There are many places where you can admire the work of Michelangelo in Rome. While not from Rome himself, he certainly helped shape Rome (much in the way Bernini did about a century later), gifting the city of some of his most famous masterpieces.
Michelangelo’s sculptures adorn the most beautiful churches in Rome; his works can be found in Rome’s piazzas; he sculpted some of the most famous statues in Rome. And he’s the mastermind behind the building of St. Peter’s Basilica Dome.
In this post, I will tell you all the places where you can see the works of Michelangelo in Rome – and include some practical tips to plan your visit and make the most of it. Before discovering where to see the works of Michelangelo in Rome, let’s however find out more about the life of this genius.
Who Was Michelangelo?
Michelangelo was born in the Republic of Florence, on March 6th, 1475, as Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni. He would go on to become not only one of the famous artists of his day, but of all time, and was so multi-talented that he is often considered the archetype for the “Renaissance man”.
However, he came from humble beginnings. His birthplace was a small town in the mountains, near Arezzo. Born into a long line of local bankers, Michelangelo’s father had actually become a government magistrate by the time of his birth. In his first year of life, the family moved to Florence proper, where Michelangelo spent his formative years.
His mother passed away when he was six years old, and he lived with a nanny and her partner. However, this would be crucial in the young artist’s creative development – the nanny’s husband was from a family of stonecutters. In fact, his father owned a marble quarry, and this is where Michelangelo learned the craft of sculpting with “chisel and hammer”.
Michelangelo was sent to school to study grammar, however, he wasn’t very interested in school at all. The young Michelangelo just wanted to go to churches and copy their paintings and hang out with other artists. Luckily, he was in the city of Florence which, during this time, was an exciting center of arts and learning in Italy. It is here where the Renaissance blossomed.
At the age of 14, Michelangelo was paid as an apprentice artist under the tutelage of Domenico Ghirlandaio, a master in fresco painting. At the time, it was rare to be employed in such skilled work at such a young age.
Though he would always consider Florence his home, Michelangelo left at the age of 21 and arrived in Rome on June 5th, 1496. He began working on a commission for Cardinal Riario – a depiction of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine.
However, his first work of note in the city was the “Pietà”, commissioned for a cardinal in St Peter’s Basilica, and intended to be “the most beautiful work of marble in Rome, one that no living artist could do better”. This wasn’t something that scared the young artist – in fact, the finished product ended up surpassing expectations.
When Pope Leo X was elected in 1513, it was Michelangelo who was commissioned to work on the refurbishment of the Papal Chapel in Castel Sant’Angelo. He then went on to sculpt an assortment of various masterpieces across the city for different patrons.
One of his most famous works is the Last Judgement, painted on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel – this was started in 1536 and completed in 1541.
Thanks to all his artistic efforts, helping to create some incredible works for the city, he’d earned the right to be made a citizen of Rome in 1538. It was also at this time that he oversaw the design of Piazza del Campidoglio placing sculptures from throughout history in the square creating a visual feast for the eyes.
In 1546, at the age of 72, Michelangelo was made an architect of St Peter’s Basilica by Pope Paul III. This enormous domed structure still dominates Rome as the largest church in the world.
He kept working prolifically well into his 80s creating numerous masterpieces before passing away at the age of 88 in 1564. Works on a number of his projects, unfinished at the time of his death, continued in the years to follow. Today, Rome still holds the legacy of Michelangelo, and there’s the chance to see many of his masterpieces – some famous, others lesser known – across the capital.
Finally, continue reading to discover where to see the works of Michelangelo in Rome.
The Best Places To See The Works Of Michelangelo in Rome
The Moses for Julius II’s Tomb – Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli
It’s said that upon finishing this marvelous sculpture of Moses, Michelangelo quipped “Now speak!” This anecdote points to just how lifelike this incredible work of art is.
It was commissioned in 1505 by Pope Julius II. Although it was an important work for Michelangelo to be working on, it was actually halted when he was ordered to work on the Sistine Chapel instead.
