If you’re a self-proclaimed art connoisseur or history buff, then you’ll know how much weight the name Michelangelo carries. However, most of you reading this right now are simply just familiar with Michelangelo’s renowned artworks.
Do you know about the actual person behind the celebrated showpieces? If your answer is no, then stick around to find out more. These are the most interesting facts about the man himself, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni.
Even if your answer is yes, are you sure you know enough? Challenge your art history knowledge and see what you may know or what might surprise you. Whether that’s a pleasant or an unpleasant surprise, you’ve read too far, and there’s no turning back.
Put your thinking cap on; we’re diving deep into the life of one of history’s most prolific sculptors.
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18 Interesting Facts About Michelangelo
Did you know that Michelangelo has been nicknamed “the Divine One”? Well, there’s more to this mysterious Renaissance artist than you think.
1. Michelangelo Did Not Want To Be Called a Painter
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Firstly, do not call one of the greatest creators of our history a painter. “What’s the big deal?” you may wonder. He did paint those gorgeous Sistine Chapel frescoes, after all.
Indeed, Michelangelo did paint, and yes, our generation finds nothing wrong with being labeled a painter. Things were more complex back then in terms of labels and status. Painters during Italy’s Renaissance period were seen as nothing more than lowly paid servants of noblemen.
In fact, Michelangelo found it offensive if you called him one. He preferred “sculptor,” probably because it wasn’t frowned upon as much. So, to keep any ghostly wraths at bay, refrain from calling Michelangelo a painter.
2. Michelangelo’s Career Kicked Off After a Failed Fraud Attempt
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Funny enough, Michelangelo’s career didn’t catch a lot of buzz until he got caught out for fraud. He was so talented and precise at carving out an ancient Greek-styled Cupid statue that his patron, Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici, decided to sell it. What’s so wrong about that?
Well, it wasn’t just any old sale. They pretended that the statue had been recently excavated by giving it a rustic appearance, making the buyer believe it was an archeological artifact worth a lot of money. The buyer, Cardinal Raffaele Riario, eventually caught wind that it was fake.
Even though Riario was almost scammed, he was in awe of Micheangelo’s skills. So, he then invited him to Rome, where he’d win the commission to carve his debut piece, the “Pieta.”
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3. Michelangelo Was a Commendable Poet Too
It wasn’t just sculptures and paintings that kept Michelangelo busy. Poetry was one of his great passions, which he’d also spend much of his free time on. He produced just over 300 sonnets and madrigals, many revolving around friendships and love.
His most noteworthy poems include Celestial Love, After Trying Many Years, Dante, Doom of Beauty, Though Time Presses, and To The Supreme Being.
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4. He Worked Up Until His Last Days
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It’s no secret that Michelangelo was a workaholic. It is also no surprise that he worked until the week he passed away. Days before his death at 88, he was still chiseling away at his last piece ever, the “Rondanini Pieta,” which depicts Jesus in the Virgin Mary’s arms.
5. Michelangelo Designed Military Fortifications For Florence
Michelangelo had many talents, and defensive war strategy was one of them. During the rebellion of 1527, the citizens of Florence removed the ruling of the Medici family to aid a republican government. Despite working for the Medicis, Michelangelo backed up the new government, helping them set up strong defensive walls.
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6. Art Historians Have Noticed Michelangelo’s Likeliness in His Works
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Talk about an easter egg. Art historians have found that Michelangelo often hid his face in his paintings. He did so inconspicuously, so you’d have to study his works closely. The most famous instance is his secret self-portraits in “The Last Judgment,” which form part of the elaborate Sistine Chapel fresco.
7. He Worked For Nine Different Popes Consecutively
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The popes of Italy’s high Renaissance period seemingly couldn’t get enough of Michelangelo’s artworks. He worked for nine Catholic popes consecutively, which explains his prominence in the Vatican. It also explains why most of Michelangelo’s works were rooted in Christianity.
Pope Julius II was the biggest fan of his art and the very person who commissioned him to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
8. A Fellow Art Student Broke His Nose Out of Jealousy
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Children can be cruel to each other, and Michelangelo experienced this to a rather nasty extent during his teenage years. His superior talent and lofty tongue made him a target of jealousy and physical violence from a rival. His classmate, Pietro Torrigiano, punched him so hard on his nose, leaving it permanently disfigured.
9. Even Michelangelo’s Pomeranian Was Captivated By His Art
Michelangelo had an adorable Pomeranian companion whom he treated like royalty. It’s believed that his pup would sit on a silk pillow watching his master at work in the Sistine Chapel. Not much else is known about his Pom, like its name, but Michelangelo will go down in history as one of the earliest Pomeranian lovers.
