Michelangelo Buonarroti


One of the most famous artists ever known since the 16th century is a man by the name of Michelangelo Buonarroti. He has composed art that is both breathtaking and unmatched in such skills as painting, sculpture, architecture and poetry. Some of his most famous works of sculpture that he composed are standing in the Medici Chapel in Florence, Italy even today. I would like to speak of a particular piece contained in the Chapel entitled Tomb of Giuliano de’ Medici. First I would like to say a few words concerning Michelangelo’s financial status for materials and his visions for the figure.


According to the book entitled, Michelangelo: The Complete Sculpture, Painting, and Architecture; “Michelangelo was an aristocratic artist working for the pope and had a nearly unlimited budget in the 1520’s. Michelangelo also had a legendary ability to judge the quality of a block of marble; it was even said that he could see the figure imprisoned in it.”(Pg.213) I think that this quote from author, William E. Wallace, shows a very interesting background in Michelangelo’s finances and genius. He had made numerous life-size statues with handpicked blocks of marble. Wallace also states that some experts believe Michelangelo’s financial backing helped contribute to the beauty of his work. I was not sure how to take that comment at first, but after looking at many of Michelangelo’s sculptures, I think the fact that he was particular about the quality of block which was used shows that he was a master that wanted to depict figures that were unequivocally beautiful, muscular, and harmonious.


The Tomb of Giuliano de’ Medici is an example of Michelangelo’s mastery of both muscular figures as well as composition. The piece was worked on from 1519 through 1534. The piece contains three figures. The elevated central figure in the piece is Giuliano de’ Medici. The niche in which Giuliano sits is very small, which I believe make the figure look much larger to the viewer. The two figures, which lie below the niche of Giuliano, are entitled Night and Day. These figures are a bit over life sized due to their extremely defined, muscular builds. “They appear”, according to Olsen’s Italian Renaissance Sculpture, “to be sliding off the curved, split lids, giving the illusion that the sarcophagus will open to release the soul of the deceased.”(Pg.129). I will speak more about these figures, but I would first like to speak more about Michelangelo’s original plan, and the similarities/differences that I saw in the principals of design.


According to McHam’s Looking at Italian Renaissance Sculpture, “Michelangelo may have intended to put statues in the two niches beside Giuliuno, and frescos in the lunettes.”(Pg.187) I believe that the two niches and the lunettes were included as architectural elements. I don’t think that a master such as Michelangelo would leave a piece that he wanted to do more with. Why spend over a decade on a piece and not do what you set out to do? I believe that putting figures in the other niches would take away so much from the central figure, Giuliano. If he had intended to put frescos in the lunettes, than why did he choose to have Night and Day hanging off of the sarcophagus, almost completely covering the lunettes which were to be painted? It is thought that Michelangelo left Florence because of changes in political ideals, but I cannot imagine Michelangelo leave such a piece unfinished, unless of course if he was in immediate danger.


The “Tomb of Giuliano de’ Medici” has three figures set up forming a somewhat triangular design, just as Massacio’s, The Holy Trinity. And the I believe that this is a significant aspect to look at because both works were in Florence, Italy. I would be very surprised if Michelangelo had not seen Massacio’s painting prior to beginning his work on the Tomb of Giuliano de’ Medici. The Holy Trinity was done in a side aisle in the Sta. Maria Novella Gothic Church. It, too, contained a triangular design with Christ crucified on the cross toward the top of the composition, then below on either side, John the Evangelist and the Virgin Mary, and below them, the donor portraits. Although Massacio’s work was done in a Gothic