Portrait of Michelangelo (probably based on his death mask) by Daniele da Volterra (1564) Photo by Giovanni dall’ Orto
1475 …MICHELANGELO BUONARROTI is born on March 6 in Caprese, a village near Florence, during his father’s short term as mayor and local magistrate. The family soon returns to Florence. The infant Michelangelo is placed in the care of a foster-mother in a town five miles from Florence. His mother dies when he is six.
1488… He quits school and signs up for an apprenticeship as a painter with Domenico Ghirlandaio.
1489…He leaves Ghirlandaio’s workshop and starts to study sculpture in the gardens of Lorenzo de’ Medici. He lives at the ducal palace for three years in the company of the learned Humanists and sculpts his first works (marble reliefs): THE MADONNA OF THE STAIRS and the BATTLE OF THE CENTAURS.
1492… Lorenzo de’ Medici dies and Michelangelo goes back to live with his impoverished father but soon returns to the Medici palace, invited by Lorenzo’s son, Piero.
1494-1495-1 Florence rebels against the leadership of Piero. Michelangelo flees the city, goes to Bologna. There he sculpts three small statues for the tomb of San Domenico: ST. PETRONIUS, ST.PROCULUS, and an ANGEL.
1496…Back in Florence he sculpts a CUPID (now lost) and sells it to the art dealer Baldassare del Milanese, who in turn sells it as an antique work to a Roman Cardinal.
1497…Michelangelo moves to Rome. To a banker-client he sells his first important work: the BACCHUS and another Cupid, now lost. He makes his first trip to Carrara for marble.
1498-1499… He sculpts the PIETÀ for the French cardinal Jean de Billheres (also called Jean Villier de la Grolaie or Groslaye) but receives no other important commissions for nearly two years.
1501…Cardinal Piccolomini orders 15 statues for the Cathedral of Sienna. Michelangelo finishes four of them, begun by another sculptor, and adds one of his own, the ST. PETER, before abandoning the project.
1502… He returns to Florence, which has become a republic, and receives an order from the local authorities for a bronze David (finished by another artist and sent to France, now lost) and a colossal marble statue of DAVID . The Cathedral Cabildo gives him an order for marble figures of the Twelve Apostles. Only the ST. MATTHEW is blocked out.
1503 … He finishes an easel painting, his only one that has survived, of the Holy Family (MADONNA DONI).
1504 ….His colossal DAVID is set up in front of the Palazzo della Signoria or City Hall.
1505 ….He obtains a commission to paint a fresco (the BATTLE OF CASCINA) for the Council Room of the city of Florence. Leonardo da Vinci is commissioned to do a fresco on another wall of the Council Chamber. Michelangelo only finishes the cartoons—he never starts to paint the wall.
He is called to Rome to build a tomb for Pope Julius II. Then he spends nine months in Carrara, quarrying marble for it. Back in Rome he begins to block out some of the figures for the great tomb.
1506… He leaves Rome in anger on learning that the Pope has given up the tomb project, and takes refuge in Florence under the protection of its governor, Piero Soderini. In November he goes to Bologna to apologize to the Pope, who pardons him and orders a colossal bronze statue of himself.
1507 . Michelangelo spends more than a year modelling and casting the figure, which is finally set up on the facade of San Petronio in 1508. Less than four years later it is melted down to make a cannon.
1508 … Pope Julius decides to decorate his uncle’s chapel (called the Sistine, after Pope Sixtus IV) and orders Michelangelo to fill the ceiling with frescoes. He protests that he is no painter but the Pope insists and Michelangelo begins to work alone and in great discomfort. He finishes the SISTINE CEILING frescoes in 1512.
1513… Pope Julius dies. Michelangelo signs a new contract for his tomb with his heirs. He works on the MOSES and the so-called “Slaves”: The DYING SLAVE and the REBELLIOUS SLAVE (now in the Louvre, Paris).
