Madonna of the Stairs by Michelangelo

Completed around 1491, when Michelangelo was still in his teens, the bas-relief Madonna of the Stairs is accepted as the artist's earliest surviving work. Madonna of the Stairs was created in a style never used again by Michelangelo, which likely originated from both the cameos seen in the Medici household and, more importantly, Donatello's rilievo schiacciato (low relief).

Michelangelo's Madonna of the Stairs
Michelangelo's marble Madonna of the Stairs,
22x15-3/4 inches, currently resides in the Casa
Buonarroti in Florence.

In Madonna of the Stairs, Michelangelo used the chisel more as a pencil to create the illusion of the Madonna's gown as it barely rises from the background. By subtly dissolving the barrier between object and background, the artist introduces dimension and depth as mere suggestions. The classical Roman character of Mary's profile finds its roots in fifth-century Greek grave designs.

Extraordinary in Madonna of the Stairs is the fully mature, muscular power of the Christ Child's right arm and back, a pose that would be echoed in the sculpture Day in the Medici Chapel.

To see how quickly Michelangelo's skills developed, see the next section of this article and take a look at Bacchus, a sculpture he created only about five years after completing Madonna of the Stairs.

To learn more about Michelangelo, art history, and other famous artists, see: