His full name is Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, but you most likely know him as Michelangelo, one of the most significant individuals in Western art. Even after over 450 years since he passed away, Michelangelo’s artworks are still highly revered and celebrated. Today we will learn more about this fascinating polymath by exploring the most famous of Michelangelo’s paintings. Michelangelo’s Renaissance artworks manage to integrate his high degree of practical expertise with his deep artistic creativity to generate the ideal High-Renaissance balance of visual concord and anatomic precision.
Table of Contents
- 1 An Introduction to Art by Michelangelo
- 2 Famous Michelangelo Paintings
- 2.1 The Torment of Saint Anthony (1488)
- 2.2 The Entombment (1501)
- 2.3 Doni Tondo (1506)
- 2.4 The Creation of Adam (1512)
- 2.5 Prophet Isaiah (1512)
- 2.6 The Deluge (1512)
- 2.7 The Fall and Expulsion From Paradise (c. 1509)
- 2.8 The Last Judgment (1541)
- 2.9 Conversion of Saul (1545)
- 2.10 The Crucifixion of Saint Peter (1550)
- 3 Frequently Asked Questions
An Introduction to Art by Michelangelo
Michelangelo was one of the first real personalities in art history. He was a multidisciplinary prodigy largely regarded as one of the best painters of the Italian Renaissance era, despite a propensity for being temperamental, finicky, and demanding. He was involved in the rebirth of classical Greco/Roman art, but his achievements went beyond mere imitation of the ancient. Michelangelo’s famous artworks were filled with a cerebral complexity and emotive reality seldom seen before, and it frequently sparked debate.
Notwithstanding his wayward nature, he was able to secure lifetime support from the era’s most illustrious patrons and create some of the world’s most famous works, which are still respected and even devotionally worshipped today.
Portrait of Michelangelo Buonarroti (c. 1545) by Daniele da Volterra; Attributed to Daniele da Volterra, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Michelangelo became a specialist in biology as a result of his early studies of traditional Greek and Roman sculptures, as well as his study of human corpses. His bodies’ anatomy is so realistically perfect that they’ve been claimed to pulsate with life on being viewed. His ability to carve a whole masterpiece from a single slab of stone is unrivaled. “I saw the angelic in the stone and chiseled till I let him loose,” he reportedly stated. He was famed for his ability to generate life-like images from marble.
Michelangelo’s fiery and volatile nature is infamous.
He frequently discontinued paintings in the middle of them or expressed his ego or rejection of tradition by contentious ways such as putting his own face on characters in his works, mockingly painting the faces of his opponents, or openly presenting revered characters naked.
Famous Michelangelo Paintings
Changes occurred in many parts of life and society throughout the Renaissance, with significant innovations sweeping across the realms of the church, economics, and academic belief. Michelangelo was a zealous supporter of this thrilling new ideology, working with a great intensity that was reflected in modern society. Michelangelo’s Renaissance artworks perfectly represent this era. Let us take a deeper dive into Michelangelo’s famous artworks.
The Torment of Saint Anthony (1488)
|Oil and Tempera
|47 cm x 35 cm
|Kimbell Art Museum
This is the first known painted art by Michelangelo, mentioned by his oldest authors and thought to have been produced when he was 12 or 13 years of age. Though Michelangelo regarded himself primarily as a sculptor, he began his career as a painter at the studio of Domenico Ghirlandaio, a famous artist in Florence. According to his earliest biographer, Ascanio Condivi, his debut piece was a repainted replica of the etching Saint Anthony Tormented by Demons by the 15th-century artist Martin Schongauer.
This unusual theme is mentioned in Athanasius’ fourth-century account of the saint, which relates how the Egyptian recluse had a revelation in which he floated into the sky and was assailed by demonic spirits, whose sufferings he endured.
The Torment of Saint Anthony (c. 1487-1488) by Michelangelo; Michelangelo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Michelangelo’s painting, produced when he was unofficially linked with Ghirlandaio’s studio and under the supervision of an elder acquaintance, the painter Francesco Granacci, garnered him significant renown. When Michelangelo was still alive, Condivi and Vasari both wrote that he examined the colorful scaling and other portions of samples from the fish market to give the hellish beings realism.