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10. Michelangelo Was the Richest Artist of His Time
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Ahh, the poor struggling artist, trying to make ends meet just to have the value of creations skyrocket after their death. You’re probably familiar with this tale. However, this was not Michelangelo’s story.
Oh no, this legendary artist could indeed live a lavish life filled with luxuries, gold, and numerous deeds. It’s believed that Michelangelo’s net worth was approximately 50,000 gold ducats making him wealthier than princes and dukes during his time.
In today’s money, Michelangelo would be worth $57 million, making him the wealthiest Renaissance artist of all time.
11. Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci Couldn’t Stand Each Other
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How about that? Two titans of the art realm, Da Vinci and Michelangelo, had some bad blood between them. Both were hailed as top Renaissance artists, were born in Florence, Italy, and were incredibly skilled and intelligent.
However, these similarities didn’t make them friends but rather enemies. They couldn’t stand each other and competed fiercely with one another. It was an intense rivalry overshadowed by their accomplishment, but one can imagine the thick tension between these geniuses.
12. Michelangelo’s Painting on His Back Is Just a Myth
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There’s a strange common myth suggesting that Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling while on his back. This couldn’t be further from the truth as he had found an ingenious method. He had built an innovative scaffold that helped him paint the fascinating frescoes.
Can you imagine painting all that intricate details while lying on your back? It would have been one intense workout.
13. Michelangelo Was Quite the Cheapskate
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Even though he made millions through his art, Michelangelo loved keeping his wealth close. So much so that he hardly spent it, living life like a monk would. Most art historians have then concluded that he was a hardcore scrooge.
One could argue that he was simply too caught up in work to worry about shopping sprees and fancy living. However, it’s been rumored that he always kept his gold and coins nearby, hardly spending it. It’s safe to say that he was indeed stingy.
The person to inherit all his wealth was his only sole heir and nephew, Lionardo Buonarroti.
14. It Took Him Five Years to Complete the Iconic Frescoes of the Sistine Chapel
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The frescoes of the Sistine Chapel are considered one of Michelangelo’s most celebrated works of art. You’ll find yourself entranced once you look at its intricate depictions of the bible, the vibrant colors, and the maze-like layout. The detailing and storytelling are impeccable; you can’t just replicate such a magnificent sight.
So it makes perfect sense why it took Michelangelo five years to complete it. The fresco technique is an ancient method that most artists today would struggle with. It’s one of the most challenging artistic skills to master as this labor-intensive method requires using water and dry pigments on wet lime plaster.
The Sistine Chapel depicts imagery and scenery from the Old Testament’s book of Genesis. The most famous scene is “the Creation of Adam,” where an illustration of God’s finger almost touches that of an unclothed Adam.
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15. Michelangelo Was Infatuated With a Young Nobleman
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Michelangelo was rumored to have indulged in several affairs with both women and men. His infatuation with those of the same sex could explain why he never got married or had any children in the first place. Of course, these are just speculations, but evidence of his homosexual fantasies and encounters was extracted through his poetry.
It’s impossible to say for sure if he was gay since we only have his poems as evidence. In a series of his sonnets, you’ll find proof of his infatuation and falling in love with a young nobleman named Tommaso dei Cavalieri. This relationship would be described as pederastic since many believe Cavalieri was about 17 years old.
It is possible that a then 57-year-old Michelangelo fell in love with the boy who could have been 12 years of age at the least. In ancient Rome, it was socially normal for older men to date adolescent boys over young women.
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16. Michelangelo Was a Hard Worker, Working Up to 18 Hours Daily
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It’s not just talent that makes one great. You need hard work and dedication to hold your place in the history books forever. Perhaps Michelangelo knew this and desired to become one of history’s foremost artists.
And he achieved all his impeccable successes by working on sculptures and paintings for up to 18 hours daily. Talk about commitment! Everyone can look at Michelangelo’s story and feel inspired to work even harder to reach monumental goals.
17. He Dissected Corpses to Understand How the Human Body Looks from Within
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What you’ve just read is true. Michelangelo was among the first artists to hop on a gruesome trend growing in the art scene. Apparently, dissecting corpses gives you a greater perspective of human anatomy, enhancing your ability to capture the human form in sculpture — yikes.
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18. Michelangelo Started Out As an Apprentice to the Famous Domenico Ghirlandaio
As a young boy, Michelangelo was introduced to a renowned Florentine painter, Domenico Ghirlandaio, at age 13. His apprenticeship under Ghirlandaio lasted about a year, during which Michelangelo would learn much. During this time, he learned about fresco and panel painting techniques.
He quickly stood out amongst his peers (other apprentices) for his mesmerizing and promising talents. Though, he was also a pretty stubborn, prideful apprentice. His obvious gifts outshined everything else, and the Florentine republic’s ruler, Lorenzo de’ Medici, took him under his wings.