Michelangelo Goes to College

Michelangelo came to Lorenzo de Medici’s’s palace as an apprentice sculptor. Lorenzo was impressed by his intelligence and fervor and surprising aptitude, and asked Michelangelo’s father to let him “keep him as one of his own sons”.

Lorenzo de Medici by Verrocchio

He gave the boy a room of his own and had him looked after as one of the Medici household. “Michelangelo,” says Vasari, “always ate at Lorenzo’s table with the sons of the family and other distinguished and noble persons who lived with that lord, and Lorenzo always treated him with great respect.”

Those were great days for learning. There was a revolution going on (called “Humanism”), a new way of understanding the world.

The great city of Florence, Italy, where Lorenzo de Medici ruled when Michelangelo was a young man (a Wikipedia commons photo)

Great lords in all the towns and cities hired famous scholars to teach their sons not only Latin and Greek but even the precepts of pagan morality. Lorenzo de Medici brought the most outstanding of them to Florence, to his palace, where they lived and worked in a kind of permanent discussion group they called, after Plato’s, an “Academy”: men like Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, Politian (Poliziano).

Learned men at Lorenzo de Medici’s palace
Zachariah in the Temple [detail] by Domenico Ghirlandaio: Marsilio Ficino, Cristoforo Landino, Angelo Poliziano and Demetrios Chalkondyles (detail). Fresco. Santa Maria Novella, Cappella Tornabuoni, Florence, Italy. 1486-1490.

They wrote and read poems to each other and to Lorenzo and his family and they discussed the ancient writers with great learning and enthusiasm.

This Academy was active when Michelangelo came to Lorenzo’s palace. For three years the teen-age Michelangelo, sitting at table in the scarlet robe Lorenzo had given him, listened in deep silence and respect to the discourse of these teachers. It was his “Harvard and his Yale college”; and its influence lasted most of his life and can be seen in every work of art he made until his declining years, when he dumped Humanism for a more Counter-Reformation Catholicism.

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4 Responses to Michelangelo Goes to College

  1. Ion Danu says:

    It’s an evolution we often see: in their youth, artist and writers (and not only of course) are kind of revolutionary to turn “conservative” in their old age… I was wondering what you make of Michelangelo’s sexual orientation… (Not to create confusion, so it happens that I am straight but I’m not homofobic and a lot of the writers and artists I admire were gay…)

  2. 100swallows says:

    It’s not what I make of his sexual inclinations but what HE made of them, isn’t it? And he did all right. He gave the world those impressive figures and the world was so awestruck it never even asked where the girls were or why those monster-ladies Day and Night (gloriously beautiful however) on the Medici tombs looked like men with some clumsy female attachments. Vasari says he “specialized” in the male nude—he rarely painted or drew anything else: he found it inexhaustibly curious and beautiful (as Degas or Renoir, for instance, did the female one). He “got away with” some daring figures, such as the Blessed boys kissing passionately at the top right of the Sistine Judgment or the divine harem of angel lads above the St. Paul fresco.
    Did his “tendencies” have something to do with his old-age conservatism? Rather with his old-age depression. I’ll write a post about that sometime, OK?

  3. Need to know more about Michelangelo and where ha went to school!

  4. Gwynhwyfar says:

    The sculpture of mostly male forms seems like he was probably gay, but then, I’m an artist and find the female nude much more interesting to draw or paint, though I am straight. It’s a matter of preference. But your reference to the kissing boys and the angel harem really seem outside the bounds of accepted heterosexual AND of Catholic imagery — no harems in church! – this would lead me to believe he was gay. But as you pointed it, it was really Michelangelo’s concern, not ours.

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