Michelangelo gradually changed Schongauer’s arrangement, making it more condensed and giving the creatures more animal-like traits, including the addition of fish scales to one of them. He also incorporated a scene reminiscent of the Arno River Valley near Florence.
This piece is one of only four Michelangelo paintings created on easels usually considered as actually coming from his hand, and it is his first artwork to reach an American collection.
The Entombment (1501)
|162 cm x 150 cm
|The National Gallery
Although it is usually regarded as an early work, the chronological place of this work has been the subject of considerable debate. According to some accounts, it was either produced by one of Michelangelo’s disciples from a sketch by the artist or was a straight replica of his work.
According to records unearthed in 1981, Michelangelo was contracted in 1500 to create a panel for the funeral chapel at the church of Sant’Agostino in Rome, but he refused to accept the contract and returned the money.
This piece was most likely The Entombment, which was left incomplete when Michelangelo returned to Florence in 1501. The topic would be suited for a chapel devoted to the Pietà and would be lit from the left, as portrayed in the picture.
The Entombment (1500) by Michelangelo; Michelangelo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
According to the explanation of the artwork in the National Gallery’s book, Michelangelo left to obtain the massive block of stone that would become his David statue, which he began sculpting in 1501. The nude body of the crucified Christ is taken up a series of stairs to the sepulcher, which was supposed to be depicted in the vacant region in the stones at the upper right of the piece. The bearded elder man standing behind Jesus might represent Joseph of Arimathea, who gave up his grave to be used as Christ’s tomb, or Nicodemus, who helped prepare Christ’s remains for burying.
The remaining characters are impossible to distinguish since Michelangelo depicted them in an androgynous manner.
Doni Tondo (1506)
|Tempera on Panel
|120 cm x 172 cm
|Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
The only completed painted panel art by Michelangelo that has survived is Doni Tondo, which was ordered by Agnolo Doni for his wedding to Maddalena Strozzi, and gives the work its name. It depicts Christ, Mother, Joseph, and a baby John the Baptist.
The interpersonal tenderness of the characters directed by the father’s adoring eyes stresses family affection and heavenly love, which reflect the foundations of the Christian faith.
The five naked men in the backdrop, on the other hand, represent pagans yearning for forgiveness. Michelangelo built the exquisite gold carved hardwood frame, which was common for private projects. The art is said to be completely his own. Many of the artist’s inspirations can be found in this picture, including Madonna by Signorelli. It is also thought to have been inspired by The Virgin by da Vinci.
Doni Tondo (1506) by Michelangelo; Michelangelo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The naked individuals in the backdrop are thought to be inspired by the old sculpture of Laocoön and His Sons, which was discovered in Rome in 1506 and credited to the Greek sculptors Polydorus and Agesander.
Regardless of inspiration, the artwork is entirely Michelangelo, exemplifying his uniqueness, which was regarded as quite avant-garde at the time. It was a considerable departure from the peaceful, immobile depictions of classical Greek and Roman sculpture. Its winding figures represent great force and motion, and the brilliant colors enhance the work’s grandeur, which was subsequently employed in his Sistine Chapel frescoes. This tiny picture has a lot of depth because of the soft modeling of the people in the distance and the concentrated features in the front.
This artwork is credited with laying the groundwork for Mannerism, which, in opposition to the High Renaissance’s dedication to proportionality and ideal aesthetics, favored embellishment and contrivance above natural reality.
The Creation of Adam (1512)
|180 cm x 570 cm
|Sistine Chapel, Vatican City, Rome
This iconic picture, which is part of the huge masterwork that graces the Sistine Chapel, depicts Adam as a strong classical nudist resting on the left, extending his hand towards God, who occupies the right side of the image. God comes towards him, his eagerness communicated by his white billowing garment and strong body gestures.
