Michelangelo Sculptures


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.

Michelangelo Image Gallery

Marble Quarry at Cararra
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.
See the next page to learn about the only work that Michelangelo ever signed: Michelangelo's Pietà.

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Pieta (1498-1500) by Michelangelo

Michelangelo created the Pietà between 1498 and 1500. This Pietà is widely seen as the greatest work of sculpture ever created and marks a watershed event in the Italian High Renaissance. The lamentation of Christ was a theme popular in Northern European art since the 14th century, but Michelangelo's interpretation of Mary holding a dead Christ in her arms is remarkable in its faithfulness to the Renaissance Humanist ideals of physical perfection and beauty.

Michelangelo's Pieta
Michelangelo's Pietà, 5 feet 9 inches tall, is located
in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.

Michelangelo worked the Pietà in the round using a drill, a tool he abandoned in later works in favor of the claw chisel. It was for this commission that the master made the first of many trips to Carrara in search of the highest quality marble. The Pietà, which Michelangelo completed before reaching his twenty-fifth birthday, is praised for its technical brilliance and inventive triangular composition. Also notable is the fact that this Pietà is the only work that Michelangelo ever signed. Regretting that he did so in a fit of prideful anger, he vowed never again to sign his own work.

While Mary's face appears peaceful in the
Pietà, it is her left hand, turned upward in helpless resignation, that betrays the true depth of emotion, indeed the intensity of her grief. Note the regal composition of her drapery as it lies in rhythmic and lavish folds beneath the body of the Savior.

Detail from Michelangelo's Pieta
Detail from Michelangelo's Pietà

In the face of the Savior, Michelangelo's Pietà reveals only slight traces of the suffering endured. The expression is peaceful, relaxed, not yet rigid, and without lingering agony. But in the body of Christ, highly polished to absolute anatomical perfection, the artist achieved his greatest sculptural triumph.

Detail from Michelangelo's Pieta
Detail from Michelangelo's Pietà

Michelangelo's Pietà portrays a chaste and peaceful Mary, absent all pain and exuding holy sorrow. The sculpture quietly conveys the divine power of this moment. Answering criticisms that Mary's face appeared too youthful, Michelangelo told biographer Ascanio Condivi, "Don't you know that chaste women remain far fresher than those who are not chaste? So much more the Virgin, in whom never has the least lascivious desire ever arisen that might alter her body...."

Almost 10 years before creating the
Pietà, Michelangelo created the Madonna of the Stairs, a much different portrayal. Learn more in the next section of this article.

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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.

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Bacchus by Michelangelo

Bacchus (c. 1496-97) is one of Michelangelo's few works of pagan rather than Christian subject matter. Commissioned by Cardinal Riario for a wealthy Roman named Jacopo Galli, the gorgeous and intoxicated youth reveals a degree of sensuality unprecedented since antiquity. Bacchus explores the chords and cadences of human flesh, a subject fascinating to the young Michelangelo.

Michelangelo's Bacchus
Bacchus by Michelangelo is a marble sculpture,
6 feet 8 inches tall, residing in the Bargello
in Florence.

See the next section of this article for information on another piece of sculptural work by Michelangelo, the Battle of Lapiths and Centaurs -- also based on ancient Roman subject matter.

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Battle of Lapiths and Centaurs by Michelangelo

Michelangelo's Battle of Lapiths and Centaurs (c. 1492) is hailed as the most advanced figure composition of its time. With this sculpture, it is hard to imagine any classical work available to the young Michelangelo that he had not already surpassed in quality and depth of emotion. The extreme violence of Battle of Lapiths and Centaurs, a twisting turmoil of human misery, foreshadows the anguished figures of Last Judgment. This piece's subject and mood contrast with the sacred reverie of Michelangelo's Madonna of the Stairs. Taken together, these two early pieces already show with startling clarity the two opposite strains in Michelangelo's temperament.

Michelangelo's Battle of Lapiths and Centaurs
Michelangelo's Battle of Lapiths and Centaurs is a
relief in marble. Measuring 33-1/4 x 35-5/8 inches, it
hangs in the Casa Buonarroti in Florence.

