Saturday, December 21, 2019

One Life. Many Masterpieces.

"The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low and achieving our mark."

Everyone is talented but only a few make use of some of our talent. Only a tiny fraction of humankind is able to rise above the ordinary and not only realise our full potential but do more. Today’s story is about Michelangelo, who did all this and much more!!

Michelangelo was a painter, architect, sculptor and poet. He was born on March 6, 1475, in Caprese, Italy, the second of five sons. His father was a banker but was serving with the government when he was born. The family soon realised that Michelangelo had no interest in the business of money but had a longing for art. His mother was ill so he was placed with the family of stonecutters at a young age where he got fascinated with marble and the tools of the stonecutters. At the age of 13 he was sent to Ghirlandaio and the Florentine painter's fashionable workshop. The next year he was studying sculpture in the palace gardens of the Medici Family – the powerful rulers of Florence. It is fascinating how he got there – he would secretly copy the original sketches reserved for much older students in the studio and he was so good at it that it was impossible to distinguish the copy from the original.

"If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all."

Michelangelo was a perfectionist. He wanted his works to be real. So he spent hours in the common baths, quarries of stonecutters, wrestlers and any other place where he could see the human body in motion. He even dissected the dead bodies to take a look at the muscle beneath the skin (it was illegal then). All this led to a distinctive style – muscular precision and reality combined with beauty. His “Battle of the centaurs” and “Madonna seated on a step” are proof of this, created when he was only 16 years old.

"I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free."

Michelangelo reimagined a lot of things. He read and re read the Bible to imagine David from “David and Goliath” not to be the timid and skinny boy that had been created thousands of times earlier, but a muscular and fearless boy. After all David would regularly wrestle with both lions and bears to rescue the sheep that they stole from the flock. Michelangelo took 3 years to turn a 17-foot piece of marble into a dominating figure of David. The strength of the statue's sinews, vulnerability of its nakedness, humanity of expression and overall courage made "David" extremely special.

Michelangelo spent 4 years painting the Sistine Chapel, suspended mid air on his back with his hands raised for hours at a stretch to paint the roof. The project fuelled his imagination, and the original plan for 12 apostles morphed into more than 300 figures on the ceiling of the sacred space. (The work later had to be completely removed soon after due to an infectious fungus in the plaster, then recreated.) He fired all of his assistants, whom he deemed inept, and completed the 65-foot ceiling alone.

Michelangelo worked for nine consecutive Catholic pontiffs from Julius II to Pius IV. His breadth of work for the Vatican was vast, and included everything from crafting ornamental knobs for the papal bed to spending four gruelling years painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo’s dealings with his holy patrons were not always pleasant. He had a particularly fraught relationship with the combative Pope Julius II, and once spent three years working on a marble façade for Leo X, only for the Pope to abruptly cancel the project. The artist later enjoyed more convivial partnerships with other pontiffs, and found a famous champion in Pope Paul III, who defended his work “The Last Judgment” after church officials deemed its many nude figures obscene.

Not only was Michelangelo great at what he did but he was also prolific. Sadly many of his works have been lost to the wars of Europe. The fact that he could do so much in so many fields is a testimony to his talents. Not satisfied at being able to work only during daylight, he would spend many nights with a candle atop his hat with the wax dripping on his clothes and hands. He was lovingly called IL DIVINO – the divine one. He was working till the last week of his death.

Whenever you are short of inspiration, do not hesitate to pick up “Agony and the Ecstacy” by Irving Stone which is a biography of Michelangelo. Talent is overrated. Hard work is underrated. A combination of both talent and hard work creates legends. I wish you all the best with creating your own masterpiece!! Enjoy your weekend 😊