In the days that mark the 539th anniversary of his birth, Michelangelo continues to make the news.
Born in Tuscany on March 6, 1475, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni is regarded as one of the major artists of all times, as well as a symbol of the Italian Renaissance together with his fellow Tuscan Leonardo Da Vinci. This is due to his immense talent – mainly in sculpture but also in painting, architecture, and poetry – that generated stunning and powerful pieces of art.
A clear example is the extraordinary statue of the Pietà, housed in St. Peter’s Basilica. And the Basilica itself is the result of his genius and fame, that earned him the project despite his advanced age – in fact, the redesigned dome, based on that of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, was completed only after his death.
Michelangelo’s undisputed prestige is also testified by the fact that he was the first Western artist whose biography was published while he was still alive. Actually, two different biographies were issued during his lifetime. The first one, authored by Giorgio Vasari, portrayed him as the cornerstone of artistic innovation during the Italian Renaissance, destined to have a substantial influence on world art in the centuries to come. As a matter of fact, many artists tried to imitate his unique style, and their work resulted in the subsequent art movement called Mannerism.
If Vasari’s biography was unauthorized, the second one was written by one of Michelangelo’s assistants and reflected the master’s intervention and interest in promoting his own image. This modern attitude, along with his vast popularity and the considerable earnings from his work, make him the first celebrity artist in the contemporary fashion.
And in these days, Michelangelo is making the news again – even if indirectly – because of the controversial advertising campaign launched by an American weapon manufacturer and running in some specialized magazines. It shows the world-famous image of Michelangelo’s sculpture of David – another of his masterpieces, on view at the Accademia di Belle Arti (Academy of Fine Arts) in Florence – holding a brand-new rifle defined as “A work of art.”
Representatives of the Italian government, including the Minister of Cultural Heritage Dario Franceschini, and members of the public opinion have harshly criticized what they consider to be an inappropriate use of the artwork.
But what would Michelangelo himself think about that? Would he consider it an outrage or would he argue, quoting Italian art critic and former MP Vittorio Sgarbi, that “Art is full of violence, and the adulteration of images is not new to contemporary art”?
Probably, the Italian Renaissance artist would focus more on the aesthetics of the image, and he would appreciate the unexpected publicity. In fact, he was no stranger to causing scandals that even contributed to increase his popularity – as if his mastery of art wasn’t enough. Among them, the best known is certainly the one relating to the nudities depicted in the Last Judgment fresco that decorates the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel: they were subject to censorship and covered with fig leaves and loincloths during the 1560s.
But what is for sure is that he would be proud of celebrating his 539th birthday still in the spotlight.