Michelangelo's Most Famous Paintings
Michelangelo: One of the most prominent artists of the Italian Renaissance.
Who is Michelangelo?
Michelangelo was a Renaissance painter, sculptor, and architect renowned worldwide as one of the greatest artists of all time. His most celebrated work is the frescoes on the 65-foot ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City that took him four years to finish. Depicting more than 300 figures from the Book of Genesis, the work still stands today as the cornerstone of the Italian High Renaissance.
His sculptures Peita and David are among the most famous in existence. Michelangelo’s artistic versatility spread throughout different art forms. More than just a painter and sculptor, he was able to create more than 300 poems during his lifetime.
He was also a famous architect, known mostly for designing the greater part of St. Peter’s Basilica and the extraordinary vestibule of the Laurentian Library. Because of the intense spiritual themes of his works, he was often called Il Divino or “The Divine One.” Michelangelo was born on March 6, 1475, in Caprese – a small town near Tuscany which was later renamed to Caprese Michelangelo after him.
As a young boy, he was sent to Florence, Italy to study grammar but would instead spend most of his time copying church paintings. His father noticed his lack of interest in school and at the early age of 13, he sent Michelangelo to apprentice under Italian painter Domenico Ghirlandaio.
In 1489, Michelangelo studied classical sculpture in the palace gardens of the elite Medici family. During this period, he met several scholars and studied under famous sculptor Bertoldo di Giovanni. Michelangelo’s stay in Florence influenced him greatly and through the years, he developed his own distinctive style: a focus on the Herculean human form coupled with lyrical beauty.
Michelangelo was the only Western artist whose biography was published while he was still alive. Despite his brilliant mind, he was known for his hot temper which often resulted in conflicts with other artists. He was never married but devoted his life to a widow named Vittoria Colona, who is the subject of most of his poems and sonnets. He continued his artistic pursuits even in his later years, becoming the chief architect of St. Peter’s Basilica at the age of 74.
His remarkable career as an artist ended upon his death in 1564 at the age of 88. Michelangelo greatly influenced the development of Western Art. He is the most well-documented artist of the 16th century, as a great number of his works still stands until today.
Here are 16 of Michelangelo’s most famous paintings:
- The Entombment by Michelangelo
- The Torment of Saint Anthony by Michelangelo
- Drunkenness of Noah by Michelangelo
- Doni Tondo by Michelangelo
- Prophet Jeremiah by Michelangelo
- The Sacrifice of Noah by Michelangelo
- The Delphic Sibyl by Michelangelo
- Ezekiel by Michelangelo
- The Prophet Zechariah by Michelangelo
- The Crucifixion of St. Peter by Michelangelo
- The Deluge by Michelangelo
- The Creation Of Adam Painting by Michelangelo
- The Conversion of Saul by Michelangelo
- Prophet Isaiah by Michelangelo
- Creation of Eve by Michelangelo
- The Creation of the Sun, Moon, and Plants by Michelangelo
The Entombment is one of only three surviving panel paintings done by Michelangelo and was painted around the year 1500 to 1501. It depicts the body of Jesus Christ being carried to the garden tomb. It was intended to be an altarpiece in the Church of St. Agostino in Rome but was never delivered.
To this day, the painting remains unfinished with a blank space left on the lower right. The center part shows Christ carried up onto a flight of stairs surrounded by five figures. His body is being supported by three bearers: Saint John the Evangelist on the left in an orange-red gown, Joseph of Arimatheo behind him with a beard, and a tall figure whose identity is unknown but is believed to be Nicodemus the Pharisee.
On the lower left kneels a woman who has been identified as Mary Magdalene. The blank, unfinished space on the lower right was supposed to be painted with a kneeling Virgin Mary. There has been much speculation as to why Michelangelo never finished the work, though most believed that he was unsatisfied with his creation had abandoned it to work on the Statue of David in Florence, Italy. Today, The Entombment is on display at the National Gallery in London, England.
The Torment of Saint Anthony was one of Michelangelo’s earliest paintings, believed to have been done around 1449 to 1494 when he was only 13 or 14 years old. The oil and tempera painting depicts Saint Anthony being assailed by nine demons in the desert.
The demons, all with varying appearances, pull and tease Saint Anthony as they lift him up into the air. Below is a landscape showing a ship sailing through the river. The painting is an interpretation of “The Life of Saint Anthony the Great” written by Athanasius of Alexandria in the 4th century. In it, Athanasius details how Saint Anthony would travel through the desert carried by angels but was suddenly attacked by demons.
The painting was previously owned by the workshop of artist Domenico Ghirlandaio, who was young Michelangelo’s mentor. It was bought at an auction by an American dealer who later sold it to the Kimbell Art Museum for around $6 million. The painting is currently on display at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas.
Drunkenness of Noah by Michelangelo
The Drunkenness of Noah is the last panel of the series of frescoes painted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. The painting contains two depictions of Noah.
