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Michelangelo and Raphael

Michelangelo and Raphael

Author: Ian McConnell
Description:

This lesson will explore the work of Michelangelo and Raphael.

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Tutorial

An overview of the artists Michelangelo and Raphael, and some of their important works of art.

Video Transcription

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hello. I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell, and today's lesson is about Michelangelo and Raphael. As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as often as you feel is necessary. And as soon as you're ready, we can begin.

Today's objectives, or the things we're going to learn today, are listed below. By the end of the lesson today, you will be able to identify and define today's key terms, describe stylistic elements in the Renaissance characteristics of Michelangelo's David, and describe the Renaissance characteristics, composition, and content of Raphael's The School of Athens.

Key terms, as always, are listed in yellow throughout the lesson. First key term is Platonic Academy-- founded by Plato 387 BC in Athens, promoted the philosophical systems of Plato, including the notions of form and existence of abstract objects. Buon Fresco-- a type of fresco in which the plaster is still wet and the paint bonds with the plaster. Giornata-- it's the quantity of wet plaster that an artist could paint into in a period of one day before it dried.

Continuing with key terms-- cartoon, a preparatory drawing for a mural that contains a number of small holes, allowing the drawing to be transferred to the wall using powdered charcoal tapped through the holes. And contrapposto-- a natural should pose in which the figure stands, resting most of the weight on one foot, and creating a slight tilt in the pelvis.

Big idea for today is that the High Renaissance in Italy is defined by the works of artists such as Michelangelo and Raphael.

We'll be looking at a short period of time today, covering the years 1501 to 1512. And I've shown you the year of Columbus's well-known voyage to the New World in 1492 as a reference point.

Our trip today will take us once again to Italy, specifically the Tuscan region and the city of Florence, Italy.

Our first artist is the famous Michelangelo. He was born in 1475 and died in 1564. And although known for his artistic geniuses as a sculptor and painter, he personally considered himself a sculptor first. His approach to sculpture was that the artist is a genius, who like God, first imagines the creation, then creates it, and that the process should occur naturally and organically, rather than relying on rigid mathematical proportions.

Michelangelo's David is considered one of the quintessential works of art from the Renaissance. And it's inspired by the classical Greek sculptures of male athletes, heroes, and nudes. The sculpture itself is very large. It's about 17 feet tall, and depicts the biblical hero in the moments leading up to his fight with Goliath.

Now in contrast to other statues of David, such as Donatello's famous sculpture, which show David in the moments immediately after the battle, Michelangelo depicts David immediately before the confrontation. The contrapposto stance suggests ease at first, but the beautifully rendered details create a sense of tension as well as anticipation for what's about to happen.

Now his large hands, one of which holds the stone that kills Goliath-- you can see there on the bottom-- convey power and strength, while serving as a visual adjustment, just like his slightly enlarged head, to compensate for the lower viewpoint of the observer. Now this type of visual adjustment and consideration for the vantage point of the observer was a characteristic of Donatello's statue of Saint Mark in Florence, which is a work of art that Michelangelo would've been familiar with.

The sensation of impending action is a hallmark of Michelangelo's style and is clearly rendered in the details of David's face. His gaze extends beyond the immediate area and serves to pull in the character of Goliath who, although he's beyond the view of the observer, he's well within David's line of sight.

Now the Sistine Chapel is part of the Vatican complex in Rome, which is the center of Christendom. The project to paint the interior was commissioned by Pope Julius II about two years after the groundbreaking on the new church of St. Peter's in the Vatican. Michelangelo was selected, and though hesitant at first, he eventually accepted.

Now the scope of the project was enormous. It presented a number of challenges, such as the height, a problem that was eventually solved by the creation of a scaffolding system by Michelangelo. The ceiling was actually painted by Michelangelo while he was on his back, and in bright colors so that it was easily viewable from the ground. Now the themes are biblical, essentially depicting narratives detailing the creation of man to the fall of man, the Last Judgment, and certain details from the life of Christ.

