Michelangelo (1475-1564) was a sculptor, painter and architect widely considered to be the greatest artists of the Italian Renaissance period—and arguably of all time. His work demonstrated a blend of psychological insight, physical realism and intensity never before seen. His contemporaries recognized his extraordinary talent, and Michelangelo received commissions from some of the most wealthy and powerful men of his day, including popes and others affiliated with the Catholic Church. His resulting work, most notably his Pietà and David sculptures and Sistine Chapel ceiling paintings, has been carefully tended and preserved, ensuring that future generations would be able to view and appreciate Michelangelo’s genius.
Michelangelo: Early Life and Training
Michelangelo Buonarroti (Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni) was born on March 6, 1475, in Caprese, Italy. His father worked for the Florentine government, and shortly after his birth his family returned to Florence, the city Michelangelo would always consider his true home.
Did You Know?
Michelangelo received the commission to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling as a consolation prize of sorts when Pope Julius II temporarily scaled back plans for a massive sculpted memorial to himself that Michelangelo was to complete.
Florence during the Renaissance period was a vibrant arts center, an opportune locale for Michelangelo’s innate talents to develop and flourish. His mother died when he was 6, and initially his father initially did not approve of his son’s interest in art as a career. At 13, Michelangelo was apprenticed to painter Domenico Ghirlandaio, particularly known for his murals. A year later, his talent drew the attention of Florence’s leading citizen and art patron, Lorenzo de’ Medici, who enjoyed the intellectual stimulation of being surrounded by the city’s most literate, poetic and talented men. He extended an invitation to Michelangelo to reside in a room of his palatial home.
Michelangelo learned from and was inspired by the scholars and writers in Lorenzo’s intellectual circle, and his later work would forever be informed by what he learned about philosophy and politics in those years. While staying in the Medici home, he also refined his technique under the tutelage of Bertoldo di Giovanni, keeper of Lorenzo’s collection of ancient Roman sculptures and a noted sculptor himself. Although Michelangelo expressed his genius in many media, he would always consider himself a sculptor first.
Michelangelo: The Pieta and David
Michelangelo was working in Rome by 1498, when he received a career-making commission from the visiting French cardinal Jean Bilhères de Lagraulas, envoy of King Charles VIII to the pope. The cardinal wanted to create a substantial statue depicting a draped Virgin Mary with her dead son resting in her arms—a Pietà—to grace his own future tomb. Michelangelo’s delicate 69-inch-tall masterpiece featuring two intricate figures carved from one block of marble continues to draw legions of visitors to St. Peter’s Basilica more than 500 years after it’s completion.
Michelangelo returned to Florence and in 1501 was contracted to create, again from marble, a huge male figure to enhance the city’s famous Duomo, officially the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. He chose to depict the young David from the Old Testament, heroic, energetic, powerful and spiritual, and literally larger than life at 17 feet tall. The sculpture, considered by scholars to be nearly technically perfect, remains in Florence at the Galleria dell’Accademia, where it is a world-renowned symbol of the city and its artistic heritage.
Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel Ceiling
In 1505, Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to sculpt him a grand tomb with 40 life-size statues, and the artist began work. But the pope’s priorities shifted away from the project as he became embroiled in military disputes and his funds became scarce, and a displeased Michelangelo left Rome (although he continued to work on the tomb, off and on, for decades).
However, in 1508, Julius called Michelangelo back to Rome for a less expensive, but still ambitious painting project: to depict the 12 apostles on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, a most sacred part of the Vatican where new popes are elected and inaugurated.
Instead, over the course of the four-year project, Michelangelo painted 12 figures—seven prophets and five sibyls (female prophets of myth)—around the border of the ceiling, and filled the central space with scenes from Genesis. Critics suggest that the way Michelangelo depicts the prophet Ezekiel—as strong yet stressed, determined yet unsure—is symbolic of Michelangelo’s sensitivity to the intrinsic complexity of the human condition. The most famous Sistine Chapel ceiling painting is the emotion-infused The Creation of Adam, in which God and Adam outstretch their hands to one another.
Michelangelo: Architecture, Poetry, Morality
Michelangelo continued to sculpt and paint until his death, although he increasingly worked on architectural projects as he aged: His work from 1520 to 1527 on the interior of the Medici Chapel in Florence included wall designs, windows and cornices that were unusual in their design as well as proportions and introduced startling variations on classical forms. Michelangelo also designed the iconic dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome (although its completion came after his death). Among his other masterpieces are Moses (sculpture, completed 1515); The Last Judgment (painting, completed 1534); and Day, Night, Dawn and Dusk (sculptures, all completed by 1533).
From the 1530s on, Michelangelo wrote poems; about 300 survive. Many incorporate the philosophy of Neo-Platonism–that a human soul, powered by love and ecstasy, can reunite with an almighty God—ideas that had been the subject of intense discussion while he was an adolescent living in Lorenzo de’ Medici’s household.
After he left Florence permanently in 1534 for Rome, Michelangelo also wrote many lyrical letters to his family members who remained there. The theme of many was his strong attachment to various young men, especially aristocrat Tommaso Cavalieri. Scholars debate whether this was more an expression of homosexuality or a bittersweet longing by the unmarried, childless, aging Michelangelo for a father-son relationship.