While the subject matter of Battle of Lapiths and Centaurs is based on the gory accounts of the Roman poet Ovid, there are no specific acts of violence evident in the piece. Michelangelo chose to represent the brutal tale in symbolic terms, allowing violent passion and tragedy to be expressed through the interaction of struggling, anonymous human bodies. Even on closer inspection, no actual blows are shown and no individual figure is identifiable, leaving only a glorious and turbulent ballet.

More typical of Michelangelo's subject matter than the Battle of Lapiths and Centaurs are the variety of Madonnas he sculpted. The next section of this article provides information on one of the most beautiful, the Bruges Madonna.

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Bruges Madonna by Michelangelo

This Madonna and Child, which Michelangelo created around 1504, is known as the Bruges Madonna because it was sold to a Flemish wool merchant who took it to Bruges. It is more compact, simpler, and yet somehow grander than Michelangelo's earlier Pietà. Remarkable for the gravity and beauty found in the chubby face of the Christ Child, the Bruges Madonna grouping seems small yet is comprised of life-size figures. It is evident that the child seen here was from the same model as that of the Pitti Madonna and that the two works are closely related in composition.

Michelangelo's Bruges Madonna
The beautiful Bruges Madonna by Michelangelo
(4 feet 2-1/2 inches tall) is at Notre-Dame in Bruges.

The bowed head of Mary in the Bruges Madonna, with its broad, expressive forehead, is derived from Michelangelo's earlier Pietà and conveys a stirring sense of deep and poignant acceptance. Michelangelo often used this somber tone when portraying the Madonna and Child to suggest Christ's later passion and death.

Michelangelo created another Madonna and Child around the same time as he created the Bruges Madonna. See the next section of this article for information on the Taddei Madonna.

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Taddei Madonna by Michelangelo

Michelangelo's Taddei Madonna was so named because it was originally blocked out for Francesco Taddei in around 1504. However, Michelangelo never completed it. Even in its unfinished state, the Taddei Madonna shows a more dynamic composition than the Bruges Madonna. Plus, the Taddei Madonna illustrates the pro­gressive stages of Michelangelo's working procedure and his masterful use of different types of chisels.

Michelangelo's Taddei Madonna
Michelangelo's Taddei Madonna hangs in the Royal
Academy of Fine Arts in London and measures
46-1/4 inches tall.

In the Taddei Madonna, the rough foundation work and the hair of the Child and the Baptist were created using a cylindrical chisel that was also used as a drill to carve out the major elements of the piece. The figure of the Baptist is further completed by the use of a coarse, two-toothed chisel. Finally, the Virgin and body of the Christ Child are brought nearly to completion, except for the filing and polishing, through the use of a three-toothed chisel, a tool that, in the masterful hands of Michelangelo, could breathe life into the surface of cold stone.

The face of Mary, the most finished part of the Taddei Madonna, serves as the passionate heart of the composition, infusing the work with deep feeling and serene gravity.

At the same time that Michelangelo was working on the Taddei Madonna, he was also working on one of his greatest masterpieces. Learn about the David in the next section of this article.

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David by Michelangelo

Michelangelo's David was commissioned in 1501 by the wealthy Florence City Council. Noted for its immense size, over fourteen feet tall, the importance of David can only be fully appreciated when one considers the historical circumstances of its creation.

Michelangelo's David
Michelangelo's David, heroic in form and stature at
14 feet 3 inches tall (excluding the base) presides
over the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence.

In 1501, the Florentine Republic was asserting its newly found independence from Medici rule. Under constant threat from aggressors, Michelangelo accepted the commission in 1501 to create a gigantic model of heroic youth for one of the buttresses of the Duomo, or cathedral, a structure of enormous civic and spiritual significance to the city of Florence.

The enormous marble block given to Michelangelo for the task had been abandoned forty years prior by sculptor Agostino di Duccio and was badly damaged by exposure. Once the David was completed, there was reluctance to relegate such a magnificent work to a high spot on the cathedral. It was eventually decided that the David should stand in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, as a symbol of the new republic.

Michelangelo's David, Rear View
Rear view of Michelangelo's David.

It was Michelangelo's intention that the finished David would serve as more than just a fierce protector of the city. While the figure is menacing, there is no indication that he is fueled by aggression. There exists no tension in his considerable arms or legs. Indeed, the political symbolism of the work conveys a warning to fellow Florentines that "Whoever governed Florence should govern justly and defend it bravely...eyes watchful...." The David embodies the Renaissance sensibility of force tempered by intellect.

