Michelangelo once wrote that a true and pure work of sculpture -- by definition, one that is cut, not cast or modeled -- should retain so much of the original form of the stone block and should so avoid projections and separation of parts that it would roll downhill of its own weight. These words reflect Michelangelo's love of quarried marble and his reverence for the very stone that lies at the heart of his chosen art form of sculpture.
Cararra, Italy. Michelangelo's choice of marble block was key to
his sculptural process. He spent months in the quarry at Cararra
to find the perfect stone for a subject, often to the detriment of the
project itself. See more pictures of works by Michelangelo.
Michelangelo sought to prove that devotion to the integrity of the stone block is the foundation upon which great sculpture is created. The artist's obsessive process of selecting marble for his projects drove him year after year to the town of Cararra, where quarries that date back to Roman times are legendary for their pure white marble block.
Perhaps the artist's passion for the untouched stone is most clearly understood in his approach to the art of sculpting. In a letter from 1549, Michelangelo defined sculpture as the art of "taking away" not that of "adding on" (the process of modeling in clay), which he deemed akin to painting. Fortunately for historians, his many unfinished statues clearly show this groundbreaking process of taking away, or carving, as he labored to free the figure born in his mind from the confines of the marble block.
The Renaissance had opened people's minds to the secular influences of politics, literature, philosophy, and science, but Michelangelo's unyielding faith in God remained his main source of inspiration and served as the primary motivation for his greatest works. Michelangelo was a sculptor apart, a lover of stone and a believer in life everlasting.
Both these passions -- for the material beauty of marble and for the spiritual life -- infuse his greatest works. Follow the links below to see detailed images of Michelangelo's sculptures.
- Pietà (1498-1500): Michelangelo's first Pietà is considered by some to be the greatest sculpture ever created. Learn more about this early work from the master.
- Madonna of the Stairs: The earliest known sculpture by Michelangelo, Madonna of the Stairs portrays a scene the artist would return to again and again. Learn more about this unusual bas-relief.
- Bacchus: In Bacchus, Michelangelo explores the sensuous side of the human experience. Learn more about this expressive piece of work.
- Battle of Lapiths and Centaurs: In Battle of Lapiths and Centaurs, Michelangelo shows his skill at figure composition. Learn more about this amazing and passionate relief sculpture.
- Bruges Madonna: The Bruges Madonna is an example of the solemn attitude in which Michelangelo often portrayed the Madonna and Child. Learn more about this dignified and beautiful sculpture.
- Taddei Madonna: The Taddei Madonna is an unfinished work by Michelangelo that provides information about the master's sculpting techniques. Learn more about this relief sculpture.
- David: The David is one of Michelangelo's masterpieces and represented the glory of Florence when he created it. Learn more about this heroic sculpture.
- Pitti Madonna: Michelangelo's Pitti Madonna has a grandeur that reflects the style of the tomb of Pope Julius II, which Michelangelo was planning. Learn more.
- Tomb of Pope Julius II: The story of Michelangelo's creation of the tomb of Pope Julius II is one of epic struggle, tragedy, and, finally, compromise. Learn more about this combination of architecture and sculpture.
- Moses: The centerpiece of the tomb of Pope Julius II, Moses is an exquisite portrait of a powerful leader. Learn more about this dramatic sculpture.
- Dying Slave: The Dying Slave is one of several unfinished sculptures Michelangelo created for the tomb of Pope Julius II that did not make it into the final version of the tomb. Learn more about these fascinating pieces.
- Rebellious Slave: Some of the power of Michelangelo's Rebellious Slave comes from its unpolished state. Learn more about this powerful portrayal of human agony.
- Crossed-leg Slave: Michelangelo's Crossed-Leg Slave is less finished than the other slaves yet still shows its own personality. Learn more about this work-in-process.
- Beardless Slave: The Beardless Slave is another of the unfinished sculptures started for the tomb of Pope Julius II. Learn more about this emerging figure.
- Bearded Slave: Michelangelo's Bearded Slave has caused much speculation, because the legs appear not to have been rendered with the master's usual skill. Learn more about this figure.
- Blockhead Slave: Michelangelo’s unfinished Blockhead Slave shows a figure imprisoned by the marble from which it is formed. Learn more about this disturbing work.
- Victory: Michelangelo's Victory has been interpreted in many different ways but is probably a patriotic representation of Michelangelo's beloved Florence. Learn more about this dramatic figure.
- Tomb of Giuliano de' Medici: On the tomb of Guiliano de' Medici, Michelangelo included portrayals of a nobleman as well as of Night and Day. Learn more about this masterful work.
- Tomb of Lorenzo de' Medici: To go with Giuliano's tomb, Michelango included portrayals of Dawn and Dusk on the tomb of Lorenzo de' Medici. Learn more about this complex and touching sculpture.
- Medici Madonna: To accompany the tombs he created for the Medici Chapel, Michelangelo created the Medici Madonna. Learn more about this touching sculpture.
- Pietà (1547-1555): Michelangelo started this Pietà for his own tomb but did not complete it, possibly because he was dissatisfied with the marble he was using. Learn more about this unfinished work.
- Rondanini Pieta: Michelangelo was working on the Rondanini Pietà up until only six days before his death. Learn more about this last, haunting sculpture.
To learn more about Michelangelo, art history, and other famous artists, see: