Techniques of Michelangelo

by James Stuart
The Sistine Chapel frescoes were created by Michelangelo.

The Sistine Chapel frescoes were created by Michelangelo. Images

As one of the most famous painters of the Renaissance era, Michelangelo created multiple iconic works that have continued to influence and inspire artists for centuries after his death. Michelangelo liked to emphasize the human form in all of his works.


Michelangelo considered himself a sculptor above all else, and his famous works like "David" exhibit his prodigious skill. Michelangelo would sketch out all of his sculptures before he began his work. He would then begin to carve out the works in miniature before presenting the model to his patron for approval. Once approved, Michelangelo would carve a full scale model out of wax and then immerse the whole thing in a tank of water. He could paint an outline directly on the marble block and then slowly chisel away. As he worked he would lower the water level in the tank, allowing him to concentrate on the exposed parts of the wax sculpture. Once completed, Michelangelo would make any final adjustments to the sculpture.


Michelangelo would complete extensive sketches before he created any work, and these sketches reveal a lot about the artist. Michelangelo experimented with different styles, creating works from his own imagination, realistic depictions of the human body and drawings of ancient sculptures. All of his sketches show his fascination with the human body, and several works are studies of a single body part. In fact, Michelangelo would often uses sketches to perfect small parts of a painting or sculpture before bringing it together in the final work.


The Sistine Chapel in the Vatican was the result of several years of painful work. Michelangelo painted the work on his knees or back, while perched on scaffolding. Although he hired assistants to help, they were routinely dismissed and the work was completed mainly by Michelangelo himself. Interestingly, Michelangelo seemed to create three-dimensional models for some of his paintings. There may have been several reasons for this, but it seems likely that he used these models to help himself map shadows and proportions with a stationary model.


The material Michelangelo used had a strong influence on the techniques he used. For the smaller models, Michelangelo would work in terra cotta. Although he was widely known for his work in marble, Michelangelo frequently experimented in clay and completed a few full size works in that medium. Wax was used for first drafts, as he could dip it in hot water repeatedly to work and rework particular areas. Michelangelo also created several works in bronze.

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