Michelangelo Finds his Own Way

Michelangelo found his own technique in everything he did, not only sculpture. He was surrounded by professionals with the greatest skill and workshop tradition ever seen in history. But he didn’t follow their advice.

The Sistine Chapel ceiling

He had never painted in fresco before accepting the commission for the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. He let the painters show him basic technique and then kicked them all out of the chapel. He tore down their scaffold, which they had suspended like a swing from the ceiling, because it struck him as a bad proceeding. When the painting was finished and the scaffold brought down, what was he going to do about those big holes in the ceiling where the rope-hooks had been? It was the traditional way, the venerable way for fresco painters to work; and it was like so many other tricks of the trade—rough and ready solutions repeated in spite of their inadequacy.

There was something of this finding out for yourself in defiance of the wealth of traditional know-how about many great Renaissance men—perhaps it is the hallmark of the period. You see it very well in Benvenuto Cellini but it is all through Vasari´s Lives: Uccello frittering away his genius on experiments in perspective; Leonardo spoiling his own masterpieces with experimental pigments and glues.


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6 Responses to Michelangelo Finds his Own Way

  1. wrjones
    wrjones says:

    I think it is human nature to stick with what has been done before. I worked at a company that used a measurement method that I could prove with equations was incorrect by a small amount. All I got was, “We have been doing it this way for 20 years it can’t be wrong.” I said look at the equations you are engineers. I got, “we don’t need to we have been doing it this way for 20 years.”

  2. 100swallows says:

    Bill, I hope you quit that company and went your own way.

  3. Just in passing, not all of us believe that Michelangelo was one of the best Artists of all time.

    I applaud however anyone who finds a better way!

  4. I love that Michelangelo was bold enough to do things his way. What if it came out really awful or started falling apart a few years later? He took some big risks I think.

  5. 100swallows says:

    Peggi: Maybe you know that he made a bad mistake mixing up his mortar for the Sistine frescoes and ended up needing advice after all. He painted the first “frame” (the Flood–for some reason he didn’t start at the end of the chapel) and was shocked to see that mildew started forming and soon covered the figures he had painted. In despair he ran to the Pope: “See? Didn’t I tell you I was no painter?” he whined. “All I’ve done is ruined.” The Pope sent San Gallo, the architect, to see what was wrong. “You’re putting too much water in the mix–that’s all,” he told Michelangelo.

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