Michelangelo died after a short illness in 1564 at 88, surviving far past the usual life expectancy of the era. A pietà he had begun sculpting in the late 1540s, intended for his own tomb, remained unfinished but is on display at the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, in Florence—not very far from where Michelangelo is buried, at the Basilica di Santa Croce.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is this the first time Michelangelo limited edition bronze sculptures are being made available in a reduced size?
The entire collection of original molds was purchased by a Texas Partnership, October 2008 SRW Partnership, from the Ferdinando Marinelli Artistic Foundry in Florence, Italy. This foundry had been chosen to do most of the direct plaster molds. Authorization and exclusive approval was obtained from the partnership to do reduced sized limited editions less than one year ago. This is a historic event, previously not available until new technology was in place to create the models from the certified castings and all legal agreements between the various entities were completed.
What is the story behind The Original Molds?
Starting in the 1920’s direct plaster casts were taken of many of Michelangelo’s most famous sculptures with authorization from the Vatican, museums, various churches and basilicas. This project was undertaken to protect the artist's treasures of Italy.
Who verified that the molds are authentic?
Casa Buonarroti, the world’s leading experts on Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, or commonly known as Michelangelo, validated the molds.
Who is Casa Buonarroti and how can they authenticate Michelangelo’s work?
Casa Buonarroti was formed by Michelangelo’s family after Michelangelo’s death to preserve the estate and works of Michelangelo. Casa Buonarroti is the rightful and lawful holder of and to the artist’s moral rights which have been passed down from Michelangelo to his heirs. Casa Buonarroti is a foundation and museum in Florence, Italy and they possess one of the world’s largest collection’s of Michelangelo’s work. Casa Buonarroti includes a number of the world’s foremost experts on the work of Michelangelo.
What makes Casa Buonarroti unique as far as authorizing the work of Michelangelo?
Casa Buonarroti is unique in its position as having Michelangelo’s “droits moral” – or moral rights – and thus, can grant authorization, sanction and approval for works of art created from Michelangelo’s original molds. Casa Buonarroti can also grant authorization for others to utilize the Buonarroti family crest for bronze sculptures derived from the original molds.
What are droits moral?
The term moral rights is a translation of the French term droit moral, and refers to the ability of artists to control the eventual fate of their works. An artist is said to have the moral right to control his work. The concept of moral rights thus relies on the connection between an artist and his creation. Moral rights protect the personal and reputational, rather than purely monetary, value of a work to its creator.
Why was the Lost Wax Bronze castings chosen?
Bronze castings are highly sought after and are historic dating back thousands of years. History shows Michelangelo worked in bronze as well as marble and utilized the centuries old lost wax casting method.
How are these sculptures protected?
Each casting will have the original copyright holder’s imprint, October 2008 SRW Partnership, the Publisher, Renaissance Masters’ imprint, Casa Buonarroti’s imprint, as well as the foundry imprint. Each sculpture will have one hologram attached to the sculpture. Matching holograms will be attached to the certificate of authenticity, to a registration card and to the Original Paperwork from Michelangelo Sculpture International. There will be a script signature and an edition number on each casting.
Does each limited edition come with a certificate of authenticity?
Yes, each sculpture will come with a completed and signed certificate of authenticity.
Do I need to register my sculpture?
Yes, once the registration certificate is received it will be held in trust until it is needed to verify your bronze as an authentic and authorized sculpture. This is done to protect your investment and to verify its authenticity.
How were these authorized limited editions created?
These Authorized Sculptures are derived from bronze castings from the original molds. Each original mold has been verified by Casa Buonarroti, the House of Michelangelo, as a direct cast taken directly from the Original Michelangelo Buonarroti artwork.
What are the edition sizes for the collection?
Each image will vary. The edition sizes will be clearly stated on the certificate of authenticity of each piece. The first image Saint Peter’s Pietà will be an edition of 275 signed and numbered, as well as 50 numbered Artist Proofs. A small Edition of 50 will be reserved for Museums and a Roman Numeral Edition of 100 will be designated for foreign distribution. Once the entire edition has been cast, the molds will be broken or donated to a museum.
Where are they cast?
Artworks Foundry in Berkeley, California, has been designated as the primary foundry for the reduced size formats. Artworks is one of the United States leading foundries specializing in the lost wax technique. Its owner Piero Mussi learned the craft in his home country of Italy before starting Artworks in the USA more than 35 years ago.
What prevents someone else from making a copy of a Michelangelo Sculpture?
Any artist can interpret and try to copy historic sculptures. The result would be an unauthorized copy by an unknown artist with minimum value and no importance. Casa Buonarroti has stated that they are aware of the fact that bronze reproductions of Michelangelo’s works are present on the international market. They also have certified that Casa Buonarroti has NOT attributed or authenticated these bronzes as Michelangelo authorized works of art.
How many different images will be available?
There are 28 individual Michelangelo bronze castings from the original molds that may be reproduced in reduced size formats as well as portions of some bronze castings that will be produced as busts. All original molds owned by October 2008 SRW Partnership have been authenticated by Casa Buonarroti.
What role does Michelangelo Sculpture International play?
Our company has been granted the exclusive rights to distribute these Limited Edition Bronze Castings through a network of MSI Authorized Fine Art Galleries.http://www.michelangelosi.com