Dictionary of Art and Artists


that Changed the World


  Lascaux Caves Manesse illuminated Massys Callot Friedrich Picasso
  Tutankhamen's tomb Lorenzetti Grunewald Rembrandt Constable Matisse
  Europa and Minotaur Karlstein Castle Baldung Claude Lorrain Delacroix Marc
  Banquet Tomb Limbourg brothers Altdorfer Velazquez Turner Kandinsky
  Pompeii Van Eyck Cranach Vermeer Ingres Monet
  Birth of Christianity Della Francesca Holbein Rigaud Manet Chirico
  Hagia Sophia Uccello Titian Watteau Burne-Jones Modigliani
  Book of Kells Mantegna Bruegel Canaletto Seurat Chagall
  St Benedict Botticelli Vicentino Boucher Van Gogh Kahlo
  Bayeux Tapestry Anonymous Arcimboldo Fragonard Toulouse-Lautrec Dali
  Donizo manuscript Durer El Greco Gainsborough Munch Ernst
  Liber Scivias Bosch Theodore de Bry John Trumbull Cezanne Hopper
  Carmina Burana Da Vinci Caravaggio David Gauguin Bacon
  Falcon Book Michelangelo Rubens Gros Degas Warhol
  Giotto Raphael Brouwer Goya Klimt  

From Lascaux to Warhol

Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truth,
passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius,
but never abandoned.

William Butler Yeats




"And the Lord God Called unto Adam,

and Said unto Him,

Where Art Thou?"

Michelangelo recreates man



And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.... And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

Genesis (1:26-27,2:7); heading: Genesis (3:9)


The ideal of Classical beauty: Nudes figures from the ceiling fresco in the Sistine Chapel


Michelangelo was born in Florence in 1475. As a boy of thirteen he was apprenticed to the workshop of the painter Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449—1494). There his talent was discovered and furthered by Lorenzo de' Medici, a great lover and patron of the arts. As a young man Michelangelo was allowed to live in the Medici palace as a guest, where he could study the ancient statues in the garden and was instructed by the ruler, Lorenzo, himself. However, by the time he reached the age of eighteen, that was not enough for Michelangelo Buonarroti. How was a sculptor to represent a human body in motion without knowing how the muscles functioned under the skin? He wished to study anatomy, but he needed corpses to do so. He knew he would not be admitted into a charnel house, as it went against his contemporaries' sense of propriety and moral principles. The popular American novelist Irving Stone — whose book about Michelangelo, The Agony and the Ecstasy (1961), was a bestseller — allowed chance to drop a key into his hero's hands: the key to the hospital of Santo Spirito. Eagerly, yet terrified of being caught, he set to work at night. By the flickering light of a candle, he carefully dissected corpses to study the way muscles were formed and how they worked, how the spinal column was arranged and where the organs were located. Without empirical observation and active study, no matter how he may have gone about it, Michelangelo would never have become the model that he has been for subsequent generations of artists. Nor would he have been revered in his own lifetime as a sculptor, a painter, a writer of profoundly moving sonnets and a thinker in the Platonic mould. To him the idea, the conception of a work of art — and this was especially true of sculpture — was latent in the material, waiting to be recognised by the artist and wrested from it in the creative process.

Michelangelo's Creation of Adam is surely one of the most sublime portrayals of man ever achieved. On 10 May 1508 Michelangelo began to work on this fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. Initially he had misgivings about accepting the commission because he viewed himself primarily as a sculptor. He suffered agonies while painting the Sistine ceiling, as his contemporary, Giorgio Vasari, sympathetically relates: "From keeping his head bent back for months on end to paint the vaulted ceiling, he ruined his eyes so that he was no longer able to read even a letter and could not look at any object without holding it up above his head." But that was not all. Michelangelo, then thirty-five years old, had to placate his sixty-seven-year-old patron, Pope Julius II, who "was of an impatient, choleric temperament and could not wait until the work was finished". By 31 October 1512, Julius II was finally able to marvel at the completed fresco, with its over 300 figures.


Creation of Adam
Fresco, 280 x 570 cm
Cappella Sistina, Vatican

Creation of Adam

Fresco, 280 x 570 cm
Cappella Sistina, Vatican


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