Michelangelo And The Sistine Chapel
Why did it take Michelangelo so long to complete the Sistine Chapel fresco? This article explains his life and the time he spent painting in the chapel.
Michelangelo is often said to be one of the greatest artists that Europe has ever seen. He is certainly at least one of the most important figures in the Italian Renaissance. As well as painting, he often sculpted and has produced many Madonnas, as well as the famous frescos upon the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Michelangelo was born on March 6, 1475. His full name was Michelangelo Buonarroti. He had a very aristocratic family and from an early age his parents tried desperately to quash his dreams of becoming an artist, they did not think that it was a suitable profession for someone of his class and background. When Michelangelo was old enough, he immediately enrolled himself into a school for artists run by Bertoldo di Giovanni in Florence.
At the age of 13 he was taken on as an apprentice by Domenico Ghirlandaio, who at the time was painting the chapel in the church of Santa Maria Novelle in Florence. Here, the young artist learned the technique of fresco (the art of painting upon wet plaster before it dries).
He then began spending time with the sculptor Lorenzo de' Medici and learned the art and techniques of sculpture.
In 1496 he arrived in Rome where he produced one of his greatest works - Pieta, a statue of the Virgin Mary, looking like a girl with the dying body of Christ in her arms.
When Michelangelo was 15 he then returned home to Florence where he produced another masterpiece - his statue of the young Biblical king, David. His fellow artists affectionately called the David as the 'Giant'. The statue was completed in 1504. Later that year Michelangelo was commissioned to undertake a fresco of the Battle of the Cascina, a work that was later destroyed. During this time, the artist produced several Madonnas including the painting of the Doni Madonna and a statue entitled Bruges Madonna.
Soon after the works were completed he was called to Rome by Pope Julius II to produce a tomb for him to contain over thirty life-size figures, a project that never fully materialised.
In 1508 Michelangelo was asked to create what was sure to be his most famous work, the ceiling frescos of the Sistine Chapel.
To reach the high, vaulted ceilings, Michelangelo had a tall network of scaffolding. Every day he would climb the to top of it and begin work. He divided the ceiling into nine panels, each shown a scene from the Old Testament, beginning with the Creation.
At the beginning of the undertaking, Michelangelo insisted on having assistants to help him, however after searching, many artists willing to help weren't good enough for the painter.
By 1512 the task had been completed and branded his finest masterpiece to date. Towards the last thirty years of his life, Michelangelo spent his time in Rome. He returned to the Sistine Chapel in 1534 where he created the Last Judgement, another fresco on the blank end wall. He then designed the Dome for St. Peter’s and the Capitoline Square until his death on February 18th 1564.