Madonna of the Steps is the earliest known sculpture by Michelangelo, created when he was only fifteen or sixteen years old. It remained in the Buonarroti family until two years after the master’s death, when it was presented by a nephew, Leonardo, to Duke Cosimo I. Ten years later, Cosimo II returned it to the Buonarroti family.
Michelangelo’s genius is evident as a teenager in this, his first masterpiece, whose figures are so f luid that they look as if they were drawn with a pencil and molded in wax. He admired Donatello’s technique of rilievo schiacciato, a form of shallow relief carving requiring delicate chiseling of the marble, both to model the figures as well as create the sense of recession in space. However, it astonishes us that, as a teenager, Michelangelo’s conception of the Madonna and Child would be so different from the depictions of his predecessors.