Painter, Sculptor, Architect, Poet (1475–1564)
Michelangelo was born on March 6, 1475, in Caprese, Italy. Born to a family of moderate means in the banking business, Michelangelo became an apprentice to a painter before studying in the sculpture gardens of the powerful Medici family. What followed was a remarkable career as an artist in the Italian Renaissance, recognized in his own time for his artistic virtuosity. His works include the “David” and “Pieta” statues and the ceiling paintings of Rome’s Sistine Chapel, including the “Last Judgment.” Although he always considered himself a Florentine, Michelangelo lived most of his life in Rome, where he died in 1564, at age 88.
Painter, sculptor, architect and poet Michelangelo, one of the most famous artists of the Italian Renaissance, was born Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni on March 6, 1475, in Caprese, Italy. Michelangelo’s father, Leonardo di Buonarrota Simoni, was briefly serving as a magistrate in the small village when he recorded the birth of his second of five sons with his wife, Francesca Neri, but they returned to Florence when Michelangelo was still an infant. Due to his mother’s illness, however, Michelangelo was placed with a family of stonecutters, where he later jested, “With my wet-nurse’s milk, I sucked in the hammer and chisels I use for my statues.”
Indeed, Michelangelo was less interested in schooling than watching the painters at nearby churches, and drawing what he saw there, according to his earliest biographers (Vasari, Condivi and Varchi). It may have been his grammar school friend, Francesco Granacci, six years his senior, who introduced Michelangelo to painter Domenico Ghirlandaio. Michelangelo’s father realized early on that his son had no interest in the family financial business, so agreed to apprentice him, at the age of 13, to the fashionable Florentine painter’s workshop. There, Michelangelo was exposed to the technique of fresco.
Michelangelo had spent only a year at the workshop when an extraordinary opportunity opened to him: At the recommendation of Ghirlandaio, he moved into the palace of Florentine ruler Lorenzo the Magnificent, of the powerful Medici family, to study classical sculpture in the Medici gardens. This was a fertile time for Michelangelo; his years with the Medici family, 1489 to 1492, permitted him access to the social elite of Florence—allowing him to study under the respected sculptor Bertoldo di Giovanni and exposing him to prominent poets, scholars and learned Humanists. He also obtained special permission from the Catholic Church to study cadavers for insight into anatomy, though exposure to corpses had an adverse effect on his health.
These combined influences laid the groundwork for what would become Michelangelo’s distinctive style: a muscular precision and reality combined with an almost lyrical beauty. Two relief sculptures that survive, “Battle of the Centaurs” and “Madonna Seated on a Step,” are testaments to his unique talent at the tender age of 16.
Political strife in the aftermath of Lorenzo the Magnificent’s death led Michelangelo to flee to Bologna, where he continued his study. He returned to Florence in 1495 to begin work as a sculptor, modeling his style after masterpieces of classical antiquity.
There are several versions of an intriguing story about Michelangelo’s “Cupid” sculpture, which was artificially “aged” to resemble a rare antique: One version claims that Michelangelo aged the statue to achieve a certain patina, and another version claims that his art dealer buried the sculpture (an “aging” method) before attempting to pass it off as an antique.
Cardinal Riario of San Giorgio bought the “Cupid” sculpture, believing it as such, and demanded his money back when he discovered he’d been duped. Strangely, in the end, Riario was so impressed with Michelangelo’s work that he let the artist keep the money. The cardinal even invited the artist to Rome, where Michelangelo would live and work for the rest of his life.
Not long after Michelangelo’s relocation to Rome in 1498, his fledgling career was bolstered by another cardinal, Jean Bilhères de Lagraulas, a representative of the French King Charles VIII to the pope. Michelangelo’s “Pieta,” a sculpture of Mary holding the dead Jesus across her lap, was finished in less than one year, and was erected in the church of the cardinal’s tomb. At six feet wide and nearly as tall, the statue has been moved five times since, to its present place of prominence St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
Carved from a single piece of Carrara marble, the fluidity of the fabric, positions of the subjects, and “movement” of the skin of the Piet—meaning “pity” or “compassion”—created awe for its early spectators. Today, the “Pieta” remains an incredibly revered work. Michelangelo was just 25 years old at the time.
Legend has it that he overheard pilgrims attribute the work to another sculptor, so he boldly carved his signature in the sash across Mary’s chest. It is the only work to bear his name.
By the time Michelangelo returned to Florence, he had become something of an art star. He took over a commission for a statue of “David,” which two prior sculptors had previously attempted and abandoned, and turned the 17-foot piece of marble into a dominating figure. The strength of the statue’s sinews, vulnerability of its nakedness, humanity of expression and overall courage made the “David” a prized representative of the city of Florence.