In the first, we see Noah in the background wearing a red robe and busily tilling his vineyard after the Great Flood. In the second, a naked Noah is shown in the foreground slumped over drunk and inebriated, having consumed too much wine – the fruits of his hard work. He is surrounded by his three sons who talk amongst each other animatedly.
His son Ham’s face is turned away as to point at his father. The work is based on the biblical story of Noah and his sons Shem, Japheth, and Ham. After the Great Flood, Noah became a farmer. One day in the fields, after drinking a bit too much wine, Noah becomes drunk and has taken off his clothes. Ham, instead of assisting his father, calls his two brothers so they can see. Angered at Ham’s reaction, Noah cursed him and gave his blessing only to the two other brothers.
The Drunkenness of Noah can be seen today on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City.
The Doni Tondo is the only finished panel painting by Michelangelo; the other two panel paintings (The Entombment and Manchester Madonna) were never completed. The word “tondo” is Italian for “round” and is used to describe the circular shape of the painting.
It portrays the Holy Family: Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus. Mary is the most prominent figure in the painting as she is positioned right in the center. She is seen kneeling and looking up to Baby Jesus as she hands him over carefully to Joseph. In the background, John the Baptist is shown with five nude male figures.
To this day, the painting remains in its original frame which Michelangelo helped design. It is adorned with carvings of stars, moons, plants, and lion heads. The work was commissioned by Agnolo Doni to celebrate his marriage with Maddalena Strozzi in 1503 or 1504.
The painting and its original frame can be found in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy.
Prophet Jeremiah by Michelangelo
The Prophet Jeremiah is one of seven Old Testament prophets painted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The painting is the first on the left following the High Altar.
The work shows the prophet Jeremiah seated in deep meditation. His mouth is covered and his finger extended in the signum harpocraticum – an ancient gesture of silence that signifies knowledge. The painting is a depiction of the Book of Lamentations, as Jeremiah laments over the Fall of Jerusalem.
His face evokes a feeling of loss and anguish as he looks down on the destruction of his beloved city. Many critics believe that the figure of Jeremiah was a self-portrait of Michelangelo himself, lamenting over his own sins. The Prophet Jeremiah can be seen today along with seven other prophets on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City.
The Sacrifice of Noah by Michelangelo
The Sacrifice of Noah is the seventh of nine scenes from the Book of Genesis forming part of the frescoes painted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City.
The painting depicts the sacrificing of a ram on an altar to the Lord. Noah officiates the ceremony, wearing the same red robe he wore while tilling the fields in the Drunkenness of Noah. He surrounded by several figures, including his wife beside him.
There is a man seen dragging a ram while the other is taking the viscera of the animals. On the right side, there is another man carrying scrolls. In the back are different cattle.
The scene occurs after the Great Flood, as Noah and his family make a sacrifice to give thanks to the Lord for saving their lives. Much of the work was painted over by Domenico Carnevali in 1568 after much of the original painting was lost due to the instability of the wall.
The Delphic Sibyl is one of the several figures painted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. She is part of a series of twelve prophetic figures, composed of seven prophets and five sibyls.
The sibyls were female seers – oracles of Ancient Greece who predicted the coming of Christ. The youthful beauty of the Delphic Sibyl is what sets her apart from all other sibyls in Michelangelo’s work. She is depicted as seating on a stone chair while holding a scroll.
Her face is turned towards the other direction with a worried expression on her face. The Greek geographer Pausanias claimed that the Delphic Sybil was the daughter of sea monsters and an immortal nymph. She was the voice of Apollo, the Greek god of music and poetry. The colors on her garment were believed to represent the four elements: earth, water, fire, and air.
Ezekiel is one of seven prophets painted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City in the year 1510. In the painting, an aged, bearded Ezekiel is depicted seating with an open scroll on his left hand.
His face and torso are turned towards his right facing Zechariah. His other hand is outstretched in the same direction. His face has an expression of surprise and bewilderment.
Ezekiel follows Isaiah and Jeremiah as the third great prophet of Israel. And like Isaiah, Ezekiel also had a vision of the Tree of Life as well as the Tree of Knowledge. His life and works are collected in the Book of Ezekiel. Much like the rest of his work on the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo used the Fresco style of painting.
He used a combination of different water-based colors that were created by grinding dry-powder pigments and painted them on freshly applied plaster. This technique was used to make the painting a permanent part of the ceiling.
The Prophet Zechariah by Michelangelo
The Prophet Zechariah is the first of seven prophets painted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City in the year 1510. In fact, it is one of the first paintings seen when entering the chapel through the east door. Although Zechariah was described in the scriptures as a young man, Michelangelo’s painted him as an older man with a beard.
He is dressed in a green cloak – a symbol of wisdom and age. Zechariah is shown seating down with his body turned sideways towards a book with a look of concentration on his face.
