Episode 1 – Michelangelo’s path to success was plagued with difficulties. Trace the troubled origins of his genius, from boyhood beatings from his father, to fights with fellow artists. His father’s feeling that his obsession with art would bring disgrace to the family failed to deter the young, determined Michelangelo. Inspiration to become a sculptor came early, when his father sent him to a wet nurse whose husband was a stonemason. By the time he reached his teens he showed precocious talent and at the age of 25 he was a rising star. The tempestuous young Michelangelo made a name for himself as an art faker and his first major commission was rejected by his patron. One night, gripped by rage and driven by a determination to ensure the world knew who he was, he carved his name across the breast of his first masterpiece, the Pieta. Then, aged 26, he took on the seemingly impossible challenge of sculpting a colossal statue of the biblical hero, David, from one piece of flawed marble. The towering nude, over five metres tall, took more than two years to complete but established Michelangelo as the greatest sculptor alive, immortalising him forever. Having created this great masterpiece, Michelangelo’s next challenge was to design a structure to transport the sculpture, which weighed several tons, across the uneven roads without the giant crashing to the ground. It was no mean feat even by today’s standards. To illustrate the technical skills that Michelangelo displayed, the programme enlists engineer Nick McLean to follow in Michelangelo’s footsteps. Using illustrations and a diary entry from an eye witness, he develops a structure to shift the replica David through the cobbled Italian streets. It becomes clear that Michelangelo’s commission to carve the David proved him to be not only a master sculptor, but also a thoroughly able engineer.
Episode 2 – The story of Michelangelo’s titanic struggle to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, one of the artistic marvels of the world. Imagine the torture of painting an area the size of a football pitch, 20 metres off the ground. From 1508 to 1512 this is exactly what Michelangelo was forced to do by Pope Julius II who commissioned him to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo viewed it as a trap set by his enemies in the Vatican and was horrified that he would have to stoop to what he considered the lowly and inferior craft of painting. What he really wanted to do was carve the Pope’s tomb, a saga in itself, which would haunt him for years to come. As Michelangelo confronted the huge expanse of the ceiling, he quickly ran into huge difficulties and ended up destroying his own work. This programme explores some of the main challenges he faced by recruiting two modern fresco artists, Fleur Kelly and Leo Stevenson, to produce at a church in Leyton, east London, their own version of the iconic scene where God creates Adam. After four years of struggle and disappointment, the Sistine Chapel ceiling was complete. But the Pope was dissatisfied with the heavenly creation and demanded changes, such as the addition of more gold and blue, as he felt it looked too poor. Michelangelo, made ill by his trials, was not amused. But 25 years later he did return to the Sistine Chapel to paint the fresco of The Last Judgement on the altar wall. Having established his genius as a sculptor and painter Michelangelo went on to completely change the Roman skyline with his architectural designs. He broke many of the accepted rules of architecture, creating terrifically original and beautiful work, culminating in the dome of St Peter’s. He was obsessed by this final project for the rest of his life. He saw it as a deeply spiritual task that would assure him a place in history and in heaven. In his later years, Michelangelo’s poetry also blossomed. Struck by true love for a young Roman nobleman named Cavalieri he was inspired to write some of his most moving verses. When Michelangelo died at the age of 88 he left a fortune, including 8,000 gold coins in a walnut chest by his bed and numerous farms in Tuscany. He lived a simple, frugal existence but was also the richest, and most famous, artist ever to have lived.