Without the Medici members, Renaissance may not have been this distinctly recognizable and many artists would never have become renowed without their fine flair and their patronages. That is the case of Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, referred as Michelangelo the “Divine one” during his lifetime.
The court of Lorenzo the Magnificent was full of artists and intellectuals. Among these was the illustrious Michelangelo, who Lorenzo de Medici had met for the first time at the Academy of San Marco when the artist was just fifteen years old. Michelangelo was sculpting a faun’s head in the gardens of the Academy (this sculpture is believed to be one of Michelangelo’s very first sculptures made of marble and is unfortunately one of many lost works of art Michelangelo has created). Lorenzo was impressed by his talent but pointed out that, usually, the elderly did not have such perfect teeth. The young boy did not waste time: spontaneously, he took up his tools and broke off a tooth from his statue. According to Vasari, it was from that moment that Lorenzo the Magnificent understood the value of the young artist and invited him to live in the Medici Palace.
Here, he grew up together with Lorenzo and Giuliano’s children, two of whom would become Popes (nb. Pope Leo X and Pope Clement VII) and later commission their childhood friend Michelangelo to create works in the Vatican. Michelangelo arrived in Rome in 1496 when he was 21 years old. It was there that the artist created some of his most famous masterpieces, such as the Pieta (housed in St. Peter’s Basilica, and finished in less than a year) – a sculpture of the Virgin Mary holding and weeping over the dead body of Jesus on her lap after the crucifixion – the Universal Judgment, and the legendary ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which took him four years to finish.
Among his most well-known works of art is the statue of the David in Florence: the young man from the biblical story who, armed only with a slingshot, defeated Goliath. The David was seen as an image of the Republic, victorious against its enemies, including the Medici. Michelangelo was indeed, already well-known for his great success in Rome, but his work for the David aroused so much curiosity that the artist had to hide his atelier behind a palisade. The finish work was admired for the first time for St. John’s day (nb. Festa di San Giovanni, Patron Saint of Florence) in 1503. A debate over where the statue should be permanently placed immediately broke out. Almost all of the artists of the time agreed that the statue should be place in front of Palazzo Vecchio, all but Leonardo Da Vinci, whose jealous relationship with Michelangelo led him to propose a secluded niche for his rival’s statue in the Loggia dei Lanzi. The first location won out and the statue remained in front of Palazzo Vecchio until the end of the 19th century, when it was relocated to the Gallery of the Academy, of which the David became the emblem. In Florence, Michelangelo also worked on the Laurentian Medici Library and on the funereal monuments of the Medici family in the New Sacristy of the Medici Chapels, commissioned in 1520 by Pope Clement VII (formerly Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici).
Unlike many artists, Michelangelo achieved glory and wealth during his lifetime. The ultimate proof of his talent is that allegedly Michelangelo could visualise the finished sculpture just by gazing at a block of stone. Like any famous person, Michelangelo was subject of legends and one of my favorite is the one behind the so-called “Importuno” sculpted on the facade of Palazzo Vecchio. Discover this great legend here.
Learn more about Lorenzo the Magnificent and discover what made him so ‘Magnificent’ in this previous article.