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  • Writer's pictureVishakha

Sculptures of Michelangelo That Built His Legacy

Updated: Jun 11


Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni or as we commonly know him —Michelangelo has left behind him a legacy that is truly unparalleled. This Italian Renaissance artist was a polymath and is widely known for his frescoes on the ceilings of the Sistine Chapel. However, he had remarkable skills when it came to sculpting and that is what he truly identified himself as — a sculptor at the core. He had the ability to breathe life into a block of marble with his carvings, which is impossible for most sculptors to attain even now.


An image of Michelangelo

With such skills, brilliance, and understanding of human anatomy, his sculptures deserve a timeless place in the history of art. Let’s take a look at some of the best sculptures that deified his reputation forever.

The Statue of David


The statue of David built by Michelangelo

This is the sculpture that set Michelangelo’s legacy in stone and is considered one of the finest sculptures in the world. It took him roughly three years to finish and has been carved out of a single block of marble. This portrait of David is a massive 17 ft. tall statue, showing the biblical monarch David in a composed form before his fight with Goliath. He seems to be in deep contemplation, holding a slingshot in his left hand and a stone in his right, strategizing his attack against the giant.


David, sculpted by Michelangelo is in deep thought before killing Goliath

The artist was only 26 years old when the project was commissioned to him by the Opera Del Duomo. As a result, he received a big block of marble that had already been declared unworkable by two sculptors before him. However, with his skills, Michelangelo managed to chisel the marble and turn it into the Statue of David which is now considered the most beautiful statue of a man ever carved.

La Pietà

The Madonna della Pietà, commonly known as La Pietà, is a sculpture of the Virgin Mary and Christ. She can be seen holding Jesus’s lifeless body after he was descended from the cross. La Pietà is an Italian word and also a subject in Christian art that translates to “Pity” or “Compassion.” 


La Pieta by Michelangelo

The artist has managed to beautifully capture the moment as Mary is preparing herself to grieve the death of her son instead of showing the actual grieving Mary. Another point to note here is that instead of showing the age difference between Christ and his mother Mary, Michelangelo chose to sculpt her young and radiant. This was a fresh approach to the biblical interpretation.

The statue was carved from a single slab of Carrara marble. It is also the only work ever signed by the artist. It was after he overheard someone confusing it to be the work of another sculptor Cristoforo Solari, that he decided to sign his name on it. The light and shadow effect created on Mary’s face with her robe and the surrealist carving of this Michelangelo sculpture make it a phenomenal piece of art.

Bacchus

Bacchus is now one of the earliest surviving works of Michelangelo. This sculpture was commissioned by Cardinal Raffaele Riario when the artist was 21 years old. The patron was a powerful figure in Rome and also an avid art collector. He was quite impressed by Michelangelo’s sculpting skills and thus commissioned him to create a sculpture of Bacchus. The patron intended to install it at Palazzo di Riario.


Sculpture of Bacchus by Michelangelo

Bacchus is known as the Roman God of wine and fertility. True to his status, all his depictions included him carrying grapes, wine, and ivy leaves. Michelangelo created an oversized, nude sculpture of Bacchus, depicting him as the epitome of debauchery. His figure seems to be slightly swaying as a result of excessive drinking. He holds a goblet of wine in one hand and a lion skin and grapes in the other. 

Behind the Roman God, is a small satyr, connected with him through the cluster of grapes. The half-human and half-goat imp is seated on a wooden stump, trying to eat the grapes in Bacchus’ hand. The addition of the satyr not only represents the company Bacchus had but also acts as a support to the oversized frame of the inebriated God.


a close up of the satyr eating grapes which Michelangelo also created to support the frame of Bacchus

As intricate as its carving is, the sculpture unfortunately failed to impress its patron and was thus rejected by the cardinal. While the reasons are not quite clear, it is speculated that it was the blasphemous depiction of Bacchus that refrained him from accepting this sculpture of Michelangelo

Madonna and Child

Also known as the Madonna of Bruges, this is another sculpture depicting the Virgin Mary and her child, the young Jesus. This is the only sculpture of Michelangelo that was sold outside Italy during his lifetime. The sale established him as one of the most reputed European artists during that time. 


Madonna and child by Michelangelo

The sculpture is a significantly different representation of the same subject by Michelangelo. In his previous works, the Virgin Mary looked much happier, smiling down on the child in her arms. However, in this version, she looks rather sad, loosely holding the infant and barely looking at him. 

If you look closely, she is holding a book in her right hand, probably the Holy Scriptures. Hence the sculpture represents the state of Mary where she has just found out about the untimely demise of Christ. The unfavorable news has caused her to appear sad and lost in deep thoughts. The sorrowful theme created around an air of sadness was a novel concept for that time. 

The sculpture was created shortly after Michelangelo had finished La Pietà. Thus on closer observation, you can see some similarities between the two statues. The oval and youthful face of the Virgin Mary and the draping of her robe are quite similar in both sculptures. The sculpture was captured by the Nazis during world war II along with several other artworks. It was, however, recovered from a salt mine in the Austrian Altaussee, and brought back to Belgium.

Michelangelo Was A Seminal Artist That Inspired Many

There is no doubt that Michelangelo was a man of many talents. Throughout his life, he created numerous works that leave people awestruck even now. He was not only one of the greatest sculptors but also a great painter, poet, and architect. His surrealistic depictions through sculptures and figurative art paintings are not only mesmerizing but also peerless. His works are the epitome of artistic brilliance, and seminal artworks that will keep inspiring generations to come.

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