MICHAEL ANGELO (Buonarotti), who in an age when Christian art had reached its zenith, stood almost unrivalled as a painter, sculptor, and architect, was born in 1474 at Chiusi, in Italy. He was of noble origin, having descended on his mother's side from the ancient family of Canossa, in Tuscany, while the Buonarotti had long been associated with places of trust in the Florentine Republic. Michael Angelo learned the rudiments of painting from Bertoldo, pupil of Domenico Ghirlandaio; and later was received into the palace of the Medici, where he spent several years. His earliest original works were a Kneeling Angel, executed for the grave of St. Dominic, at Bologna; the Statues of Bacchus and David at Florence, and a magnificent group representing the Mater Doloroso, which was placed in St. Peter's at Rome. Next in order of time, and according to some of his contemporaries, first in merit, ranks Michael Angelo's great picture for the ducal palace at Florence, which together with the pendant executed by Leonardo da Vinci, has long since perished. This work which represented a scene in the wars with Pisa, when a number of young Florentines, while bathing in the Arno, are surprised by an attack of the Pisans, showed so marvellous a knowledge of the anatomical development of the human figure, and such extraordinary facility in the powers of execution, that it became a study for artists in every land, and by its excellence created a new era in art. Pope Julius II called Michael Angelo to Rome, and commissioned him to make his monument, which was to be erected in St. Peter's. Although this work was never completed on the colossal scale on which it had been designed, and was ultimately erected in the church of St. Pietro and Vineula, it is a magnificent composition, and is memorable for having given occasion to the reconstruction of St. Peter's, on its present plan, in order the better to adapt it to the colossal proportions of the proposed monument. The pope insisted on Michael Angelo painting with his own hand, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and although unwillingly, he began in 1508, and completed in less than two years his colossal task, which proved one of the most marvellous of his works. The subjects of these paintings are taken from the book of Genesis, while between these and the representations of the Savior's genealogy are colossal figures of prophets and sybils.
In 1541, he completed his great picture of the Last Judgment for the altar of the Sistine Chapel, which was regarded by contemporary critics as having surpassed all his former works for the unparalleled powers of invention, and the consummate knowledge of the human figure which it displayed. After its completion Michael Angelo devoted himself to the perfecting of St. Peter's, which, by the touch of his genius, was converted from a mere Saracenic hall, into the most superb model of a Christian Church. He refused all remuneration for this labor, which he regarded as a service to the glory of God. He died in 1563, at Rome, but his remains were removed to Florence and laid within the church of Santa Croce. His piety, benevolence and liberality made him generally beloved; and in the history of art, no name shines with a more unsullied lustre than that of Michael Angelo.