From the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel to the David, here are eight of Michelangelo’s most famous paintings and sculptures.
Along with Da Vinci and Raphael, the Italian painter and sculptor Michelangelo Buonarotti is one of the great figures of the Renaissance. Below, we take a look at eight of his most famous works.
The Sistine Chapel ceiling
The Sistine Chapel dome is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful ceilings in the world. After being commissioned by Pope Julius II, Michelangelo began working on the ceiling in 1508. The famous Creation of Adam, along with eight other scenes from Genesis, is painted in the central part of the dome. In the next section, the 12 prophets and the sibyls are represented seated on large thrones. Groups of painted figures referring to Christ’s ancestors are painted in the eight spandrels of the ceiling. Lastly, Michelangelo depicted the salvation of Israel in the four pendentives at the corners of the dome.
The Last Judgment
25 years after finishing the Sistine Chapel ceiling, Michelangelo was commissioned to make a new fresco on the altar wall. This enormous masterpiece is about 40 feet high and has more than 400 figures. In the work’s middle section, Jesus and the Virgin Mary are surrounded by saints as they await the delivery of the final verdict. In the two upper semicircles, several divine figures carry the symbols of the Passion of Christ (the cross, nails, and the crown of thorns). The angels of the Apocalypse appear with their trumpets just below Jesus as they sentence both men and women. The figures represented on the right side of the painting ascend to heaven, while those on the left descend to hell. At the bottom of the painting, we see Charon’s boat guiding the demons to hell where they are greeted by Minos.
Buonarroti not only excelled as a painter but also as a sculptor. The Pietà is the perfect example of his mastery in this field. This work, made of Carrara marble, is located in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The Renaissance artist began working on it when he was only 24 years old. Here, Michelangelo depicts a very young Virgin Mary holding the lifeless body of Christ in her lap. Two of the most striking aspects of the sculpture are Mary’s age and her serene expression. In most artworks, the mother of Jesus is usually depicted much older and always with a look of pain on her face.
Located in Piazza della Signoria in Florence up until 1873, the enormous sculpture of more than 15 feet high can now be found in the Accademia Gallery. Like The Pietà, this work was also made from a single block of marble. The Renaissance masterpiece shows a muscular David just before facing Goliath. His tense body, scowl, and steely gaze emphasize the concentration of the protagonist preparing for combat. The size of his head, hands and torso, which are larger than standard proportions, has generated lots of conversation. While many believe that Michelangelo’s intention was to highlight the key elements of the work, others think that the artist would have taken into account the location of the statue, which was to be observed from below.
The Bargello National Museum, located in Florence, houses this spectacular sculpture. Although the work was originally commissioned by Cardinal Raffaele Riario, it passed into the hands of the banker Jacopo Galli after Riario rejected it. Michelangelo’s famous sculpture was later acquired by the Medici family. Bacchus is depicted by Michelangelo as a standing naked man, wearing a crown of ivy leaves, and gazing blankly at the glass of wine he clutches in his right hand. Behind him, a small satyr plays with the bunch of grapes that Bacchus holds in his left hand.
Madonna of Bruges
This work, also made of white marble, was commissioned by the Mouscron brothers who were cloth merchants from northern Europe. The masterpiece is currently located in the Church of Our Lady of Bruges. On this occasion, Michelangelo presents a Virgin Mary with a serene, pensive and sad expression, perhaps because she foresaw the tragic end of her son. Baby Jesus does not appear on her lap, but instead, is standing up, leaning between her legs.
Michelangelo commissioned this work from banker Agnolo Doni. This painting, which has a circular format, was designed as if it were a sculpture, with a pyramidal structure: the Virgin Mary in the foreground, together with St. Joseph and baby Jesus. One of the most controversial aspects of the painting are the nude figures in the background. Some say that they are waiting to be baptized by St. John the Baptist, although this is not the only interpretation that has been given throughout history. The frame, carved by Francesco del Tasso, was also designed by Michelangelo. Today, it is one of the most prominent works in the Uffizi Gallery.
This sculpture, one of Michelangelo’s most famous works, was commissioned by Pope Julius II for his tomb. It was originally intended to be in St. Peter’s Basilica but was eventually placed in the Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli. Moses, with horns on his head, appears seated, touching his enormous beard with his hands while holding the Tablets of the Law under his right arm. Like many of his works, this sculpture is full of details. It is believed that the swollen veins and expression of anger are a reflection of Moses’ anger at seeing the Israelites worshipping a golden calf on his return from Mount Sinai.