The Life of Michelangelo Buonarroti
by John Addington Symonds
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Michelangelo's reputation, not only as an imaginative builder, but also as a practical engineer in architecture, depends in a very large measure upon the cupola of S. Peter's. It is, therefore, of great importance to ascertain exactly how far the dome in its present form belongs to his conception. Fortunately for his reputation, we still possess the wooden model constructed under his inspection by a man called Giovanni Franzese. It shows that subsequent architects, especially Giacomo della Porta, upon whom the task fell of raising the vaults and lantern from the point where Michelangelo left the building, that is, from the summit of the drum, departed in no essential particular from his design. Della Porta omitted one feature, however, of Michelangelo's plan, which would have added greatly to the dignity and elegance of the exterior. The model shows that the entablature of the drum broke into projections above each of the buttresses. Upon these projections or consoles Buonarroti intended to place statues of saints. He also connected their pedestals with the spring of the vault by a series of inverted curves sweeping upwards along the height of the shallow attic. The omission of these details not only weakened the support given to the arches of the dome, but it also lent a stilted effect to the cupola by abruptly separating the perpendicular lines of the drum and attic from the segment of the vaulting. This is an error which could even now be repaired, if any enterprising Pope undertook to complete the plan of the model. It may, indeed, be questioned whether the omission was not due to the difficulty of getting so many colossal statues adequately finished at a period when the fabric still remained imperfect in more essential parts.

Vasari, who lived in close intimacy with Michelangelo, and undoubtedly was familiar with the model, gives a confused but very minute description of the building. It is clear from this that the dome was designed with two shells, both of which were to be made of carefully selected bricks, the space between them being applied to the purpose of an interior staircase. The dormer windows in the outer sheath not only broke the surface of the vault, but also served to light this passage to the lantern. Vasari's description squares with the model, now preserved in a chamber of the Vatican basilica, and also with the present fabric.

It would not have been necessary to dwell at greater length upon the vaulting here but for difficulties which still surround the criticism of this salient feature of S. Peter's. Gotti published two plans of the cupola, which were made for him, he says, from accurate measurements of the model taken by Cavaliere Cesare Castelli, Lieut.-Col. of Engineers. The section drawing shows three shells instead of two, the innermost or lowest being flattened out like the vault of the Pantheon. Professor Josef Durm, in his essay upon the Domes of Florence and S. Peter's, gives a minute description of the model for the latter, and prints a carefully executed copperplate engraving of its section. It is clear from this work that at some time or other a third semi-spherical vault, corresponding to that of the Pantheon, had been contemplated. This would have been structurally of no value, and would have masked the two upper shells, which at present crown the edifice. The model shows that the dome itself was from the first intended to be composed of two solid vaults of masonry, in the space between which ran the staircase leading to the lantern. The lower and flatter shell, which appears also in the model, had no connection with the substantial portions of the edifice. It was an addition, perhaps an afterthought, designed possibly to serve as a ground for surface-decoration, or to provide an alternative scheme for the completion of the dome. Had Michelangelo really planned this innermost sheath, we could not credit him with the soaring sweep upwards of the mighty dome, its height and lightness, luminosity and space. The roof that met the eye internally would have been considerably lower and tamer, superfluous in the construction of the church, and bearing no right relation to the external curves of the vaulting. There would, moreover, have been a long dark funnel leading to the lantern. Heath Wilson would then have been justified in certain critical conclusions which may here be stated in his own words. "According to Michelangelo's idea, the cupola was formed of three vaults over each other. Apparently the inner one was intended to repeat the curves of the Pantheon, whilst the outer one was destined to give height and majesty to the building externally. The central vault, more pyramidal in form, was constructed to bear the weight of the lantern, and approached in form the dome of the Cathedral at Florence by Brunelleschi. Judging by the model, he meant the outer dome to be of wood, thus anticipating the construction of Sir Christopher Wren." Farther on, he adds that the architects who carried out the work "omitted entirely the inner lower vault, evidently to give height internally, and made the external cupola of brick as well as the internal; and, to prevent it expanding, had recourse to encircling chains of iron, which bind it at the weakest parts of the curve." These chains, it may be mentioned parenthetically, were strengthened by Poleni, after the lapse of some years, when the second of the two shells showed some signs of cracking.

From Dr. Durm's minute description of the cupola, there seems to be no doubt about the existence of this third vault in Michelangelo's wooden model. He says that the two outer shells are carved out of one piece of wood, while the third or innermost is made of another piece, which has been inserted. The sunk or hollow compartments, which form the laquear of this depressed vault, differ considerably in shape and arrangement from those which were adopted when it was finally rejected. The question now remains, whether the semi-spherical shell was abandoned during Michelangelo's lifetime and with his approval. There is good reason to believe that this may have been the case: first, because the tambour, which he executed, differs from the model in the arching of its windows; secondly, because Fontana and other early writers on the cupola insist strongly on the fact that Michelangelo's own plans were strictly followed, although they never allude to the third or innermost vault. It is almost incredible that if Della Porta departed in so vital a point from Michelangelo's design, no notice should have been taken of the fact. On the other hand, the tradition that Della Porta improved the curve of the cupola by making the spring upward from the attic more abrupt, is due probably to the discrepancy between the internal aspects of the model and the dome itself. The actual truth is that the cupola in its curve and its dimensions corresponds accurately to the proportions of the double outer vaulting of the model.