Several commissions followed, including an ambitious project for the tomb of Pope Julius II, but that was interrupted when he asked Michelangelo to switch from sculpting to painting to decorate the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
The project fueled Michelangelo’s imagination, and the original plan for 12 apostles morphed into more than 300 figures on the ceiling of the sacred space. (The work later had to be completely removed soon after due to an infectious fungus in the plaster, and then recreated.) Michelangelo fired all of his assistants, whom he deemed inept, and completed the 65-foot ceiling alone, spending endless hours on his back and guarding the project jealously until revealing the finished work, on October 31, 1512.
The resulting masterpiece is a transcendent example of High Renaissance art incorporating the Christian symbology, prophecy and humanist principles that Michelangelo had absorbed during his youth. The vivid vignettes of Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling produce a kaleidoscope effect, with the most iconic image being the “Creation of Adam,” a portrayal of God touching the finger of man. Rival Roman painter Raphael evidently altered his style after seeing the work.
Although he continued to sculpt and paint throughout his life, the physical rigor of painting the chapel had taken it’s toll on Michelangelo, and he soon turned his focus toward architecture.
Michelangelo continued to work on the tomb of Julius II for the next several decades. He also designed the Medici Chapel and the Laurentian Library—located opposite the Basilica San Lorenzo in Florence—to house the Medici book collection. These buildings are considered a turning point in architectural history. But Michelangelo’s crowning glory in this field came when he was made chief architect of St. Peter’s Basilica in 1546.
Michelangelo unveiled the soaring “Last Judgment” on the far wall of the Sistine Chapel in 1541. There was an immediate outcr—that the nude figures were inappropriate for so holy a place, and a letter called for the destruction of the Renaissance’s largest fresco. The painter retaliated by inserting into the work new portrayals: Of his chief critic as a devil and himself as the flayed St. Bartholomew.
Though Michelangelo’s brilliant mind and copious talents earned him the regard and patronage of the wealthy and powerful men of Italy, he had his share of detractors. He had a contentious personality and quick temper, which led to fractious relationships, often with his superiors. This not only got Michelangelo into trouble, it created a pervasive dissatisfaction for the painter, who constantly strived for perfection but was unable to compromise.
He sometimes fell into spells of melancholy, which were recorded in many of his literary works: “I am here in great distress and with great physical strain, and have no friends of any kind, nor do I want them; and I do not have enough time to eat as much as I need; my joy and my sorrow/my repose are these discomforts,” he once wrote.
In his youth, Michelangelo had taunted a fellow student, and received a blow on the nose that disfigured him for life. Over the years, he suffered increasing infirmities from the rigors of his work; in one of his poems, he documented the tremendous physical strain that he endured by painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Political strife in his beloved Florence also gnawed at him, but his most notable enmity was with fellow Florentine artist Leonardo da Vinci, who was more than 20 years his senior.
Michelangelo’s poetic impulse, which had been expressed in his sculptures, paintings and architecture, began taking literary form in his later years.
Although he never married, Michelangelo was devoted to a pious and noble widow named Vittoria Colonna, the subject and recipient of many of his more than 300 poems and sonnets. Their friendship remained a great solace to Michelangelo until Colonna’s death in 1547. In 1532, Michelangelo developed an attachment to a young nobleman, Tommaso de’Cavalieri (scholars dispute whether this was a homosexual or paternal relationship).
Following a brief illness, Michelangelo died on February 18, 1564—just weeks before his 89th birthday—at his home in Macel de’Corvi, Rome. A nephew bore his body back to Florence, where he was revered by the public as the “father and master of all the arts,” and was laid to rest at the Basilica di Santa Croce—his chosen place of burial.
Unlike many artists, Michelangelo achieved fame and wealth during his lifetime. He also had the peculiar distinction of living to see the publication of two biographies about his life (written by Giorgio Vasari and Ascanio Condivi). Appreciation of Michelangelo’s artistic mastery has endured for centuries, and his name has become synonymous with the best of the Italian Renaissance.
The following story first appeared on the Good Men Project.
Recently, while helping in my youngest son’s art camp, I noticed one little boy falling behind the others and no longer participating.
I touched his shoulder and pointed at the teacher, as a reminder to pay attention. He ignored me and looked around the room. A few minutes later, his head was down and he wasn’t even trying.
I knelt in front of him and asked, “Why aren’t you doing the project?” He started crying.
“Everyone’s ahead. I can’t do it now. It’s too late.”
