Lessons from a Renaissance man

A woman I know* compared good writing to how Michelangelo described his sculpting — he believed that every stone had a sculpture within it, and that the work of sculpting was simply a matter of chipping away all that was not a part of the statue, to reveal the beautiful work inside.

I’m no Michelangelo-of-Words to be sure. But the comment, taken as a compliment, made me curious about the man, what was known about him, and what else he can teach us.

Michelangelo had a competitor
When your competition is none other than Leonardo da Vinci, do you throw in the paintbrush and head for the hills? If he had, how would St. Peter’s Basilica look today?

He could do it all
And he did. Sculpture, architecture, drawings, paintings and poetry all survive him. But at different times for different clients. I have a hard time picturing him multitasking while revealing The Statue of David. No pun intended.

Though he was pulled in many directions
While working on the Pope’s Tomb, he was constantly interrupted for other tasks. Not e-mails mind you. Whatever it was, it kept him from finishing the work for 40 years.

He was inspired by his faith
Much of his work is biblical, like the masters of his time. Yet, his beliefs inspired him to the point that when he was commissioned to paint the 12 Apostles, he lobbied for Creation instead. Though some say it was a political move, you can’t look at Sistine Chapel ceiling and not be moved.

His biography was written during his lifetime
They called him The Divine One. Apparently, he did not shy away from attention and publicity, and it helped his career.

Others imitated him
You could say he was a trendsetter, kicking off the style known as Mannerism.

He was censored
The “fig-leaf” campaign actually started with Michelangelo’s works.

He took on bad clients
And regretted it. Pope Leo X commissioned Michelangelo to reconstruct the façade of the basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence. Michelangelo agreed reluctantly. The three years Michelangelo spent in creating drawings and models for the facade, as well as attempting to open a new marble quarry specifically for the project, were among the most frustrating in his career, as work was abruptly canceled by his financially strapped patrons before any real progress had been made. No façade was ever built.

Good days and bad
As any writer who has ever struck the laptop in an attempt to make the words flow faster or better, there are some days when you rock and roll, and some days, you don’t. Know you’re in good company. It is said that when finishing the Moses statue in Rome, Michelangelo violently struck the knee of the statue with a hammer, and shouted, “Why don’t you speak to me?”

*Credits and gratitude to Alicia Arenas for inspiring this post.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Lessons from a Renaissance man

  1. Laura Carter

    As a woman of few words tonight, “Very nice.”

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