Taking, then, Vasari's statement in conjunction with the silence of Fontana, Poleni, and other early writers, and duly observing the care with which the proportions of the dome have been preserved, I think we may safely conclude that Michelangelo himself abandoned the third or semi-spherical vault, and that the cupola, as it exists, ought to be ascribed entirely to his conception. It is, in fact, the only portion of the basilica which remains as he designed it.



There is great difficulty in dealing chronologically with the last twenty years of Michelangelo's life. This is due in some measure to the multiplicity of his engagements, but more to the tardy rate at which his work, now almost wholly architectural, advanced. I therefore judged it best to carry the history of his doings at S. Peter's down to the latest date; and I shall take the same course now with regard to the lesser schemes which occupied his mind between 1545 and 1564, reserving for the last the treatment of his private life during this period.

A society of gentlemen and artists, to which Buonarroti belonged, conceived the plan of erecting buildings of suitable size and grandeur on the Campidoglio. This hill had always been dear to the Romans, as the central point of urban life since the foundation of their city, through the days of the Republic and the Empire, down to the latest Middle Ages. But it was distinguished only by its ancient name and fame. No splendid edifices and majestic squares reminded the spectator that here once stood the shrine of Jupiter Capitolinus, to which conquering generals rode in triumph with the spoils and captives of the habitable world behind their laurelled chariots. Paul III. approved of the design, and Michelangelo, who had received the citizenship of Rome on March 20, 1546, undertook to provide a scheme for its accomplishment. We are justified in believing that the disposition of the parts which now compose the Capitol is due to his conception: the long steep flight of steps leading up from the Piazza Araceli; the irregular open square, flanked on the left hand by the Museum of Sculpture, on the right by the Palazzo dei Conservatori, and closed at its farther end by the Palazzo del Senatore. He also placed the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus on its noble pedestal, and suggested the introduction of other antique specimens of sculpture into various portions of the architectural plan. The splendid double staircase leading to the entrance hall of the Palazzo del Senatore, and part of the Palazzo dei Conservatori, were completed during Michelangelo's lifetime. When Vasari wrote in 1568, the dead sculptor's friend, Tommaso dei Cavalieri, was proceeding with the work. There is every reason, therefore, to assume that the latter building, at any rate, fairly corresponds to his intention. Vignola and Giacomo della Porta, both of them excellent architects, carried out the scheme, which must have been nearly finished in the pontificate of Innocent X. (1644-1655).

Like the cupola of S. Peter's, the Campidoglio has always been regarded as one of Michelangelo's most meritorious performances in architecture. His severe critic, M. Charles Garnier, says of the Capitol: "The general composition of the edifice is certainly worthy of Buonarroti's powerful conception. The balustrade which crowns the facade is indeed bad and vulgar; the great pilasters are very poor in invention, and the windows of the first story are extremely mediocre in style. Nevertheless, there is a great simplicity of lines in these palaces; and the porticoes of the ground-floor might be selected for the beauty of their leading motive. The opposition of the great pilasters to the little columns is an idea at once felicitous and original. The whole has a fine effect; and though I hold the proportions of the ground-floor too low in relation to the first story, I consider this facade of the Capitol not only one of Michelangelo's best works, but also one of the best specimens of the building of that period. Deduction must, of course, be made for heaviness and improprieties of taste, which are not rare."

Next to these designs for the Capitol, the most important architectural work of Michelangelo's old age was the plan he made of a new church to be erected by the Florentines in Rome to the honour of their patron, S. Giovanni. We find him writing to his nephew on the 15th of July 1559: "The Florentines are minded to erect a great edifice—that is to say, their church; and all of them with one accord put pressure on me to attend to this. I have answered that I am living here by the Duke's permission for the fabric of S. Peter's, and that unless he gives me leave, they can get nothing from me." The consul and counsellors of the Florentine nation in Rome wrote upon this to the Duke, who entered with enthusiasm into their scheme, not only sending a favourable reply, but also communicating personally upon the subject with Buonarroti. Three of Michelangelo's letters on the subject to the Duke have been preserved. After giving a short history of the project, and alluding to the fact that Leo X. began the church, he says that the Florentines had appointed a building committee of five men, at whose request he made several designs. One of these they selected, and according to his own opinion it was the best. "This I will have copied and drawn out more clearly than I have been able to do it, on account of old age, and will send it to your Most Illustrious Lordship." The drawings were executed and carried to Florence by the hand of Tiberio Calcagni. Vasari, who has given a long account of this design, says that Calcagni not only drew the plans, but that he also completed a clay model of the whole church within the space of two days, from which the Florentines caused a larger wooden model to be constructed. Michelangelo must have been satisfied with his conception, for he told the building-committee that "if they carried it out, neither the Romans nor the Greeks ever erected so fine an edifice in any of their temples. Words the like of which neither before nor afterwards issued from his lips; for he was exceedingly modest." Vasari, who had good opportunities for studying the model, pronounced it to be "superior in beauty, richness and variety of invention to any temple which was ever seen." The building was begun, and 5000 crowns were spent upon it. Then money or will failed. The model and drawings perished. Nothing remains for certain to show what Michelangelo's intentions were. The present church of S. Giovanni dei Fiorentini in Strada Giulia is the work of Giacomo della Porta, with a facade by Alessandro Galilei.

