Top 15 Facts about Michelangelo
*Originally published by Isabel in March 2020 and updated by Vanessa in August 2022
For all the 90s to today generation Michelangelo, one of our favorite brothers in the Ninja Mutant Turtle Comic series, is named after a Renaissance artist of the same name. The artist Michelangelo created some of the best works of art in the world such as the sculpture of Pietà in Rome and that of David in Florence just to mention a few. Despite calling himself a sculpture and declaring to only paint because of the money, he was exceptional at it, and he is the man behind the famous Sistine Chapel’s ceiling painting.
He was born Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni on 6th March 1475 in Caprese near Arezzo, Republic of Florence. For generations, his family members worked as bankers in the region before the collapse of the family owned bank that forced Michelangelo’s father to take a governmental post as the Judicial Administrator. He was raised by his nanny and her husband upon the death of his mother at the age of 6.
Very rare for an artist but even in his lifetime people recognized and appreciated the beautiful craftsmanship of his artworks. He was cherished by the people of Italy and was adored by the name “II Divino,” meaning “The Divine.”
Here are 15 more facts about Michelangelo.
1. He forged a sculpture in 1496.
After hearing from his patron, Lorenzo de Medici, that the Roman sculpture know as Sleeping Cupid was worth a large sum of money a young struggling Michelangelo reproduced the sculpture. To make the sculpture appear worn and ancient he treated it with acidic earth by burring it. He sold the piece to Cardinal Raffaele Riario for a large sum.
This sly act actually launched Michelangelo’s career. Soon the Cardinal heard of the rumors of the rip-off and got his money back from Michelangelo. The Cardinal was so impressed by the sculpture’s abilities that he brought him to work in Rome. Several years later he was able to win a commission to carve the Pietà, the sculpture that made his name as an artist.
2. Pietà was the only work Michelangelo ever signed.
Michelangelo is known to have signed only one artwork with his name, the Pietà which depicts Mary mourning the loss of Jesus Christ who is laid across her lap. Many a time he would simply paint his portrait on his paintings. The most famous being The Last Judgment where his face was used to represent Saint Bartholomew on a piece of flayed skin.
According to Giorgio Vasari, Michelangelo’s contemporary and Biographer, upon overhearing someone comment that the Pietà was the work of another sculptor, Cristoforo Solari, Michelangelo was enraged.
In his rage he carved “MICHAE A[N]GELUS BONAROTUS FLORENTIN[US] FACIEBA[T]” meaning “Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florentine, was making this” along the sash running across Mary’s chest. According to Vasari he later regretted this decision and vowed never to sign another work.
3. He wasn’t originally chosen to paint the Sistine Chapel.
In a move to sabotage his rival Raphael, a well-known painter during this time, convinced the Pope Julius II to choose Michelangelo to paint the chapel. Raphael was hoping that the young artist will be overwhelmed, and he will have to come to his rescue thus defaming Michelangelo. Against all odds Michelangelo worked from July 1508 to October 1512 to complete this piece of mastery that is still admired by millions up to date. Talk about a bad plan exploding right in your face.
Originally the pope had chosen Raphael to paint the chapel but out of jealousy for the young artist whose fame was growing he declined the offer. He was hoping to prove that Michelangelo could not paint as well as himself and that he was only a sculptor. Ironically this is an opinion that both of them shared. Michelangelo described himself as a sculptor and not a painter.
4. He painted himself in the Sistine Chapel.
Michelangelo was a creative man who found creative ways to paint himself in his works instead of signing them. He only signed his name on the Pietà. One of the most famous paintings that he inserted his image is the Last Judgment fresco that covers an entire wall behind the altar of the Sistine Chapel.
The painting depicts the Biblical second coming of Christ. The painter’s imaginative vision prevails in the painting by referring some horrible ways martyrs were killed. Our interest lies on the portrait of St. Bartholomew who was skinned alive and is portrayed with a flayed skin with Michelangelo’s face on it.
5. The David sculpture, was carved from a discarded block of marble.
It is only a master sculptor who can turn trash to treasure. The marble stone that was used to curve the 17-foot, slender statue of David, deemed structurally perfect by the world’s best artists and sculptors of the past and today, was actually quarried and abandoned for over 40 years.
This proved to all the doubting Thomas out there of the capabilities of Michelangelo. It is a must-see piece of art that future generations might not have the privilege of seeing. This is because recent analyses have revealed that the marble’s poor quality has contributed to the status’s faster-than-usual deterioration.