Michelangelo's David, Detail Torso
Detail view of the torso of Michelangelo's David.

Michelangelo's David is young but far from immature, and Michelangelo endows the figure with the knotted muscles of an athlete, a massive rib cage, and a confident stance. The huge scale of the sculpture contributes to the figure's threatening and authoritative presence as the young hero is shown keeping watch over the city.

Michelangelo's David, Detail Hand
Detail view of the hand of Michelangelo's David.

Michelangelo was careful to temper the athletic warrior with spiritual attributes fitting a young biblical hero. As he carries the stone loosely in his right hand and the sling lies over his left shoulder, David expresses in his quiet stance the superiority of inner strength over brute force.

Not all of Michelangelo's sculptures continued to be as large or as ambitious as the David. See the next section in this article for information on the Pitti Madonna.

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Pitti Madonna by Michelangelo

Unlike the delicacy of the Bruges Madonna or the bold, open composition of the Taddei Madonna, the figures in Michelangelo's Pitti Madonna (c. 1504) reflect the majesty and sculptural grandeur adopted by Michelangelo while he was developing plans for the tomb of Julius II. Here in the Pitti Madonna, created around 1504, the figures of Madonna and Child emerge from the stone with forceful gravity. The self-contained composition further accentuates the sober grace and dignity of the Madonna, who is the focus of the relief.

Michelangelo's Pitti Madonna
Michelangelo's Pitti Madonna is a marble relief, 33-1/2
inches tall, that hangs in the Bargello in Florence.

Note the serene and smiling face of the Pitti Madonna's Christ Child in contrast to the prophetic and watchful Mary. It has been suggested that the pose and countenance of the child recalls that of genii, ancient funeral figures from Roman mythology. This accords with the overall effect of the Pitti Madonna, which, despite the apparently playful attitude of the child, is one of sobering reality.

Michelangelo started planning the tomb of Julius II in 1505, shortly after the period in which he was working on the Pitti Madonna. See the next section of this article for more on the tomb.

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Tomb of Pope Julius II by Michelangelo

In an artistic career plagued by disaster, disappointment, and incompletion, the story of the tomb of Pope Julius II is the most tragic and telling of Michelangelo's life. After accepting the original commission in 1505, which originally was to include forty over-life-size statues, Michelangelo spent more than a year designing the monument and selecting and transporting marble from Carrara, only for the project to be abandoned due to lack of funds.

Michelangelo's Tomb of Pope Julius II
The marble tomb of Pope Julius II can be seen at
San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome.

Working intermittently on the tomb of Pope Julius II over the years, Michelangelo's creative genius was not wasted; elements from his early plans for the tomb found their way into his massive frescoes on the Sistine ceiling. In turn, his brilliant work on the ceiling would serve as inspiration for the daring sculptural style that would come to life in the finally realized version of the tomb of Pope Julius II. The plans for the monument marked the first time Michelangelo combined architecture and sculpted figures, and finally, in 1545, the designs for the tomb, some of which still exist, were realized on a much smaller scale.

The majesty and forceful dignity that Michelangelo bestowed upon even the most humble piece of marble is evident in Moses, the central feature of the tomb of Pope Julius II. The massive sculpture, which is twice life-size, is clearly intended to represent the mighty wrath and aggressive personality of Julius II, traits that were matched by the artist's powerful sculptural style.

For more on Moses, completed around 1515, see the next section in this article.

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Moses by Michelangelo

Michelangelo created Moses, the centerpiece of the final and much reduced version of the tomb of Pope Julius II, between 1513 and 1516. Moses was originally meant for the upper part of a much larger monument where it would have been seen from below. This explains the figure's unusually long torso and overly dramatic expression. Notice the swollen veins in his left arm and his massive shoulders, which seem too large in proportion to the neck.

Michelangelo's Moses from the Tomb of Pope Julius II
Michelangelo's Moses (8 feet 4 inches tall) is the
central figure in the tomb of Pope Julius II, located at
San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome.

Moses is clearly related to Michelangelo's mighty seated figures of prophets and sibyls on the Sistine ceiling. The horns upon the head of the figure are a curiosity of the Italian Renaissance. One of the biblical translations of "rays of light" became "horns" in Italian, and this mistranslation led to Moses being commonly portrayed with horns.

