February 18, 1564: The world loses one of its finest artists and archetypal Renaissance man when Michelangelo dies. He was a sculptor, painter, architect, and poet. Because he was so prolific in both his work and private correspondence, we know much more about him than most other 16th century compatriots.
The Pietà and David, two of his best-known sculptures were created while he was in his twenties and thirties. He lived to be eighty-eight. He had a low opinion of painting and yet painted the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling with artwork that is recognizable worldwide. He also designed the dome for St Peter’s Basilica, changing classical architecture.
Michelangelo’s work was commissioned by several Popes starting with Julius II. After the Pope’s death, Michelangelo continued working on previously commissioned works including the Pope’s burial chamber. The next Pope, Leo X, was not happy about this and tried to persuade the artist to work on more current tasks. Michelangelo also worked for Pope Paul III, filling the wall behind the altar in the Sistine Chapel with The Last Judgment. Many of the people pictured are naked and this caused quite a stir. Nakedness in the papal chapel was seen as being both obscene and sacrilegious.
Michelangelo was known as arrogant with others while being dissatisfied with himself. He was inspired by the beauty of the male form both aesthetically and emotionally. He struggled between his platonic ideals and carnal lust in both his sculpture and his poetry.
Michelangelo was the subject of two biographies written while he was still alive. It was unheard of at the time.
“In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love; they had five hundred years of democracy and peace and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” – Orson Welles
“I love the Biblical subjects and the Italian art. My favorite artist I can say is Michelangelo. He was an unbelievable artist. He could handle any kind of statue made from stone and paint anything anywhere, like he did at the Sistine Chapel in Rome. It probably is the greatest artwork ever done.” – Karl Hepner
“I believe in Michelangelo, Velasquez, and Rembrandt; in the might of design, the mystery of color, the redemption of all things by Beauty everlasting, and the message of Art that has made these hands blessed. Amen. Amen.” – George Bernard Shaw
“His drawings of the male nude are incredibly sensual. You get the feeling of his hand all over the body. If all we knew about Michelangelo was his drawings, he would still be hailed as a genius.” – Hugo Chapman
Also on this day, in 2001 Dale Earnhardt, Sr. was killed in a car crash at the Daytona 500.