Behind him are two angels looking over his shoulder. An interesting fact is the inclusion of small detail in the painting symbolizing the feud between Michelangelo and Pope Julius II. One of the angels makes a gesture with his hand with one of his fingers stretched out. This gesture was known as “the fig” or “obscene hand” and was the Renaissance equivalent of the modern middle finger.
The Crucifixion of St. Peter by Michelangelo
The Crucifixion of St. Peter is famous for being the last fresco painted by Michelangelo before his death. It is one of two frescoes made in the Cappella Paolina (Paul’s Chapel) in Vatican City, the other being the Conversion of Paul. The Cappela Paolina was used as a private chapel for Pope Paul III.
Peter was the subject of many works of the time because he is considered the first pope. In this painting, Michelangelo shows the exact moment when Peter is being crucified upside down. He is nailed to the cross which is being carried by soldiers. Peter is surrounded by a number of people shown to be whispering and moving about in anticipation of the execution.
Michelangelo included himself in the scene as an onlooker riding a horse on the upper left part of the fresco. In contrast to the other figures in the painting, Peter is not concentrating on his coming crucifixion but instead has his head turned to the front, directly staring at the viewer. His expression is one of triumph and confidence.
At first glance, the figures on the painting seem disproportionate with some looking larger than the others. Apparently, Michelangelo did this on purpose so that the viewer on the ground would see the proper proportions while looking up.
The Deluge is one of the largest frescoes painted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. It sits at the center of the ceiling and is one of nine panels showing different scenes from the Book of Genesis. The painting depicts the story of The Great Flood wherein God decided to punish the wickedness of man by sending rain for 40 days and 40 nights.
The earth and its occupants perished in the flood, save for the people and animals on board Noah’s ark. Michelangelo’s painting exudes a sense of panic and doom amid the rising water. In the distance, the viewer sees the Ark afloat – the occupants still continuing the finishing touches on the structure.
In the center is a tiny boat unable to hold the people on board and is about to capsize. In the foreground, we see naked figures, some children, desperately rushing to safety on an islet with a withered tree, its branches slumping on the weight of the people clinging to it.
Generations after Michelangelo’s death will come to know The Creation of Adam as the most famous section of the frescoes painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. The painting illustrates the Biblical creation story where God gives life to Adam, the first man. Michelangelo’s depiction of God is as a father figure – an elderly bearded man with a kind face. He appears suspended in the air supported by angelic figures behind him.
His hand is outstretched towards Adam who sits naked on the earth with his hand equally reaching out in the same manner. Their fingers are close but never touch. Art critics have noted a mirroring pose between both figures: the figure of Adam is positioned to echo the figure of God, possibly to show that man is made in the likeness of God or that one is merely the extension of the other. The fact that their fingers never touch gives the impression that despite this likeness, God is on a higher level than man.
The Creation of Adam has become an iconic depiction of humanity and is one of the most replicated religious paintings of all time.
The Conversion of Saul by Michelangelo
The Conversion of Saul is one of two frescoes painted by Michelangelo in the Cappella Paolina (Paul’s Chapel) in Vatican City, the other being the Crucifixion of St. Peter. The work was commissioned by Pope Paul III for the private chapel which was used to store the consecrated Host and the place where the cardinals gather to elect a new pope.
The fresco illustrates the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. At the center of Michelangelo’s painting is Saul who is on his way to Damascus to persecute and arrest Christians. On the upper left portion, we see God surrounded by a host of angels with a blinding light shining down from heaven to earth. Saul is struck by the light and shown falling off his horse, his arms raised as if to shield himself from the light.
Unhorsing was symbolic of a loss of pride, as Saul ultimately changes for the better and comes to be known as Paul. Much like The Deluge, The Conversion of Saul is one of Michelangelo’s busiest works, showing crowds of figures crowded around the religious scene.
The Prophet Isaiah is one of the seven Old Testament Prophets painted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. Michelangelo’s depiction of Isaiah is a young man with a poet’s face. The cloak he is wearing is a brightly colored combination of blue, green, and red.
His head is turned towards his attendant Putti. His feet are crossed and his hands carry a closed book. Critics have interpreted the scene as showing the importance of listening rather than reading.
Creation of Eve by Michelangelo
The Creation of Eve is one of several frescoes by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. It depicts one of the most famous stories in the Book of Genesis: God’s creation of Eve, the first woman.
As with the Creation of Adam, Michelangelo again depicts God as a gentle father figure as he reaches out toward Eve. Eve looks modest and grateful as she looks with reverence upon God, as Adam sleeps soundly beside her. The painting is located in the center of the vault of the fifth bay and is surrounded by ignudi with medallions.
The Creation of the Sun, Moon, and Plants by Michelangelo
The Creation of the Sun, Moon, and Plants is the second scene in the Creation narrative painted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. The painting depicts two images of God.
The one on the right is pointed upwards as he creates the sun with his right hand and the moon with his left. The depiction of God on the left has his back towards the viewer as he points downward creating a bush. The Creation of the Sun, Moon, and Plants is featured on the postage stamps of Vatican City.
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