Michelangelo was born March 6, 1475 in Caprese near Arezzo, Tuscany. For several generations, Michelangelo’s family were bankers in Florence but, when their bank failed, his father, Lodovico di Leonardo Buonarroti Simoni, took a government post in Caprese, where Michelangelo was born. Several months after Michelangelo’s birth, the family moved back to Florence. After his mother’s death in 1481, when he was just six years old, Michelangelo was sent to live with a stonecutter and his family in the town of Settignano. A few years later Michelangelo went to Florence to study grammar, however, he showed no interest in schooling, preferring to copy paintings and seek the company of painters. His friend, Granacci, encouraged him to take a place as an apprentice with the Ghirlandaio brothers at their workshop in Florence. Here he learned the art of drawing but his desire to be a sculptor became stronger and he was noticed by Lorenzo de Medici, who took him in to live at the palace in Via Larga, where he was treated like a son. The Medici garden became a school for Michelangelo because it was filled with statues that he could use for inspiration.
The death of Lorenzo de’ Medici, however, brought a reversal of Michelangelo’s circumstances. Michelangelo left the security of the Medici court and returned to his father’s house. In the following months he carved a polychrome wooden Crucifix (1493), as a gift to the prior at the Florentine church, Santo Spirito, who had permitted him to study the corpses in the church’s hospital. Between 1493 and 1494, Michelangelo carved a larger than life statue of Hercules from a block of marble, which was sent to France. Unfortunately, this piece of art disappeared sometime in the 18th century. In January 1494 after heavy snowfalls, Lorenzo’s heir, Piero de Medici, commissioned a snow statue and Michelangelo again entered the court of the Medici. Later that same year, the Medici were expelled from Florence due to the political rise of Savonarola, so Michelangelo left the city before the upheaval was resolved, moving to Venice, then to Bologna and, later, to Rome.
In November 1497, the French ambassador to the Holy See, Cardinal Jean de Bilhères-Lagraulas, commissioned Michelangelo to carve a Pietà, a sculpture showing the Virgin Mary grieving over the body of Jesus. The contract was agreed upon in August of the following year. Michelangelo was 24 when the statue was completed. The Pietà was soon to be regarded as one of the world’s great masterpieces of sculpture. Contemporary opinion was summarized by Michelangelo’s biographer, Vasari: “It is certainly a miracle that a formless block of stone could ever have been reduced to a perfection that nature is scarcely able to create in the flesh.” The Pietà is now located in St Peter’s Basilica.
He spent the next four years in Florence developing technical mastery in his art forms. Some of the works produced during this time were the famous, David, in marble, representing the hero in youth; The Virgin and Child (Pille Tondo) (housed at Bargello, Florence), The Bruges Madonna and The Holy Family.
In 1505, Michelangelo was invited back to Rome by the newly elected Pope Julius II. He was commissioned to build the Pope’s tomb over the next five years and carve forty statues for the tomb during that time period. Michelangelo experienced constant interruptions to his work on the tomb in order to complete numerous other tasks for the Pope. Although Michelangelo worked on the tomb for 40 years, it was never finished to his satisfaction. It is located in the Church of S. Pietro in Vincoli, Rome and it is most famous for the central figure of Moses, completed in 1516. Of the other statues intended for the tomb, two known as the Heroic Captive and the Dying Captive, are now in the Louvre.
During the same period, Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. This was a massive task that took approximately four years to complete (1508–1512). Working in uncomfortable conditions, cramped and often alone, it caused him to become reclusive. The situation also affected his health, body and mind. He complained about his eyesight and body aches. The work, though, was fantastic and the biblical fresco was filled with originality.
The composition stretches over 5382 square feet (500 square metres) of ceiling and contains over 300 figures. In the center are nine episodes from the Book of Genesis, divided into three groups: God’s Creation of the Earth; God’s Creation of Humans and their fall from God’s grace and, lastly, the state of Humanity as represented by Noah and his family. Among the most famous paintings on the ceiling are The Creation of Adam, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, The Deluge, The Prophet Jeremiah and The Cumaean Sibyl. The Sistine Chapel ceiling was a work of unprecedented grandeur, both for its architectural forms and for the details in the formation of human figures. Vasari wrote: “The work has proved a veritable beacon to our art, of inestimable benefit to all painters, restoring light to a world that for centuries had been plunged into darkness. Indeed, painters no longer need to seek for new inventions, novel attitudes, clothed figures, fresh ways of expression, different arrangements or sublime subjects, for this work contains every perfection possible under those heading.”
Michelangelo was considered the greatest living artist in his lifetime and, ever since then, he has been held to be one of the greatest artists of all time. A number of his works in painting, sculpture and architecture rank among the most famous in existence. His output in every field during his long life was prodigious. When the sheer volume of correspondence, sketches and reminiscences that survive are also taken into account, he is the best-documented artist of the 16th century.
