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Michelangelo Buonarroti was born in Caprese (Arezzo) on March 6, 1475; his parents were Lodovico Buonarroti and Francesca di Miniato del Sere.
After completing his humanistic studies, he started work in Ghirlandaio's workshop in Florence while still only a youth; his first attempts at sculpture were noticed by Lorenzo dei Medici, who took Michelangelo to live with his family in his house, where he was in close contact with the circle of political and cultural personalities that gravitated around the court. Michelangelo was to be a protégé of the Medici family for the rest of his life, even when he fought against them during the famous siege of Florence in 1530. He fled from Florence in 1494 to escape Charles VIII and went to Bologna where he sculpted a bas-relief for the Duomo of San Petronio. He returned to Florence in 1495 and he created the Drunken Bacchus. Then he went to Rome where he sculpted the famous Vatican Pietà. He came back to Florence between 1501 and 1505 and proceeded to carry out a series of masterpieces: the Doni Tondo, the Pitti Tondo and the marble statue of David which was placed outside the entrance to Palazzo Vecchio as a symbol of the Second Republic. On Michelangelo's return to Rome, Pope Julius II gave him a commission: the monumental tomb of the Pope, conceived as a typical classical mausoleum that united sculpture and painting. Michelangelo spent eight months in Carrara to choose the most suitable marble but by then the Pope was more interested in the project of St. Peter's Church, which had been entrusted to Bramante, so that Michelangelo, disappointed and jealous, left Rome. Later he makes his peace with the Pontiff, who in 1508 gave him an extremely important task to carry out: the decoration of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The five hundred square meters area was decorated by this man in four years of very hard work and this Neo-platonic interpretation of the Book of Genesis fully expresses the artistic ideals of the Renaissance.
In the years that followed he worked on the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence, again under Medici patronage, first on the design for the facade and then on the construction of the New Sacristy opposite the Old Sacristy by Brunelleschi, with the tombs of Giuliano Duke of Nemours and Lorenzo Duke of Urbino. Between 1527 (the Sack of Rome) and 1530 (the siege of Florence), Michelangelo worked for the Florentine Republic directing the building of the fortifications but, with the fall of the city to Clement VII, he went back to work for the Medici family. His father died in 1534 and Michelangelo left Florence forever. He then accepted a commission from Clement VII to fresco the wall behind the altar in the Sistine Chapel with the Last Judgement (1536-41). Michelangelo spent the last twenty years of his life working in the field of architecture: he completed the construction of the Laurentian Library in Florence, designed Piazza del Campidoglio and, modifying the project of Bramante, built the Cupola of St. Peter's in Rome.
His last sculptures, developed the subject of the Pietà: the Palestrina Pietà (Academy), the Pietà in the Duomo di Firenze (Museum of Opera del Duomo), the Pietà Rondanini (Milan, Castello Sforzesco). Michelangelo died in Rome on February 18, 1564.
Dante Alighieri, whose real name was Durante Alighieri, was born in Florence in 1265, into a low-aristocracy family of the Guelph party and Dante himself was a white Guelph. In about 1285 he married Gemma di Manetto Donati, and they had three or maybe four children.
Dante’s first studies were mainly in rhetoric, grammar, philosophy, literature and theology. He was a disciple of Brunetto Latini, who strongly influenced Dante’s cultural growth. In his youth, he was a Stilnovo poet and had many friends among the other members of the Stilnovo Poetical School, especially Guido Cavalcanti. After the death of Bice di Folco Portinari, with whom Dante was in love, he began studying philosophy and theology in depth, also attending some of the Florentine cultural associations, which provided lessons mainly about Aristotle and St. Thomas. Dante wrote many works including the Vita Nuova, Convivio and De Vulgari Eloquentia. However the Divina Commedia (Divine Comedy) is Dante’s masterpiece and is the best literal expression of medieval culture. The Dante’s original title of the work was simply Commedia, but then Giovanni Boccaccio suggested adding the adjective Divina (divine) in order both to explain the kind of content and to celebrate the greatness and beauty of the work. Dante’s main purpose in writing the Commedia was to preach the necessity of a moral and religious renewal for everybody, in order to get ready for the after-life and to ascend to Heaven, eternally saved. Dante acts as a prophet who speaks on behalf of God to the whole mankind.
His political career began in 1295. In the following five years his career grew quickly and culminated in his becoming a priore, a type of governor, in 1300. However, due to serious internal struggles between the white and black Guelphes Dante made some hard-line political decisions, which resulted in him being sentenced to death. From this moment on, Dante roamed many Italian courts never again to return to Florence, He died in Ravenna, in 1321 and was buried in San Pier Maggiore’s Church where his tomb still exists today.
Nicolò Machiavelli was born on May 3, 1469, in Florence. He became a man who lived his life for politics and patriotism. Nevertheless he is associated with corrupt, totalitarian government. The reason for this is a brief treatise he wrote to gain influence with the ruling Medici family in Florence, called “The Prince”. The political genius of Niccolò Machiavelli was overshadowed by the reputation that was unfairly given to him, because of a misunderstanding of his views on politics.
