Michael Angelo was born in 1474 of the noble Florentine family of the Buonarrotti, descendants of the Counts of Canossa: he was a pupil of Domenico Ghirlandaio; and having early distinguished himself by his talent for sculpture, he was invited to study in the school founded for its culture by Lorenzo de Medici.
On the banishment of the Medici family from Florence in 1494, Michael Angelo retired to Bologna, where he worked at the tomb of St. Dominic; after some little time he returned to Florence, and, before he was twenty-three years of age, he had executed the celebrated "Cupid", which was the cause of his being invited to Rome, and also his "Bacchus".
At Rome, amongst many other works by him, is the "Pieta" sculptured by order of Cardinal d'Amboise, and now in St. Peter's. The gigantic statue of "David", at Florence, was his next great performance; and at twenty-nine years of age he returned to Rome, summoned by Julius II for the purpose of erecting his mausoleum; for this building the "Moses" at San Pietro in Vincoli, and the "Slaves" in the Louvre, were originally destined, but it was completed on a smaller scale than was at first intended.
The painting of the Sistine Chapel was the next work undertaken by him, and one of his greatest, whether we regard the sublimity of the performance, or the influence which it exercised on contemporary art, as well as on that of after-times. In 1541 he completed his vast fresco of the "Last Judgment", painted for Pope Paul III. The remainder of his long life was chiefly devoted to the construction of St. Peter's, on which work lie was employed at the time of his death, in 1564, and for which he refused all remuneration.
In everything executed during the long life of Michael Angelo the desire for novelty seems to have divided his attention from the study of excellence alone. His daring innovations in ornament are no less striking than in other areas of design. His large broken pediments and mouldings, his sweeping consoles and scrolls, his direct imitation (saving an alloy of exaggeration) of Nature in some of his enrichments, and the amount of plain face he uniformly preserved in his architectural compositions, brought new elements into the field, which were greedily snapped up by men of less inventive power than he himself possessed.
The style of the Roman school of design was altogether changed through Michael Angelo; and Giacomo della Porta, Domenico Fontana, Bartolomeo Ammanati, Carlo Maderno, and, last not least, Vignola himself, so far as ornament was concerned, adopted, with a few of his beauties, many of his defects, the greatest being exaggeration of manner.
At Florence, Baccio Bandinelli and Benvenuto Cellini were among his ardent admirers and imitators. Happily Venice escaped the contagion in a great degree, or, at least, resisted its influence longer than almost any other part of Italy. This immunity was due, in a great degree, to the counteracting influence of a genius less hardy than that of Michael Angelo, but far more refined, and scarcely less universal. We allude, of course, to the greatest of the two Sansovinos, Jacopo, or Giacopo.