During his lifetime, Michelangelo was often called Il Divino ("the divine one"). He was so esteemed that he became the first Western artist whose biography was published while he was still alive. In fact, two biographies were published during his lifetime.
At the age of 74, Michelangelo succeeded Antonio da Sangallo the Younger as chief architect of St. Peter's Basilica. He is regarded as the principla designer of a large part of the building which has come to be regarded as one of the most renowned works of Renaissance architecture.
In 1508, Pope Julius II compelled Michelangelo to undertake the fresco decoration of the Sistine Chapel, the ceiling of which is a vault 150 feet in length by 50 feet in breadth. This gigantic work, executed entirely by the master's own hand in about 4 or 5 years, is unquestionably the most stupendous single achievement of modern art.
Michelangelo was apprenticed at the age of thirteen (in 1488) to the painter D. Ghirlandajo, but he showed a genius for sculpture and soon attracted the attention of Lorenzo the Magnificent who arranged for him to study at the Academy of Ancient Art in the Medici Palace where he developed his genius as a sculptor.
In 1505 Michelangelo was asked to design the tomb of Pope Julius II. Although the original conception was to include almost 80 oversized figures, the final plans were reduced dramatically. Michelangelo made only one figure for the tomb, Moses, his last major sculpture. He made the statue from a block of marble that had been deemed unworkable by earlier sculptors, and his final product is remarkable for the sense of anguish which it portrays.
The Buonarrotis claimed to descend from the Countess Mathilde of Canossa, one of the few medieval women to be remembered for her military accomplishments. Although this claim of ancestry remains unproven, Michelangelo himself accepted it as fact.