10 Facts You Didn’t Know About Michelangelo

Zuzanna Stańska 21 December 2023 min Read

Michelangelo Buonarroti, a painter, sculptor, and architect was born in Caprese, Italy on March 6, 1475. He is one of those geniuses whose biography is well-known by many. But here we’ve gathered ten facts about Michelangelo you’ve probably never heard of.

1. He started his career as… a forger.

michelangelo The Laocoon group, marble. perhaps 1st century CE, The Vatican Museums
The Laocoön and His Sons, 1st century CE, The Vatican Museums, Vatican. Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

The first fact about Michelangelo is that early in his career, he carved a now-lost cupid statue in the style of the ancient Greeks. Lorenzo de’ Medici told Michelangelo that a cupid could be sold for a lot more money if he could make it “appear to have been buried.” Michelangelo agreed to do it and the piece was bought by Cardinal Raffaele Riario. However, the Cardinal soon realized that he bought a “fake,” got his money back, but was so impressed with the sculpture that he brought Michelangelo to work in Rome. He, until this day, is also suspected to be the author of the sculpture of the Laocoön group. Laocoön was supposed to be an Ancient Greek masterpiece and was dug up in Rome in 1506.

2. His commission to paint Sistine Chapel was supposed to be a sabotage.

Michelangelo Buonarroti, Sistine Chapel, 1508-1512, Vatican. Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Jealousy is an awful thing but sometimes people’s hatred can lead to magnificent results. Fellow Renaissance painters, including Raphael, convinced Pope Julius to hire Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel, in an effort to sabotage his career. Remember, Michelangelo at this time was considered to be mainly a sculptor. He nearly didn’t accept the job, but eventually took it. It took him four years to paint, lying on scaffolding, but he created one of the most magnificent masterpieces ever created.

3. He completed artworks for nine different Catholic Popes.

michelangelo Bronze sculptures attributed to Michelangelo, Fitzwilliam Museum
Bronze sculptures attributed to Michelangelo Buonarroti, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, UK. Smithsonian Magazine.

Michelangelo lived for 89 years and he worked for nine Catholic pontiffs from Julius II to Pius IV. His most famous masterpiece is of course the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel but his works include all kinds of stuff, for instance, ornamental knobs for the papal bed.

4. He designed this bold costume of the Swiss Guard.

Swiss Guard. Photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra via Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA 2.0).

It’s a common belief that Michelangelo designed the uniforms of the Pontifical Swiss Guard.

5. He was like Steve Jobs in terms of bathing.

Agostino Veneziano After Michelangelo Buonarroti, Soldiers Bathing in the Arno, 1610, Harvard Art Museum
Agostino Veneziano after Michelangelo Buonarroti, Soldiers Bathing in the Arno, 1610, Harvard Art Museum, Cambridge, MA, USA. Museum’s website.

The legend says that Michelangelo’s clothes had to be peeled off his body when he died since he’d been wearing them for so long. It’s known that he hated baths, possibly including a hatred for washing or changing his clothes.

6. He painted his self-portrait. A very interesting one…

 The Last Judgement (detail), 1537-41, Michelangelo. Sistine Chapel, The Vatican.
Michelangelo Buonarroti, The Last Judgement, 1537-1541, Sistine Chapel, Vatican. Wikimedia Commons (public domain). Detail.

Another fact about Michelangelo is that he found an interesting place in the Sistine Chapel fresco to place his self-portrait. Michelangelo chose to paint his face as Saint Bartholomew. Yes, this is the saint who is always shown as flayed skin, because he was skinned alive.

7. He was an accomplished poet.

Michelangelo Buonarroti, Front page of The Poems. Library of Duke University.

Michelangelo produced several hundred sonnets and madrigals over his career. His poetry touches on everything from sex and aging to his overactive bladder. While none of these works was formally published in his lifetime, they circulated widely among Rome’s 16th-century literati, and composers even set some of them to music.

8. He never married.

Michelangelo Buonarroti, Portrait of Andrea Quaratesi, 1510, British Museum
Michelangelo Buonarroti, Portrait of Andrea Quaratesi, 1510, British Museum, London, UK. Museum’s website.

Michelangelo never married and there is little known about his private life. But he did write passionate love poetry to a number of young men, most notably a young nobleman named Tommaso dei Cavalieri. Later in life, he had a romantic friendship with a widow who was also a poet. Her name was Vittoria Colonna and they wrote sonnets to each other.

9. He kept working until the week he died.

Michelangelo, Pietà Rondanini, 1564, Museum Pietà Rondanini, Italy.
Michelangelo Buonarroti, Pietà Rondanini, 1564, Castello Sforzesco, Milan, Italy. Photo by Paolo da Reggio via Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA 3.0).

Michelangelo lived 89 years. Even after he became too weak to go to the work site regularly, he still supervised the job he currently was doing – overseeing construction on St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican from home by sending drawings and designs to trusted foremen. But he couldn’t stop sculpting until his last days when he was still working on the so-called Pietà Rondanini, which depicts Jesus in the Virgin Mary’s arms.

10. He died as a very rich man.

Michelangelo Buonarroti, David, 1501, Galleria dell’Accademia, Florenze, Italy. Photo by Jörg Bittner Unna via Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA 3.0). Detail.

The last fact about Michelangelo you probably didn’t know is that he was a penny pincher and died with an estate that was worth 50,000 florins. That is the equivalent of $35 million in today’s money.

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