biography of michaelangelo
YOUNG MICHAELANGELO BUONARROTI UNTIL HIS EARLY YEARS
The most well-known sources about the life and works of Michaelangelo Buonarroti are Giorgio Vasari’s two “Lives” and those of Ascanio Condivi.
The first, an architect from Arezzo, resided in Rome but returned definitively to Florence in 1554. He became one of the foremost interpreters of the city’s main artistic events and a writer and historian of Italian creative life.
The second, a disciple of the master, was an evident and well-informed source, and it seems that Michaelangelo himself used it to rectify some episodes narrated by Vasari that he disagreed with.
Michaelangelo was born in Caprese in Casentino, a region between Chiusi della Verna and Arezzo, on 6 March 1475. His father, Lodovico di Leonardo Buonarroti Simoni, was the mayor of Chiusi della Verna and Caprese.
The family was from Florence and returned there a few weeks after Michaelangelo‘s birth; once his father had completed his assignment in the Val Tiberina, they settled in Settignano. Condivi recounts that Michaelangelo loved to identify himself as Florentine and attributed noble origins to his Buonarroti-Simoni lineage, tracing it back to the counts of Canossa.
Michaelangelo was entrusted to a wet nurse who was the daughter and wife of stonemasons, and he later jokingly remarked that he learned the art of sculpting “while suckling milk.” His mother died prematurely, leaving the young child at six.
He grew up in an atmosphere of austerity that instilled in his soul a veil of sadness and bitterness that would accompany him throughout his life, reflecting in his artistic work along with the effects of the dramatic and tumultuous historical events that took place in Tuscany and Italy between the late 15th and early 16th centuries.
It is said that his father wanted him to become a jurist and thus initiated him into studying grammar under the guidance of the humanist Francesco Galatea from Urbino. However, at thirteen, he was introduced by an older painter friend, Francesco Granacci (1469-1543), who would later work alongside Michaelangelo on the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel from 1508 in Rome.
Granacci introduced him to the workshop of Domenico Ghirlandaio, a prominent figure in Renaissance painting in Florence then, along with Leonardo da Vinci. Michaelangelo entered the workshop of Domenico and Davide Ghirlandaio when the two brothers were busy executing the frescoes of the Cappella Maggiore of Santa Maria Novella in Florence for the Tornabuoni family. Michaelangelo was hired as an apprentice under a three-year contract.
Condivi recounts that his father and brothers disagreed with Michaelangelo‘s choice and deemed it unsuitable for the family’s stature. However, his father eventually signed a three-year apprenticeship contract with a compensation of 24 florins: six for the first year, eight for the second year, and ten for the third year.
The agreement stipulated that the young apprentice must learn to paint and practice. At the same time, Domenico, David di Tommaso, and di Currado del Ghirlandaio could ask the apprentice for assistance.
The contract, dated 1 April 1488, is unique because apprentices of that time were usually hired at the age of ten and received no compensation, at least for the
The first year did not provide any help to the master but focused on drawing by reproducing the master’s works on paper. Instead, Michaelangelo was hired with the task of painting as well.
As Vasari recounts, Michaelangelo soon attracted the admiration of Domenico, who was “astonished by the young pupil’s new manner and imitation” in his drawing.
Young Michaelangelo displayed strong initiative, and great independence of thought, which was uncommon in Florentine workshops, even though young talents populated them.
However, Michaelangelo did not confine himself to the examples and models offered by the workshop but sought them out directly, such as in Santa Croce for Giotto’s frescoes or in the Brancacci Chapel at the Carmine Church in the Oltrarno district, where he was deeply influenced by Masaccio’s great fresco depicting the Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, which is now universally recognized as a groundbreaking work.
Michaelangelo‘s relationship with the Ghirlandaio workshop ended after just one year. Vasari recounts that he was introduced to the Medici garden in front of the San Marco monastery by the same friend, Granacci. Others say that Lorenzo the Magnificent asked Ghirlandaio to recommend “a talented young artist with an inclination for sculpture.
” From that moment on, Michaelangelo frequented the sculpture school under the patronage of Lorenzo the Magnificent, one of the greatest patrons in history, directed by the sculptor Giovanni di Bertoldo, a disciple of the great Donatello.
However, the Medici garden in San Marco was not only a sculpture and drawing school, foreshadowing the later Academy of Design established by Cosimo I de’ Medici. It was also a meeting place for distinguished intellectuals and philosophers of the time, such as Marsilio Ficino, Angelo Poliziano, Pico della Mirandola, and Cristoforo Landini.
Marsilio Ficino, a great humanist, and philosopher, had translated the ancient Greek philosophers into Latin at that time, starting with Plato in 1468 and then Plotinus in 1492. The former was the essential reference point for his philosophical thought, which sought a reconciliation between Platonic thought and Christian doctrine, humanism, and religious principles.
Ficino represented a vision of “beauty” that strongly influenced the culture and art of the mature Renaissance.
Michaelangelo‘s encounters with the intellectuals of the time in the garden and subsequent meetings in the Medici Villas were vital to the young Michaelangelo. They led him to become acquainted with and share in the Neoplatonic philosophical thought that would be decisive in shaping his original style and artistic conception of humanity.
Michaelangelo‘s philosophical inclination becomes even more pronounced when, in 1494, after the death of Lorenzo the Magnificent and a vacation at his father’s house, we find him in Bologna, where, awaiting work commissions, he writes his first verses and profoundly engages in the vernacular reading of Dante Alighieri and Francesco Petrarca.