Of Tiberio Calcagni, the young Florentine sculptor and architect, who acted like a kind of secretary or clerk to Michelangelo, something may here be said. The correspondence of this artist with Lionardo Buonarroti shows him to have been what Vasari calls him, "of gentle manners and discreet behaviour." He felt both veneration and attachment for the aged master, and was one of the small group of intimate friends who cheered his last years. We have seen that Michelangelo consigned the shattered Pieta to his care; and Vasari tells us that he also wished him to complete the bust of Brutus, which had been begun, at Donato Giannotti's request, for the Cardinal Ridolfi. This bust is said to have been modelled from an ancient cornelian in the possession of a certain Giuliano Ceserino. Michelangelo not only blocked the marble out, but brought it nearly to completion, working the surface with very fine-toothed chisels. The sweetness of Tiberio Calcagni's nature is proved by the fact that he would not set his own hand to this masterpiece of sculpture. As in the case of the Pieta, he left Buonarroti's work untouched, where mere repairs were not required. Accordingly we still can trace the fine-toothed marks of the chisel alluded to by Vasari, hatched and cross-hatched with right and left handed strokes in the style peculiar to Michelangelo. The Brutus remains one of the finest specimens of his creative genius. It must have been conceived and executed in the plenitude of his vigour, probably at the time when Florence fell beneath the yoke of Alessandro de' Medici, or rather when his murderer Lorenzino gained the name of Brutus from the exiles (1539). Though Vasari may be right in saying that a Roman intaglio suggested the stamp of face and feature, yet we must regard this Brutus as an ideal portrait, intended to express the artist's conception of resolution and uncompromising energy in a patriot eager to sacrifice personal feelings and to dare the utmost for his country's welfare. Nothing can exceed the spirit with which a violent temperament, habitually repressed, but capable of leaping forth like sudden lightning, has been rendered. We must be grateful to Calcagni for leaving it in its suggestively unfinished state.


During these same years Michelangelo carried on a correspondence with Ammanati and Vasari about the completion of the Laurentian Library. His letters illustrate what I have more than once observed regarding his unpractical method of commencing great works, without more than the roughest sketches, intelligible to himself alone, and useless to an ordinary craftsman. The Florentine artists employed upon the fabric wanted very much to know how he meant to introduce the grand staircase into the vestibule. Michelangelo had forgotten all about it. "With regard to the staircase of the library, about which so much has been said to me, you may believe that if I could remember how I had arranged it, I should not need to be begged and prayed for information. There comes into my mind, as in a dream, the image of a certain staircase; but I do not think this can be the one I then designed, for it seems so stupid. However, I will describe it." Later on he sends a little clay model of a staircase, just enough to indicate his general conception, but not to determine details. He suggests that the work would look better if carried out in walnut. We have every reason to suppose that the present stone flight of steps is far from being representative of his idea.

He was now too old to do more than furnish drawings when asked to design some monument. Accordingly, when Pius IV. resolved to erect a tomb in Milan Cathedral to the memory of his brother, Giangiacomo de' Medici, Marquis of Marignano, commonly called Il Medeghino, he requested Michelangelo to supply the bronze-sculptor Leone Leoni of Menaggio with a design. This must have been insufficient for the sculptor's purpose—a mere hand-sketch not drawn to scale. The monument, though imposing in general effect, is very defective in its details and proportions. The architectural scheme has not been comprehended by the sculptor, who enriched it with a great variety of figures, excellently wrought in bronze, and faintly suggesting Michelangelo's manner.

The grotesque barocco style of the Porta Pia, strong in its total outline, but whimsical and weak in decorative detail, may probably be ascribed to the same cause. It was sketched out by Michelangelo during the pontificate of Pius IV., and can hardly have been erected under his personal supervision. Vasari says: "He made three sketches, extravagant in style and most beautiful, of which the Pope selected the least costly; this was executed much to his credit, as may now be seen." To what extent he was responsible for the other sixteenth-century gates of Rome, including the Porta del Popolo, which is commonly ascribed to him, cannot be determined; though Vasari asserts that Michelangelo supplied the Pope with "many other models" for the restoration of the gates. Indeed it may be said of all his later work that we are dealing with uncertain material, the original idea emanating perhaps from Buonarroti's mind, but the execution having devolved upon journeymen.

Pius IV. charged Michelangelo with another great undertaking, which was the restoration of the Baths of Diocletian in the form of a Christian church. Criticism is reduced to silence upon his work in this place, because S. Maria degli Angeli underwent a complete remodelling by the architect Vanvitelli in 1749. This man altered the ground-plan from the Latin to the Greek type, and adopted the decorative style in vogue at the beginning of the eighteenth century. All that appears certain is that Michelangelo had very considerable remains of the Roman building to make use of. We may also perhaps credit tradition, when it tells us that the vast Carthusian cloister belongs to him, and that the three great cypress-trees were planted by his hand.

