What Material Did Michelangelo Use?

by Nathaniel Williams
Marble is just one of the materials that Michelangelo mastered.

Marble is just one of the materials that Michelangelo mastered.

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Michelangelo Buonarroti was that rare artist who showed absolute mastery in multiple forms. His works of sculpture, painting and architecture are considered some of civilization's greatest works of art. Like any artist, he had to master the technical craft of his physical materials, which included marble and fresco paint.

Early Work

Large blocks of marble were quite expensive, so the teenage Michelangelo began working in Florence in much smaller formats. Two of his earlier great works, "Madonna of the Steps" and "Battle of the Centaurs," were both in bas-relief -- carving a two-dimensional scene with some greater depth rather than a true three-dimensional sculpture. In this period he experimented with using chisels of varying fineness for contrasting textural effects. Michelangelo also worked occasionally in carved wood in this period.

Major Sculpture Works

Upon reaching adulthood, Michelangelo was lured to Rome by the prospect of more ambitious works for members of the powerful and wealthy Catholic Church. He soon began work on very large marble works, including his famous "Pieta." Soon he returned to Florence and began work on perhaps his most renowned sculpture, the larger-than-life statue of David, like the "Pieta" in the Carrara marble, considered the most challenging with which to work but the most beautiful.

Foray Into Painting

Michelangelo returned to Rome and was commissioned to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Before that, Michelangelo had not worked extensively in paint, but he soon mastered the difficult art of fresco painting and created one of the most revered works of Christian art. Unlike oil painting, frescos were painted on wet plaster, and an artist could not easily correct mistakes. The laborious process of the Sistine Chapel project took nearly four years.


In later years, Michelangelo would continue to create sculpted works of marble and would occasionally accept a painting job, though he considered painting an inferior art form. His focus primarily shifted to architecture, as he accepted commissions to design the Larentian Library and Medici Chapel in Florence, and finally the grand St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. Each of these works combined the materials of stone, wood, and multiple types of marble to striking and beautiful effect.

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