God is encircled by cherubs and angelic beings, all enclosed in a scarlet cloud, while a female form considered to represent Eve, the emblem of knowledge, peeps out from beneath God’s arm with an inquisitive expression. The green ledge on which Adam is lying, as well as the rocky background, form a powerful diagonal behind him, highlighting the divide between mortal man and celestial God.
As a consequence, the audience’s gaze is directed to God’s and Adam’s hands, which are delineated in the center area and nearly connect.
The Creation of Adam (c. 1511) by Michelangelo; Michelangelo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Some have remarked that the form of the red cloud matches the shape of the human brain, as though the artist intended to suggest God’s intention to provide Adam with not just biological life, but also the crucial gift of awareness. This was a unique representation of Adam’s origins. God is not depicted in classical art as distant and royal, distinct and above mere mortals. It was crucial to Michelangelo to show the all-powerful source of existence as particularly acquainted with humanity, whom he made in his own likeness. This represented humanist beliefs of man’s indispensable role in the world and his link to the almighty.
The bodies retain the sculpting character that is so evocative of his art, continuing on the High Renaissance knowledge of the anatomy of humans.
Prophet Isaiah (1512)
|390 cm x 380 cm
This mural image is created fourth from the right-hand side of the High Altar. As Isaiah’s garment whips around him, Michelangelo’s imagination erupts with motion. The colors in the representation are calm and brilliant, particularly after the restorations. The man is holding a striking blue book to his side, which might be a representation of the scriptural Book of Isaiah.
Critics have praised this artwork in particular.
“Anyone who examines this person reproduced so exactly from reality, the genuine mother of the craft of painting, will discover a finely arranged work worthy of imparting in full scale all the principles to be adopted by a competent artist,” Vasari stated. This Michelangelo painting is one of the seven Holy Bible prophets shown on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
Several painters, from Caravaggio to Norman Rockwell, have drawn inspiration from this fresco.
The Deluge (1512)
|280 cm x 570 cm
|Sistine Chapel, Vatican City
For the spectator gazing at the image, a band of frightened individuals taking refuge on a mountain top may be observed on the left side of the landscape. It depicts them seeking refuge from rising water levels. Another group is finding refuge from the storm on the right. In addition, there is a little boat in the center of the image that appears to be ready to capsize, with Noah’s Ark in the backdrop.
It is the only boat that will make it through the deluge. Michelangelo painted The Deluge and other images from the Bible during a four-year timeframe, doing the majority of the painting alone. Instead of inventing new or sophisticated painting processes, Michelangelo is supposed to have preferred to paint employing old methods.
His passion for sculpture is evident while seeing the humans in the image, as seen by their well-defined figures.
The Deluge (between 1508-1512) by Michelangelo; Michelangelo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Michelangelo makes effective use of the human figure in this artwork. Despite the fact that painting was not his favorite medium, his paintings look to be sculptural. Each scene’s characters represent both power and elegance. Michelangelo’s workmanship on the picture is thought to have left a lasting influence on both his contemporaries and subsequent painters.
Michelangelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel all have a deep Christian subject.
Michelangelo created nine panels on the middle area of the roof, each depicting a narrative from the Biblical account. The nine panels are divided into three groups, each containing three scenes. Each one of the three images in the set tells a narrative from the Bible. The last of the three groups illustrates humanity’s problems, namely Noah’s family. All nine panels are said to be a graphic representation of folk’s desire for communion with God.
The Fall and Expulsion From Paradise (c. 1509)
|280 cm x 570 cm
|Sistine Chapel, Vatican
This vault is made up of nine chapters from the Creation story, starting at the southern side with The Division of Darkness and Light and concluding with Noah’s Inebriation. The Collapse of Humanity and the Ejection from Eden is the second episode of the sixth chapter, The Ruin of Mankind and the Eviction from Eden.
This artwork was created in the style pioneered by Michelangelo towards the start of the Renaissance period.
Unlike many of his contemporaries who felt bound to adhere to classical principles, he saw the artwork as necessary to portray a feeling of character study. Unlike his peers, he used very muscular nude models for Adam and Eve in this scenario, the proficiency of which demonstrates his intensive early research of anatomy. This approach is especially successful when he compares Adam and Eve’s sleek, youthful figures at the time of Eve’s seduction with their aged, ugly bodies after they are expelled from Eden.
