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Michelangelo Buonarroti was an exception to the rule that the qualities of many brilliant artists and composers are realized and extolled only after death.He was recognized by contemporaries as a genius, a “Hero of the High Renaissance,” the only artist of whom it was claimed in his lifetime that he surpassed Antiquity.
Few artists performed dissections, but most attended the public dissections of the local physicians and learned from extant anatomical texts.
The Church regarded dissection as desecration of the dead, but did intermittently permit dissection of the cadavers of condemned criminals.
Immediately celebrated, the Sistine Chapel ceiling displayed many figures in complex, twisting poses, including the fresco of the Last Judgment on the altar wall.
Its exuberant use of color became the chief source of the Mannerist style.
, which were to represent “the most perfect and well-proportioned composition of the human body in its most varied positions.” (Vasari) That Michelangelo had an extensive personal knowledge of human anatomy is well established and is obvious in his works.
Essay On Michelangelo Buonarroti
to Cardinal Ridolfo Pio of Carpi, he remarked: “Who has not been, or is not a good master of the figure, and especially of anatomy, cannot understand it.” Condivi extolled Michelangelo’s anatomical knowledge: …there is no animal whose anatomy he would not dissect, and he worked on so many human anatomies that those who have spent their lives at it and made it their profession hardly know as much as he does.
He acquired his first human skull in 1489, and between 15 carried out twenty autopsies at the University of Pavia in collaboration with the professor of anatomy Marcantonio della Torre. Many of Da Vinci’s wonderful drawings and notes were not discovered until the early 1600s; about 600 of his surviving drawings were bound in a single collection and later discovered by William Hunter at Windsor, in the British Royal Collection.
When aged seventeen, Michelangelo had started his dissections of cadavers from the hospital at the Monastery of Santo Spirito after the death of his mentor Lorenzo de’ Medici. 1471–1484), himself acquainted with medicine at Bologna,10 permitted dissection in public of condemned criminals, if they were decently buried.
However, bodies were also stolen, skinned, and dissected – long before the infamous Burke and Hare, the Edinburgh Body Snatchers of the nineteenth century.
Besides making drawings of dissections, Michelangelo also studied and drew from human models.