High Renaissance — Michelangelo

Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.

                                                                                     —- Michelangelo 

Renaissance, a humanistic revival of classical influence expressed in a flowering of the arts and literature and by the beginnings of modern science (from Webster), can be divided into two parts— High Renaissance and Northern Renaissance. Today’s topic, obviously, is High Renaissance.

Florence is the center of the High Renaissance.

High Renaissance indicates the revival of classics (Ancient Greece and Rome) in the Mediterranean area, mostly Italy. The High Renaissance art includes both religious and worldly topics, which evokes various art styles and masterpieces. Literature, architecture, statues, painting all experienced a revolutionary change. Countless artists and writers were put on the stage and are still quite influential today. Today, let’s focus on Michelangelo— one of the most important high Renaissance artists. 


The portrait of Michelangelo

Michelangelo was most known as a sculptor, but he also created many famous paintings. Actually, Michelangelo also involved in the design of St. Peter’s Basilica, an Italian Renaissance church in Vatican City. There are two most famous art pieces of Michelangelo that everyone should have some knowledge. 

The Statue of David

This is the most well-known masterpiece of Michelangelo as well as the most famous statue of David in the world. He created this sculpture out of a piece of abandoned marble. Michelangelo claimed that he could see David inside the stone, and he just removed the redundant parts.

Background Info: David is a character in the Bible who killed Goliath when he was only a boy (12-16 years old).

The statue of David, now preserved in Galleria dell’Accademia, FLorance, Italy

Many people say that David was carved in a perfect ratio, but the fact is that Michelangelo did not make David as perfect as we expect. Actually, if you stare at David for a while, you can tell that his hands are quite big compared to the size of the arms, and his lower body (mostly legs) is proportionally smaller than it should be. However, it does not mean that Michelangelo made a mistake— not likely for a great sculptor like him. The original usage of David is a status to be put on the top of an architecture, which means that people are supposed to look up to David from a much lower position than it is exhibited in the museum today. It makes sense that Michelangelo made the upper body bigger so it is visually appropriate. Since people could not get very close to David, Michelangelo made some particular parts of the body bigger so the viewers can see how delicate they are, such as the hands.

The right hand of David in detail

The Fresco Painting on the Sistine Ceiling 

The fresco painting on the ceiling of Sistine Chapel is a group of paintings that show the creation story in the Bible. The most famous piece of this group is the Creation of Adam, which is so well-known that people always think it is an individual painting.

The Creation of Adam, Michelangelo

Michelangelo spent four years to finish the work of the whole ceiling, which is the biggest painting he has ever made. To be honest, the size and design are definitely not outstanding among the architectures in the Renaissance Period. Nevertheless, Michelangelo made this Chapel incomparable, even it is right next to the gorgeous St. Peter’s Basilica.

The overview of the Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

The figures in the paintings are typical “Renaissance bodies”, which focuses on the twist and the gestures of the body. Since he is a sculptor, Michelangelo is a master of organizing these bodies. This is also the focus of most High Renaissance artists— the Beaty of the human body. In order to emphasize the body rather than the setting of the painting, Michelangelo sometimes just put some rough background. This technique can be seen in the Creation of Adam, whose background is quite rough compared to the bodies in the front. 

The Libyan Sibyl, an example of twisted body

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