Michelangelo's Moses, Detail Head
Detail of Michelangelo's Moses, centerpiece in the
tomb of Pope Julius II in Rome.

In what is probably one of the most magnificent beards in the history of art, the locks fairly pour from Moses' broad angular face and are swept across the bulk of his chest by powerful hands.

Michelangelo's Moses, Detail Head
Another detail of Moses, from the tomb of Pope Julius II.

Notice how the face of Moses clearly recalls images of God on the Sistine ceiling, particularly the head of the Lord in Creation of Adam and Creation of Sun, Moon, and Plants. The knowledge Michelangelo gained from laboring over the frescoes is indeed reflected in his sculptural work of this period, especially in the freedom and magnificence, not seen in his earlier gigantic sculptures, with which he imbued the figure of Moses.

While Michelangelo ultimately finished the tomb of Pope Julius II, he created a series of sculptures of slaves which were not all finished. Learn more about these curious and beautiful statues in the next sections of this article.

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Dying Slave by Michelangelo

This impressive figure, Dying Slave, was created between 1513 and 1516. Together with Rebellious Slave , it was meant for the tomb of Julius II but was not included because of lack of space in the smaller version dedicated in 1545. Eventually given away by the master, Dying Slave and Rebellious Slave reveal the artist's approach to sculpting.

Michelangelo's Dying Slave, Front View
Michelangelo's unfinished marble sculpture,
Dying Slave, is 7 feet 6-1/2 inches tall and stands
in the Musée du Louvre, in Paris.

Michelangelo visualized the figures as imprisoned in the huge blocks of marble, and only by carefully removing the excess stone could he free them. In their creation, and in their final impact, the two slaves may symbolize the soul's struggle against the bonds of temptation and sin.

Michelangelo's Dying Slave, Side View
Side view of Michelangelo's Dying Slave.

In contrast to the active struggle of the Rebellious Slave, Dying Slave seems to be sinking into a deep sleep. Far from dying, the figure in Michelangelo's Dying Slave seems to be abandoning himself to the effects of an intoxicant. Little resistance is shown in the silky contours of the arched back, extended left arm, and relaxed abdomen.

For more information on the Rebellious Slave, see the next section of this article.

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Rebellious Slave by Michelangelo

Rebellious Slave, which Michelangelo created between 1513 and 1516, is engaged in a far more active struggle than its counterpart.

Michelangelo's Rebellious Slave, Front View
Rebellious Slave by Michelangelo stands 7 feet 1 inch tall
and can be seen in the Musée du Louvre in Paris.

The contrast between Rebellious Slave and Dying Slave skillfully shows human resistance to the chains of bondage and the temptation to submit to the inevitable. Compare also the roughly hewn surfaces of Rebellious Slave to the highly polished finish of Dying Slave.

Michelangelo's Rebellious Slave, Side View
Side view of Michelangelo's Rebellious Slave.

The extraordinarily powerful torso, straining its hulking mass of bone and flesh against bands that tie it back, seems more animal than human. Using sweeping, brushlike strokes made by a three-toothed chisel, Michelangelo created a Rebellious Slave that is lacking the definition of his earlier sculptures and seems instead to express in its coarse surface the very essence of agonized humanity.

Michelangelo started work on several additional slaves for the tomb of Pope Julius II. See the next section of this article to learn about the Crossed-leg Slave.

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Crossed-leg Slave by Michelangelo

Michelangelo's Crossed-leg Slave (1520-30) and the three other captives shown on the following pages were intended for the 1532 version of the tomb of Pope Julius II. It is believed that one of the more disagreeable ruling descendants of Julius II, Francesco Maria della Rovere, the Duke of Urbino, passed through Florence twice during this period and used his power to pressure the artist to complete the tomb.

Michelangelo's Crossed-leg Slave
Cross-leg Slave is a marble sculpture that stands
9 feet tall in the Galleria dell'Accademia in
Florence, Italy.

Michelangelo created another captive in stone, Beardless Slave, which can be seen in detail on the next page.

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Beardless Slave by Michelangelo

Michelangelo created Beardless S­lave between 1520 and 1530.

Michelangelo's Beardless Slave
Beardless Slave is an unfinished marble statue,
8 feet 6-3/4 inches tall, standing in the Galleria
dell'Accademia in Florence.

