Whenever you ask someone what they think of when you say ‘Michelangelo’, they will often reply with “The Sistine Chapel” or “David”. Michelangelo is one of the best documented sculptors of the sixteenth century and yet people do not know that much about his life as a sculptor. Obviously the brilliance of the Sistine Chapel cannot be ignored entirely, but to Michelangelo painting was an inferior art to sculpture, and he only painted the Sistine Chapel to prove himself as a painter as well as a sculptor.
Michelangelo was inspired by classical antiquity and often sculpted naked male figures as in his colossal statue David (1501- 1504) This shows the figure of David contemplating the fight that is to come between him and Goliath.
The treatment of the musculature is outstanding and the statue has become well known for its beautiful study of the human form.
La Pietà (1499) is another of Michelangelo’s best known works. A young depiction of Mary is holding the body of Christ in her arms and the treatment of the marble has left an outstandingly smooth finish. Christ’s anatomy is detailed and accurate and again demonstrates Michelangelo’s brilliance in depicting the nude male. Mary’s facial features are in my opinion the most beautiful part of this work. Her features are delicate and naturalistic almost making her appear flesh like. The drapery of the whole sculpture is also amazing.
The image of victory is often depicted as a woman, as is traditional. However, Michelangelo in his Victory (1525-1530) has depicted a man. It is likely that the figure of victory here depicts the politics of a newly liberated Florence. The extreme twist of the young male is almost beyond the realms of possibility, but Michelangelo manages to convince me that that this pose is natural.
Where Michelangelo was brilliant at depicting the male form I do not think he spent much time studying the female nude. In particular his Night for the Medici chapel looks like the body of a man. The muscles are too large on the arms and thighs, the shoulders are too broad and worst of all the breasts look like they have been stuck on as an afterthought.