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The instant expert: Michelangelo

A look at the life and times of the great Renaissance artist Michelangelo.

Float through any social event with M's fast facts. This week Rick Arthur looks at the life and times of the great Renaissance artist Michelangelo, who died on this day in 1564.

THE BASICS, PART ONE Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni was born on March 6, 1475 in Caprese, near Arezzo in the Republic of Florence (present-day Tuscany, Italy). He created works of ethereal beauty and grace in sculpture, painting and architecture that capture the range of the human condition. He is rivalled only by his older but still contemporary Renaissance man, Leonardo da Vinci.

THE BASICS, PART TWO Michelangelo toiled in a world where art was dependent on patronage. He was ensnared between the Medici family in Florence and the papacy in Rome. Their conflicting powers and whims took no small cost on his artistic production. Uniquely, his genius was recognised during his time; he was the first western artist whose biography was published while he was alive.

A LONG CAREER From his apprenticeship to a painter at the age of 13 to first arriving in Rome at 21, to taking over the design of St Peter's Basilica at 74 to almost literally his last breath at 88, Michelangelo laboured for more than seven decades in his various disciplines.

THE PREFERENCES The artist disdained painting as a low art form and greatly preferred sculpture and architecture. This from the obsessive, impassioned and temperamental perfectionist who spent four years on the Sistine Chapel ceiling and seven years on The Last Judgement fresco.

THE MAN Michelangelo was solitary and melancholic, and was described as "bizzarro e fantastico". Art lovers also called him "Il Divino", but those who objected to his nudes disparaged him as "inventor delle porcherie", or "inventor of obscenities" (literally, "inventor of pork things").

THE POET Michelangelo wrote more than 300 sonnets and madrigals, some to young men and many to his great love, the widow Vittoria Colonna.

A QUIRKY FACT Michelangelo was punched on the nose in a fight with another teen at the age of 17, and the resultant disfigurement - a long bump - is evident in portraits of him.

ANOTHER QUIRKY FACT Granted rare permission by the clergy, the young artist studied corpses to further his knowledge of anatomy.

THE HOLLYWOOD FILM The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965) starred Charlton Heston as Michelangelo and Rex Harrison as Pope Julius II and depicted their battle of wills and words over the Sistine Chapel. The 20th Century Fox big-budget epic got mostly favourable reviews, although The New York Times critic Bosley Crowther said Heston's acting was "arrogant, agonised and cranky without a glimmer of ecstasy or warmth".

IN PSYCHOLOGY The Michelangelo phenomenon, introduced in an article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 1999, is a positive reinforcement effect in which people in close relationships influence and "sculpt" one other. Michelangelo, you realise, believed it was his job to bring out the work of art that he believed was hidden in a block of marble.

THE LAST DAYS As he was wielding chisel and hammer in 1564 on the Rondanini Pietà, a despairing-to-the-last Michelangelo wrote: "I live alone and miserable... This is the state where art has led me, after granting me glory. Poor, old, beaten, I will be reduced to nothing, if death does not come swiftly to my rescue. Pains have quartered me, torn me, broken me and death is the only inn awaiting me."

THE DISSENTING OPINION It is all a bit overwrought, isn't it? All those cherubs and gold leaf? And he did have the frequent problem with proportion, didn't he? And the man could hardly finish anything, could he?

 

Five other Renaissance top artists

DONATELLO (c. 1836-1466) Known mainly as a sculptor. His most famous work is a bronze of David, which is the first known free-standing nude since ancient times.

PIERO DELLA FRANCESCA (c. 1415-1492) Generally regarded as the most outstanding artist of the early Renaissance. Often credited with being the first artist to nail perspective, but it is his humanism that stands out.

LEONARDO DA VINCI (1452-1519) A genius whose ability to multi-task (he was not just a genius artist, but also a genius mathematician, engineer, inventor, scientist, botanist and writer) makes him the ideal Renaissance Man. Because he was born out of wedlock he had no surname, but was simply called da Vinci, Vinci being the Tuscan hill town he came from.

BOTTICELLI (c. 1445-1510) Sandro Botticelli started his artistic training as an apprentice at the age of 14. His most famous works are Primavera and The Birth of Venus.

RAPHAEL (1483-1520) Together with Leonardo and Michelangelo he completes the trinity of great masters of the Italian High Renaissance.

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