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Two Studies of a Male Nude, Two Studies of a Left Hand, an Architectural Detail
Photo credit: The Fitzwilliam Museum

(Born Caprese [now Caprese Michelangelo], nr. Arezzo, 6 March 1475; died Rome, 18 February 1564). Florentine sculptor, painter, architect, draughtsman, and poet, one of the giants of the Renaissance and, in his later years, one of the forces that shaped Mannerism. Michelangelo's career lasted more than 70 years and for most of that time he was the dominant figure in Italian art. His contemporaries regarded him with awe, and the word terribilità, which may be translated as ‘terrifying intensity’, was often applied to his work. He was the subject of two detailed biographies in his lifetime, both of them by people who knew him well (Vasari and Condivi), and because of these and other sources (including his own letters, about 500 of which survive), more is known about him—his personal qualities as well as the details of his career—than about any previous artist. He was utterly devoted to art and religion, living frugally in spite of his fame. However, although he was scornful of the conventional trappings of success, he was sure of his own worth and was concerned about his place in society. He tended to be suspicious and withdrawn, and had a sharp temper and a sarcastic tongue, but he was affectionate and generous to his family and friends. His father, a member of the gentry, claimed noble lineage and throughout his life Michelangelo was touchy on the subject: pride of birth had much to do with the family opposition to his choice of an artistic career as well as with Michelangelo's own insistence on the status of painting and sculpture among the liberal arts.

Text source: The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists (Oxford University Press)


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