Michelangelo: The Middle Years

During the postponement of the monumental tomb that Michelangelo was to design he returned to Florence for a time.  In 1508 Pope Julius II persuaded the Florentine Republic to send Michelangelo back to Rome

where he reluctantly accepted the commission to decorate the lunettes and ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  The Chapel served as a bastion of the Vatican and was used for ceremonies and papal elections so it was large and needed to be gloriously decorated.  The next four years Michelangelo spent on a scaffolding working practically unassisted on the intricate masterpiece. 

In 1513, after the death of Pope Julius II, his heirs revived the tomb project which had been put on hold and a new contract was drawn.  The plans for the original free-standing two or three story structure were abandoned for a more traditional wall-tomb.  Of the original 40 or more figures that were planned, only 3 were actually carved: the two Slaves, which were never used for the tomb, and the figure of Moses, the central figure of the tomb.  This was one of the most disappointing works for Michelangelo.  He had worked intermittently for over 40 years on this project. 

In the 1520s Michelangelo returned to Florence and began work on the Medici Chapel and tombs in the basilica of San Lorenzo.  The project was never completed but is a great example of Michelangelo’s integration of sculpture and architecture.  The figures of Giulian and Lorenzo de’ Medici are over their tombs and flanked by the symbols of time and mortality – Day and Night, Dawn and Evening.  During this same time period Michelangelo designed the Laurentian Library, an annex of the same church. 

In 1527 the sack of Rome and the republican government once again gaining power interrupted Michelangelo’s work on the tomb.  The new republic was quickly besieged and defeated restoring the Medici rule permanently.  In 1529 during the siege Michelangelo worked as an engineer designing fortifications to protect his beloved city of Florence.

Continue to Michelangelo Biography Part 3 - The Later Years 

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"The marble not yet carved can hold the form of every thought the greatest artist has."

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