The Unexplained: The Mysterious Michelangelo
November 20, 2021
Sara Marie Hogg
Michelangelo’s work was a great influence on Western art and he and da Vinci were considered the most accomplished artists of their time.
What are your impressions of the great master artist, Michelangelo? There are many portraits of him – they all seem to look similar.
Have you noticed in the portraits that his nose seems somewhat mashed, disfigured? A fellow pupil at the Platonic Academy, where he studied, is responsible. He struck him on the nose during an argument when he was seventeen.
Is it true that Michelangelo and the rest of the Buonarrotis are descended from a countess? That is their assertion—Countess Mathilde of Canossa is their direct ancestor, but it has never been proven.
Michelangelo’s full name is Michelangelo de Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni and he was born in what is now Tuscany, near Florence, on March 6, 1475. He was born into a long line of family bankers. When banking was failing due to the area’s economical climate, Michelangelo’s father took a government position.
Between the year of his birth and when he was about six, Michelangelo’s mother became chronically ill and she succumbed to her sickness.
Michelangelo moved to Settignano in Florence to live with a nanny whose husband was a stone cutter. Michelangelo’s father owned a farm and a quarry there. Being near the quarry and watching the stone cutter is where Michelangelo got his feel for marble. He loved it.
He did not have much interest in grammar studies or regular schooling. He preferred to mingle with the many painters in the area and copy paintings.
Florence was becoming the arts and culture center for all of Italy and there were many guilds. Old churches of the area were filled with the classic works of Giotto and Masaccio. Michelangelo spent a great deal of time copying their work to gain experience.
When Michelangelo was thirteen he was apprenticed to Domenico Ghirlandaio. Ghirlandaio was in a group of masters that were being charged with decorating the Sistine Chapel. When he was fourteen, his father asked that he be paid something for his work. The request was granted. Two of the apprentices were selected to assist in the chapel and Michelangelo was one of them.
As he got a little older he began attending the Platonic Academy which was influenced by the greatest writers and philosophers of the time, so Michelangelo was steeped in all this culture. Between 1490 and 1492, he sculpted his first marble relief, the beautiful Madonna of the Steps.
This great artist has come to be known as simply Michelangelo and he was an Italian master of painting, sculpting, architecture, and poet of the High Renaissance. His work was a great influence on Western art and he and da Vinci were considered the most accomplished artists of their time.
How have we learned so much about Michelangelo, a man who lived so long ago? Well, two biographies were written about him in his own lifetime. In addition, there are small mountains of artifacts, artwork, and surviving personal correspondence. His major works are The Pieta, David, Sistine Chapel, Moses, and The Last Judgment.
He lived a long life, to age eighty-eight, and was successful despite his associations with the Medicis, who were often entangled in political turmoil.
Throughout his life he was aloof and did not make friends, concentrating on his work. He even often walked off in the middle of conversations with people. He had very poor social skills. He had a hot temper and often got into arguments.
Like Alfred Hitchcock, he inserted his own likeness into some of his most famous works. He worked right up until the week he died. Somehow he was able to gain access to cadavers to dissect and study for anatomical purposes. If he got angry he often defaced his own work to tweak the noses of clients. He had a touch of orneriness.
When he died on February 18, 1564, he was entombed in the Basilica of Santa Croce, Florence. His bones have never been disturbed.
Among many of Michelangelo’s remaining artifacts are three pairs of his personal footwear—two pairs of flat shoes and one pair of slippers. Recently, scholars have discovered something interesting from examining his shoes. There have been articles about the discovery in Smithsonian Magazine and science journals.
The September articles reveal the fact that his shoes have been analyzed by scholars from the Forensic Anthropology, Paleopathology, and Bioarchaeology Research Center, and by their scientific measurements and calculations, they have learned something. Quite surprisingly, this man of huge stature in the art world was probably only five feet and two inches tall.
That may not have been conspicuously diminutive in the time of Michelangelo. Humans were a little shorter then. It seems odd, now, when the average Italian male is a little over 5’ 8’ tall. Another wonderful artist, Toulouse Lautrec was barely five feet tall and known for his small stature.
Giorgio Vasari, 1511-1574, a contemporary of Michelangelo, was a famed biographer of the day. He proclaimed him to be wide across the shoulders but otherwise proportioned. Painter, architect and writer, Giorgio wrote biographies of prominent artists of the day. He often called Michelangelo The Divine One.
What I find most amazing of all this is that they still have some of Michelangelo’s shoes and other garments, found there in his home in Florence after his death.
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