While the unifying focus for each of Michelangelo's four slave figures lies in their thickly powerful torsos, Michelangelo gave each a distinct identity. Notice the contorted pose of the Crossed-leg Slave as opposed to the softer, more dreamlike stance of the Beardless Slave.

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Bearded Slave by Michelangelo

Michelangelo's Bearded Slave, created between 1520 and 1530, is the picture of anguish, with straining muscles and heaving chest. However, the work loses some effectiveness due to the awkward cutting of the legs. It is speculated that the legs may have been carved at a much later date or may not have been created by Michelangelo at all.

Michelangelo's Bearded Slave
The marble Bearded Slave by Michelangelo is 8 feet
8-1/4 inches tall and stands in the Galleria
dell'Accademia in Florence.

For information on the last of the slaves by Michelangelo, the Blockhead Slave, see the next section of this article

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Blockhead Slave by Michelangelo

Michelangelo created Blockhead Slave between 1520 and 1530. With its head still fully encased in the stone block, Michelangelo's Blockhead Slave, whose facial features are barely suggested beneath the fog of marble, seems to express intimate aspects of the artist's nature and to be symbolic of the incompleteness that plagued him throughout his career. These pieces and their struggle to free themselves from the prison of the enormous marble blocks inspired Rodin in his work nearly four hundred years later.

Michelangelo's Blockhead Slave
Michelangelo's Blockhead Slave (9 feet
1-1/2 inches tall) stands in the Galleria
dell'Accademia in Florence.

In addition to the unfinished slaves he created for Pope Julius II's tomb, Michelangelo also started an entirely different type of sculpture, entitled Victory. Learn more about this portrayal of triumph.

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Victory by Michelangelo

One of Michelangelo's most misunderstood creations, Victory is yet another of many unfinished Florentine works presumably intended for the tomb of Julius II.

Michelangelo's Victory, Front View
Victory, a sculpture in marble by Michelangelo, is
8 feet and 7-1/2 inches tall and is displayed in the
Palazzo Vecchio in Florence.

Created between 1525 and 1530, the grouping shown in Victory is one of the master's most original, showing an unnaturally elongated youth dominating the uncomfortably bent form of an older man. The extreme twist of the youth's body is beyond the realm of possibility, but Michelangelo manages to persuade us that it is "natural," as he did many times with the twisted nudes in the Sistine Chapel.

Michelangelo's Victory, Side View
Side view of Victory by Michelangelo.

It has been said that the figure, which may have been changed from female to male, reflects Michelangelo's passion for a young and handsome Roman nobleman. It seems far more likely, however, that Victory embodies the politics of a newly liberated Florence. Victory reminds us of Donatello's works of soaring patriotism, as we see the victor pausing to pull his mantle about him in a gesture suggestive of divine protection.

Victory was probably conceived as part of the original plan for the tomb of Pope Julius II. See the next section of this article to learn about the tomb of Guiliano de' Medici, which came close to completion as Michelangelo had originally intended.

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Tomb of Giuliano de' Medici Sculpture by Michelangelo

Though never finished, the tomb of Giuliano de' Medici in the Medici Chapel is the only one of Michelangelo's great architectural-sculptural projects to be realized in a form approaching completion.

Michelangelo's Tomb of Giuliano de' Medici
Michelangelo created the tomb of Giuliano de' Medici
(20 feet 8 inches x 13 feet 9 inches) for the Medici
Chapel
of San Lorenzo in Florence.

Built between 1520 and 1534, it is widely held to be one of Michelangelo's most stunning achievements.

Giuliano, Detail of Michelangelo's Tomb of Giuliano de' Medici
Giuliano detail from Michelangelo's tomb of
Giuliano de' Medici.

The pose of the central figure on the tomb of Giuliano de' Medici, arms resting at his sides and legs comfortably apart, and its open composition suggest a cheerful duke, generous in both mind and spirit. In fact, the figure holds in his hand several coins, as if an intended gift. Light plays freely on his beautiful face, yet the figure is lacking in energy and seems to wilt under the burden of the Roman armor. Michelangelo did not intend for this sculpture, nor that of Lorenzo, to be a recognizable portrait of the duke, but instead an ideological tribute through its enhanced beauty and dignity.

Night, Detail of Michelangelo's Tomb of Giuliano de' Medici
Night, as portrayed on the tomb of Giuliano de' Medici.