Two of his best-known works, the Pietà and the David, were sculpted before he turned thirty. Despite his low opinion of his painting, Michelangelo also created two of the most influential works in fresco in the history of Western art: The Scenes from Genesis on the ceiling and The Last Judgment on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel. As an architect, Michelangelo pioneered in using architectural forms to emphasize both solid and spatial relationships in art. At the age of 74, he succeeded Antonio da Sangallo the Younger as the architect of St. Peter’s Basilica, however, Michelangelo died before this work was completed. On December 7, 2007, a red chalk sketch for the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, possibly the last made by Michelangelo before his death, was discovered in the Vatican archives. It is extremely rare, since he destroyed his designs later in life. The sketch is a partial plan for one of the radial columns of the cupola drum of Saint Peter’s.
The amount of work that he did surpasses many modern artists even in this age of mass production. Starting from initial sketches, moving to oils and then graduating from frescoes to sculptures, even the most prolific artist who came after him, would appear short of this genius. Among all of his artworks, there is none, which can be rated as less than “perfect.”
Caprese, Italy is located in the Province of Arezzo in eastern Tuscany, bordered by the Apennines, and encompasses the areas of Casentino, Valdarno, Valtiberina and Val di Chiana. Each of these areas comprise unique landscapes where natural beauty blends harmoniously with its historic heritage and masterpieces of art. Today, Caprese has been renamed, Caprese Michelangelo.
Its cuisine is tied to agriculture and many recipes originated from the religious and convent life. One will find bean soups, meat stews, crostini topped with woodcock and bread made with hare (pan di lepre) as typical foods of the region. Some products are cultivated only in this area and are dedicated to specific recipes. Black cabbage, present in few parts of the world, is an important ingredient in minestra di pane (bread soup). The Chianina breed of cattle, raised according to Protected Geographical Indication (IGP) standards, is the base for historical dishes, like peposo alla fornacina – a slow cooking beef stew, a dish attributed to those workers who produced the terracotta construction materials for Florence’s Brunelleschi Chapel.
The free-range “grey” pig in this area is the source for one of the world’s best prosciutti, Prosciutto del Casentino. Sheep and goat’s milk (pasture-raised, naturally) cheese products, such as, raviggiolo, ricotta and raw-milk pecorino are important locally. The finest dishes center around the highly prized Valtiberina truffle, present year-round (alternating between black and the more costly white). Another product frequently used to make sweets and snacks is the chestnut that is ground into a flour. Not to be left out are classic Tuscan products that complete the table: oil and wine. The region possesess first-class wines according to the best national and international standards, such as Chianti, Cortona and Valdichiana and no meal is finished without Vinsanto.
Il Peposo alla Fornicina (Kiln Worker’s Stew)
This slow-cooked stew needs about 3 hours for the flavors to blend. (You may want to find your crock pot for this recipe!) The story goes that in order to get more work done, the employer of the kiln workers had the dish sent up to the workers instead of allowing them to come down for lunch. It wasn’t long before the workers realized that they were losing their lunch break and a chance to meet friends, play cards and relax. The first strike in Florence resulted!
- 2 pounds beef stew meat
- 10 garlic cloves, peeled and cut into small pieces
- 2 onions, chopped fine
- 3 or 4 cups red wine or tomato sauce
- 3 tablespoons ground pepper, fresh and coarsely ground
- 1 sprig of rosemary
- Country bread
Cut the stew meat into small pieces. Put the meat in a stew pot that will fit in your oven. Add the garlic, onion, wine, rosemary and pepper. Cover and cook in a moderate oven (350 degrees F.) until the meat falls apart. Stir occasionally.
Serve the stew in deep dishes on slices of toasted country-style bread rubbed with garlic.
For a thicker sauce, substitute tomato sauce for wine.
A great dish to cook ahead and reheat.
Onion Soup in the Arezzo Style
- 6 Yellow onions, sliced
- 2 oz butter
- 20 slices Tuscan-style bread
- 1 quart vegetable broth
- 8 slices Fontina cheese
- Salt and pepper
- Parmigiano, grated to taste
- Chopped parsley
Saute the sliced onions in butter until soft in a large soup pot. Add the broth and simmer for about 10 minutes, adding salt and pepper to taste.
Butter 2 loaf pans or a ovenproof casserole dish. Line the bottoms of the pans with bread slices and spoon in a layer of onions and broth. Add 4 Fontina slices to each pan, then another layer of bread and broth. Sprinkle generously with Parmigiano. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes at 350 degrees F. Sprinkle the top with chopped parsley.
Homemade Pasta with Sausage and Mushrooms
In the style of Arezzo, with its Etruscan roots, this pasta is thicker than Bolognese fettuccine and is made with fewer eggs.
