Myth Trivia: The brilliance of Michelangelo

During his lifetime, Michelangelo, a sculptor was also a painter, architect, and poet, and he was regarded as the greatest living artist of the day. Today, he is considered one of the greatest artists in history

The Pieta by Michelangelo at St. Peter's the Vatican

CHARLOTTE, N.C., February 22, 2017 – It was a toss-up this week between President’s Day and Michelangelo for the trivia nod, but given the recent campaigns and elections we opted for art over politics.

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni was born in Tuscany on the outskirts of Florence, Italy in 1475. He died in February of 1564 in Rome, the same year William Shakespeare was born.

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During his lifetime, Michelangelo, a sculptor was also a painter, architect and poet, was regarded as the greatest living artist of the day. Today, he is considered one of the greatest artists in history.

Anyone who has ever viewed “The Pieta,” which today sits in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, cannot help but be moved by the delicate mastery of the sculpture.

Begun when Michelangelo was only 21 and completed at the age of 22, the pyramid shaped statue is breathtaking to behold as a youthful Mary cradles the body of Christ in her lap.

The delicacy of the piece combined with the task of creating a male figure anatomically capable of resting in the arms of a smaller female figure is truly an astonishing feat.

The triangular shape, gives a subtle message of Christ’s teachings about the triune divinity of “Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”

Perhaps more fascinating, however, is the way “The Pieta” was commissioned because Michelangelo was involved in a bit of skulduggery in the process.

The Pieta by Michelangelo at St. Peter’s the Vatican

While working on a piece for Lorenzo de’ Medici, Michelangelo’s patron realized the statue greatly resembled another sculpture from ancient Greece. De Medici decided he could take the polished finished work, scuff it up to make it appear like an ancient relic and then sell it for more money than it was worth.

In order to make ensure the success of the con, the partners in crime chose Cardinal Raffaele Riario as their mark. When Riario learned that he had been taken, rather than have Michelangelo arrested, he commissioned Buonarroti to sculpt “The Pieta” instead.

It was the turning point of Michelangelo’s career. For the record, “The Pieta” is the only work of art Michelangelo ever signed.

Statue of David by Michelangelo

At a height of 17-feet, “David” is another of Michelangelo’s most impressive works. The genius of “David” is not so much in the exquisite sculpture itself, as it is in how Michelangelo created his masterpiece.

The slab of marble from which “David” emerged had been discarded on several occasions because it contained flaws that were said to be impossible to sculpt around. Rather than carve his sculpture from a horizontal position, Michelangelo chose to make it vertical, allowing the freedom to create “David” despite the “scars” other artists could not ignore.

It took Michelangelo three years to complete “David” from 1501 to 1504. When it was finished, “David” replaced a bronze sculpture by Donatello at the entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio.

The youthful naked sculpture withstood the elements for 369 years before it was finally moved to its current resting place in the Accademia Gallery. Today, a replica of “David” stands in the spot once occupied by the original.

It was no secret that Michelangelo considered himself a sculptor and not a painter, but that made no difference to Pope Julius II, the warrior pope who commissioned the painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

Michelangelo resisted at first and restarted at least once as is documented in the 1961 novel “The Agony and the Ecstasy” by Irving Stone, and the film of the same name in 1966.

The frescoes took Michelangelo four years to complete, much of the work being done while lying on scaffolding that created awkward positions for the artist.

Oddly enough, a controversial cleaning project which began in 1980 with a proposed 20-year span took the cleaners a full decade longer to clean the ceiling than it took Michelangelo to paint it.

The freshly restored chapel opened in 1994, but the vibrant colors following the removal of hundreds of years of soot, smoke, grime and fumes completely altered art experts’ theories regarding Michelangelo’s use of color.

Sistine Chapel – Image courtesy Sistine Chapel Pickpocket on Facebook

A quarter of a century after finishing the Sistine’s ceiling, from 1536 to 1541, Michelangelo painted “The Last Judgment” on the altar wall.

Wrapping up, Michelangelo was also involved in designing the dome of St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, however, contrary to popular belief, he did not create the Swiss Guards uniforms.

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Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.

Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (

Read more of What in the World and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News

Follow Bob on Twitter @MrPeabod

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