Henri the Second's death occurred in 1559; and his widow, Catherine de' Medici, resolved to erect an equestrian statue to his memory. She bethought her of the aged sculptor, who had been bred in the palace of her great-grandfather, who had served two Pontiffs of her family, and who had placed the mournful image of her father on the tomb at San Lorenzo. Accordingly she wrote a letter on the 14th of November in that year, informing Michelangelo of her intention, and begging him to supply at least a design upon which the best masters in the realm of France might work. The statue was destined for the courtyard of the royal chateau at Blois, and was to be in bronze. Ruberto degli Strozzi, the Queen's cousin, happened about this time to visit Rome. Michelangelo having agreed to furnish a sketch, it was decided between them that the execution should be assigned to Daniele da Volterra. After nearly a year's interval, Catherine wrote again, informing Michelangelo that she had deposited a sum of 6000 golden crowns at the bank of Gianbattista Gondi for the work, adding: "Consequently, since on my side nothing remains to be done, I entreat you by the affection you have always shown to my family, to our Florence, and lastly to art, that you will use all diligence and assiduity, so far as your years permit, in pushing forward this noble work, and making it a living likeness of my lord, as well as worthy of your own unrivalled genius. It is true that this will add nothing to the fame you now enjoy; yet it will at least augment your reputation for most acceptable and affectionate devotion toward myself and my ancestors, and prolong through centuries the memory of my lawful and sole love; for the which I shall be eager and liberal to reward you." It is probable that by this time (October 30, 1560) Michelangelo had forwarded his sketch to France, for the Queen criticised some details relating to the portrait of her husband. She may have remembered with what idealistic freedom the statues of the Dukes of Nemours and Urbino had been treated in the Medicean Sacristy. Anyhow, she sent a picture, and made her agent, Baccio del Bene, write a postscript to her letter, ordering Michelangelo to model the King's head without curls, and to adopt the rich modern style for his armour and the trappings of his charger. She particularly insisted upon the likeness being carefully brought out.

Michelangelo died before the equestrian statue of Henri II. was finished. Cellini, in his Memoirs, relates that Daniele da Volterra worked slowly, and caused much annoyance to the Queen-mother of France. In 1562 her agent, Baccio del Bene, came to Florence on financial business with the Duke. He then proposed that Cellini should return to Paris and undertake the ornamental details of the tomb. The Duke would not consent, and Catherine de' Medici did not choose to quarrel with her cousin about an artist. So this arrangement, which might have secured the completion of the statue on a splendid scale, fell through. When Daniele died in 1566, only the horse was cast; and this part served finally for Biard's statue of Louis XIII.


The sculptor Leone Leoni, who was employed upon the statue of Giangiacomo de' Medici in Milan, wrote frequently to Michelangelo, showing by his letters that a warm friendship subsisted between them, which was also shared by Tommaso Cavalieri. In the year 1560, according to Vasari, Leoni modelled a profile portrait of the great master, which he afterwards cast in medal form. This is almost the most interesting, and it is probably the most genuine contemporary record which we possess regarding Michelangelo's appearance in the body. I may therefore take it as my basis for inquiring into the relative value of the many portraits said to have been modelled, painted, or sketched from the hero in his lifetime. So far as I am hitherto aware, no claim has been put in for the authenticity of any likeness, except Bonasoni's engraving, anterior to the date we have arrived at. While making this statement, I pass over the prostrate old man in the Victory, and the Nicodemus of the Florentine Pieta, both of which, with more or less reason, have been accepted as efforts after self-portraiture.

After making due allowance for Vasari's too notorious inaccuracies, deliberate misstatements, and random jumpings at conclusions, we have the right to accept him here as a first-rate authority. He was living at this time in close intimacy with Buonarroti, enjoyed his confidence, plumed himself upon their friendship, and had no reason to distort truth, which must have been accessible to one in his position. He says, then: "At this time the Cavaliere Leoni made a very lively portrait of Michelangelo upon a medal, and to meet his wishes, modelled on the reverse a blind man led by a dog, with this legend round the rim: DOCEBO INIQUOS VIAS TUAS, ET IMPII AD TE CONVERTENTUR. It pleased Michelangelo so much that he gave him a wax model of a Hercules throttling Antaeus, by his own hand, together with some drawings. Of Michelangelo there exist no other portraits, except two in painting—one by Bugiardini, the other by Jacopo del Conte; and one in bronze, in full relief, made by Daniele da Volterra: these, and Leoni's medal, from which (in the plural) many copies have been made, and a great number of them have been seen by me in several parts of Italy and abroad."

