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Dictionary of World Biography
m) marble statue David (now in the Accademia in
Florence), in which the use of distortion and tension
create the illusion of a perfect male form. Already
contemporaries referred to his terribilità – the quality
that inspired awe – although his famous outbursts of
rage probably contributed. Michelangelo returned to
Rome (1505) commissioned by Pope *Julius II to design
and work on his tomb. The scheme was constantly
reduced by the pope and his heirs, and Michelangelo
completed only after years of intermittent work, the
great statue of Moses (c.1513–15) and the figures of
four slaves now in St Pietro in Vincoli. Many of his
most powerful works were unfinished, including the
Slaves in the Louvre and the Accademia. From 1508
to 1512 Michelangelo was again in Rome occupied
with one of his greatest tasks, the decoration of the
ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, a huge area of 340 sq. m.
He painted 28 Old Testament subjects (Genesis,
Prophets, Scenes of Salvation, Ancestors of Jesus) and
five Sibyls, more than 300 figures. The outstanding
central sections are Creation of Adam, Creation of Eve
and The Fall of Man. Technically the work presented
immense difficulties, partly of perspective, partly
because the painting was awkward to execute. The
figures depicted, e.g. those in the Creation of Adam
and the nudes surrounding the main panels, illustrate
the neo-Platonist theory that the beauty of the human
body symbolises divine beauty. This idea, derived
from his studies and colloquies with the scholars in
Lorenzo’s garden, permeates all Michelangelo’s work.
From 1521 he devoted 14 years (with interruptions)
to the Medici Chapel in the Church of St Lorenzo,
Florence. The wall decorations and the tombs of
Lorenzo and Giuliano de’*Medici were complete, or
nearly so, as were the reclining figures of Day, Night,
Dusk and Dawn. The chapel wall – an architectural
experiment much imitated – is solely designed to
provide a sculptured setting for the figures. But the
project as a whole was left unfinished. Intermittently,
until 1559, the library of St Lorenzo at Florence was
also constructed to Michelangelo’s designs. Here
Manneristic techniques (e.g. pillars set in niches
to conceal their function) begin to appear. In 1534
the Medici pope *Clement VII summoned him to
Rome to paint a fresco of the Last Judgment for the
altar wall of the Sistine Chapel. The work, carried
out (1536–41) under *Paul III, is one of the most
awesome pictures ever painted, with Christ, the stern
judge (but essentially an Apollonian figure, in the
Greek style), the elect, observant and fearful, and the
crowd of struggling nudes (about 300) representing
the damned, it provoked controversy from the first,
although the astounding quality of execution and the
overwhelming power of the message was undeniable.
(A major cleaning and restoration of the Sistine
Chapel was completed in 1996.) The same mood of
tragedy provoked by the sufferings of the world he
lived in is visible in his last great paintings, the frescoes
in the Pauline Chapel of the Vatican – the Conversion
of St Paul and the Crucifixion of St Peter.
Michelangelo devoted his last 20 years mainly to
architecture. In reconstructing the Capitol in Rome
he designed the first planned square of modern times,
he made additions to the Palazzo Farnese, but most
important he was chosen (1546) to succeed Antonio
da Sangallo (1483–1546) as chief architect of St
Peter’s. Here he modified *Bramante’s original plans
for transepts and choir and designed the new higher,
lantern topped dome which towers over the building.
Michelangelo never married and his longest sustained
friendship was for the noblewoman and poet Vittoria
Colonna (1490–1547), to whom he wrote some of
the 100 or so sonnets which place him high among
the poets of his time. Among his last sculptures were
the Florence Pietà , including a self-portrait (c.1548–
55) and the (disputed) Palestrina Pietà (c.1556).
In his 80s he devoted himself to solitary religious and
mystical contemplation, between moods of ecstasy
and despair and conscious of the dark abyss beneath
the thin layer of civilisation. Michelangelo was the
first great Mannerist artist, imposing his conceptions
on nature. Primarily a sculptor, his pictures have been
described as sculptures in paint, but just as his works
are monumental, so he is a colossus dominating all
the fine arts, painting, sculpture and architecture
during the Renaissance.
Goldschieder, L. Michelangel: Paintings, Sculpture,
Architecture. 1953; Drawings. 1966; Summers, D.,
Michelangelo and the Language of Art. 1981; Stone, I.,
The Agony and the Ecstasy. 1987; Bull, G. Michelangelo.
1995; Neret, G., Michelangelo. 2000; Wallace, W. E.,
Michelangelo The Artist, the Man and his Times. 2011.;
Gayford, M., Michelangelo. His Epic Life. 2013; Hirst,
M. Michelangelo: The Achievement of Fame. 2013.
Michelet, Jules (1798–1874). French historian.
Professor of history at the Collège de France, Paris
1838–51, he conceived his longest work, the Histoire
de France (24 volumes, 1833–46, 1854–67), as, in
effect, a biography of the nation. However, his greatest
achievement was Histoire de la Revolution (7 volumes,
1847–53) in which he defined the Revolution as a
combination of ‘Law, Right and Justice’. He saw
the Revolution as both ‘the heir and adversary of
Christianity’, based on a human community, not
divine order. He rejected royalist reaction and Jacobin
Terror. He was influenced by the work of *Vico.
Viallaneix, P., Michelet. 1998.
Michelson, Albert Abraham (1852–1931).
American physicist, born in Poland. Early in his
career he was an instructor in physics and chemistry
at the US Naval Academy. Later he studied in Europe
and on his return held two professorships before he
was appointed (1893) chief professor at the Ryerson
Physical Laboratory, Chicago. Much of his success
was due to his extreme skill in designing optical
instruments, e.g. the interferometer with which he
carried out, with Morley, the famous MichelsonMorley experiment to determine the speed and
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