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Discovering the Faith Behind Michelangelo's Timeless Creations

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This year marks 460 years since the death of Michelangelo, the groundbreaking sculptor, painter, and architect who lived a somewhat tortured life and yet was determined to find hope in ChristHis awe-inspiring sculptures, like David and Pieta, have left indelible marks on every generation since. His painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel helped usher in Mannerism, a new style in art that used deliberate but subtle distortions of color and form for emotional effect. And in his artistry as an architect, he designed several significant buildings in his home city of Florence, including the Medici Chapel and the Laurentian Library, a forerunner of baroque architecture. He also created the final design and construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. 

Michelangelo’s enduring fame stems from these monuments. But he was also a prolific poet. Over 300 of his poems survive today, many of them sonnets, offering a window into his personal life and faith. While the most attention has been focused on the 60 or so poems addressed to men, which talked about love and friendship and led to unproven suspicions that he was same-sex attracted, many are notably religious and give insight into how he assessed his life, his art, and his relationships in light of his devotion to Christ.  

In 1554, a decade before his death, Michelangelo addressed a sonnet to Giorgio Vasari, who had published a biography on him four years earlier. Vasari had promoted Michelangelo in his own day as the greatest of all artists, not just in one field but also in sculpture, painting, and architecture. In this sonnet responding, Michelangelo reflected on his life and art and gently redirected Vasari’s focus from glorifying artists. The sonnet, “On the Brink of Death,” reads:  

Now hath my life across a stormy sea  

Like a frail bark reached that wide port where all  

Are bidden, ere the final reckoning fall  

Of good and evil for eternity.  

Now know I well how that fond phantasy  

Which made my soul the worshipper and thrall  

Of earthly art, is vain; how criminal  

Is that which all men seek unwillingly.  

Those amorous thoughts which were so lightly dressed,  

What are they when the double death is nigh?  

The one I know for sure, the other dread.  

Painting nor sculpture now can lull to rest  

My soul that turns to His great love on high,  

Whose arms to clasp us on the cross were spread. 

While he himself had been a “worshipper and thrall” of earthly art, Michelangelo said he now saw those as vain, empty, and useless when considering his own mortality. Likewise, whatever “amorous thoughts” he may have had were nothing compared to “the double death” that he faced—the end of his mortal life and the threat of hell, the Second Death. None of his art, however great it may be, could comfort him in light of the certainty of the final judgment. So, he turned to his only hope, the great love of Christ, who spread His arms on the cross to embrace us. 

Michelangelo had a tumultuous career, including conflicts with popes. He lived in hiding for a time while under a death sentence by the Medici and endured many rivalries with other artists. Throughout it all, he created works of art that continue to amaze and inspire people, even to this day. And yet, in sober reflection on his life, he realized that all his creations were worthless in light of eternity. The only thing that mattered, the only thing that gave him hope, was the love and grace of Christ, who died for him. 

This Breakpoint was co-authored by Dr. Glenn Sunshine. For more resources to live like a Christian in this cultural moment, go to breakpoint.org.

Photo Courtesy: ©Getty Images/THEPALMER

Publish Date: June 21, 2024 

John Stonestreet is President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and radio host of BreakPoint, a daily national radio program providing thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of CrosswalkHeadlines.


BreakPoint is a program of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. BreakPoint commentaries offer incisive content people can't find anywhere else; content that cuts through the fog of relativism and the news cycle with truth and compassion. Founded by Chuck Colson (1931 – 2012) in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends. Today, you can get it in written and a variety of audio formats: on the web, the radio, or your favorite podcast app on the go.


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