Michelangelo’s father was a Florentine and a member of the class of gentry who have come down in the world. Born in 1475, Michelangelo showed an early fascination with the arts, but was discouraged from actively pursuing that interest by his family. However, in 1488 they acquiesced to his choice and placed him in the studio of Ghirlandaio. There he was discovered by Lorenzo the Magnificent and went to work in the Medici palace. Here he was surrounded by influences—artistic and otherwise–of the most cosmopolitan kind.
In 1492 Lorenzo died and Michelangelo left the court of his successor. Florence underwent a period of political tumult and Michelangelo traveled to Rome and Venice and absorbed some of the culture of those artistic centers. When he returned to Florence in 1501 he embarked upon what Chastel has characterized as the first of three great creative periods. The first was marked by such works as Michelangelo’s David; the second by the painting of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo, for Pope Julius II; the third period involved work in Florence and Rome. In the latter part of his life Michelangelo’s work displayed a turning away from the classicism of the Renaissance and there can be seen in the later work much that seems to foreshadow the Baroque era. At no point in his career was Michelangelo’s art in stasis. Some relentless force within him-–and this is very much and attribute of his genius—was continually pushing him forward in the direction of new ideas and methods.