5 Things You May Not Know About Michelangelo


1. A jealous rival broke his nose when he was a teenager
As a teen, Michelangelo was sent to live and study in the home of Lorenzo de’ Medici, one of
the most important art patrons in all of Europe at the time. His steady hand with a chisel and
paintbrush soon made him the envy of all his fellow pupils. One young rival named Pietro
Torrigiano grew so enraged at Michelangelo’s superior talent—and probably also his sharp
tongue—that he once walloped him in the nose, leaving it permanently smashed and
disfigured. “I gave him such a blow on the nose that I felt bone and cartilage go down like
biscuit beneath my knuckles,” Torrigiano later bragged, “and this mark of mine he will carry
with him to the grave.”
2. He first rose to prominence after a failed attempt at art fraud
Early in his career, Michelangelo carved a now-lost statue in the style of the ancient Greeks.
Upon seeing his work, his patron Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici proposed an elaborate
con. “If you were to prepare it so that it should appear to have been buried,” Medici said, “I
shall send it to Rome and it would pass for an antique, and you would sell it much more
profitably.” Michelangelo agreed, and the sham cupid was sold to Cardinal Raffaele Riario
under the guise of being a recently recovered archaeological wonder. Riario later heard
rumours of the scam and got his money back, but he was so impressed by Michelangelo’s
skill that he invited him to Rome for a meeting. The young sculptor would linger in the
Eternal City for the next several years, eventually winning a commission to carve the “Pieta,”
the work that first made his name as an artist.
3. He carved the “David” from a discarded block of marble
Michelangelo was known to be very picky about the marble he used for all his sculptures,
but for his “David” statue he used a block that other artists would have deemed unworkable.
The massive slab was known as “The Giant” and had been quarried nearly 40 years earlier
for a series of sculptures for the Florence Cathedral and it was eventually abandoned. The
slab itself had deteriorated and grown rough after years of exposure to the elements.
Michelangelo eventually crafted the discarded block into one of his most luminous works,
but recent analyses of the “David” have revealed that the poor quality of its stone may have
caused it to degrade at a faster rate than most marble statues.

4. He completed artworks for nine different Catholic Popes
Beginning in 1505, 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.

5. He inserted his own likeness into some of his most famous works
Michelangelo rarely signed his work and did not leave formal self-portraits, instead he
occasionally stylized depictions of his face into his paintings and sculptures. The most
famous of these “easter-egg” self-portraits can be found in his 1541 Sistine Chapel fresco
“The Last Judgement” where we can see Saint Bartholomew holding a piece of flayed skin
which appears to be Michelangelo’s. He also portrayed himself as Saint Nicodemus in his
Florentine Pieta.

By: Molebatsi Louw