The only one of the four allegorical figures reclining on the sarcophagi in the chapel to be clearly identified by her attributes, Night is accompanied by an owl, a mask, and a clutch of poppies. A moon is on her diadem. Her muscular body reflects Michelangelo's habit of working from a male model even for his female nudes. In fact, several of the artist's sketches for Night, using a male model, are still preserved.

Night Detail from Michelangelo's Tomb of Giuliano de' Medici
Detail of Night from the tomb of Giuliano de' Medici.

Michelangelo imbued the figure of Night in the tomb of Giuliano de' Medici with dramatic intensity by contrasting the serenity of her face with the contorted pose and the muscular realism of her torso.

Night Detail from Michelangelo's Tomb of Giuliano de' Medici
Detail of Night from the tomb of Giuliano de' Medici.

The masterful detail evident in the portrayal of Night on the tomb of Giuliano de' Medici has earned its status as the most admired of the four figures on the Medici sarcophagi.

Day, Detail from Michelangelo's Tomb of Giuliano de' Medici
Day, as portrayed on the tomb of Giuliano de' Medici.

As in the sculpture of Dusk on the tomb of Lorenzo de' Medici, Michelangelo has given this figure a haunting expression by adopting an unfinished surface for his face and contrasting it with the highly polished finish of the rest of his body. Seen through a veil of marble, his pained expression takes on a haunting quality.

The muscular development of Day surpassed even the rippling might of David or Moses, yet the figure appears to grow weary from the mass of his own body, echoing the tired dejection seen in the sculptures of the dukes.

See the next section of this article for information on the tomb of Lorenzo de' Medici, which also resides in the Medici Chapel.

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Tomb of Lorenzo de' Medici Sculpture by Michelangelo

Michelangelo worked on the tomb of Lorenzo de' Medici, Duke of Urbino, between 1520 and 1534 at the same time he worked on the tomb of Giuliano de' Medici.

Michelangelo's Tomb of Lorenzo de' Medici
The tomb of Lorenzo de' Medici, Duke of Urbino, is
20 feet 8 inches x 13 feet 9 inches and was one of the
tombs Michelangelo built for the Medici Chapel of
San Lorenzo in Florence.

The two tombs, while similar in overall composition, present subtle contrasts and in many ways comment on the public persona of each man. While Giuliano is posed in an extroverted manner, Michelangelo portrays Lorenzo receding into the shadows, his body closed, his legs crossed, and his mind deep in thought. It is a figure deserving of his nickname Il Pensieroso, "The Thoughtful One."

Lorenzo Detail from Michelangelo's Tomb of Lorenzo de' Medici
Lorenzo detail from Michelangelo's tomb of
Lorenzo de' Medici.

In the central figure of the tomb of Lorenzo de' Medici, Michelangelo gives us an image of a mysteriously introspective man. The light, interrupted by the figure's helmet and hindered by his left hand, fails to reach any part of his face. His left elbow rests forbiddingly on a closed money box decorated with a fierce mask.

Both this figure and that of Giuliano lack the fire and energy of earlier sculptures. One explanation for this change in the artist's work is his physical and mental exhaustion. Though only in his forties at the time, Michelangelo was feeling his age under the crushing weight of his many commissions and commented that if he worked for one day he had to rest for four.

Dawn detail, from Michelangelo's Tomb of Lorenzo de' Medici
Dawn (6 feet 8 inches in length), as portrayed on the
tomb of Lorenzo de' Medici.

In lifting her veil from her head, the figure of Dawn suggests the emergence of light from the cloak of darkness. She is portrayed as a young woman with firm, high breasts and a voluptuous body but with a face contorted by grief.

Dawn Detail from Michelangelo's Tomb of Lorenzo de' Medici
Detail of Dawn on the tomb of Lorenzo de' Medici.

Michelangelo took care to complete the faces of the two female figures in this series, giving the virgin Dawn a tragic and burdened countenance, which contrasts with the slumberlike serenity of Night.

Dusk Detail, from Michelangelo's Tomb of Lorenzo de' Medici
Dusk (6 feet 4-3/4 inches in length), as portrayed on
the tomb of Lorenzo de' Medici.

The male figure of Dusk faces the Virgin Mother, giver of life, as does his male counterpart, Day. While his face is unfinished, it is possible to identify in his ill-shapen features a slight resemblance to Michelangelo himself.