Leoni's medal, on the obverse, shows the old artist's head in profile, with strong lines of drapery rising to the neck and gathering around the shoulders. It carries this legend: MICHELANGELUS BUONARROTUS, FLO. R.A.E.T.S. ANN. 88, and is signed LEO. Leoni then assumed that Michelangelo was eighty-eight years of age when he cast the die. But if this was done in 1560, the age he had then attained was eighty-five. We possess a letter from Leoni in Milan to Buonarroti in Rome, dated March 14, 1561. In it he says: "I am sending to your lordship, by the favour of Lord Carlo Visconti, a great man in this city, and beloved by his Holiness, four medals of your portrait: two in silver, and two in bronze. I should have done so earlier but for my occupation with the monument (of Medeghino), and for the certainty I feel that you will excuse my tardiness, if not a sin of ingratitude in me. The one enclosed within the little box has been worked up to the finest polish. I beg you to accept and keep this for the love of me. With the other three you will do as you think best. I say this because ambition has prompted me to send copies into Spain and Flanders, as I have also done to Rome and other places. I call it ambition, forasmuch as I have gained an overplus of benefits by acquiring the good-will of your lordship, whom I esteem so highly. Have I not received in little less than three months two letters written to me by you, divine man; and couched not in terms fit for a servant of good heart and will, but for one beloved as a son? I pray you to go on loving me, and when occasion serves, to favour me; and to Signer Tomao dei Cavalieri say that I shall never be unmindful of him."

It is clear, then, I think, that Leoni's model was made at Rome in 1560, cast at Milan, and sent early in the spring of 1561 to Michelangelo. The wide distribution of the medals, two of which exist still in silver, while several in bronze may be found in different collections, is accounted for by what Leoni says about his having given them away to various parts of Europe. We are bound to suppose that AET. 88 in the legend on the obverse is due to a misconception concerning Michelangelo's age. Old men are often ignorant or careless about the exact tale of years they have performed.

There is reason to believe that Leoni's original model of the profile, the likeness he shaped from life, and which he afterwards used for the medallion, is extant and in excellent preservation. Mr. C. Drury E. Fortnum (to whose monographs upon Michelangelo's portraits, kindly communicated by himself, I am deeply indebted at this portion of my work), tells us how he came into possession of an exquisite cameo, in flesh-coloured wax upon a black oval ground. This fragile work of art is framed in gilt metal and glazed, carrying upon its back an Italian inscription, which may be translated: "Portrait of Michelangelo Buonarroti, taken from the life, by Leone Aretino, his friend." Comparing the relief in wax with the medal, we cannot doubt that both represent the same man; and only cavillers will raise the question whether both were fashioned by one hand. Such discrepancies as occur between them are just what we should expect in the work of a craftsman who sought first to obtain an accurate likeness of his subject, and then treated the same subject on the lines of numismatic art. The wax shows a lean and subtly moulded face—the face of a delicate old man, wiry and worn with years of deep experience. The hair on head and beard is singularly natural; one feels it to be characteristic of the person. Transferring this portrait to bronze necessitated a general broadening of the masses, with a coarsening of outline to obtain bold relief. Something of the purest truth has been sacrificed to plastic effect by thickening the shrunken throat; and this induced a corresponding enlargement of the occiput for balance. Writing with photographs of these two models before me, I feel convinced that in the wax we have a portrait from the life of the aged Buonarroti as Leoni knew him, and in the bronze a handling of that portrait as the craftsman felt his art of metal-work required its execution. There was a grand manner of medallion-portraiture in Italy, deriving from the times of Pisanello; and Leoni's bronze is worthy of that excellent tradition. He preserved the salient features of Buonarroti in old age. But having to send down to posterity a monumental record of the man, he added, insensibly or wilfully, both bulk and mass to the head he had so keenly studied. What confirms me in the opinion that Mr. Fornum's cameo is the most veracious portrait we possess of Michelangelo in old age, is that its fragility of structure, the tenuity of life vigorous but infinitely refined, reappears in the weak drawing made by Francesco d'Olanda of Buonarroti in hat and mantle. This is a comparatively poor and dreamy sketch. Yet it has an air of veracity; and what the Flemish painter seized in the divine man he so much admired, was a certain slender grace and dignity of person—exactly the quality which Mr. Fortnum's cameo possesses.

Before leaving this interesting subject, I ought to add that the blind man on the reverse of Leoni's medal is clearly a rough and ready sketch of Michelangelo, not treated like a portrait, but with indications sufficient to connect the figure with the highly wrought profile on the obverse.

Returning now to the passage cited from Vasari, we find that he reckons only two authentic portraits in painting of Michelangelo, one by Bugiardini, the other by Jacopo del Conte. He has neglected to mention two which are undoubtedly attempts to reproduce the features of the master by scholars he had formed. Probably Vasari overlooked them, because they did not exist as easel-pictures, but were introduced into great compositions as subordinate adjuncts. One of them is the head painted by Daniele da Volterra in his picture of the Assumption at the church of the Trinita de' Monti in Rome. It belongs to an apostle, draped in red, stretching arms aloft, close to a column, on the right hand of the painting as we look at it. This must be reckoned among the genuine likenesses of the great man by one who lived with him and knew him intimately. The other is a portrait placed by Marcello Venusti in the left-hand corner of his copy of the Last Judgment, executed, under Michelangelo's direction, for the Cardinal Farnese. It has value for the same reasons as those which make us dwell upon Daniele da Volterra's picture. Moreover, it connects itself with a series of easel-paintings. One of these, ascribed to Venusti, is preserved in the Museo Buonarroti at Florence; another at the Capitol in Rome. Several repetitions of this type exist: they look like studies taken by the pupil from his master, and reproduced to order when death closed the scene, making friends wish for mementoes of the genius who had passed away. The critique of such works will always remain obscure.