Thing was, he could have done it. They were simple steps and all laid out in front of him. He also could’ve asked for help. But he shook his head and said he couldn’t. He just couldn’t.
“Oh,” I said. “Do you feel overwhelmed?”
He looked at me funny and asked what “overwhelmed” means. When I explained that it’s a feeling you get when there’s so much happening and you just don’t know where to start, so you sort of freeze up.
His eyes lit up. “Yes!” he said, and seemed excited that someone understood exactly how he felt.
When his mom arrived to pick him up, he ran to her and said, “I was overwhelmed today, but then I got all caught up.” He shoved the craft into her hands and beamed. At that moment, it occurred to me how important it is for kids (and adults, too) to have a wide variety of words to describe feelings and situations.
As a parent, and someone who pays close attention to social issues around gender, I think it’s crucial that we make a conscious choice to arm all of our kids with words that can give them important social skills or the ability to describe feelings. This list is for parents of kids of any gender, but I am focusing a bit on what words boys need to know, so we can help them describe things we don’t typically think of as manly or boyish.
Loneliness often happens when you feel like nobody cares about you. As adults, we can often reason with ourselves about this feeling, but for a child it can be awfully hard to understand why people aren’t giving us what we need, emotionally, at the moment we need it.
Your kid may be resisting bedtime and say that he gets scared or sad in his room. He may actually be scared, or just sad, or he may feel very alone. Maybe you watch TV on the couch after he goes to bed, or you and your spouse sleep in the same bed without him. Being excluded from those things could be a lonely feeling for a kid.
Once you understand the nature of his feelings, you can better explain that even though he’s by himself in his bed, he’s very much loved by his family and in the morning you can all be together again.
It’s not angry. It’s not sad. It’s something else, and young children feel this sensation regularly. Imagine having to follow every command of somebody else all the time, even when their demands feel illogical. How frustrating would it be to watch other kids get to do stuff you aren’t allowed to do, just because of your size? These are the challenges kids face every day. And it’s frustrating.
And yet most little kids don’t know that word, so when they start to feel that way, they can only define it as mad. I suspect that’s why tantrums often look like little rage-fests. So get down to eye-level with your child and describe that frustration is when you get upset because you just can’t seem to do what you want to do, and maybe you don’t even know why you can’t.
Try teaching them the word, explaining the definition, and asking them to say “I’m so frustrated!” next time. Once you understand, then you can walk him through the problem and help him solve it—or at least understand the “why”.
I remember arriving at a park to play with a bunch of our preschool buddies with my son and he turned and said, “I want to go home.”
I’d driven thirty minutes to get there, and we weren’t going home. I asked him why, and all he’d say was, “Because.”
Finally he said, “I’m scared.”
There was nothing to be scared of, and I told him that, not realizing that I was invalidating his feelings at that moment. He was safe, he’d played there before, and I was right next to him.
Finally he explained that he felt like his friends were all together and he didn’t know what they were playing. I realized then that he wasn’t scared, he was intimidated. He felt unprepared and unworthy. Once I understood that, I was able to solve the problem. And once he knew the word, he used it frequently in situations like that.
4. That’s just not my thing.
This is a funny one, but it’s something we’ve evolved in our family after a lot of trial and error.
Saying, “that’s just not my thing,” is a way for kids to back out of socially-pressured situations without seeming like they’re judging others or making a big deal out of something. This can be anything from, “Hey, why don’t you play basketball with us at recess like the other guys?” to something that he or she’s not ready to handle, like a roller coaster or a scary movie.
It can also be used to diffuse a dangerous or amoral situation like bullying or excessive risk-taking. Of course when kids are being cruel or harming someone (or themselves), you should empower your kid to stop or report them to a trusted grown-up, but he may also need an “out” for the situation that’s handy in a pinch so he can take a moment to figure out how to proceed next.
Things we know about kids: They act out and get more emotional when they’re hungry. But oftentimes, they don’t realize they’re hungry! They just feel mad, and will tell you that in no uncertain terms!
We joke about the word “hangry” with our kids, but it’s a useful term because hungry anger is a pretty specific feeling, and having a word for it may help your kid feel empowered to explain exactly what he or she is feeling, and remind them to stop and eat a nutritious snack like a string cheese or some almonds, that will help stabilize his or her blood sugar and mood.
6-8. Proper names for their body parts.
Specifically: Penis, Vagina (or vulva), and anus.
I know, there’s nothing cute or fun about talking about the accurate terminology for body parts, but it’s necessary. Being able to accurately describe parts of our own bodies empowers us to speak openly and honestly about them. Using these terms without shame teaches our kids that they can come to us with questions or concerns, and this is important for their health and their emotional development.
