The artist we know as Michelangelo was born Michelangiolo di Lodovico di Lionardo Buonarroti-Simoni on March 6, 1475, in Caprese, Italy, about forty miles from his family's native Florence. Michelangelo's father Lodovico Buonarroti was podesta, a position roughly equivalent to mayor, of the towns Caprese and Chiusi. This was an important position for Lodovico, as he was descended from a wealthy old Florentine family whose claims to nobility respectability had slowly disappeared. The change in the family fortune's left Lodovico Buonarroti resentful and proud, and he was often unemployed, which greatly embarrassed his son. Lodovico's term as podesta expired when Michelangelo was only about a month old, and the family returned to their run- down ancestral home in Florence, where Michelangelo was promptly put out to wet- nurse by his mother, Francesca di Neri. Michelangelo later joked, in an effort to distance himself from his family and establish his divine inspiration, that he absorbed his early talent for sculpture through the milk of his wet-nurse, who came from a family of stonemasons. Michelangelo's mother died when he was only six years old, which means that he barely knew her, especially since his wet-nurse also served as a nanny and foster-mother. Michelangelo's biographers and critics point to this lack of a strong maternal figure, coupled with Michelangelo's embarrassment over his irresponsible father, as a possible reason for the artist's complex relationships with women, and even as a source of his homosexuality. Throughout his life, Michelangelo felt deeply ashamed of his family's disgraceful decline and his humble origins, and he was often forced to aid his father financially later in his life. He only felt close to his younger brother Buonarroto, with whom he kept in close contact.

Michelangelo attended a local school run by a man named Francesco da Urbino for several years, and his self-consciousness about his lack of formal education would later prompt him to tell stories about ignoring his education to pursue drawing. In 1488, Michelangelo befriended an older local boy named Francesco Granacci, who was an apprentice in the studio of Domenico and David Ghirlandaio, two well-known Florentine painters. The thirteen-year-old Michelangelo joined the studio as an apprentice, and there he learned fresco painting and began to draw compulsively, copying works by Early Renaissance masters Giotto, Masaccio, and Schongauer. Although Michelangelo displayed prodigious talent and an incredible visual memory, Lodovico Buonarotti did not understand his son's preoccupation with art and often punished him for it. Eventually, however, Lodovico conceded to his son's decided vocation, especially when the Ghirlandaio brothers paid both father and son for Michelangelo's work.

Michelangelo did not get along with Domenico Ghirlandaio, and in 1489 he moved on to the sculpture school of Bertoldo di Giovanni, a student of Donatello and an influential friend and art curator for Lorenzo de' Medici, "the Magnificent." There Michelangelo honed his sculptural skills in clay and marble, copying Classical works that impressed Lorenzo the Magnificent himself. Even as a boy, Michelangelo was difficult, sensitive, and boastful, and at one point a jealous older student broke his nose, leaving Michelangelo slightly disfigured for the rest of his life.

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