Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni was born on March 6, 1475, in Caprese near Arezzo, Tuscany. (The area is now known as Caprese Michelangelo.) His parents were Ludovico di Leonardo Buonarroti Simoni and Francesca di Neri del Miniato di Siena. The “family had been small-scale bankers in Florence” for several generations, but his father took a job with the government when the bank failed. His father was the Judicial administrator in Caprese as well as the local administrator of Chiusi at the time of Michelangelo’s birth. They moved to Florence several months later.
Even though unproven, Michelangelo believed the family claim of descent from the Countess Mathilde of Canossa. His mother endured a prolonged illness and died in 1481 when Michelangelo was only six years old. During the illness and after his mother’s death, Michelangelo lived in Settignano with a nanny and her husband. His father owned a marble quarry and a small farm in Settignano, and the nanny’s husband was a stonecutter. It is little wonder that Michelangelo learned to love marble. Giogio Vasari quotes him as saying:
If there is some good in me, it is because I was born in the subtle atmosphere of your country of Arezzo. Along with the milk of my nurse I received the knack of handling chisel and hammer, with which I make my figures.
Michelangelo was sent at a young age to Florence to study grammar, but he preferred “to copy paintings from churches and seek the company of painters.” Since Florence was “the greatest centre of the arts and learning in Italy” at the time, Michelangelo was in the right spot.
During Michelangelo’s childhood, a team of painters had been called from Florence to the Vatican, in order to decorate the walls of the Sistine Chapel. Among them was Domenico Ghirlandaio, a master in fresco painting, perspective, figure drawing, and portraiture who had the largest workshop in Florence at that period.
In 1488, at the age of 13, Michelangelo was apprenticed to Ghirlandaio. The next year, his father persuaded Ghirlandaio to pay Michelangelo as an artist, which was rare for someone of fourteen. When in 1489, Lorenzo de’ Medici, de facto ruler of Florence, asked Ghirlandaio for his two best pupils, Ghirlandaio sent Michelangelo and Francesco Granacci. From 1490 to 1492, Michelangelo attended the Humanist academy that the Medici had founded along Neo-Platonic lines. At the academy, both Michelangelo’s outlook and his art were subject to the influence of many of the most prominent philosophers and writers of the day…. At this time, Michelangelo sculpted the reliefs of Madonna of the Steps (1490-1492) and Battle of the Centaurs (1491-1492). The latter was based on a theme suggested by Poliziano and was commissioned by Lorenzo de Medici. Michelangelo worked for a time with the sculptor Bertoldo di Giovanni. When he was seventeen, another pupil, Pietro Torrigiano, struck him on the nose, causing the disfigurement that is conspicuous in all the portraits of Michelangelo.
Michelangelo became “an Italian sculptor, painter, architect, and poet of the High Renaissance” and “exerted an unparalleled influence on the development of Western art.” He Statue of David is considered “one of the most renowned works of the Renaissance.” He worked in Renaissance and Italian Renaissance. He is also well-known for his painting of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, a work that took about four years to complete (1508-12).
Michelangelo apparently never married nor had children. He died on February 18, 1564, in Rome, Italy, and was buried in Santa Croce, Florence, Italy. The following quotes seem to tell us what drove Michelangelo to greatness.
The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.
The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.
I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.