By not using cutesy terms, we raise kids who are empowered about their own bodies. We can then discuss that their genitals are their own private business, and that nobody gets to touch them without permission. Likewise, we don’t touch other people’s genitals or make people feel uncomfortable.
Christopher Anderson, Executive Director of MaleSurvivor.org—an advocacy and support group for men and boys (and their loved ones) who have been sexually abused, explains further why accurate terminology is important:
Many child protection experts strongly urge parents to empower children with the proper terminology for all body parts. Doing so can have greatly improve a child’s understanding of their own bodies, which can in turn improve their self-image and confidence. Confident, well-educated children are also less at risk for abuse, especially sexual abuse, at the hands of perpetrators who often seek out children who are more vulnerable and less informed.
This is, of course, part of a much larger conversation, but it’s one that can help prevent your child from being abused or abusing others. This conversation has to start at age 1 and continue into their college years. For more specific instructions, see The Healthy Sex Talk, Teaching Consent Ages 1-21, which I co-authored.
I want to note that I think following your child’s lead in what they call their genitals is okay, as long as they are clear of the technical terms too. I wouldn’t stop a boy from calling his penis a “weenie” or something, as long as it was very clear he knew the word penis was accurate and totally fine to say, as well.
This term has become synonymous with new parents who have babies climbing all over them all the time, but it’s useful in a lot of different ways, too.
Sometimes, as a parent, you just feel like you need some personal space. Maybe you’re in a bad mood, or maybe you have had a baby on you all day long. Regardless, it’s okay to lovingly tell someone—even your own child—that you’re feeling “touched out” and would like a little time where nobody is touching you. Reassure him or her that pretty soon you’ll feel like snuggling or wrestling again, but for now you need everyone to honor your “space bubble”. I always use my hands to show my kids how far around me my space bubble is, and ask them not to pop it.
Not only are you teaching them to honor others’ bodily autonomy, but if you also offer this as an option for your child, then you’re empowering him or her to say “no” to touching, even loving or innocent touch. If his little brother or sister is poking him or trying to snuggle, then he can say to you or them, “I feel touched out” and you can help advocate for his personal space.
I talked about this at the beginning, but I want to underline the way I see this word helping kids, especially boys, in classroom settings.
Often, when we see a kid drifting or fidgeting in class we may default (even if only subconsciously) to assuming that the kid has an attention issue or just doesn’t care about school.
But what if there’s another issue? What if he really wants to engage but is overwhelmed because he’s behind, or because he can’t hear the teacher, has a distraction, or see the board well? I really do think this feeling-word could be of great service in young elementary school classrooms.
11. May I please…?
At the top of my list of things kids do that drive me crazy is when kids make demands. It drives me absolutely bonkers to hear a kid say, “Get me some milk” or “Give me that toy”. I know kids are naturally very selfish creatures, and being demanding is a part of development, but part of teaching your child empathy is asking them to consider how it feels to have someone demand something from them.
“Dad, may I please have a glass of milk?” or “Mom, could you please get me the Lego bin?” are questions that require your child to consider how you feel, what you’re doing, and how their request might affect you. If my arms are full of groceries, I hope my sons will see that and not tell me at that exact moment to open the door for them. But if we don’t teach them to ask people for things nicely, they may not learn to consider the feelings of the person they’re imposing upon.
And trust me, you child’s teacher will appreciate the good habit.
Becoming comfortable with asking for things with respect, as well as learning to be kind and gracious when someone says “no” are lessons that will carry forward into their lives as older kids, too, especially when they start dating.
In a letter dated March 31, 1776, Abigail Adams writes to her husband, John Adams, urging him and the other members of the Continental Congress not to forget about the nation’s women when fighting for America’s independence from Great Britain.
The future First Lady wrote in part, “I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”
Nearly 150 years before the House of Representatives voted to pass the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote, Adams letter was a private first step in the fight for equal rights for women. Recognized and admired as a formidable woman in her own right, the union of Abigail and John Adams persists as a model of mutual respect and affection; they have since been referred to as “America’s first power couple.” Their correspondence of over 1,000 letters written between 1762 and 1801 remains in the Massachusetts Historical Society and continues to give historians a unique perspective on domestic and political life during the revolutionary era.
Abigail bore six children, of whom five survived. Abigail and John’s eldest son, John Quincy Adams, served as the sixth president of the United States. Only two women, Abigail Adams and Barbara Bush, have been both wives and mothers of American presidents.