The more recent conservation done on the ceiling to remove centuries of dirt and grime was controversial in how it removed many of the details of the original images, such as shadows, eyes, and contour lines. However it revealed hidden details about the creation process, such as the lines that outline where the giornata was laid out, which you can see here, and procedures involved with transferring images to the ceilings and walls, which we'll talk about next.

Which leads us to cartoon-- as opposed to the modern day usage, a cartoon was actually a preparatory drawing that was then transferred to the wall or ceiling in order to paint. The process was rather ingenious. I'll use my little Goth character here as an example. So the outlines of the cartoon were perforated by tiny holes. And the image was then held against the surface, and powdered charcoal was tapped through the holes to transfer the image. The result was a dotted outline, which served as a guide for the artist as they painted.

The most famous image for the Sistine Chapel, and one of the most famous paintings from the Renaissance, is the image of The Creation of Adam. Michelangelo diverted from the biblical representation, and chose a noticeably more mythical depiction of the event. Michelangelo's touch is unmistakable, and in true Renaissance style, shows the moment just before the action takes place, just before Adam is given life, as God reaches out this finger, nearly touching Adam in order to waken him with the spark of life.

So another Renaissance painter, Raphael, made an enormous impact in his short career. And his work and life takes place almost entirely within the time known as the High Renaissance. He actually died rather young, at the age of 37. Raphael was commissioned by Pope Julius II to create several frescoes in the papal departments at the palace, the Vatican. In this fresco philosophy, more commonly called The School of Athens, is directly across from another fresco, which is not pictured in the apartment, called Theology.

It stands as one of the most important works of art in the High Renaissance and exudes the mastery of classical form and composition that Raphael was known for. The whole composition is placed within an ancient architectural setting, wonderfully balanced and clearly defined, that creates an area of substantial breadth and depth for this painting. It's a very stable feeling composition, with very little movement conveyed, giving the viewer ample time to move around the work of art, and observe every one of the little idealized figures. It's a visually rich composition. So we'll take a few moments to look at it in detail.

We'll begin in the lower left hand corner. The Greek mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras is shown writing in a book, surrounded by people. The individual sitting alone, resting his head on his hand, is believed to be a portrait of Raphael's contemporary, the artist Michelangelo.

The rest of the left side of the image is composed of other ancient philosophers that flank one of the central figures-- here are some of the other philosophers-- flanking the central figure of Plato, who is in red, holds one of his books and gestures towards the heavens and the mysteries of the universe, contemplated by metaphysical philosophers like Plato. The other figure in blue is Aristotle. And on his side of the image are the philosophers and scientists concerned with the understanding of nature.

The upper right-hand of the portion of the image depicts the astronomers Zoroaster and Ptolemy, holding globes. And this fellow here, that is the artist Raphael-- snuk himself in there. Just below him are students surrounding the famous Greek mathematician, Euclid, who's best remembered for his contributions to our understanding of geometry.

So that brings us to the end of this lesson. Let's take a look at our objectives to see how we did.

Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms? Can you describe stylistic elements in the Renaissance characteristics of Michelangelo's David? And can you describe the Renaissance characteristics, composition, and content of Rafael's The School of Athens?

And once again, the big idea for today is that the High Renaissance in Italy is defined by the works of artists such as Michelangelo and Raphael.

And there you go. Thank you very much for joining me today. I'll see you next time.

TERMS TO KNOW
  • The Platonic Academy

    Founded by Plato in 387 BC in Athens, it promoted the philosophical systems of Plato, including the notions of form and existence of abstract objects.

  • Buon Fresco

    A type of fresco in which the plaster is still wet and the paint bonds with the plaster.

  • Giornata

    The quantity of wet plaster that an artist could paint into in a period of one day before it dried.

  • Cartoon

    A preparatory drawing for a mural that contains a number of small holes, allowing the drawing to be transferred to the wall using powdered charcoal tapped through the holes.

  • Contrapposto

    A naturalistic pose in which the figure stands, resting most of the weight on one foot and creating a slight tilt in the pelvis.