Painter of Painters
This week has been one of painting. I am opening a new space for my Asian Art collection and some antiques at the Renniger’s Antique Center in Mt. Dora, Florida. As I crawled around trying to get black or red paint on baseboards and standing too high on a ladder to reach the top of the wall, I wondered what it would be like for the most famous of painters as he worked on the Sistine Chapel high above the marble floor.
Michelangelo was born Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni on March 6, 1475 in Italy. He lived to be 88 years old and during his life time was known for sculpture, painting, architecture, and poetry.
While reading about his early life, I was reminded of students from my years of teaching. The young children would have pained at writing a full name as Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni , but a number of my students walked closely in this master’s desire to create.
I remember one child in the 5th grade that was limited in his academic ability, but he often drew pictures that simply were breath-taking. As a teacher, I saw what this child could do…and could not do…so most of what I required of him included something for him to draw. I encouraged his mother to enroll him in any art school that she could and not force him into the college world of composition writing, high math and technology. I hope that she did and that he is following his love.
Michelangelo did not do well as a student, even though his father sent him to the best in education. Instead, he painted pictures from the churches and followed the artists of his time. He also had his share of fights with other students, as we know that Pietro Torrigiano, a great sculptor to be, broke his nose, causing the deformity that we often see in Michelangelo’s self portraits.
As he grew in his ability, one of his first works was a wooden crucifix which he gave to the church.
His works are too many to include in this writing, but a bit of history reminds us that he was only 21 years old when he arrived in Rome in the year 1496. He was commissioned by Cardinal Rafael Riario to work on a statue for his garden. The French ambassador in the Holy See commissioned one of his most famous works, the Pieta.
From a slab of marble, Michelangelo was able, through his God-given gift, to bring to life a piece of stone. Vasari summarized his ability: “It is certainly a miracle that a formless block of stone could ever have been reduced to a perfection that nature is scarcely able to create in the flesh.”
Returning to Florence, at approximately age 33, he completed one of his most famous works of the statue of David.
The painting of the Sistine chapel: Taken from the book of Genesis, the episodes were divided into three groups: God’s creation of Earth, Creation of Man and eventually Woman, and the Fall from God’s Grace. It also includes the state of humanity as represented by Noah and the pendentives supporting the ceiling are twelve men and women who proclaim the coming of Jesus.
The painting of God creating Adam is perhaps one of the most famous parts of the Sistine Ceiling. God’s right arm is outstretched to impart the spark of life from his own finger into that of Adam, whose left arm is extended in a pose mirroring God’s, a reminder that man is created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26). Another point is that Adam’s finger and God’s finger are not touching. It gives the appearance that God, the giver of life, is reaching out to Adam and Adam is receiving.
The Last Judgment Pope Clement VII commissioned the fresco, The Last Judgment to be painted on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel. He worked on the project from 1534 until 1541. The work was massive The Last Judgment is a depiction of the second coming of Christ to judge the world. The Holy Scriptures Revelation 20-22 “Come…let everyone who hears..come…let everyone who is thirsty come..let everyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift…”
Throughout his life as a painter and sculptor, Michelangelo was frustrated by the politics, rivals within the church and among fellow artists, as well as the changes in Popes throughout this time period. He even dealt with censorship of his works. At one point, to cover the genitals were demanded to make the art more decent. However, some remained uncensored, and Michelangelo pressed through all these obstacles to complete his work.
A temperamental artist; not terribly popular with people, Michelangelo was perhaps a genius at his craft and so totally dedicated to it that he was not able to connect with people. At one point, his passion was known as he hit a statue with a hammer and screamed , “Why don’t you speak to me?”
Michelangelo thought of himself as poor regardless of what he was paid. He was rough and uncouth and had domestic habits that were found unpleasant. He often slept in his clothes and boots. He was mostly indifferent to food and drink, eating only out of necessity. One may also call him isolated and melancholy. His works were sensuous, but he withdrew himself from men. There is no mention of marriage. Michelangelo died without knowing the impact he would have on the world. He had shown through his art the stories and truth of the Holy Scriptures, giving generations to come the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. For many throughout the world, whether literate or illiterate, these stories came to life before their very eyes. Their hearts would respond.