The size of the whole monument was then much reduced. The original design was intended to be made up of over 40 statues, some of which can now be found in the Louvre in Paris, and the Academia in Florence.
It was finally finished, though on a much smaller scale than originally intended, in 1545. Throughout the process of working on it, Michelangelo saw the project as doomed, but the outcome is still stunning. The eight-foot-tall, larger-than-life Moses was a landmark in the development of Renaissance sculpture and was hewn from a single block of Carrara marble.
You should also read my post A Guide To Visiting San Pietro In Vincoli Rome Guide.
The Risen Christ – Basilica of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva
In 1514, Michelangelo was commissioned to create a statue of Jesus Christ. Also known as Christ the Redeemer, the marble sculpture was completed in 1521 and can be found at the main altar of the Basilica of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva.
Commissioned by Roman patrician Metello Vari, who wanted the statue to be of a nude Christ holding a cross in his arms, it was left up to Michelangelo to decide on the exact specifications and composition of the piece.
The work troubled Michelangelo, particularly when he found a flaw in the Carrera marble – a black vein ran through the pure white marble. It bothered him so much that he had to abandon the work and come back to it at a later date.
Between 1519 and 1520, he began on a second version – with a fresh bit of marble – which he swiftly carved out in order to appease his impatient patron. His fellow artists were impressed – they even praised the statue’s knees!
The Sistine Chapel Ceiling – Vatican Museums
Among one of Michelangelo’s most memorable, and probably most famous works are the frescoes that adorn the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. You can’t visit Rome in search of his masterpieces without visiting – in fact, it’s a good starting point.
These awe-inspiring paintings were done at the behest of Pope Julius II between 1508 and 1512. Situated in the Papal Chapel in the Vatican City, they are considered the epitome of High Renaissance style.
Michelangelo was, however, reluctant to take on the commission. He didn’t consider himself to be a painter – more a sculptor. However, the demanding Pope wouldn’t take no for an answer and pressured Michelangelo into taking on the project.
Over the course of four years, the artist created a complex scene on the theme of humanity’s salvation. It features 346 figures, among who feature Hebrew prophets, ancient Roman seers, and various male nudes. The central part of the piece depicts the entire Book of Genesis in nine scenes and in all, the ceiling comprises 12,000 square feet of frescoes.
Photography is not allowed inside the Sistine Chapel.
Make sure to also read my post A Guide To Visiting The Sistine Chapel.
The Last Judgement – Sistine Chapel, Vatican Museums
If you thought the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was impressive, then you’re bound to be similarly wowed by the Last Judgement. This saw Michelangelo return to the Sistine Chapel 25 years after working on its ceiling.
Now much older, Michelangelo began work on this masterpiece on the altar wall in 1536. It depicts the second coming of Christ and the final judgement with Christ at the center of the artwork.
Much like the ceiling of the chapel, the Last Judgement has become an archetype for Renaissance art, with its cherub-like nudes and muscular figures on a backdrop of blue skies and clouds. However, at the time it received mixed reviews – the nudity and composition alone was a cause of some contention. One complaint even reached as far as the Venice Inquisition.
It took over four years for Michelangelo to complete the work which features over 300 figures (most of which are male). Later, many of the nude figures were given some modesty by painted-over additions of drapes covering them. The painting is estimated to be worth $450 million.
The Pietà – St. Peter’s Basilica Vatican City
The subject of Pietà is grief: in the marble sculpture, the Virgin Mary is depicting the body of her crucified son. This was Michelangelo’s first public commission in Rome and was a subject that the artist would be interested in throughout his career.
It was created to be a funerary monument for the French cardinal Jean de Bilheres, who commissioned the piece for his own tomb. It was later praised by Italian painter Giorgio Vasari, who said it was “a miracle that a formless block of stone could ever have been reduced to a perfection that nature is scarcely able to create in the flesh.”
