Happy Birthday to Michelangelo!

by Cass Art

Unparalleled influence and expertise of High Renaissance art, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni would turn 539 today if he were still around to witness his prolific legacy. Cass Art celebrates his birthday with a look back on the artistic technique that has impacted Western Art like no other.

As a child the young Michelangelo was said to have dismissed academic schooling, choosing instead to copy paintings from churches and pursue friendships with painters. At fourteen years old, he was apprentice to Ghirlandaio and it was in fact Michelangelo's father who persuaded the artist to pay his apprentice son in recognition for his dedicated work. Thanks to his assertive father and generous teacher, it was during this period that Michelangelo learned the art of sculpture and frescos.

Perhaps his most famous work of sculpture is David, carved from a block of white Carrara marble. The first tool used would have been a chisel, employing a further weight to hack the basic shape of the figure. Similar to a pointing machine of the modern day, a point system was used in the Renaissance era whereby artists would first construct their sculpture's design in wood and clay and measure the dimensions to replicate in the real stone. A claw chisel, then a flat chisel would have been used to develop a smooth surface, for David this process took 3 years to achieve.

Many of Michelangelo's greatest paintings were 'frescos' meaning that they were painted onto freshly laid lime plaster, the paint of the time of course being a mixture of just water and pigment. As the water seeps into the layer of plaster, the pigment remains on the surface and dries alongside the plaster. Cass Art specialises in a range of pigments in Islington flagship store, or you could try using a grater with the Inktense soft pastels to create your own. For the Sistine Chapel ceiling, which he was commissioned to paint by Pope Julius II, Michelangelo hardly had it easy. Building his own scaffolding for the arched building and painting stood upright (it's untrue that he was laid on his back) meant not only crippling neck, back and arm ache but also the agony of paint dripping into his face and eyes.


He began to paint with a wash over the freshly laid plaster and as it dried went back with more details, tone and colours. He used a variety of tools, particularly thick bristled hog brushes for the texture of hair and on occasion brushes with bristles as wide as a comb. Once his scaffolding was taken down there was instruction to go over areas with gold leaf and blue lapis lazuli but this never occurred, mainly due to Michelangelo's refusal to reinstate the scaffolding.

It's surprising how much and how little has changed over the past 500 years, with predicaments between artists and commissioners, and many of the same creative techniques still employed today. Just as we seek inspiration from our fellow artists, it's curious to note that Michelangelo was introduced to the benefits of red chalk, (try Conté à Paris Carré Crayons for a similar effect) by his friend Leonardo Da Vinci, artistic prodigy in his own right!

Happy Birthday Michelangelo and a huge thank you for your incredible creations that continue to wow the world over half a century on! Feeling inspired? Shop online to stock up on your art supplies and follow us on Facebook and Twitter for all the latest on artists and materials, new and old. 

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