Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) is one of the greatest Italian Renaissance artists in history. He is not only a brilliant sculptor, architect, and poet but also a brilliant painter. He produced many of the masterpieces in the art of painting, and ten of them are discussed briefly in this list.
1. ‘Creation of Adam’
This painting, circa 1511, is also called ‘The Creation of Man.’ It is the fourth in a series of nine panels found on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel at Vatican City in Rome. They were painted by Michelangelo at the request of Pope Julius II. It is said that Michelangelo painted these paintings backward. The ‘Creation of Adam’ shows the naked Adam, the first man according to the Bible, and God in a gesture of trying to connect to each other by touching each other’s fingers. This scene is supposed to symbolize man’s need for God and God’s willingness to reach out to man.
2. ‘The Last Judgment’
This is another masterpiece by Michelangelo, circa 1534-1541, which is found in the Sistine Chapel. The painting depicts the Second Coming of Christ which is also called ‘The Last Judgment’ by Christians. Christ is portrayed at the center of the painting and the different saints and martyrs of the Church. He is shown raising his right hand in an act of judging mankind, that is, the sinners going to hell and the good people going to Heaven. This work conveys fear with people portrayed cowering in fright while waiting to hear Christ’s judgment.
3. ‘The Martyrdom of St. Peter’
This work, circa 1546-50, depicts the death of St. Peter, the leader of the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ. It shows St. Peter crucified head-down as depicted according to Church tradition. The women look terrified, and the men argue with each other while witnessing St. Peter’s crucifixion. This is the second of the two, large paintings which Michelangelo did for Pope Paul III’s private chapel at the Vatican.
4. ‘The Torment of St. Anthony’
This work is considered to be Michelangelo’s first painting at the age of 12 or 13. St. Anthony is shown in this painting being mocked and dragged by demons. Based on this research, The Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas has acquired this work with an undisclosed sum of money.
5. ‘The Conversion of Saul’
This is the first of the two paintings done by Michelangelo for Pope Paul III’s private chapel, circa 1542-1545. It depicts the moment when Saul, who later became St. Paul, is converted to Christianity. In this painting, Saul is shown blinded by a heavenly light as he is on his way to Damascus with his men. According to the Bible, a Christian named Ananias cured Saul of his blindness, and Saul changed his name to Paul when he was converted to Christianity. Paul became one of the leaders of the early Christians and later died a martyr’s death making him one of the greatest saints of the Church.
6. ‘The Holy Family’
This painting, circa 1506-1508, shows the Child Jesus, Virgin Mary, and St. Joseph together as a family. It is considered as among the art masterpieces produced in the 16th century. This is also called ‘Doni Tondo’ after its patron, Agnolo Doni, a rich banker who commissioned the painting. A ‘tondo’ is an art work done for private persons during the Renaissance period.
7. ‘Madonna and Child with St. John and Angels’
Also called the ‘Manchester Madonna,’ this is an incomplete painting of the Holy Family by Michelangelo. One breast of the Virgin Mary is exposed, indicating that she is about to nurse the Child Jesus, or she has just finished nursing him. There are two angels standing on her left side reading a scroll. This is believed to have been painted in 1497. Critics say that this work lacks the rich colors found in Michelangelo’s other famous works.
8. ‘The Entombment’
Now housed in the National Gallery of London, this is an unfinished painting done in 1500-1501 by Michelangelo depicting the burial of Jesus Christ. This work depicts the crucified Jesus being carried to the sepulchre to be buried in the tomb given by Joseph of Arimathea. St. John the Beloved and Mary Magdalene are also shown in this painting. Allegedly, this is an imitation work although many claim it is one of Michelangelo’s early paintings.
9. ‘Leda and the Swan’
This is a rare painting of Michelangelo which his student, Antonio Mini, sold to Francois, king of France. This became a part of Francois’ royal collection. The king’s pupil, Rosso Florentino, did an imitation of this work. The original painting done by Michelangelo is said to have been lost. The theme of Leda is culled from the love stories of Greek mythology in which a mortal woman is seduced by the god Jupiter who transforms himself into a swan as he is depicted in the painting.
10. ‘The Fall from Grace’
This painting, circa 1508-1512, depicts a scene from the book Genesis of the Bible showing Adam and Eve being tempted by the devil in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve are painted naked, and the devil is portrayed as a half-man, half-serpent creature. This is another of Michelangelo’s works found at the Sistine chapel.
According to Thomas Merton who is a renowned writer, ‘Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.’ This is how Michelangelo’s paintings affect their beholders. The magnificent beauty of these masterpieces holds people spellbound. Even their reproductions alone which are found in books, magazines, Internet, etc., are enough to evoke awe and wonder. One cannot help but be amazed at the genius that is Michelangelo. We can only hope and pray that these priceless legacies from this great artist will be preserved with the passage of time. This way, the future generations will also come to know and appreciate these works created by one of the most gifted men that the Supreme Creator had given to the world.