Monday, August 11, 2014

Interview: Michelangelo

So, what do you like to be called?
My full name is Michelangelo Buonarroti, but most people don't use my last name.

OK, Mike, then tell us a little about how you became an artist.
When I was born, my mother was quite ill and I was the 2nd of 5 sons, so my father sent me to stay with a stonecutting family. I learned to work with stone when I was pretty young.

As I got older, it became apparent that I really didn't want to follow my father into his business---I just wasn't into math, and he worked with money and finances. Luckily, I was able to apprentice to a painter as well as to work in a sculpture garden, both of which were great training.

You didn't like traditional school?
No. And a classmate smacked me in the nose once. Made my nose crooked for life. It was a lot harder to get girls after that.

So you got an apprenticeship.
Yes. It was really helpful.

How old were you when you began to sculpt?
Oh, I did a little here and there. You may have seen one of my early works, Battle of the Centaurs?

Did this one when I was 16. Turned out OK.

How did you learn to sculpt the human body with such accuracy?
I had to get permission from the Catholic Church to study cadavers, which was really helpful, but it made me sick. Today they say there was something called bacteria in them? I don't know. I just couldn't study those dead bodies as long as I might have. But it gave me insight as to how bones and muscles look and how they work, proportion, how skin should look, stuff like that .


                                           David's hand.

How old were you when you did this one?

The Pieta
I was about 25. Carved it out of a single piece of marble. I was so glad I didn't mess it up. It was a lot of work. And then this other artist tried to claim he did it, so I carved my name in the sash. I never signed anything else, but that just ticked me off.

How did you get the assignment to paint the Sistine Chapel?
Pope Julius asked me to do it. It's kind of hard to say no to the pope. You know, originally, he wanted me to do the 12 apostles, and by the time I was done, I had done 300 figures. Couldn't stop myself.

What a huge project!
Yes, and then partway through we had to scrape everything off because there was this stuff called fungus that was eating through it all. I was SO disappointed to have to start over. It took me until October 31, 1512 to finish that thing. Man, was my neck sore.

Did you paint it lying down?
No, actually, I stood on a scaffold and then moved the scaffold as I needed to. In fact, here's a sketch I drew of how I was painting it:

And although this was my painting of God, it's really how I was working at the time-I would not recommend it:

I was hurting so much I wrote this:

I've grown a goitre by dwelling in this den–
As cats from stagnant streams in Lombardy,
Or in what other land they hap to be–
Which drives the belly close beneath the chin:
My beard turns up to heaven; my nape falls in,
Fixed on my spine: my breast-bone visibly
Grows like a harp: a rich embroidery
Bedews my face from brush-drops thick and thin.
My loins into my paunch like levers grind: goes on a bit but you get the idea: It wasn't good. It took me four years to finish that thing.
                                    Detail, God touching Man to give him life

What else have you worked on?
In 1546, I was named chief architect of St Peter's Basilica. Which turned out pretty well, I think.



Thanks for all the info, Mike. Do you have any advice for people who like painting and/or sculpture?
Probably just to keep working at your craft and you will get better. You'll be recognized in due time. Some of the other artists of my time weren't appreciated till much later, but luckily I became well-known for my work and made a good living at it. If you like what you do, you'll do it well.

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