ARTISTS (1475–1564); CAPRESE, ITALY
Michelangelo—full name Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni—is often regarded as one of the most impactful artists of the Renaissance period, creating notable works such as the statues of David and Pietà, and his paintings in the Sistine Chapel, including The Creation of Adam on its ceiling and The Last Judgment behind the church altar. Learn more about the artist below.
1. Michelangelo’s statue of David was originally going to be located on a Florence rooftop.
When the city of Florence first commissioned Michelangelo to sculpt David, it was supposed to be one of many statues to line the roof of the Florence Cathedral dome. But the statue was so well-received when it was completed in 1504 that it was decided that it needed to be more visible to people. Plus, at 17 feet tall and weighing 6.4 tons, moving it onto the roof wouldn’t have been an easy task.
The decision was then made to display it outside the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence’s government offices, where it stood for nearly 370 years before moving to the Galleria dell'Accademia (the Gallery of the Academy of Florence) in 1873, which is where he still stands today.
2. Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment painting may contain a self-portrait of the artist.
In addition to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo also did a fresco painting on the altar wall of the church, which he worked on from 1536 to 1541. The painting depicts the second coming of Jesus and the judgment of souls going to heaven or hell. It’s generally believed that the artist snuck a reference to himself into the painting; a likeness of Michelangelo can reportedly be seen in the flayed skin of St. Bartholomew, who himself was skinned alive.
3. Michelangelo’s Pietà statue is the artist’s only work to feature his signature.
Pietà, which depicts Mary cradling the body of Jesus after the Crucifixion, is one of Michelangelo’s best-known works. The sculpture is notable beyond just being a masterpiece from the artist—it’s also reportedly the only work Michelangelo ever signed. So what made Michelangelo's Pietà so different from his other works that he just had to sign it? Apparently, he overheard onlookers admiring the statue as a work in progress, but when one of them asked who the artist was, someone in the group attributed it to a different sculptor.
Michelangelo, horrified by the onlooker’s mixup, returned to the statue one night and chiseled his name across Mary’s chest—an act he would later regret and led him to vow that he would never sign another piece of work.
4. Michelangelo’s Moses Sculpture Was Meant for a Much Larger Tomb for Pope Julius II.
Moses is considered one of the artist’s finest works, acting as the main piece for the tomb of Pope Julius II. But while the tomb in its present state is impressive, it was originally meant to be much larger. Pope Julius II, who commissioned the work while he was still alive, meant for his final resting place to be a three-level work, with up to 40 life-sized statues potentially adorning it.
However, other projects, like the Sistine Chapel ceiling, got in the way—but not before Moses was sculpted with the original plans in mind. Following the pope’s death in 1513, Michelangelo agreed to sculpt a much more toned-down tomb, which is where the statue presently stands. Some evidence of the original ideas exist, though, including illustrations of the plans and statues like the Dying Slave and Rebellious Slave, which were planned for the larger design but then wound up in the Louvre in Paris when the plans changed.
5. It took four years for Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Consisting of 300 figures and taking up more than 12,000 square feet, Michelangelo’s sprawling painting on the Sistine Chapel ceiling was a massive undertaking, so it should come as no surprise that it took four years for the artist to finish. Other artists contributed work on the chapel walls, including Sandro Botticelli, Cosimo Rosselli, and Pietro Perugino.
6. Contrary to popular belief, Michelangelo did not paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling while lying on his back.
Despite being a prominent part of Michelangelo’s mythology, the artist did not paint the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling while on his back. In reality, he and his team had constructed a special scaffold to allow him to finish his masterpiece while remaining vertical. Chock the whole thing up to a mistranslation, stemming from a Michelangelo biography by a bishop named Paolo Giovio, where he used the word resupinus, meaning “bent backward,” to talk about the artist’s painting position. Some made the mistake of interpreting that as meaning “on his back,” which is where the idea of a horizontal Michelangelo originated.
7. Michelangelo didn’t consider himself a very talented painter.
The Sistine Chapel ceiling is one of the most celebrated artistic feats in history, but during the whole ordeal, Michelangelo expressed that he had no faith in his ability as a painter. The project left him anxious and paranoid, believing he was being set up to fail. “I’m not in a good place, and I’m no painter,” he famously wrote about the project. While the anxiety may have been there, Michelangelo actually convinced Pope Julius II to expand the scope of the work early on. What was originally supposed to be a painting of the 12 apostles turned into the grand scene you see today.
8. Florence’s Piazzale Michelangelo square has bronze copies of the artist’s most famous sculptures.
Michelangelo was born on March 6, 1475 in Caprese, Italy, and he passed away after a brief illness on February 18, 1564 in Macel de'Corvi, Rome at the age of 88. And in modern-day Florence, his legacy is now a permanent fixture. This is highlighted by the Piazzale Michelangelo, a popular lookout named after the artist that’s just across from the Arno River that offers panoramic views of the city. As a dedication to Michelangelo and his works, some of his most famous statues—including David and the four allegorical statues from Medici Chapel (Dawn, Dusk, Night, and Day)—are recreated in bronze and placed around the square.
9. Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam may feature a hidden image of the brain.
In 1990, a physician from Indiana named Dr. Frank Lynn Meshberger came up with a new interpretation of The Creation of Adam, which is the most recognizable portion of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. His theory is that the rose-colored fabric that surrounds God and Eve in the painting represents the human brain, due to its distinct shape. He also pointed to other details that can be found within, such as a green scarf standing in for the vertebral artery and an angel’s foot and leg forming what looks like the pituitary stalk and gland.
Famous Michelangelo Artwork:
- The Creation of Adam (The Sistine Chapel)
- The Last Judgment (The Sistine Chapel)
- Moses (Tomb of Pope Julius II)
- Madonna of Bruges
- Doni Tondo
- The Torment of Saint Anthony
- The Crucifixion of St. Peter
Famous Michelangelo Quotes:
- "Love takes me captive; beauty binds my soul; pity and mercy with their gentle eyes wake in my heart a hope that cannot cheat." (From his poem "Doom of Beauty.")
- "A man paints with his brains and not with his hands."
- "My stomach's squashed under my chin, my beard's pointing at heaven, my brain's crushed in a casket, my breast twists like a harpy's. My brush, above me all the time, dribbles paint so my face makes a fine floor for droppings!" (Translated from his poem "When the Author Was Painting the Vault of the Sistine Chapel," which was about the agony of painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling.)