Italian Renaissance painter and sculptor 1475-1564


HISTORY:  Places an artwork in its art historical context.

Students identify the sculptures and fresco paintings that caused Michelangelo to be one of the foremost Renaissance artists.

CRITICISMInformed talk about art.

Students identify actual and pictorial space in Michelangelo’s work.

AESTHETICSQuestions the nature, value and beauty of art.

Students discuss the differences in value between sculpture and painting.

PRODUCTIONCreating art.

Students create a fresco painting that exhibits pictorial space.


1.      Renaissance:  The term renaissance is French for rebirth and describes the radical changes that took place in European art and culture during the 15th and 16th centuries. The Renaissance began in Italy in the 15th century when Florence was the center of artistic activity. It stood as the bridge between the Middle Ages and the beginning of the modern age of art and civilization as we know them. It was characterized by the spirit of artistic individuality, an exuberance for the arts and sciences, and rediscovery of ancient Greek and Roman culture, which gave rise to the idea of humanism, which focused on humans and their abilities. It was a time of great geographical exploration and interest in scientific inquiry. Renaissance artists introduced the idea of perspective into painting, a method of representing the three-dimensional world on a two-dimensional surface by using a single vanishing point to which all lines on a pictorial surface recede.

2.      Sculpture: a three-dimensional work of art created by carving, chiseling, casting, building or molding.

3.      Fresco:  in painting, it is the technique of applying paint directly to fresh (wet) plaster. As the paint and plaster dry together they become bonded. Frescomeans “fresh” in Italian.

4.      Space:   the element that can be thought of as the distance of area between, around, above, below or within shapes. Space can be either actualor pictorial.

  • Actual spaceis a three-dimensional volume that can be empty or filled with objects; it has height, width, and depth. Architecture, sculpture, ceramics, jewelry, etc., are forms, which occupy actualspace.
  • Pictorial spaceis space that appears three-dimensional in a two-dimensional artwork. It is an illusion that creates a feeling of actual depth. Pictorial space has only height and width because it is created on a flat surface. Artists create pictorial space using several devices.

·         overlapping:  our perception of space is intuitive, based on our objective experiences. When shapes overlap we immediately assume from experience that one is in front of the other, which gives a sense of depth.

·         size (scale):  the use of size (scale) is another means of interpreting space. Man usually interprets largeness of size (scale) as meaning nearness. Conversely, smallness of size (scale) would suggest distance or space.

·         position:  the position of an object can give the illusion of space. When elements are placed low on the picture plane, they appear to be closer. This is how we see most things in actual space. As things move closer to us, they usually move farther below our eye level. Another way of stating this is to say that for many people, there is an automatic inference that the horizon line in a picture is always at eye level. The position of objects is judged in relation to the horizon line, the bottom of the picture plane is seen as the closest visual point. As objects rise on the picture plane towards the horizon line, they recede spatially.

·         atmospheric (aerial) perspective: atmospheric perspective is based on the optical effect caused by light being absorbed and reflected by the atmosphere: a mist of dust and moisture. This mist is most dense at the earth’s surface where it scatters light. Blue light penetrates the mist most easily making the sky appear blue and giving distant objects a cooler or bluish cast. It also causes distant objects to appear less distinct (less details), lighter in value and have less intense colors.



Michelangelo is one of the most famous artists who ever lived and many would say, the greatest of all time. He was a sculptor, painter, architect and poet. He produced the most work of the highest quality in the widest variety of fields of any creative figure in the history of art. He was one of the first artists to be seen as a genius and he was a celebrity in his own time.

Michelangelo lived in just the right place at the right time, in Italy during the Renaissance. It was a time of rebirth of classical art forms and a new awareness of art in general.

He felt the human figure was the most important subject an artist could use to tell a story both in painting and sculpture. Although he considered himself a sculptor first, one of his best known and loved works are the paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome.  It took him four years working over his head, high up on scaffolding, to complete the over 300 figures in the paintings. His most famous sculptures, created out of huge blocks of expensive marble, are David and the Pieta.

Michelangelo worked tirelessly as an artist his entire life, working right up until he died at the very old age of 89.




Sistine Chapel  1508-12, detail: Libyan Sibyl, fresco

Sensory Properties: What do you see?

  1. Which figure overlaps others and looks closest in space? (The woman with the book.)
  2. How did Michelangelo use the size of the figures to help create a feeling of space? (The figures in the background are smaller so they look as if they are farther away in space.)
  3. Which parts of the painting have less detail and seem farther away in space? (The two small figures on the left, fabrics in the background have less detail.)

Formal Properties: How is it arranged?

  1. Which figure or part of this painting seems to stand out the most or have dominance? (The woman in the front.)
  2. Do you think that Michelangelo used some space techniques to create this dominance? (Yes.) 
  3. Explain how? (She is closest to the viewer and so has dominance. See answers under sensory properties.)

Technical Properties: What media, tools and techniques were used?

  1. This is a frescopainting. Remember that the artist painted on wet plaster and when the plaster dried the paint dried. How long do you think that it took the plaster to dry? Remember, the artist could only paint when the plaster was wet. If he didn’t finish his painting before the plaster dried he would have to cover his unfinished painting with wet plaster and start all over again. (Plaster often dried in a day or less. This would mean that Michelangelo would have to be able to paint a figure like the one seen here very quickly. These figures were larger than a real live person so a fresco painter doing something this large needed to be very sure of his abilities before starting.)
  2. Do you think that you could paint something like this in one day, especially when it was bigger than a real person?

Expressive Properties:  What mood or idea does it express?

  1. After seeing some of Michelangelo’s fresco paintings and sculptures do you think that he is the greatest artist that ever lived?
  2. What do you think it would feel like to be as famous and talented as Michelangelo?


Michelangelo considered sculpture to be a far greater art than painting. Do you agree? Why or why not? Are all art forms equally valuable?



1.      A frescopainting was created.

2.      The fresco used at least one technique that helps to create pictorial space(overlapping, size, less detail).






















Michelangelo Handout - Lesson Overview