1514… He begins work on a RISEN CHRIST for the church of Sta. Maria sopra Minerva in Rome. It is finished by his helper and unveiled only in 1521.
1515.. He goes to Carrara to get marble for the Julius tomb figures.
1516 …He signs another contract for the Julius tomb. The Medici, now ruling again in Florence, ask him to design the facade for their family church of San Lorenzo. His design calls for 10 statues.
1517—1520… He spends most of the following three years in Carrara and Pietrasanta, quarrying marble for the facade of San Lorenzo and also for the Julius tomb. He signs a contract with the Medici for the facade of San Lorenzo, which now includes 22 statues. This project is suddenly and inexplicably cancelled by Pope Leo, Giovanni di Lorenzo de’ Medici, in 152o.
Perhaps about this time Michelangelo began, either for the Julius Tomb or the San Lorenzo facade, a statue called VICTORY. It was left unfinished in his workshop in Florence. Some scholars date it later, around 1530, like the APOLLO, another unfinished work.
1527-1528.. Florence anticipates an attack by a papal and imperial army and appoints Michelangelo Chief of Fortifications. He has to suspend his work in the Medici Chapel and devote himself to the defense of the city.
1529… Michelangelo flees Florence and is declared a traitor. He returns just before Florence is taken by the imperial forces (1530) and he goes into hiding. The Pope promises him immunity if he continues to work on the Medici Chapel figures. He finishes two of them (NIGHT and DAWN) by 1531.
1532… He moves to Rome. He signs a new contract with Julius’ heirs for a smaller tomb—only six figures. The heirs accuse Michelangelo of shirking his responsibility and of lying about the money he received from Pope Julius for the tomb and he is never able to convince them of his honesty, which nearly drives him to despair.
He meets Tommaso de’ Cavalieri and dedicates many poems and drawings to him.
1533… Pope Clement asks him to paint the LAST JUDGMENT on the wall of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo returns to Florence for a short stay, then leaves it for the rest of his life. He lets assistants finish the Medici Chapel and the Laurentian Library.
1534… Pope Clement dies and the new Pope (Paul III) orders Michelangelo to stop working on the Julius tomb and paint the LAST JUDGMENT frescoes above the altar of the Sistine Chapel. He finishes them on October 31, 1541. His friendship with Vittoria Colonna begins and he dedicates many religious drawings and poems to her.
1543… He starts work on the CONVERSION OF ST. PAUL fresco in the the Pauline Chapel.
1545… The JULIUS TOMB is finally set up in San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome. Most of it is executed by other sculptors according to Michelangelo’s plan. He is unsatisfied with the results. The two female figures, RACHEL and LEAH–also called the Active Life and Contemplative Life–are by Michelangelo but finished and polished by helpers.
1546—He begins the FLORENTINE (or Duomo) PIETÀ for his own tomb.
1547… Pope Paul III appoints him official architect of ST. PETER’S BASILICA. With the help of an assistant he completes a model of the dome in 1561.
1555… In a moment of anger and frustration he mutilates his FLORENTINE PIETÀ.
1564… His friend Daniele da Volterra watches him work all day February 12 on the RONDANINI PIETÀ. Two days later he comes down with a fever but goes for a walk in the cold night air, saying he just can’t rest. The next day he spends sitting next to the fireplace but finally must crawl into bed. He dies on February 18. The Pope wants to have him buried in St. Peter’s but Michelangelo’s nephew and heir, Leonardo, takes the body back to Florence, where it is buried in Santa Croce. More than a hundred artists attend his funeral.
This timeline is primarily about Michelangelo’s works. See Michelangelo’s Biography for more information about his life.
*Note: Scholars do not agree on some of these dates. I have decided to follow the chronology given by E.H. Ramsden, which is based on the dates of Michelangelo’s letters. See her The Letters of Michelangelo, Stanford University Press, 1963
Other sources are Michelangelo’s poems and the two biographies by Giorgio Vasari and Ascanio Condivi.