Believing Thomas

musings on the church calendar from one who seldom doubts

Miguel Angel, by Daniele da Volterra, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

When one thinks of the artist who had the greatest influence on Christianity, the name of Michelangelo would usually be the first one to come to mind. Michelangelo Buonarroti, noted not only for his paintings and sculpture, but also for his architectural influence, was born March 6, 1475 at Capresein, Italy in a valley of the Arno River. He was from a Florentine family of modest income, but noble heritage.

He began his career as an apprentice in 1488 to Domenico Ghirlandajo, who was so impressed with the young man’s work, that he suggested to Lorenzo Medici that Michelangelo was talented enough to justify further education. Lorenzo (known as Lorenzo the Magnificent) sponsored the young sculptor and artist’s education from 1489 to 1492, living in the Medici palace with Medici’s sons and meeting members of higher society and scholarly members of the Academy in Florence. When Lorenzo died, April 8, 1492, Michelangelo returned for a while to his parental home and during about two years there carved a wooden crucifix for a local church where he had studied anatomy and later a heroic sculpture of Hercules, which was sent to France and later lost. In January of 1494, Pietro Medici called him back to carve a snow sculpture, but the Medicis were driven away from Florence apparently as a result of actions of Savanarola, an influential reforming preacher, whom Michelangelo coincidentally admired. The young genius then spent some time in Venice and Bologna before returning in 1495 to Florence, where the political atmosphere had somewhat settled. After working without any sponsorship of the new Florentine government and an abortive attempt by another Medici to pass off a new sculpture of the young artist as an ancient one. Michelangelo was invited to Rome by Cardinal Raffaele Riario, the target of the fraud, who was impressed by the competence of the work.

In 1497 Cardinal Jean de Bilheres-Lagraulas commissioned the young sculptor to sculpt what became the world famous Pieta, depicting Mary, the grieving mother holding the body of her son Jesus after his crucifixion. The sculpture was completed in 1499.

In the same year the young genius determined to return to Florence. There he was commissioned to complete a sculpture of the young David as a symbol of the independence of that city. That masterpiece was completed in 1504. It definitely established his fame throughout the era and for all time, but he was not through by any means.

In 1505 at the invitation of Pope Julius II, Michelangelo returned to Rome to build the Pope’s tomb. In 1508, he began another, perhaps the most famous of his master works, painting the walls and even the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. After four years of what must have been excruciating labor on his back he completed this remarkable project at the age of 37!

As to his abilities with architecture, Michelangelo designed the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican and other projects for different properties.

Concerning his works as a poet, he left some 300 sonnets. An example of one, translated by J.A. Samuels, was offered by James Kiefer, biographer of Christians:

On the Brink of Death.

Now hath my life across a stormy sea

Like a frail bark reached that wide port where all

Are bidden, ere the final reckoning fall

Of good and evil for eternity.

Now know I well how that fond phantasy

Which made my soul the worshipper and thrall

Of earthly art, is vain; how criminal

Is that which all men seek unwillingly.

Those amorous thoughts which were so lightly dressed,

What are they when the double death is nigh?

The one I know for sure, the other dread. high,

Whose arms to clasp us on the cross were spread.

Painting nor sculpture now can lull to rest

My soul that turns to His great love on.

Although Michelangelo died February 18, 1564, he is remembered with another Christian Artist, Albrecht Durer, on April 6th, the date of Durer’s death.

When anyone refers to a Renaissance Man, Michelangelo Buonarroti has to be a prime Christian example. +

(c) 2016 Thomas H. Peterson

Sources: Catholic Encyclopedia;;

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti;

James Kiefer’s Christian Biographies (April) ; Michelangelo Buonarroti, Artist

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