| Michelangelo Buonarroti: his Life and his Art - Page 6
After nearly 8 years of work the fresco was most likely unveiled Christmas day
1541. All of Roma was amazed and astonished by its sheer beauty. Pope Paolo III then asked
Michelangelo to fresco his private chapel (Paolina) with two paintings: one representing the
conversion of St. Paul and the other the crucifixion of St. Peter.
These were the last frescoes that
Michelangelo completed because at age 75 he felt too old to continue this difficult and exhausting
form of art. Michelangelo, on his own initiative, decided to carve 4 figures (in tondo) from a large
block of marble. This work was to represent Christ taken down from the cross and held by the Virgin
Mary who is supported by Nicodemo and Mary Magdalene ("Pietà", Florence, Museo dell’Opera del
Duomo). This work may have been Michelangelo’s project for his own tomb. He worked every day
but at one point he took a hammer and reduced the sculpture to fragments. It is not known why he did
this. A possible explanation is that the stone was too hard or the artist was dissatisfied with the results.
In any event, Tiberio Calcagni immediatly asked Michelangelo for the pieces and was able to
reconstuct and finish the figure of Mary Magdalene. Michelangelo could not remain idle and started to
carve another Pietà, but this time of interior quality, "Pietà da Palestrina" (Firenze).
The director of the
recontruction of St. Peters, Antonio Sangallo, died in 1546. Pope Paolo III asked Michelangelo to
continue the work and build a big dome for the church. The artist at first refused feeling he was not
qualified as an architect. In the end he did agree, inspite of the rivalry and insidious behaviour of
Sangallo’s followers who did not want Michelangelo as their headmaster. He did modify some of
projects of the previous achitect and completed the work. His inspiration for the dome came from
Brunelleschi’s masterpiece of the cathedral of Florence. Michelangelo worked 17 years on St. Peter
pratically until his death.
Simultaneously he was involved with the final plans for Piazza del
Campidoglio, Palazzo Farnese, and Porta Pia. He passed away at 11 pm on the 17th of February 1564
at the age of 89. He was nerly blind, in poor health but still retained the desire to hold a chisel and a
hammer working on his last "Pietà" (Pietà Rondanini, Milan).
Knowning he was near death, he called
his nephew Leonardo to Rome and prepared his will: he left his soul to God, his body to earth and his
personal belongings to his family. When his nephew reached Rome, sadly after his uncle death, he
immediatly placed the body in a coffin that resembled merchandise and simply returned to Florence,
fearful that the Pope would detain the corpse for burial in Rome. Once he reached Florence the body
was laid in state in the church S. Pier Maggiore and then trasported to Santa Croce where the artist
desired to be buried with his ancestors.
The coffin was open 25 days after his death. The body was
amazingly intact. The Florentine came in mass to pay their last respects. Cosimo I Granduke of
Tuscany, nominate a committee of artists (B. Ammannati, B. Cellini, A. Bronzino e G. Vasari) to
organize the funeral rites. The funeral was held in the Medici Church of San Lorenzo on the 14th July
1564. The coffin was then returned to Santa Croce where a monument was erected (paid for by
Leonardo Buonarroti, Michelangelo’s nephew with the marble donated by Cosimo I).
Giorgio Vasari, a
friend and a student of Michelangelo, was responsable for the project. He commissioned 3 sculptors
from the “Accademia del Disegno in Florence (Academy of Design)" who created three beautiful
statues that can still be admired today on the monument of Michelangelo Buonarroti:
- Battista Lorenzi executed the bust of Michelangelo and statue of “Sculpture”
- Giovanni dell’opera sculptured “Painting”
- Valerio Cioli created “Architecture”