On its completion in 1499, the artist was only 24 years old, but it propelled him to Renaissance stardom. Today you can still see Michelangelo’s signature inscribed into the masterpiece, a mark that the young master was proud of his creation.
The Pietà is located in St. Peter’s Basilica. To walk in, you will be required to abide by the Vatican dress code and to go through an airport style security.
The Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica – Vatican City
The Dome of St Peter’s Basilica can be seen from many a vantage point in Rome. In some cases, it dominates the skyline, and you have Michelangelo to thank for this giant addition to the city.
Michelangelo took over the construction of this landmark church after numerous plans had already been put in place. There were certain elements that he absorbed into his own design: the Dome from Florence; the symmetrical Greek cross, like that of St Mark’s Basilica in Venice; and the Latin cross as seen at Florence cathedral. It was to be an amalgamation of all things Renaissance with Michelangelo building on the ideas of the architects who’d worked on the basilica before him.
Michelangelo was in his 70s when he (reluctantly) took on the project in 1546. At the time, he wrote, “I undertake this only for the love of god and in honor of the apostle.” He was essentially given free reign over the design. The most famous outcome being the giant Dome.
You can climb St. Peter’s Dome: it’s 551 steps to the top, or you can take the elevator and climb the remaining part (320 steps). Tickets to access the dome cost between €8 and €10, depending on whether you want to opt for the elevator or not.
For a guided tour of St. Peter’s Basilica which includes the Dome climb, click here.
Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli e Martiri – Piazza della Repubblica
This Michelangelo gem is a lesser-known work by the artist, but it’s still an incredible showcase of his skills. Unlike his paintings and sculptures, this work was architectural in nature.
The Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli e Martiri was commissioned to be situated in the Roman baths of Diocletian. Taking up space in these ancient ruins, it was Pope Pius VI who instructed the then 85-year-old Michelangelo to design the church.
Michelangelo wanted to pay tribute to the history of the location and so used the surviving walls of the ancient baths as part of the church itself. Specifically, it’s the frigidarium (home to the cold-water pool, where Romans would cool off after a hot soak in the nearby caldarium) that makes up the facade of the basilica, giving it a ruined aspect.
Fittingly, the church was actually dedicated to the Christian slaves who were thought to have died while building the baths in the 4th century AD.
Piazza del Campidoglio – Capitoline Hill
It’s not just buildings that Michelangelo took his hand to, but also public spaces themselves: case in point being the Piazza del Campidoglio on Capitoline Hill – one of the best works of Michelangelo in Rome. Completed between 1536 and 1546, the design of the piazza was commissioned by Pope Paul III, at a time when the artist was at his peak.
Pope Paul III had the image of a “New Rome” in mind when commissioning – something which was intended to impress Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Michelangelo therefore set out with an enormous plan to remodel the square with a design that was as extravagant as his patron’s wishes.
Part of the remodeling included Michelangelo sourcing ancient statues from across the city of Rome. For example, at the center of the square is an equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, a magnificent bronze that dates back to 175 AD.
The design of the trapezoid-shaped piazza played out with careful consideration of symmetry and with the restoration and beautification of the surrounding buildings that lined the square. Unfortunately, it wasn’t finished by the time Charles V arrived.
You should also read my post A Guide To The Capitoline Hill, Rome.
Named after Pope Pius IV, who demanded its construction, Porta Pia si a gate in the Aurelian Walls, found at the end of Via Pia. This is one of the latest works by Michelangelo in Rome: he designed it to replace Porta Nomentana, which was actually located further south and which was closed at the time.
Construction of the gate started in 1561, and it only ended after Michelangelo’s death, in 1565. The façade on the outer side was completed in 1869 and was designed by Virginio Vespignani.
To learn more about the shaping of Rome, you may want to read these posts:
- Where To See The Works Of Bernini In Rome
- The Most Important Landmarks In Rome
- The Most Famous Rome Myths And Legends
- The Most Interesting Facts About Rome