What has become of the portrait of Del Conte mentioned by Vasari cannot now be ascertained. We have no external evidence to guide us.

On the other hand, certain peculiarities about the portrait in the Uffizi, especially the exaggeration of one eye, lend some colouring to the belief that we here possess the picture ascribed by Vasari to Bugiardini.

Michelangelo's type of face was well accentuated, and all the more or less contemporary portraits of him reproduce it. Time is wasted in the effort to assign to little men their special part in the creation of a prevalent tradition. It seems to me, therefore, the function of sane criticism not to be particular about the easel-pictures ascribed to Venusti, Del Conte, and Bugiardini.

The case is different with a superb engraving by Giulio Bonasoni, a profile in a circle, dated 1546, and giving Buonarroti's age as seventy-two. This shows the man in fuller vigour than the portraits we have hitherto been dealing with. From other prints which bear the signature of Bonasoni, we see that he was interested in faithfully reproducing Michelangelo's work. What the relations between the two men were remains uncertain, but Bonasoni may have had opportunities of studying the master's person. At any rate, as a product of the burin, this profile is comparable for fidelity and veracity with Leoni's model, and is executed in the same medallion spirit.

So far, then, as I have yet pursued the analysis of Michelangelo's portraits, I take Bonasoni's engraving to be decisive for Michelangelo's appearance at the age of seventy; Leoni's model as of equal or of greater value at the age of eighty; Venusti's and Da Volterra's paintings as of some importance for this later period; while I leave the attribution of minor easel-pictures to Del Conte or to Bugiardini open.

It remains to speak of that "full relief in bronze made by Daniele da Volterra," which Vasari mentions among the four genuine portraits of Buonarroti. From the context we should gather that this head was executed during the lifetime of Michelangelo, and the conclusion is supported by the fact that only a few pages later on Vasari mentions two other busts modelled after his death. Describing the catafalque erected to his honour in S. Lorenzo, he says that the pyramid which crowned the structure exhibited within two ovals (one turned toward the chief door, and the other toward the high altar) "the head of Michelangelo in relief, taken from nature, and very excellently carried out by Santi Buglioni." The words ritratta dal naturale do not, I think, necessarily imply that it was modelled from the life. Owing to the circumstances under which Michelangelo's obsequies were prepared, there was not time to finish it in bronze of stone; it may therefore have been one of those Florentine terra-cotta effigies which artists elaborated from a cast taken after death. That there existed such a cast is proved by what we know about the monument designed by Vasari in S. Croce. "One of the statues was assigned to Battista Lorenzi, an able sculptor, together with the head of Michelangelo." We learn from another source that this bust in marble "was taken from the mask cast after his death."

The custom of taking plaster casts from the faces of the illustrious dead, in order to perpetuate their features, was so universal in Italy, that it could hardly have been omitted in the case of Michelangelo. The question now arises whether the bronze head ascribed by Vasari to Daniele da Volterra was executed during Michelangelo's lifetime or after his decease, and whether we possess it. There are eight heads of this species known to students of Michelangelo, which correspond so nicely in their measurements and general features as to force the conclusion that they were all derived from an original moulded by one masterly hand. Three of these heads are unmounted, namely, those at Milan, Oxford, and M. Piot's house in Paris. One, that of the Capitoline Museum, is fixed upon a bust of bigio morato marble. The remaining four examples are executed throughout in bronze as busts, agreeing in the main as to the head, but differing in minor details of drapery. They exist respectively in the Museo Buonarroti, the Accademia, and the Bargello at Florence, and in the private collection of M. Cottier of Paris. It is clear, then, that we are dealing with bronze heads cast from a common mould, worked up afterwards according to the fancy of the artist. That this original head was the portrait ascribed to Daniele da Volterra will be conceded by all who care to trace the history of the bust; but whether he modelled it after Michelangelo's death cannot be decided. Professional critics are of the opinion that a mask was followed by the master; and this may have been the case. Michelangelo died upon the 17th of February 1564. His face was probably cast in the usual course of things, and copies may have been distributed among his friends in Rome and Florence. Lionardo Buonarroti showed at once a great anxiety to obtain his uncle's bust from Daniele da Volterra. Possibly he ordered it while resident in Rome, engaged in winding up Michelangelo's affairs. At any rate, Daniele wrote on June 11 to this effect: "As regards the portraits in metal, I have already completed a model in wax, and the work is going on as fast as circumstances permit; you may rely upon its being completed with due despatch and all the care I can bestow upon it." Nearly four months had elapsed since Michelangelo's decease, and this was quite enough time for the wax model to be made. The work of casting was begun, but Daniele's health at this time became so wretched that he found it impossible to work steadily at any of his undertakings. He sank slowly, and expired in the early spring of 1566.

