Michelangelo : biography

6 March 1475 – 18 February 1564

The death of Cecchino dei Bracci, only a year after their meeting in 1543, inspired Michelangelo to write forty-eight funeral epigrams:

La carne terra, e qui l’ossa mia, prive

de’ lor begli occhi, e del leggiadro aspetto fan fede a quel ch’i’ fu grazia nel letto, che abbracciava, e’ n che l’anima vive. by Giovanni Dall’Orto Babilonia n. 85, January 1991, pp. 14–16

The flesh now earth, and here my bones,

Bereft of handsome eyes, and jaunty air, Still loyal are to him I joyed in bed, Whom I embraced, in whom my soul now lives.

Some of the objects of Michelangelo’s affections, and subjects of his poetry, took advantage of him: the model Febo di Poggio asked for money in response to a love-poem, and a second model, Gherardo Perini, stole from him shamelessly.

The openly homoerotic nature of the poetry has been a source of discomfort to later generations. Michelangelo’s grandnephew, Michelangelo the Younger, published them in 1623 with the gender of pronouns changed,Rictor Norton, "The Myth of the Modern Homosexual"., page 143. Cassell, 1997. and it was not until John Addington Symonds translated them into English in 1893 that the original genders were restored. Even in modern times some scholars continue to insist that, despite the restoration of the pronouns, they represent "an emotionless and elegant re-imagining of Platonic dialogue, whereby erotic poetry was seen as an expression of refined sensibilities".

Late in life, Michelangelo nurtured a great love for the poet and noble widow Vittoria Colonna, whom he met in Rome in 1536 or 1538 and who was in her late forties at the time. They wrote sonnets for each other and were in regular contact until she died. Condivi recalls Michelangelo’s saying that his sole regret in life was that he did not kiss the widow’s face in the same manner that he had her hand.A. Condivi (ed. Hellmut Wohl), ‘The Life of Michelangelo,’ p. 103, Phaidon, 1976.

Life and works


Michelangelo arrived in Rome 25 June 1496J. de Tolnay, The Youth of Michelangelo, 26–28 at the age of 21. On 4 July of the same year, he began work on a commission for Cardinal Raffaele Riario, an over-life-size statue of the Roman wine god Bacchus. However, upon completion, the work was rejected by the cardinal, and subsequently entered the collection of the banker Jacopo Galli, for his garden.

In November 1497, the French ambassador in the Holy See commissioned one of his most famous works, the Pietà, and the contract was agreed upon in August of the following year. The contemporary opinion about this work – "a revelation of all the potentialities and force of the art of sculpture" – was summarized by Vasari: "It is certainly a miracle that a formless block of stone could ever have been reduced to a perfection that nature is scarcely able to create in the flesh."

In Rome, Michelangelo lived near the church of Santa Maria di Loreto. Here, according to the legend, he fell in love with Vittoria Colonna, marchioness of Pescara and a poet. Michelangelo’s house was demolished in 1874, and the remaining architectural elements saved by the new proprietors were destroyed in 1930. Today a modern reconstruction of Michelangelo’s house can be seen on the Janiculum hill. It is also during this period that skeptics allege Michelangelo executed the sculpture Laocoön and His Sons which resides in the Vatican.Catterson, Lynn. "Michelangelo’s ‘Laocoön?’" Artibus et historiae. 52. 2005: p. 33

Statue of David

Michelangelo returned to Florence in 1499–1501. The republic was changing after the fall of anti-Renaissance Priest and leader of Florence, Girolamo Savonarola, (executed in 1498) and the rise of the gonfaloniere Piero Soderini. He was asked by the consuls of the Guild of Wool to complete an unfinished project begun 40 years earlier by Agostino di Duccio: a colossal statue portraying David as a symbol of Florentine freedom, to be placed in the Piazza della Signoria, in front of the Palazzo Vecchio. Michelangelo responded by completing his most famous work, the Statue of David, in 1504. This masterwork, created out of a marble block from the quarries at Carrara, one that had already been worked on by an earlier hand, definitively established his prominence as a sculptor of extraordinary technical skill and strength of symbolic imagination.