The Fall and Expulsion From Paradise (c. 1509) by Michelangelo; Michelangelo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Michelangelo does not employ more features than are required for the symbols he wishes to express, and as a result, the image does not become cluttered, bringing clarity to his narrative. He used three columns and two arches to connect the descent and the exile of Adam and Eve from the Garden in the shape of an uncial “M”.
The central pillar is a wrinkly snake with a woman’s face wrapped around the Tree of Life.
Another column to the left depicts Adam and Eve in a relatively luxurious scene (apart from pebbles and a decaying tree stump), with Eve clutching the apple handed to her by the deceiver in the branch. The second branch of this tree expands into a flying angry angel with a sword, pointing to the ejected hideous, veiny, elderly forms of Adam and Eve that comprise the right-hand pillar. This part of the landscape is bleak.
The Last Judgment (1541)
|13.7 m x 12 m
|Sistine Chapel, Vatican City
This famous fresco art by Michelangelo, which spans the Sistine Chapel’s whole altar wall is one of the final components of the foundational structure, which was ordered by Pope Clement VII. It depicts Christ’s Second Arrival as he administers the Last Judgment. The massive piece took five years to create and includes over 300 separate figurines.
The focal image of Christ is surrounded by frantic activity, his hands outstretched to expose the scars of his Passion. Jesus gazes on humanity as they soar to their destiny. The Virgin Mary, at his left, casts a gaze toward the redeemed. St Peter and John the Baptist are positioned on either side of Christ, carrying the keys to paradise. Several of the martyrs are represented through illustrations of their sufferings.
Saint Bartholomew is especially notable since he was murdered by the mauling of his flesh, the face of which is claimed to represent a self-portrait of Michelangelo.
The Last Judgment (1536-1541) by Michelangelo; Michelangelo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Angels assist the redeemed souls as they emerge from their graves on the side. Charon the ferryman is pictured on the right transporting the doomed to the gates of Hell. Minos, in the function Dante assigned to him in his Hell, accepts them to the Inferno. Another notable group is the seven spirits blowing horns, which depict the apocalypse as described in the Book of Revelation. Typical of Michelangelo’s artworks, the artist injected controversy into the classic scenario by depicting its characters naked with very athletic anatomies.
His depiction of Christ without a beard, as well as his usage of characters from pagan folklore, were unique for the period.
Conversion of Saul (1545)
|625 cm x 661 cm
|Cappella Paolina, Vatican Palace
Michelangelo’s famous artwork represents a shift in both his individual technique and his utilization of color. It depicts the scriptural account of Saul of Tarsus’ transformation into Paul the Apostle from the violent and vicious Saul of Tarsus.
In the biblical story, Saul is an astute hater and unyielding tormenter of Christians who is on his way to Damascus to capture more when he is hit by a dazzling beam of light and addressed from the sky by the Lord, who confronts him as to why he is tormenting him. The Hebrew Saul is transformed into the Latinate Paul as a result of this action.
A well-known story, the word “Damascene Conversion” is still used today to denote somebody who has had a major shift in viewpoint.
The mural depicts Michelangelo at the pinnacle of his skills, playing with his technique. The action follows a smooth line from the upper left, where the visage of a God-figure emerges accompanied by a swarm of angels, down through the center of the painting to the prostate Saul, flung from his saddle, who is naturally taken aback by this change of circumstances. The unhorsing of somebody was typically a symbol of a fall of dignity in Medieval artwork, and so it is in this situation, the haughty Saul being humbled before the Lord.
The Conversion of Saul (1542-1545) by Michelangelo; Michelangelo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The picture is teeming with action; the mural is one of Michelangelo’s livelier paintings, with throngs of characters reminiscent of The Deluge. The multitude of earthbound humanity around the felled Saul resembles the multitude of angels encircling God.