6. He had a habit of making people angry.
Michelangelo was known for his bad temper and moods. He was known for being his own worst critic and was hard on himself with his artwork. From a young age he had the talent of getting into people’s nerves and this is best illustrated by Pietro Torrigiano, one of his peers in school, who boasts of punching Michelangelo in the nose and leaving it permanently crooked because of his smart mouth.
Over time, he was known to be vengeful towards people who critiqued him and his work. A great example is the Pope’s Master of Ceremonies, Biagio da Cesena, who was outraged by the vast number of naked figures in the Sistine Chapel painting. He declared that such a fresco only deserved to appear on the wall of a bar. This greatly offended Michelangelo to the point of painting Biagio in hell as Minos, judge of souls, with two huge ass’s ears and a serpent intent on nibbling his genitals. Biagio complained to the pope who responded by saying that he had no jurisdiction in hell.
7. He was an accomplished Poet.
Michelangelo wrote over 300 poems during his lifetime. His poetry touched on everything from sex and aging to his overactive bladder. Many of the poems incorporated the Neo-Platonism philosophy – that a human soul, powered by love and ecstasy, can reunite with an almighty God.
Most of his great sonnets were written to his close friend, Vittoria Colonna. He was known to jot down stay lines of verses as he sculptured in his workshop. His sonnets and madrigals circulated widely in 16th century Rome’s literates, and composers even set some of them to music. Unfortunately none of his works were published during his lifetime.
8. He never married.
Michelangelo is known to have lived a solitary life in his old age, only coming into contact with other people when forced to work. It is not clearly known why, but he never married and never had any children because his private life is somewhat of a mystery.
However, it is rumored that he did have romantic relations with both men and women alike. Most notably Tommaso dei Cavalieri, a young nobleman, whom he wrote passionate love poetry to. Also, there is a widow known as Vittoria Colomn who was a poet as well. The two wrote sonnets to each other.
9. He worked until the week he died.
In the words of Michelangelo, “Many believe —and I believe—that I have been designated for this work by God. In spite of my old age, I do not want to give it up; I work out of love for God and I put all my hope in Him.”
Michelangelo was commissioned by the Catholic Church to complete the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica when he was 74 years. He worked on the church for 14 more years before his death when he was 88 years. During this time it got physically impossible for him to visit the site regularly and it resulted in him supervising the job from home by sending drawings, designs and answering trusted foremen’s work.
Apart from overseeing the now majestic dome of St. Peter’s Basilica he was also carving the “Rondanini Pietà” which depicts Jesus in the Virgin Mary’s arms days before his death.
10. He died a rich man.
Michelangelo lived a simple life that did not depict the true status of his financial prominence. Upon his death his estate was estimated to be worth 50,000 florins that’s equivalent to $50 million today.
He was able to raise such a crazy amount from paying jobs such as the Sistine Chapel. His banking heritage also played a big role as he was able to invest and save his money.
11. He just had 15 years old when he made the Madonna of the Stairs.
The Madonna of the Stairs is Michelangelo’s earliest known marble piece. At the age of 15, he created Madonna of the Stairs in 1490. His first two sculptures were this one and The Battle of the Centaurs. Both of them turned out to be early defining moments in his life that influenced the way he created sculptures.
12. Leonardo da Vinci died more than 40 years before Michelangelo.
The “great three” of the Florentine High Renaissance are Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino. Despite the frequent association of their names, Michelangelo was eight years older than Raphael and 23 years younger than Leonardo.
Unfortunately, Michelangelo had limited relationships with either artist because of his reclusive temperament and lived more than 40 years longer than both of them. Unlike Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, who passed away at the young age of 37, Leonardo da Vinci died at the age of 67.
13. The Rondanini Pieta, his final sculpture.
Prior to his passing and the onset of his sickness, Michelangelo continued to frequently visit the site of St. Peter’s Basilica building at the Vatican. By emailing the plans and drawings of his subordinates, he oversaw the work he was performing from home.
Furthermore, he would continue to carve until his very final days despite this. He even continued to work on the “Rondanini Pieta,” which showed Jesus in the arms of the Virgin Mary.
14. He is regarded as being realistic by many people.
Despite his wealth, Michelangelo always lived modestly, telling his pupil, “However rich I may have been, I have always lived like a poor man.”
His descriptions indicate that Michelangelo would consume food and beverages more out of need than pleasure and that he could comfortably sleep while wearing casual attire and boots.
15. The construction of Pope Julius II’s tomb took 40 years.
The freshly elected Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to design and construct his tomb in 1505. With at least 40 sculptures, they aimed to complete it in 5 years.
But because he had to stop working on the tomb frequently to perform other jobs, it took 40 years (from 1505 to 1545) to complete and he wasn’t satisfied with the results.