Machiavelli's life was very interesting. He lived his childhood in Florence, and during his youth his main political experience was watching Savanarola from afar. Soon after Savanarola was put to death and Machiavelli entered the Florentine government as a secretary. His position quickly rose and was soon engaging in diplomatic missions. He met many of the important politicians of the day, such as the Pope and the King of France, but none had more impact on him than Cesare Borgia. Borgia was a astuteness, cruel man, very much like the one portrayed in “The Prince”. Machiavelli did not truly like Borgia's policies, but he thought that with a leader like Borgia, the Florentines could unite Italy, which was Machiavelli's goal throughout his life. Unfortunately for Machiavelli, he was dismissed from office when the Medici came to rule Florence and the Republic was overthrown. The lack of a job forced him to switch to writing about politics instead of being active. When Machiavelli lost his office, he desperately wanted to return to politics. He tried to gain the favor of the Medici by writing a book of what he thought were the Medici's goals and dedicating it to them. And so The Prince was written for that purpose. Unluckily, the Medici didn't agree with what the book said, so he was out of a job. But when the public saw the book, they were outraged. The people wondered how cruel a man could be to think evil thoughts like the ones in The Prince, and this would come back to haunt him when he was alive and dead. However, if the people wanted to know what Machiavelli really stood for, they should have read his "Discourses on Livy", which explain his full political philosophy. But not enough people had and have, and so the legacy of The Prince continues to define Machiavelli to the general public.
A few years later the Medici were kicked out of Florence. The republic was re-established, and Machiavelli ran to retake the office he had left so many years ago. But the reputation that The Prince had established made people think his philosophy was like the Medici, so he was not elected. At this point the quick downhill of his life began. His health began to fail him, and in 1527 he died.
Machiavelli had been unfairly attacked all of his life because of a bad reputation that got worse after he died. Today Machiavellian means corrupt government. His true personality only recently has come to light, the correct view of Machiavelli is the one of a patriot and a political genius.
Leonardo Da Vinci was born on April 15, 1452, in Vinci, just outside Florence, and he was the illegitimate son of Ser Piero, a young notary, and a peasant girl. He grew up in his father's home, in Vinci, having access to scholarly texts and to Vinci's longstanding painting tradition, and when he was about 15 his father apprenticed him to the renowned workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio in Florence, where he was an apprentice until 1477 when he set up a shingle for himself.
Afterwards he entered the service of the Duke of Milan in 1482, abandoning his first commission in Florence, "The Adoration of the Magi". He spent 17 years in Milan, leaving in 1499 after Duke Ludovico Sforza's fall from power. During these years Leonardo reached new scientific and artistic achievement, painting and sculpting and designing elaborate court festivals and designing weapons, buildings and machinery. Also during this period, Leonardo produced his first anatomical studies.
After the invasion by the French and Ludovico Sforza's fall from power in 1499, Leonardo was left to search for a new patron and over the next 16 years, Leonardo worked and traveled throughout Italy for a number of employers. About in 1503, Leonardo began work on the "Mona Lisa".
From 1513 to 1516, he worked in Rome, maintaining a workshop and undertaking a variety of projects for the Pope. He continued his studies of human anatomy and physiology, but the Pope forbade him from dissecting cadavers.
In March 1516, following the death of Giuliano de' Medici, his patron, he was offered the title of Royal Premier Painter and Engineer and Architect by King Francis I in France. Although suffering from a paralysis of the right hand, Leonardo was still able to draw and teach. He produced studies like "The Virgin and Child with St. Anne", studies of cats, horses, dragons, St. George, anatomical studies, studies on the nature of water, drawings of the Deluge, and of various machines.
Leonardo died on May 2, 1519 in Cloux, France.
Il Brunelleschi was born in Florence in 1377. In 1401 he entered the famous design competition for the bronze doors of the Florence Baptistery. He then turned to architecture and in 1418 received the commission to execute the dome of the Cathedral of Florence, also known as the Duomo. This was the first time that a dome created the same strong effect on the exterior as it did on the interior. In other buildings in Florence, such as the Medici Church of San Lorenzo and the "Spedale degli Innocenti", Brunelleschi devised an austere, geometric style inspired by ancient Rome. Brunelleschi's style of “wall architecture,” with its flat facades, set the tone for many of the later buildings of the Florentine Renaissance. Later in his career, notably in the unfinished Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, the Basilica of Santo Spirito, and the Pazzi Chapel, he moved away from this linear, geometric style to a somewhat more sculptural, rhythmic style. This style, with its expressive interplay of solids and voids, was the first step toward an architecture that led eventually to the baroque.
Brunelleschi was also an important innovator in other areas. Along with the painter Masaccio, he was one of the first Renaissance masters to rediscover the laws of scientific perspective. He executed two perspective paintings (now lost), probably between 1415 and 1420, and he is also credited with having painted the architectural background in one of Masaccio's early works. His influence on his contemporaries and immediate followers was very strong and has been felt even in the 20th century, when modern architects came to revere him as the first great exponent of rational architecture. Brunelleschi died in Florence in 1446.