Michelangelo’s Birth & Childhood

Tools of a sculptor

Tools of a sculptor

Michelangelo as a Child

Michelangelo Buonarroti was born in an extraordinary time and in an extraordinary place, and he flourished...

Michelangelo was born in 1475 to parents living in genteel poverty. The family lived in Caprese near Florence, where Michelangelo’s father, Lodovico di Leonardo Buonarroti Simoni, had a minor government appointment. His mother, Francesca Neri di Miniato del Sera, fell from a horse during her pregnancy; happily, the fall did not seem to affect the child she was carrying. 

Lodovico had married Francesca a few years before, in 1472, when she was about seventeen and he was twenty-seven. The proud father wrote of his son’s birth:

I record that on this day the sixth of March 1475 a son was born to me: I gave him the name of Michelangelo, and he was born on Monday morning, before four or five o’clock, and he was born to me while I was podestà of Caprese, and he was born at Caprese: the godfathers were those named below. He was baptized on the eighth day of the same month in the church of San Giovanni at Caprese.

As was typical for a child from his social class, Michelangelo was sent to live with a wet nurse for his first few years. The nurse was the daughter and the wife of stonemasons, leading Michelangelo to jokingly declare, “If I have any intelligence at all, it has come . . . because I took the hammer and chisels with which I carve my figures from my wet-nurse’s milk.” Michelangelo had four siblings: one older brother, Leonardo, and three younger ones, Buonarroto, Giovansimone, and Gismondo. Their mother died in 1481, the year Gismondo was born. Michelangelo’s sensitive images of women with their children—from the Rome Pieta to the mothers on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel—reflect the longing of a boy who was motherless from the age of six. 

Michelangelo’s portrayals of women were also shaped by the rich beauty of his hometown; Florence in the fifteenth century was a city of prosperity, elegance, and artistry. From Ghiberti’s bronze doors on the baptistry of Santa Maria dell Fiore depicting detailed friezes of Biblical stories, which Michelangelo would call “the Gates of Paradise,” to Brunelleschi’s dome and della Robbia’s medallions on the Ospedale degli Innocenti, the city through which young Michelangelo wandered was filled with art on public display. After all, the Medici family had planned it that way...
— A Journey into Michelangelo's Rome by Angela K. Nickerson (page 15-16)
A Journey into Michelangelo's Rome
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Frieze from Ghiberti’s baptistry doors

Frieze from Ghiberti’s baptistry doors

Illuminated manuscript created in Florence

Illuminated manuscript created in Florence

Santa Maria dell Fiore in Florence — commonly known as the Duomo

Santa Maria dell Fiore in Florence — commonly known as the Duomo