March 6, 1475 is the birthdate of the creator of David, Moses, the Pieta, and the dome of St. Peter’s. Michelangelo Buonarroti was born in a small Italian town, nursed in a marble quarry, and raised in nearby Florence. He spent his leisure painting and drawing, and was chosen at age 13 for admittance to a new art school established by Lorenzo de’ Medici in the Medici Gardens. Between lessons, he listened to the mighty Savonarola preaching his fiery gospel nearby.

As a young man he gained rapid fame for his Pieta (Madonna holding her crucified son), then for carving David from an 18-foot piece of discarded marble. Pope Julius next put him on his back atop scaffolding, painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. He was called a genius.

But behind Michelangelo’s genius resided a tragic figure. He didn’t get along with others and frequently burned with jealousy, foul moods, and disdain for others. He wore old clothes which he seldom changed, and he never bathed. Though rich, he lived as a miser. He ate whatever he found, sometimes only crumbs, and he slept in his raiment and boots. He hated small talk and preferred being alone. He disliked women. All his passion went into his work, and he had little need for friends, except for a servant who tended to him for 25 years and shared his bed.

Michelangelo’s bad temper caused one pope to remark, “He is such an alarming man, and there is no getting on with him.” At times the artist was depressed to the edge of insanity, and in his old age he became obsessed with the fear of hell.

But in advancing age his thoughts turned more and more to the Christ he had so frequently painted, and to the sermons he had heard from the martyred Savonarola. Near the end of his life, Michelangelo wrote that neither Painting nor sculpture now can lull to rest / My soul, that turns to His great love on high, / Whose arms to clasp us on the cross are spread.

He died in his eighty-ninth year. Only God gives inward peace.…

Trust God, my friends,
And always tell him each one of your concerns.
God is our place of safety.
We humans are only a breath;
None of us are truly great.
All of us together weigh less than a puff of air. (Psalm 62:5-9)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Mar.6.

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