Michelangelo: Biography and Works

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has an M.A in instructional education.

Michelangelo was a historic sculptor from Florence, born in 1475. Follow the biography of this prolific artist in his early work and apprenticeship under Lorenzo de Medici, learn how he produced 'Bacchus,' 'The Pieta,' and 'David,' and explore his complex relationships with the Sistine Chapel and the Roman Catholic Church. Updated: 10/28/2021

Early Childhood

'If you knew how much work went into it, you wouldn't call it genius.' These words are attributed to the famous Michelangelo, arguably one of the most famous, if not the most famous, artist of all time.

Michelangelo Buonarroti, known to many of us as simply Michelangelo, was born in March 1475 in a small Florentine village. His father was a government official with strong ties to the banking system of Florence. History doesn't tell us very much about his family, but we do know that he left his parents' home and moved to the home of a stonecutter. Some sources claim this was because Michelangelo's mother was too ill to care for him, while others claim it was Michelangelo's health that caused the move. Either way, the time spent with the stonecutter had a huge impact on young Michelangelo, the boy destined to become one of the most respected sculptors in history.

As Michelangelo approached his teen years, his father had him moved back to Florence. Some accounts claim this was born of a desire to have Michelangelo follow in his footsteps, becoming a banker or a government official. However, Michelangelo had different ideas. By the time he was 13, Michelangelo was studying under the artist Ghirlandaio. During this time, Michelangelo learned sculpture, painting and the art of fresco from the accomplished Ghirlandaio. Perhaps even more important, Ghirlandaio had ties to the wealthiest family in all of Florence, the Medici.

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Conquistadors and Encomienda System: Definition & Savaging of the New World

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:05 Early Childhood
  • 1:40 Working for the Medici
  • 3:06 Sculpting 'Bacchus,'…
  • 4:56 The Sistine Chapel
  • 6:58 The Last Judgment
  • 7:46 Personal Relationships
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

Working for the Medici

The Medici were bankers and patrons to many artists of Florence. A patron is a person who gives financial or other support to a person, organization, cause or activity. In simpler terms, it's a person who wants some piece of art created, so he foots the bill for the artist's supplies and living expenses while the artist works. As soon as the wealthy Medici got a glimpse of Michelangelo's talent, their loose connection grew into a full-blown bond. In the early 1490s, Michelangelo left the apprenticeship of Ghirlandaio and actually moved into the estate of Lorenzo de Medici, a sculptor himself and the de facto ruler of Florence. While studying in the Medici gardens, Michelangelo met some of the world's most respected poets, scientists and philosophers. Their views rubbed off on the young Michelangelo's work, mixing religion with myth. Two of his most famous works of this time are the Madonna of the Stairs, also known as the 'Madonna of the Steps,' and the Battle of the Centaurs.

While working on his craft, it seems Michelangelo spent little time working on his people skills. Known to history as a rather moody, arrogant fellow, it seems he began gaining this reputation rather early. According to tradition, Michelangelo and a fellow student of the arts got into a quarrel, and the artist punched Michelangelo in the nose, breaking it and causing it to be crooked for the rest of time.

Sculpting 'Bacchus,' 'The Pieta' and 'David'

In 1492, Lorenzo de Medici, Michelangelo's patron, died. After his death, the Medici fortune began to dwindle. This, along with the outspoken words of Florence's new ruler Savonarola, a monk who radically opposed any sort of secular art and accused the Medici of heresy, caused Michelangelo to return to the home of his father. Upon his return, Michelangelo became enthralled with the human form, even studying cadavers to improve his craft.

By 1496, Michelangelo found himself in Rome, where he received a commission, or the hiring and payment for the creation of a piece. The cardinal himself wanted the young Michelangelo to sculpt a huge statue of Bacchus, the ancient god of wine. Although it seems the cardinal wasn't fond of the finished product, this didn't stop Michelangelo. Just a short time later, he sculpted the Pieta, which still stands in Saint Peter's Basilica of Rome. Of this magnificent sculpture, a fellow Renaissance artist wrote, 'It is a miracle that a shapeless block of stone could have been carved away to make something so perfect that even nature could hardly have made it better, using real human flesh!'

After the death of the radical monk Savonarola, Michelangelo returned to Florence. With Florence in political upheaval, Michelangelo was commissioned to turn a damaged piece of marble into the biblical hero David. This masterpiece of the human form shows the naked David poised like a Greek god with his eyes determined to protect his land. Many art historians believe this work, more than any other, portrays Michelangelo's devotion for the Republic of Florence and his desire to see it be set free.

The Sistine Chapel

With his star rising, Michelangelo was invited back to Rome by the Pope himself! Pope Julius II, being rather up there in age, wanted Michelangelo to design an over-the-top tomb for him. From this project came the famous Moses, which is still in Rome today. However, before his tomb could be completed, the Pope turned his attention to a new project.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it now
Create an account to start this course today
Used by over 30 million students worldwide
Create an account