Painting - The Original Sin, 1508-1512

As Paulo Coelho famously said, " keep atleast one enemy to keep you alert "

  • Be a conscientious learner — think about the skills you want to master. Ten thousand hours is 5 years of 40 hour work-weeks, so choose carefully!

  • Seek out people that challenge youpeople who make you uncomfortable because they ask you hard questions or force you to look at things in different ways. You learn more outside your comfort zone.

  • Find smart people outside your own profession - the world of marketing is being changed by principles from software development so Ioften learn as much from experts in the field.

  • Be Competitive and Challenge yourself continuously - he competed against giants like Leonardo Da Vinci and both used to paint in the same building. Beginning in 1505, Michelangelo worked for nine consecutive Catholic pontiffs from Julius II to Pius IV. His breadth of work for the Vatican was vast, and included everything from crafting ornamental knobs for the papal bed to spending four grueling years painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

  • Turn the Adversity to Advantage - Michelangelo was notoriously picky about the marble he used for his sculptures, yet for his famous “David” statue, he made use of a block that other artists had deemed unworkable. Michelangelo eventually crafted the discarded block into one of his most luminous works.

And then, rest is history.

MM Rao

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