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24 September 2014
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The Divine Michelangelo - overview of Michelangelo's major artworks


Michelangelo's colossal masterpiece, the David, regarded as probably the most famous sculpture in the world, celebrates its 500th anniversary in 2004.

Last year it was visited by over a million people.

Incredibly, Michelangelo was a mere 26 years old when he began work on the 17 foot tall marble statue of the biblical hero who killed Goliath.

The towering sculpture, made out of one piece of flawed marble, has been acclaimed internationally for its depiction of male beauty.

It marked a watershed in Renaissance art and established Michelangelo as the foremost sculptor of his time.

The ideal male form of the David, combining human strength and uncertainty, became a symbol of the power and determination of Republican Florence.

It went on display beside the main doorway of the Piazza della Signoria in Florence in 1504 and remained there, at the mercy of the elements, until 1873 when it was moved to its present location in the Galleria dell'Accademia.

David's nudity has been the centre of much controversy. Today the image, uncensored or censored, has become iconic in popular reproductions on T-shirts, refrigerator magnets and in advertising.

Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

Painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel for Pope Julius II was perhaps the greatest odyssey in the history of art.

Completing the 380 figures was a massive struggle that stretched Michelangelo physically, emotionally and technically.

But during the four years of toil from 1508 to 1512, Michelangelo created one of the greatest artworks in history.

Today there are about 17,000 daily visitors to the Sistine Chapel.

On the vault of the papal chapel, Michelangelo devised an intricate system of decoration that incorporated nine scenes from the Book of Genesis, including God Separating Light from Darkness and the Creation of Adam, the Creation of Eve, the Temptation and Fall of Adam and Eve and the Flood.

These centrally located narratives are surrounded by alternating images of prophets and sibyls on marble thrones, by other Old Testament subjects and by the ancestors of Christ.

His depiction of the Creation of Adam, in which the hands of God and Adam meet, is one of the most iconic images ever.


This famous marble sculpture, created between 1498 and 1500, was finished when Michelangelo was just 25 years old.

The youthful Mary is shown seated majestically, holding the dead Christ across her lap, a theme borrowed from northern European art. Instead of revealing extreme grief, Mary is restrained and her expression is one of resignation.

Just days after it was placed in Saint Peter's, Rome, Michelangelo overheard a pilgrim remark that the work was done by Christoforo Solari, a rival sculptor.

That night, in a fit of rage, Michelangelo took hammer and chisel and scrawled: "Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florentine, made this" across Mary's breast. This is the only work that Michelangelo ever signed.

He later regretted his passionate outburst of pride and determined to never again sign a piece of his work.

St Peter's dome

Despite having received no professional training in this field, Michelangelo's brilliant and innovative building designs were to change the face of Rome and establish him as a master architect.

His aim was to revive the glory of ancient Rome and his crowning achievement in this endeavour was his work at St Peter's Basilica, where he was made chief architect in 1546 whilst in his seventies.

The sacred task of designing a dome for the largest church in Christendom meant a great deal to Michelangelo.

He spun the myth that, for the first time ever, he worked on this project for free. However, in truth, he was very handsomely paid for his job.

Michelangelo designed a dome that would dwarf the enormous Pantheon nearby. It would be smaller than the Pantheon in diameter, but stand much, much higher.

It still stands as the largest dome in the world reaching 138 metres high.


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