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The Divine Michelangelo
The Divine Michelangelo - 01
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The Divine Michelangelo

To produce one of the world's great masterpieces is impressive. To create three is truly astonishing - but this is exactly what Michelangelo did five hundred years ago.

With his own hands he designed and created the most famous sculpture in the world - the David; the most awe-inspiring painting - the ceiling of the Sistine chapel; and one of the world's greatest buildings - the dome of St Peter's, the jewel in the crown of the Roman skyline.

In the year that the David celebrates its 500th anniversary, BBC ONE brings to life the story of one of the most gifted, and tempestuous, artists in history. From a traumatic childhood, Michelangelo rose to the heady heights of artistic genius as sculptor, painter, architect and poet in a life spanning almost 90 years from 1475 to 1564. His work is on such a scale, of such awesome power and breathtaking beauty, that for centuries people couldn't believe it was created by a mortal.

He was a complex character: at times bad-tempered and paranoid, at others generous and affectionate. His passion for art, for beauty and for God was his driving force throughout his life.

In this two-part series leading art historians debunk the many myths surrounding the artist's extraordinary life and modern-day artists attempt to recreate elements of Michelangelo's most iconic works - from tackling fresco technique through to carving a replica of the David. This is combined with dramatic reconstructions of Michelangelo's life based on his actual words.

Filmed in Rome and Florence, with Shakespearean actor Stephen Noonan playing the artist, the series explores how Michelangelo emerged as the true embodiment of the renaissance, allegedly divinely inspired.

Part  One

Michelangelo's path to success was plagued with difficulties. This part traces 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. The programme follows sculptor Romolo Burati as he re-creates key features of the David's face, conveying the sheer skill and craft embodied in Michelangelo's exquisite work.

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 David proved him to be not only a master sculptor, but also a thoroughly able engineer.

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