How Did Michelangelo Create His Sculptures?

Michelangelo is one of the greatest artists of the Renaissance era. Though he is known best for his fresco painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, he always considered himself a sculptor.

Michelangelo was a master with his sculptures. He was a master at invoking emotions and details with his work; he could do all this from a piece of white Carrara Italian marble using mainly a chisel and mallet. He would have had sketches and models that he worked from as he carved the massive marble stone.

Michelangelo’s Process To Create Sculptures

Michelangelo was no doubt a master sculptor to be able to take a piece of white Carrara marble and then see and understand how to carve the raw marble into a masterful sculpture. What is unique about his sculptures is the amount of detail he could put on them.

The sculptor Pieta by Michelangelo depicts Jesus’s mother, Mary carrying her son, Jesus, after he was crucified on the cross. The detail of both Mary and Jesus is fantastic. Jesus’s body lays limb and lifeless, yet we can see Christ’s ribs and muscles in his legs.

Mary’s clothes are folded as Christ is wrapped over her lap. The Pieta statue shows how masterful Michelangelo was to depict such detail and emotion from a Carrara Italy white marble slab.

Tools Used to Carve Michelangelo’s Sculptures

Here is what Michelangelo used to carve his sculptures:

Carrara Marble 
  • Carrara Marble – Carrara marble, also known as Luna marble to the Romans, is a white or blue-grey marble famous for sculptures and building decor. It was quarried since Roman times, just outside the city of Carrara, Italy.
  • Chisels – The chisel is an extended hand tool with a bevel cutting edge and a plain handle that could be struck with a mallet and used to cut away the marble. He probably used a point chisel, tooth chisel (rake), and a flat straight chisel.
  • Mallets – A mallet is a kind of hammer that would have been used to pound on top of the chisel, so he cut away at the marble.

Most people believe that Michelangelo used only these essential tools for his sculptures. Some people claim that he used the pointing machine to carve his statues, but pointing machines were invented in the mid 18th century in France. Michelangelo lived before these machines were designed.

Method Michelangelo Used To Create His Sculptures

Here are some methods Michelangelo would have used to carve all his statues:

  • Detailed Sketch And Design – Michelangelo would have needed to have a detailed sketch or design. Many believed that Michelangelo was gifted with photogenic memories, so he could easily remember all his illustrations and designs.
  • Clay Model – Recently, some clay models have been discovered that are believed to be Michelangelo’s clay models of his sculptures. Michelangelo would have more than likely worked from a clay or wax model of what he would carve.
  • Terracotta Model – Once he had the clay or wax model perfected, he would then make a terracotta model that could be presented and shown to the art patron. The plaster could have been used to make the terracotta model or its basis.
  • Smaller Models – Sometimes, Michelangelo would cut a smaller model out of marble before cutting the large-scale model. This would have allowed him to study the model thoroughly.
  • Wax Model – Michelangelo could have also done some lifesize wax models. This would have allowed him to use what was known as the water method. The marble and wax model was placed in water, and the water was lowered as the carving was done. This allowed him to be sure to get the carving correct.
  • Pick The Marble Slab – An essential aspect of the carving would have been to pick a suitable marble slab. The marble piece would need to be the right size, quality, and color. He would not have wanted to see apparent flaws or issues, and we assume he was involved to ensure the suitable marble was picked for the statue.
  • Transport The Marble – Marble is extremely heavy, and even today, with all our modern equipment, it is not easy to transport. This would have been extremely difficult during the 15th and 16th centuries; it was necessary to have the marble moved to a location or studio where he could adequately work on the marble piece.
  • Basic Outline On Marble – Once he had the marble and the models all approved, he would start to paint and outline on the marble or block out the marble.
  • Crosshatching – Michelangelo was known to carve his statues as he did his drawing with a technique known as crosshatching. Crosshatching was about carving up and down and then side to side in a cross pattern.
  • Zero In On Torso First – It was said that usually, Michelangelo would zero in on the torso section of the statue first. Michelangelo had an excellent knowledge of the human body and proportion to usual judge exactly where the torso should be on the marble piece.
  • Carved Rest Of Statue – Once he got the torso done, he could proportionally sculpt the rest of the body or the statue.
  • Using Assistants – In working with marble, a lot of hard work must be done to chisel away large chunks of the marble. Michelangelo probably also had other sketches, models, and details so that assistants could help him with some of these parts of the process.

After Michelangelo roughly sketched where he wanted the statue to be, he would probably use a point chisel to chisel away some of the larger stone areas he did not need or want. Then he probably used a tooth chisel as this would have allowed him to model and carve the stone.

He would have then refined his carving and his work. He is using some other chisel tools to make sure to do all the detailed work on the statue. Michelangelo would have done all the detail work to ensure it was right.

We know that Michelangelo would use models for his carving as some of the terracotta models were given away, or he would use the wax models to cast bronze of the same statue. Some of these bronze models as the Medici Madona statue, still survive today. Michelangelo presented this bronze to the Archbishop of Florence, Giovanni Salviati, and the statue remained with the family until 1830.

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Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel And His Payment

Michelangelo was paid 3200 gold ducats for his work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which would have been a very lucrative commission. We know that he stopped work on the ceiling for a while due to his not being paid by the Vatican. Michelangelo liked to give the impression that he was a very poor artist, but records have shown that he died an extremely wealthy man.

By clicking here, you can learn more by reading Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel And His Payment.

Did Michelangelo And Leonardo Know Each Other?

Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci knew each other but were considered bitter rivals. Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo knew each other, but they did like each other. They were both asked to do a commission on the Council Hall of the Palazzo Vecchio and were supposed to work side-by-side; the project was never completed.

By clicking here, you can learn more by reading Did Michelangelo And Leonardo Know Each Other?.

Michelangelo’s Method To Paint The Sistine Chapel Ceiling

He built a large scaffolding structure that could move around the chapel to paint the ceiling; the painting of the Sistine Chapel was an extremely strenuous work that was a huge personal cost both physically and mentally to Michelangelo.

By clicking here, you can learn more by reading Michelangelo’s Method To Paint The Sistine Chapel Ceiling.