One of the most influential figures in Western art, the Italian painter and sculptor Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni remains one of the most celebrated artists in the world even more than 450 years after his death. I suggest you get acquainted with the most famous works of Michelangelo from the Sistine Chapel to his sculpture of David.
Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel
At the mention of Michelangelo, the artist’s beautiful fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican immediately comes to mind. Michelangelo was hired by Pope Julius II and worked on the fresco from 1508 to 1512. The work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel depicts nine stories from the Book of Genesis and is considered one of the greatest works of the High Renaissance. Michelangelo himself initially refused to take on the project, as he considered himself more of a sculptor than a painter. Nevertheless, this work continues to delight about five million visitors to the Sistine Chapel every year.
Statue of David, Accademia Gallery in Florence
The statue of David is the most famous sculpture in the world. Michelangelo’s David was sculpted for three years, and the master took up her at the age of 26. Unlike many earlier depictions of the biblical hero, which depict David triumphant after fighting Goliath, Michelangelo was the first artist to portray him in suspense before the legendary fight. Originally placed in Florence’s Piazza della Signoria in 1504, the 4-meter-high sculpture was moved to the Galleria dell’Accademia in 1873, where it remains to this day. You can read more about the Galleria dell’Accademia in the selection of Florence attractions on LifeGlobe.
Sculpture of Bacchus at the Bargello Museum
Michelangelo’s first large-scale sculpture is a marble Bacchus. Together with the Pieta, it is one of only two surviving sculptures from Michelangelo’s Roman period. It is also one of several works by the artist focusing on pagan rather than Christian themes. The statue depicts the Roman god of wine in a relaxed position. The work was originally commissioned by Cardinal Raffaele Riario, who eventually turned it down. However, by the early 16th century, Bacchus had found a home in the gardens of the Roman palace of the banker Jacopo Galli. Since 1871, Bacchus has been on display at the Bargello National Museum in Florence, along with other works by Michelangelo, including a marble bust of Brutus and his unfinished sculpture of David-Apollo.
Madonna of Bruges, Church of Our Lady of Bruges
The Madonna of Bruges was the only sculpture by Michelangelo to leave Italy during the artist’s lifetime. It was donated to the Church of the Virgin Mary in 1514, after being bought by the family of the cloth merchant Mouscron. The statue left the church several times, first during the French Wars of Independence, after which it was returned in 1815 to be stolen again by Nazi soldiers during World War II. This episode is dramatically portrayed in the 2014 film Treasure Hunters, starring George Clooney.
Torment of Saint Anthony
The main asset of the Kimbell Art Museum in Texas is the painting “The Torment of St. Anthony” – the first known painting by Michelangelo. The artist is believed to have painted her at the age of 12 or 13, based on an engraving by the 15th-century German painter Martin Schongauer. The painting was created under the tutelage of his older friend Francesco Granacci. The Torment of St. Anthony was praised by the 16th-century painters and writers Giorgio Vasari and Ascanio Condivi – Michelangelo’s earliest biographers – as a particularly curious work with a creative take on Schongauer’s original engraving. The painting received wide acclaim from peers.
Madonna Doni (Holy Family) is the only easel work by Michelangelo that has survived to this day. The work was created for the wealthy Florentine banker Agnolo Doni in honor of his marriage to Maddalena, daughter of the prominent Tuscan noble Strozzi family. The painting is still in its original frame, crafted from wood by Michelangelo himself. The Doni Madonna has been in the Uffizi Gallery since 1635 and is the only painting by the master in Florence. With his unusual presentation of objects, Michelangelo laid the foundation for the later Mannerist artistic movement.
Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican
Along with David, the Pieta statue from the late 15th century is considered one of Michelangelo’s most outstanding and famous works. Originally created for the tomb of the French cardinal Jean de Billiers, the sculpture depicts the Virgin Mary holding the Body of Christ after his crucifixion. This was a common theme for funeral monuments in Italy’s Renaissance era. Moved to St. Peter’s Basilica in the 18th century, the Pieta is the only work of art signed by Michelangelo. The statue has suffered significant damage over the years, especially when Hungarian-born Australian geologist Laszlo Toth hit it with a hammer in 1972.
Moses Michelangelo in Rome
Set in the beautiful Roman basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli, “Moses” was commissioned in 1505 by Pope Julius II as part of his funeral memorial. Michelangelo never had time to finish the monument before the death of Julius II. Carved in marble, the sculpture is famous for the unusual pair of horns on Moses’ head, the result of a literal interpretation of the Latin translation of the Vulgate Bible. The idea was to combine the statue with other works, including the Dying Slave, now located in the Paris Louvre.
The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel
Another masterpiece of Michelangelo is located in the Sistine Chapel – the Last Judgment is on the wall of the altar of the church. It was completed 25 years after the artist painted his awe-inspiring fresco on the ceiling of the Chapel. The Last Judgment is often cited as one of Michelangelo’s most intricate works. The magnificent work of art depicts God’s judgment on mankind, initially condemned because of the nudity. The Council of Trent condemned the fresco in 1564 and hired Daniele da Volterra to cover up the obscene parts.
Crucifixion of Saint Peter, Vatican
The Crucifixion of St. Peter is Michelangelo’s final fresco in the Vatican’s Paolina Chapel. The work was commissioned by Pope Paul III in 1541. Unlike many other depictions of Peter of the Renaissance era, Michelangelo’s work focuses on a much darker subject – his death. A five-year €3.2 million restoration project began in 2004 and revealed a very interesting aspect of the mural: Researchers believe that the blue turban-clad figure in the upper left corner is actually the artist himself. Thus, the Crucifixion of St. Peter in the Vatican is the only known self-portrait of Michelangelo and a real gem of the Vatican Museums.