Michelangelo is widely considered the greatest artistic genius that ever lived — a man whose name has become synonymous with the word “masterpiece.” He was born Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni at Caprese, Italy and grew up in Florence, home of the Italian High Renaissance. It was here that he received his education under the patronage of the de Medici family. His works include the world famous sculptures of “David” and the Pietà as well as the breathtaking frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
As an artist he was unmatched, the creator of works of sublime beauty that express the full breadth of the human condition. He left immortal works in sculpture, painting, architecture and poetry and through this vast and multifaceted body of artistic achievement, Michelangelo made an indelible imprint on the Western imagination. No other artist has ever attained such a high level of mastery in all four of these areas of artistic endeavor.
He was a deeply spiritual man and believed that his art was Divinely inspired. To Michelangelo, the artist’s tools and his stone are instruments of the Divine will and the creative process an aspect of salvation. The concept of genius as Divine inspiration, a superhuman power granted to a few rare individuals and acting through them, is nowhere more fully exemplified than in his life and work. The theory that guided Michelangelo’s hand appears in his poetry:
“Every beauty which is seen here below by persons of perception resembles more than anything else that celestial source from which we all are come…My eyes longing for beautiful things together with my soul longing for salvation have no other power to ascend to heaven than the contemplation of beautiful things.”
His contemporaries spoke about the man and his works with one word: “terribilita,” meaning awesome. There has never been a more literally awesome artist than Michelangelo: awesome in the scope of his imagination and awesome in the awareness of the significance – the spiritual significance – of beauty. Beauty was to him Divine; one of the ways in which God communicated Himself to humanity. The absolute perfection of his artistic execution is unsurpassed by any other artist that the world has ever known and explains why his work is so treasured.
THE SEARCH FOR GOD IN BEAUTY AND BEAUTY IN GOD
Michelangelo’s search for God, whose sublime purpose he saw revealed in the beauty of the human form and his disinterest in any subject save the human form, which he held to be the supreme vehicle of expression, led him to an intense and exhaustive study of the human body. His belief that nothing worth preserving could be done without genius was attended by the conviction that genius could not be free to create without persevering study. So Michelangelo studied the human form and he studied the ancient sculptors who knew best how to represent the human body in motion, with all its muscles and sinews. However, he was not content with learning the laws of anatomy secondhand. He made his own research into human anatomy, dissected bodies and drew from models until the human figure did not seem to hold any secrets for him. He strove with an incredible singleness of purpose to master this one problem and master it fully until it was rumored that this young artist not only equaled the renowned masters of classical antiquity but also actually surpassed them.