The figures are marginally overstated, and the artwork foreshadows the subsequent, more Mannerist works of art of El Greco and Pontormo; for an artist recognized for his anatomical accuracy, this Mannerism is informing: Michelangelo is portraying a narrative so astounding, he would seem to insinuate, that normal portrayals of the physical figure will not do the weirdness of the circumstance righteousness. The use of color is exceptional, with a clear distinction between the blues of the sky and the greens of land.
Michelangelo uses color to emphasize the distinction between the worldly and heavenly, but the two are united by the bright yellow of the pulsing of light falling down on Saul.
The Crucifixion of Saint Peter (1550)
|625 cm x 662 cm
The images used in this Michelangelo artwork have been criticized as being exaggerated. It has been suggested that Michelangelo did this intentionally. He created the characters in such a way that when the observer on the ground looked up, they would see the images in the right dimensions. This is a method that Michelangelo had already utilized, most memorably on the Moses figure that graces the tomb of Pope Julius II.
Due to his prominence within the religion, Peter is the focus of several artworks in the Vatican.
He was the founding Pope and the foundation upon which the institution stands. The painting depicts the events leading up to Saint Peter’s crucifixion, with his head bowed low. It represents the lifting upright of the cross, on which Peter has already been severely nailed via his wrists and feet. Michelangelo does not depict Peter in the classic martyr’s stance of the Renaissance period. There is no placid upward gazing. Instead, Peter directs his gaze onto the audience, his body distorted in a final display of power. His face is one of assurance in his conquest over adversity.
The Crucifixion of Saint Peter (1546-1550) by Michelangelo; Michelangelo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
A swarm of people surrounds Peter’s prominent position in the artwork, creating a frantic environment. It’s a busy scene, full of hustle and bustle. A man is frantically completing the post bore so that the crucifix may be raised upright and Peter’s punishment can commence. In the front, there are two terrified ladies. Their expressions express their fear and anxiety at what Peter is going to go through. People on the side are heading up a staircase toward the horse-mounted warriors.
Michelangelo appears in the picture as the horse rider with the blue headdress in the top left corner of the painting. He was spotted while the picture was being restored. A group of men is speaking behind Peter in the center. One of them is probably being kept quiet in case the old saint overhears what is being discussed. There is no detail identified in the painting’s backdrop mountains. The mountains are painted in a misty blue to provide the sensation of vastness as well as the depth of perspective.
And that wraps up our list of famous Michelangelo artworks. Michelangelo’s paintings were not as renowned as his sculptures, yet he still remains an extremely important Renaissance painter. Art by Michelangelo will continue to be appreciated by critics, admirers, and other artists for many more years to come.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Are Michelangelo’s Famous Artworks?
Michelangelo was a polymath that was versatile at many crafts. He was most known for his sculptures. However, many Michelangelo paintings are also highly revered.
Is There Much Painted Art by Michelangelo?
While there are many sculptures by Michelangelo, there are not as many Michelangelo paintings. Therefore, Michelangelo’s Renaissance artworks that have been produced on canvas are very rare. Most of Michelangelo’s paintings were frescos.
Isabella studied at the University of Cape Town in South Africa and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English Literature & Language and Psychology. Throughout her undergraduate years, she took Art History as an additional subject and absolutely loved it. Building on from her art history knowledge that began in high school, art has always been a particular area of fascination for her. From learning about artworks previously unknown to her, or sharpening her existing understanding of specific works, the ability to continue learning within this interesting sphere excites her greatly.
Her focal points of interest in art history encompass profiling specific artists and art movements, as it is these areas where she is able to really dig deep into the rich narrative of the art world. Additionally, she particularly enjoys exploring the different artistic styles of the 20th century, as well as the important impact that female artists have had on the development of art history.
Cite this Article
Isabella, Meyer, “Michelangelo Paintings – The Most Renowned Art by Michelangelo.” Art in Context. November 3, 2021. URL: https://artincontext.org/michelangelo-paintings/
Meyer, I. (2021, 3 November). Michelangelo Paintings – The Most Renowned Art by Michelangelo. Art in Context. https://artincontext.org/michelangelo-paintings/