Key works you need to know by the hand of Michelangelo: that massive sculpture in Florence of David, the Sistine Chapel ceiling, and the dome of St Peter’s basilica in Rome.
Michelangelo is a Renaissance superstar because his works were all massive in size (think statues and buildings), because he was influenced by Greek/Roman sculpture (which was rediscovered and popular in this period), and because of his rivalry with Leonardo da Vinci.
Michelangelo spent his artistic career two-timing Italian superpowers the Medici family and Pope Julius II. Unlike many geniuses Mike’s talent was recognised during his lifetime (he was called “the divine one”) and Pope Julius needed to utilise this famous talent to secure his authority as the head of the Italian state. Thus Mike was dragged to Rome and ordered to design and sculpt the Pope’s tomb, because important people want kick-ass monuments to be dead in. Took him forty years—let that sink in, forty—to complete the tomb and poor Mike didn’t even like it when it was finished. I hope it’s the thought that counts, Julius.
During those forty years Mike was interrupted from his beloved sculpting by Julius to paint the ceiling of the Sistine chapel. Thing is, Mike hated painting and he wasn’t taking any shit from Julius on this one. He threw out Julius’ design and planned a narrative of the Book of Genesis (that’s the one where God creates the world, Eve eats the apple and Noah raps A Lonely Island’s “I’m On A Boat”). Essentially this painting became the world’s largest and most strangely placed comic strip. It covers the entire ceiling and has some insane illusionary architecture. Because sculpting was his thang Mike painted the figures to look like sculptures. It took him four years of craning his neck to finish the ceiling. It should also be noted that he was painting in fresco, a mix of fast drying plaster and paint that is really difficult to fix if you screw it up.
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The best thing about the Sistine Chapel ceiling is that Mike painted a lot of naked male figures, just chilling in the architecture and serving about as much purpose to the story of the Book of Genesis as an Abercrombie & Fitch model. This unconventional move from Mike (supported by the hundreds of poems he wrote to addressed to males and his own diary entries) has given rise to the theory that maybe Mike liked dudes.
Now Mike, your sexuality is no business of ours—only I would kind of love it if one of the institutions that is most opposed to homosexuality had had its ceiling famously (and awesomely) painted by a gay man who took the opportunity to say “fuck you I’m painting naked dudes on your sacred ceiling because I like them that way.” Given the historical context it is unlikely the Michelangelo was so bold and there are plenty of other theories that aren’t as sensationalist, but hey, art is open to interpretation.
So that’s the very brief highlights tour of Michelangelo “the divine”, who has been setting unrealistic male muscle standards since 1505.