He almost didn’t know how to paint. Until he painted the Sistine Chapel — David Kadavy interviews Ross King on his podcast Love Your Work
Michelangelo Buonarroti, also known as “Il Divino” (“The Divine One”), is widely known for his talent as a sculptor and painter. His most famous painting is without doubt the Sistine Chapel, one of the most colossal frescoes painted on the vault of a Vatican chapel. With an area of 500 square meters and consisting of a total of 300 figures, the whole fresco is a complex work composed by the Creation, the Fall of Man, the Promise of Salvation through the Prophets and the genealogy of Christ.
What is less known is that when Michelangelo accepted Pope Julius II’s assignment, he had little experience as a painter and mostly of the techniques of the fresco, among them one of the most complicated.
The fresco requires rapid execution because it must be performed on the newly laid plaster and the only way to correct any mistakes is to demolish and redo it completely. And he then had never done any fresco yet.
With this important work Michelangelo proved to be extraordinary and modern not only as an artist but also in the management of his public figure. We all remember the legend that he alone painted the Sistine Chapel in four years. It is obviously a legend because he was helped by collaborators and asked the advice of artists to understand how to prepare the plaster.
Yet what the story has handed down is the figure of an artist performing a titanic work with his only strength.
King explains that, even if Michelangelo was indeed an extraordinary artist, he wasn’t alone painting the Sistine Chapel. So how did the whole world end up believing this legend? It’s because Michelangelo himself skillfully orchestrated it, being an artist so skilled in treating his image to give the impression that he did not care at all.