Michelangelo Buonarroti Ethical Considerations


Michelangelo Buonarroti Ethical Considerations, Agony among the Ecstasy

Michelangelo Buonarroti was a natural born artist.  As an artist, he was capable of different mediums of expressing his artistic talent.  However he much preferred sculpting out of them all, it made him most satisfied.  When Pope Julius II experienced Michelangelo’s painting he insisted that Michelangelo share his talent with the rest of Italy.  Julius II also commissioned Buonarroti with other artistic projects but none were as important as that of the Sixtine Capella(Sistine Chapel).  Michelangelo didn’t want to paint the ceiling of the chapel, it was too large of a project and even more, he didn’t want to paint at all.  He was an excellent painter but he just didn’t have the same motivation as he did with sculpting for example.


My goal in this short paper is not to educate the reader with the facts and life of Michelangelo Buonarroti, but to discuss, non-persuasively, the ethical and philosophical situations throughout his life.

I will start with his most well-known accomplishment, the Sistine Chapel.  At the time of his assignment, he made it clear to Pope Julius II that he did not want to undertake such a big project.  Not only was he concerned with the size of it; he wanted to have complete freedom with what he was to paint.  Considering these facts was it ethical for the Pope to force Michelangelo into devoting years of his life to doing this job that he didn’t want to do in the first place?  Or one could ask, was it ethical for Michelangelo to butt heads with the Pope, the ruler of the entire Holy Roman Empire.

I will start by defending the Pope, Julius II merely recognized the extreme beauty that was the end result in Michelangelo’s work and felt that it would be cheating the rest of the world not to share it.  Considering, Michelangelo went on to be one of the greatest artists of the Renaissance era, it was very beneficial to publicize his artwork, in particular, his painting.  He was influential in that he inspired a whole new generation to take a greater interest in the arts, some later even becoming as influential as Buonarroti.  So this, one could say, is more than just cause to say “exploit” Michelangelo and his artwork, the semi-sacrifice of one man’s happiness for a huge influence throughout the world and even throughout time!

After considering this side of the pendulum we can look at the wrongdoing of Julius II through the eyes of Michelangelo.  Michelangelo, an unmarried man, was very involved in his art, both personally and making a living doing commissioned works.  As earlier stated painting was not his favorite medium and to ask him to do such an important project such as the chapel would be putting him on the spot.  But to do so from a position of ultimate authority and power would be a life decision!

Michelangelo Buonarroti did not want to disgrace his country and faith by refusing the commission, however, it would be such a huge compromise to accept it.  Refusing the commission would indeed do just that, disgrace his both his country and his faith, at that time in Roman culture it was not heard of to disobey or in this case refuse a commission from the Pope for exactly that reason.  So looking at it through the eyes of Michelangelo one can see that it was a huge decision including this social aspect as well as a huge moral dilemma, with a possible penalty of banishment or death.


Michelangelo was also commissioned to work on several sculptures to be used in the tomb of Pope Julius II; this, however, was interrupted by the work to be done on the Sistine Chapel.  The most famous piece which was intended for the Tomb is the Moses, which is so well done it is said when he finished it he hit the knee with a hammer and said, “Now Speak”.  The ethical dilemma rising from this is that Michelangelo worked hard preparing pieces for the tomb and was diverted to work on the Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel due to funding.  He didn’t even want to work on the Ceiling and he was happily working on the Tomb designing it and its decorations.  So the question will stand for the reader and historian to decide, “Was Michelangelo Buonarroti treated justly throughout his life?”

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