What happened to the bronze heads in the interval between June 1564 and April 1566 may be partly understood from Diomede Leoni's correspondence. This man, a native of San Quirico, was Daniele's scholar, and an intimate friend of the Buonarroti family. On the 9th of September 1564 he wrote to Lionardo: "Your two heads of that sainted man are coming to a good result, and I am sure you will be satisfied with them." It appears, then, that Lionardo had ordered two copies from Daniele. On the 21st of April 1565 Diomede writes again: "I delivered your messages to Messer Daniele, who replies that you are always in his mind, as also the two heads of your lamented uncle. They will soon be cast, as also will my copy, which I mean to keep by me for my honour." The casting must have taken place in the summer of 1565, for Diomede writes upon the 6th of October: "I will remind him (Daniele) of your two heads; and he will find mine well finished, which will make him wish to have yours chased without further delay." The three heads had then been cast; Diomede was polishing his up with the file; Daniele had not yet begun to do this for Lionardo's. We hear nothing more until the death of Daniele da Volterra. After this event occurred, Lionardo Buonarroti received a letter from Jacopo del Duca, a Sicilian bronze-caster of high merit, who had enjoyed Michelangelo's confidence and friendship. He was at present employed upon the metal-work for Buonarroti's monument in the Church of the SS. Apostoli in Rome, and on the 18th of April he sent important information respecting the two heads left by Daniele. "Messer Danielo had cast them, but they are in such a state as to require working over afresh with chisels and files. I am not sure, then, whether they will suit your purpose; but that is your affair. I, for my part, should have liked you to have the portrait from the hand of the lamented master himself, and not from any other. Your lordship must decide: appeal to some one who can inform you better than I do. I know that I am speaking from the love I bear you; and perhaps, if Danielo had been alive, he would have had them brought to proper finish. As for those men of his, I do not know what they will do." On the same day, a certain Michele Alberti wrote as follows: "Messer Jacopo, your gossip, has told me that your lordship wished to know in what condition are the heads of the late lamented Michelangelo. I inform you that they are cast, and will be chased within the space of a month, or rather more. So your lordship will be able to have them; and you may rest assured that you will be well and quickly served." Alberti, we may conjecture, was one of Daniele's men alluded to by Jacopo del Duca. It is probable that just at this time they were making several replicas from their deceased master's model, in order to dispose of them at an advantage while Michelangelo's memory was still fresh. Lionardo grew more and more impatient. He appealed again to Diomede Leoni, who replied from San Quirico upon the 4th of June: "The two heads were in existence when I left Rome, but not finished up. I imagine you have given orders to have them delivered over to yourself. As for the work of chasing them, if you can wait till my return, we might intrust them to a man who succeeded very well with my own copy." Three years later, on September 17, 1569, Diomede wrote once again about his copy of Da Volterra's model: "I enjoy the continual contemplation of his effigy in bronze, which is now perfectly finished and set up in my garden, where you will see it, if good fortune favours me with a visit from you."

The net result of this correspondence seems to be that certainly three bronze heads, and probably more, remained unfinished in Daniele da Volterra's workshop after his death, and that these were gradually cleaned and polished by different craftsmen, according to the pleasure of their purchasers. The strong resemblance of the eight bronze heads at present known to us, in combination with their different states of surface-finish, correspond entirely to this conclusion. Mr. Fortnum, in his classification, describes four as being not chased, one as "rudely and broadly chased," three as "more or less chased."

Of these variants upon the model common to them all, we can only trace one with relative certainty. It is the bust at present in the Bargello Palace, whither it came from the Grand Ducal villa of Poggio Imperiale. By the marriage of the heiress of the ducal house of Della Rovere with a Duke of Tuscany, this work of art passed, with other art treasures, notably with a statuette of Michelangelo's Moses, into the possession of the Medici. A letter written in 1570 to the Duke of Urbino by Buonarroti's house-servant, Antonio del Franzese of Castel Durante, throws light upon the matter. He begins by saying that he is glad to hear the Duke will accept the little Moses, though the object is too slight in value to deserve his notice. Then he adds: "The head of which your Excellency spoke in the very kind letter addressed to me at your command is the true likeness of Michelangelo Buonarroti, my old master; and it is of bronze, designed by himself. I keep it here in Rome, and now present it to your Excellency." Antonio then, in all probability, obtained one of the Daniele da Volterra bronzes; for it is wholly incredible that what he writes about its having been made by Michelangelo should be the truth. Had Michelangelo really modelled his own portrait and cast it in bronze, we must have heard of this from other sources. Moreover, the Medicean bust of Michelangelo which is now placed in the Bargello, and which we believe to have come from Urbino, belongs indubitably to the series of portraits made from Daniele da Volterra's model.

To sum up this question of Michelangelo's authentic portraits: I repeat that Bonasoni's engraving represents him at the age of seventy; Leoni's wax model and medallions at eighty; the eight bronze heads, derived from Daniele's model, at the epoch of his death. In painting, Marco Venusti and Daniele da Volterra helped to establish a traditional type by two episodical likenesses, the one worked into Venusti's copy of the Last Judgment (at Naples), the other into Volterra's original picture of the Assumption (at Trinita de' Monti, Rome). For the rest, the easel-pictures, which abound, can hardly now be distributed, by any sane method of criticism, between Bugiardini, Jacopo del Conte, and Venusti. They must be taken en masse, as contributions to the study of his personality; and, as I have already said, the oil-painting of the Uffizi may perhaps be ascribed with some show of probability to Bugiardini.