Also standing in the Medici Chapel with the tombs of Giuliano and Lorenzo is the Medici Madonna. Learn about this sculpture in the next section of this article.

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Medici Madonna by Michelangelo

Placed directly in the gaze of the two dukes on the tombs of Giuliano de' Medici and Lorenzo de' Medici, the Medici Madonna (1524 - 1534) is another impressive adaptation of one of Michelangelo's favorite subjects, the nursing Virgin.

Michelangelo's Medici Madonna
The Medici Madonna by Michelangelo is 7 feet 5-1/2
inches tall and stands in the Medici Chapel of
San Lorenzo in Florence.

The impression of movement in the Medici Madonna is exceptional; the Child is shown suspended in the act of fretfully searching his mother's breast for comfort.

Detail of Michelangelo's Medici Madonna
Detail of Michelangelo's Medici Madonna.

In her pose, the Virgin of the Medici Madonna is physically protective of the child, yet her expression is spiritually remote, as if sobered by the prospect of her child's future suffering.

Just as Michelangelo continued to return to the theme of the Virgin and Child as in the Medici Madonna, so he continued to explore the theme of the pietà. See the next section in this article for an example.

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Pieta (1547-1555) by Michelangelo

Michelangelo created this unfinished and broken Pietà between 1547 and 1555. The Pietà was meant for Michelangelo's own tomb, but legend has it that in a fit of frustration (he claimed that the marble was unsuitable), Michelangelo attempted to destroy the work and was stopped by his pupils.

Michelangelo's Pieta
This Pietà by Michelangelo, 7 feet 8 inches tall,
stands in the Cathedral in Florence.

The theme of this Pietà is much changed from Michelangelo's earlier version, for this work focuses on the relentless force of death that draws Christ down with a will that the human figures are powerless to resist. The three figures present are Mary Magdalene, Joseph of Arimathea (often also identified as Nicodemus), and the Virgin. As a group, the figures are so compelling that most visitors do not notice that Christ is missing a leg.

Detail of Michelangelo's Pieta
Detail of Michelangelo's Pietà.

Michelangelo chose the figure of the older man, Joseph of Arimathea, in which to depict his own features, but this calm, compassionate portrayal is far removed from his violent and anguished self-portrait in Last Judgment.

The head of Christ, in contrast to that of the 1498-1499 Pietà, is being cradled not by the Virgin but by Michelangelo's own incarnation of himself. Michelangelo is careful to focus Joseph's energies on the strength and tenderness with which the Savior should be treated in death.

Michelangelo started work on one more pietà before he died. See the next section of this article to learn about the Rondanini Pietà­.

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Rondanini Pieta by Michelangelo

Named for the Roman palace where it long stood, the Rondanini Pietà is the sculpture on which Michelangelo was working only six days prior to his death on February 18, 1564.

Michelangelo's Rondanini Pieta
Michelangelo did not have a chance to finish the
Rondanini Pietà (6 feet 3-5/8 inches tall), which now
resides in the Castello Sforzesco in Milan.

At nearly eighty-nine years of age, Michelangelo had become increasingly preoccupied with his own mortality, and it is appropriate that the Rondanini Pietà, haunting and shattered, would wring from him his last artistic breath. Imagine Michelangelo with trembling hands, now only a few days from death, struggling to summarize his lifelong spiritual journey in the achingly expressive distortion of this last sculpture.

Detail of Michelangelo's Rondanini Pieta
Detail of Michelangelo's Rondanini Pietà.

When Michelangelo began this final pietà in 1556, he chose to work from a piece he had begun but abandoned nearly ten years earlier. In the early stages of the Rondanini Pietà, Mary was holding up the slender Christ with her outstretched arms as if offering his spirit, but with time and through nearly three different stages, Christ sank down, now emerging from Mary's breast and exaggerated in his slender form. Finally, Michelangelo drew the heads of the two figures closer and closer together, dissolving the barrier between mother and son.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Lauren Mitchell Ruehring is a freelance writer who has contributed promotional commentary for the works of many artists, including Erté and Thomas McKnight. She has also contributed to publications such as Kerry Hallam: Artistic Visions and Liudmila Kondakova: World of Enchantment. In addition, she has received recognition from the National Society of Arts and Letters.