Makes 4 servings
For the pasta:
- 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 1/4 cups semolina, divided
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs
- 3 tablespoons of water
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
For the toppings:
- 12 ounces chicken or pork Italian sausage links
- 1 pound cremini mushrooms
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 2 ounces shallots, finely sliced
- 2 cups hot vegetable or beef broth
- 4 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- Freshly grated parmesan
To make the pasta dough:
Mix the flour, salt and 1 cup of semolina together in a bowl. Make a well in the center and break in the eggs. Whisk the eggs with a fork, gradually gathering the dry mix into the egg and then, as the mixture thickens, add water and oil. Pull in all the dry mix and knead for a few minutes in the bowl. If absolutely necessary, add 1 teaspoon at a time of extra water to make the dough soft enough to work. Put the dough onto on a counter sprinkled with semolina, cover with the inverted bowl and let rest for 30 minutes. (You can also make the dough in a food processor.)
To roll out and cut the pasta:
Secure the pasta machine to a work surface. Flatten the dough and send it through the rollers on setting ‘1’. Fold in half and send it through again; turn the long edges over toward the middle; send through a third time. Repeat until your pasta is smooth and supple. Cut the pasta into 3 pieces and let them rest on semolina for a few minutes before continuing. Send each piece of dough through the rollers on setting ‘3’. Let rest. Finally, send the pasta through on setting ‘5’. Sprinkle with semolina and let rest for 10 minutes before cutting. Cut each piece of pasta into long strips 3/16” wide using a sharp knife. Place the strips of cut pasta on a wide platter or tray sprinkled with semolina until ready to boil.
Heat the oven to 450 degrees F.
To cook the sausage and mushrooms:
Clean the mushrooms and cut in half. Peel and slice the shallots. Heat a cast iron frying pan in the oven for a few minutes and then add 2 teaspoons of olive oil and the shallot and return the pan to the oven. After 2 or 3 minutes, once the shallots is beginning to brown, add the mushrooms and 1/2 cup of broth to the frying pan. Return to the oven and cook 5 minutes, turning halfway through. Once the mushrooms are lightly cooked, pour them into a serving bowl and pour any broth from the frying pan over them. Set aside and keep warm.
Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the frying pan, add the sausages and return the pan to the oven. Turn the sausages after 5 minutes and bake for a further 7 minutes until lightly brown on two sides. Pour in the rest of the broth and add back the mushrooms. Let simmer in the oven while you cook the pasta.
To cook the pasta:
Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add salt and the pasta and, once back at the boil, cook for 3 minutes. Drain the pasta in a colander and drizzle with olive oil.
To assemble the dish:
Distribute the pasta among 4 bowls. Sprinkle on half the parsley and half the red pepper. Spoon the mushrooms and the broth over the noodles. Slice the sausages and add to the pasta. Sprinkle the rest of the parsley and red pepper over the dishes and bring to the table piping hot. It’s traditional to serve this dish with grated parmesan.
Tiramisu al Vin Santo
- 1 pound/500 g cantuccini (biscotti) cookies, chopped
- 1 cup/250 ml Vin Santo
- 1 pound/500 g mascarpone cheese
- 3.5 ounces/100 g chopped bittersweet chocolate
- 2 tablespoons/30 ml sugar
Place the cookies on the bottom of a cake pan, creating a base for the tiramisu. Drizzle 1/2 cup Vin Santo over the cookies and set aside. The exterior of the cookie should be wet while the interior should remain somewhat dry.
In a bowl, add the mascarpone, chocolate, sugar and remaining 1/2 cup Vin Santo. Whisk the ingredients together until creamy and thoroughly mixed.
Spread the cream mixture evenly over the cookies, making sure all the cookies are completely covered. You may also sprinkle the top of the tiramisu with additional chopped chocolate and cookies. Unlike traditional tiramisu, this version can be served immediately.
- Michelangelo’s Last Days (fiberythings.wordpress.com)
- Michelangelo: sculpture and architecture for the Medici (ericwedwards.wordpress.com)
March 14, 2014 at 9:43 am
The Kiln Worker’s stew looks divine along with that sumptuous onion stew.
March 14, 2014 at 10:53 am
Thank you. Good to make them before the warm weather sets in. I wrote about Michaelangel because March is the month he is celebrated.
March 15, 2014 at 3:44 am
Yes, we’re fast running out of cold days here. Great to celebrate him in March though hard not to celebrate him all year round.
March 14, 2014 at 10:05 am
Very interesting history lesson. This kind of made me want to go see it all with my own eyes.
March 14, 2014 at 10:55 am
Thank you Amanda. I am sure it is much more impressive to look at the art work, directly.
March 14, 2014 at 11:29 am
That onion soup has me drooling.
March 14, 2014 at 11:36 am
Onion soup can do that.
March 14, 2014 at 6:56 pm
Your posts are always so interesting as are your recipes. The Pietà is my favorite of all Michelangelo’s sculptures…it is amazing how young he was when he created it.
March 14, 2014 at 9:01 pm
Thank you so much Karen. Yes, he was very talented from a young age until his death at 74. How wonderful to be born with such potential.
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