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Crash Course in The Ninja Turtles… Oops, I Mean The Great Italian Artists

Before I moved to London and arrived in Europe for the first time, my response to hearing about Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and Michelangelo would be “As in the Ninja Turtles?”

Since then I have gotten a lot more into European art, Italian and Renaissance art, including of course the Ninja Turtles’ namesakes: namely the original Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and Michelangelo.

So if you’re anything like the past Mee, you might find this crash course of use, to get to know The Great Italian artists better, or if you’re already on that side, to get to know your Turtles better.



Leonardo the Turtle wears blue mask, wields two katanas, and is the leader of the team, while Leonardo the artist is well known as Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) – a well-rounded Renaissance man renowned as a sculptor, engineer, inventor, scientist, and not a bad painter either.

He owes his popularity in the recent decade amongst the popular mass to a little book and movie called Da Vinci Code, and his painting The Last Supper has gotten noticeable resurgence in the number of visitors that you have to book the tickets months in advance to see it.

Most famous works: Mona Lisa (du Louvre, Paris) and the Last Supper (Santa Maria dell Grazie, Milan)

The Last Supper / Ultima Cena, Milan
The Last Supper / Ultima Cena, Milan




Raphael the Turtle wears red mask, wields a pair of sai, and is the team’s bad boy, while Raphael the artist (1483-1520) was a masterful painter. His paintings are graceful, strong, and balanced.

Most famous works: School of Athens (Vatican Museum, Vatican City), Madonna of the Goldfinch (Uffizi Gallery, Florence)

Sistine Madonna - Raphael
You may not have heard of Raphael, but have seen this picture of two baby angels – one of the most printed painting, and it’s interestingly only a part of a big painting called Sistine Madonna, in Dresden, Germany




Donatello the Turtle wears purple mask, wields a staff, and is the genius of the team, while Donatello the artist (1386-1466) was the first great Renaissance genius, a model for the ones that came after him. He was a sculptor and a lot of his works are now in Florence.

Most famous works: David (Bargello Museum, Florence), St Mark and St George (Orsanmichele, Florence)

David by Donatello, Florence
David with Goliath’s head on his feet, by Donatello, in Florence. Donatello was a sculptor, and I’m guessing that most of us are even less familiar with sculptures than paintings, so if you feel you’ve never seen or heard of his works before, that’s probably why.




Michelangelo the Turtle wears orange mask, wields a pair of nunchuks, and is both the youngest and the comic relief of the team, while Michelangelo the artist (1475-1564) was the world’s greatest sculptor, in addition of being an awesome painter and architect.

Michelangelo is no doubt the star of the team (of the artists, but probably the turtles too). Any of his works is highly regarded and prized. Note that a common mistake is to pronounce the name as Michael-Angelo, this is very American and incorrect. The correct one is the Italian way: Mee-chel-angelo.

Michelangelo Buonarroti
Michelangelo Buonarroti

Most famous works: Sistine Chapel ceiling and the Last Judgement (Vatican Museum, Vatican City), Dome of St Peter’s Basilica (Vatican City), Pietà (inside St Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City), and David (Accademia Gallery, Florence).

Because of the fame of Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo is often regarded as a great painter, but he was really a sculptor (and he insisted this himself). His only surviving easel painting is now in Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

The Creation of Adam, Sistine Chapel, Vatican City, by Michelangelo
You’ve seen this image before, yes? Yep that’s by Michelangelo. It’s a part of mural in Sistine Chapel, Vatican City.

That was fun! Hope that helps you know in knowing these awesome artists. The next time someone talks about Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and Michelangelo, you could totally reply “As in The Ninja Turtles, or The Great Italian Artists?” Either way you now have something to bring into the conversation 😉




By mee

Blog about travel, culture, lifestyle and books from London at and

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