Biographies of Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, commonly referred to simply as "Michelangelo," speak of a rivalry with fellow Renaissance artist Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci. While the two were active in the art world at the same time, da Vinci was an established artist of the previous generation before Michelangelo gained notice. The one-sided rivalry stemmed from the influence of da Vinci on Michelangelo's work, and the jealousy it caused is apparent from the similarities between the two artists.
The most obvious similarity between da Vinci and Michelangelo is the time period in which they both lived and worked. Da Vinci was only 23 years older than Michelangelo, meaning the two were active in the same period, until da Vinci's death in 1519; Michelangelo lived for another 45 years. As artists working in the same region with only a limited supply of patrons, the two would compete for commissions. However, by the time Michelangelo began as an artist, da Vinci was already established. And when Michelangelo's work was recognized, da Vinci had already retired to France.
As with most artists in the Renaissance, both da Vinci and Michelangelo were often commissioned by the Church to create interior art based upon Biblical stories. Among da Vinci's most famous work is a painting of Jesus and his disciples called "The Last Supper." Similarly, among Michelangelo's most famous work is the Sistine Chapel roof, displaying several scenes from the Bible, highlighting several from the book of Genesis and including a late painting on the chapel's alter wall based upon the Second Coming entitled "The Last Judgment."
Although Michelangelo is renowned as a sculptor and da Vinci for his sketches and inventions, both artists overlap most notably as painters, with the older da Vinci helping to pave the way for Michelangelo and other artists of the later period. Both artists worked in bright, realistic compositions characteristic of artists during the period of the Renaissance. However, da Vinci often placed as much attention on fabric, draping his subjects in heavy cloth, while Michelangelo's figures are often larger, with impressive physiques and minimal clothing. Nonetheless, both artist's work as painters show the attention to depth and weight that defines much of Renaissance art, before moving into the radical contortions of Mannerism or the heavy shadows of the Baroque period.
While da Vinci is usually credited for both his innovations in science and art, both artists were meticulous in their studies before beginning a work, particularly in the field of anatomy, which included making use of cadavers. Da Vinci led the way in anatomical studies, as evidenced by his drawing "Vitruvian Man," but also Michelangelo conducted and analyzed the musculature of the human figure, frequently displayed in the physiques of his compositions. This commitment to study and preparation proved important in history, as the two artists were once both commissioned by the mayor of Florence to paint frescoes on one wall each within the town hall. Neither painting was completed. Luckily, copies have been found of each artist's initial sketches.
For most students of art, both da Vinci and Michelangelo have come to define a polymath, also known as a Renaissance man, one who excels in many fields. While best known as a painter and a scientist, da Vinci also worked as a sculptor, architect, engineer and writer. Similarly, Michelangelo is most famous for his sculptures and paintings but is also credited as an architect, engineer and poet. By virtue of being the elder, da Vinci is often seen as the prototype.
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