The “Other” Renaissance Man: Michelangelo

The title of Renaissance Man is usually attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo most certainly shared that pedestal with him. In our last article we mentioned that Da Vinci, while being responsible for some of history´s greatest works of art, was not an artist of passion. Da Vinci created works of art so that he would have money to fund his real passions: Science and engineering. Michelangelo on the other hand, was a man of deep passions and was an artist to his soul. He was an engineer and innovator as well, but only in ways that related to his heart. His inspiring St. Peter´s Basilica for instance was merely a decorative housing for his artwork, as his work in the Sistine Chapel´s Alter Wall and ceiling demonstrates. His fresco work is was especially prized by the Church in Rome and the Vatican still holds a great amount of this one artists work.

While the largest part of his work was inspired by Christian images there were a number of pieces, even some ordered by Church Cardinals, such as the statues Hercules and Bacchus. Even his most famous work in marble, David, was not produced to glorify the Church or Christianity but was instead meant to symbolize the freedom of Florence after the oppressive rule of Girolamo Savonarola, a monk sent by Rome to try to squash the Renaissance. But it was Michelangelo´s work on the Sistine Chapel that shines down on us from history and many people do not know that this entire job was created as a way to embarrass the great man.

Michelangelo had been invited to Rome by Pope Julius III in order to design the Popes Tomb. But the great artist Raphael had already been working in the city for some years and did most of his work for the Church. Michelangelo´s presence was seen as a threat by Raphael, who was seen as the master of fresco painting, and he wanted Michelangelo to fail in a spectacular way. Michelangelo was quite unfamiliar with fresco painting and Raphael lobbied to have him do the ceiling and alter wall in the chapel. But Michelangelo would not be humiliated. The original order was for a scene featuring the Apostles but the Master decided that this was not good enough, instead painting not only the creation scene, in three parts, but the genealogy of Christ, upon which the entire Christian Church was founded.

A pharmacy technician from Idaho or bank clerk from Miami, vacationing in Rome and visiting the Vatican, cannot possibly understand the vicious political in-fighting among the many artists and Michelangelo himself found many of his works being called being called “sacrilegious”, simply because he featured a great deal of nudity. There are a few left handed scholarships that will allow students of history to study the politics of the time and allow them to get a better understanding of when these great works were created.

Many of the artists of the time were either homosexual or bi sexual and much of Michelangelo´s work reflects that this was very probably the case with him as well. The problem with identifying the Master´s sexual orientation is that his personal habits probably drove away any potential lovers, male or female. Completely obsessed with his art, Michelangelo´s personal habits were atrocious and he was seen my many in Rome and Florence as an obscene man. But the fact is that this artist, by working extensively for the Vatican, ensured that both his work and his writings would survive for study today.