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Even people who know little about art and care even less know the name of Michelangelo. He is to art what Einstein is to intellect; the name that most quickly comes to mind when you think about it.

The old dude turns 537 today. No gifts, please; he led and austere and largely solitary life, dedicated to his work to such a degree that he neglected everything else.

The Creation of Adam: Sistine Chapel Fresco Detail (Michelangelo, 1508 - 1512)

As a result of such single-minded dedication, I believe that his are the eyes through which most Christians view their history. We see God as the white-haired old gentleman reaching for Adam’s hand on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. We’ll expect the Last Judgement to have a bunch of bodies floating up into a clear blue sky or catching a boat in the other direction. It’s the iconography we, or at least I, grew up with, that fascinating/frightening biblical backstory come to life. Michelangelo and his artistic progeny are the main reason that Catholicism scared the shit out of me when I was a kid.

The Last Judgement; Sistine Chapel Alter Fresco (Michelangelo, 1536 - 1541)

Michelangelo thought himself more of a sculptor than a painter and I am inclined to agree. Although I haven’t seen his work in person (I have seen the replica of David at Cesare’s Palace in Las Vegas, however), photographs tell me that his works in stone are eerily alive. His sculptures have such emotional power that you might expect them to start talking to you at any moment, such physical power that they seem to be frozen in motion.

Madonna of Burges (Michelangelo, 1501 - 1504)

We can let scholars pick through the details of Michelangelo’s life and work, I choose to keep him as a heroic, larger-than-life figure. You know, the kind of artist-as-solitary-genius type that probably only really exists in fiction. Maybe he as gay or maybe he wasn’t. Maybe he was OCD. I don’t much care. His work lives on centuries after his death and continues to touch lives to this day. That’s about the best thing you can say about an artist of any era.

 

 

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