Michelangelo's correspondence with his nephew Lionardo gives us ample details concerning his private life and interests in old age. It turns mainly upon the following topics: investment of money in land near Florence, the purchase of a mansion in the city, Lionardo's marriage, his own illnesses, the Duke's invitation, and the project of making a will, which was never carried out. Much as Michelangelo loved his nephew, he took frequent occasions of snubbing him. For instance, news reached Rome that the landed property of a certain Francesco Corboli was going to be sold. Michelangelo sent to Lionardo requesting him to make inquiries; and because the latter showed some alacrity in doing so, his uncle wrote him the following querulous epistle: "You have been very hasty in sending me information regarding the estates of the Corboli. I did not think you were yet in Florence. Are you afraid lest I should change my mind, as some one may perhaps have put it into your head? I tell you that I want to go slowly in this affair, because the money I must pay has been gained here with toil and trouble unintelligible to one who was born clothed and shod as you were. About your coming post-haste to Rome, I do not know that you came in such a hurry when I was a pauper and lacked bread. Enough for you to throw away the money that you did not earn. The fear of losing what you might inherit on my death impelled you. You say it was your duty to come, by reason of the love you bear me. The love of a woodworm! If you really loved me, you would have written now: 'Michelangelo, spend those 3000 ducats there upon yourself, for you have given us enough already: your life is dearer to us than your money.' You have all of you lived forty years upon me, and I have never had from you so much as one good word. 'Tis true that last year I scolded and rebuked you so that for very shame you sent me a load of trebbiano. I almost wish you hadn't! I do not write this because I am unwilling to buy. Indeed I have a mind to do so, in order to obtain an income for myself, now that I cannot work more. But I want to buy at leisure, so as not to purchase some annoyance. Therefore do not hurry."

Lionardo was careless about his handwriting, and this annoyed the old man terribly.

"Do not write to me again. Each time I get one of your letters, a fever takes me with the trouble I have in reading it. I do not know where you learned to write. I think that if you were writing to the greatest donkey in the world you would do it with more care. Therefore do not add to the annoyances I have, for I have already quite enough of them."

He returns to the subject over and over again, and once declares that he has flung a letter of Lionardo's into the fire unread, and so is incapable of answering it. This did not prevent a brisk interchange of friendly communications between the uncle and nephew.

Lionardo was now living in the Buonarroti house in Via Ghibellina. Michelangelo thought it advisable that he should remove into a more commodious mansion, and one not subject to inundations of the basement. He desired, however, not to go beyond the quarter of S. Croce, where the family had been for centuries established. The matter became urgent, for Lionardo wished to marry, and could not marry until he was provided with a residence. Eventually, after rejecting many plans and proffers of houses, they decided to enlarge and improve the original Buonarroti mansion in Via Ghibellina. This house continued to be their town-mansion until the year 1852, when it passed by testamentary devise to the city of Florence. It is now the Museo Buonarroti.

Lionardo was at this time thirty, and was the sole hope of the family, since Michelangelo and his two surviving brothers had no expectation of offspring. His uncle kept reminding the young man that, if he did not marry and get children, the whole property of the Buonarroti would go to the Hospital or to S. Martino. This made his marriage imperative; and Michelangelo's letters between March 5, 1547, and May 16, 1553, when the desired event took place, are full of the subject. He gives his nephew excellent advice as to the choice of a wife. She ought to be ten years younger than himself, of noble birth, but not of a very rich or powerful family; Lionardo must not expect her to be too handsome, since he is no miracle of manly beauty; the great thing is to obtain a good, useful, and obedient helpmate, who will not try to get the upper hand in the house, and who will be grateful for an honourable settlement in life. The following passages may be selected, as specimens of Michelangelo's advice: "You ought not to look for a dower, but only to consider whether the girl is well brought up, healthy, of good character and noble blood. You are not yourself of such parts and person as to be worthy of the first beauty of Florence." "You have need of a wife who would stay with you, and whom you could command, and who would not want to live in grand style or to gad about every day to marriages and banquets. Where a court is, it is easy to become a woman of loose life; especially for one who has no relatives."

Numerous young ladies were introduced by friends or matrimonial agents. Six years, however, elapsed before the suitable person presented herself in the shape of Cassandra, daughter of Donato Ridolfi. Meanwhile, in 1548, Michelangelo lost the elder of his surviving brothers. Giovan Simone died upon the 9th of January; and though he had given but little satisfaction in his lifetime, his death was felt acutely by the venerable artist. "I received news in your last of Giovan Simone's death. It has caused me the greatest sorrow; for though I am old, I had yet hoped to see him before he died, and before I died. God has willed it so. Patience! I should be glad to hear circumstantially what kind of end he made, and whether he confessed and communicated with all the sacraments of the Church. If he did so, and I am informed of it, I shall suffer less." A few days after the date of this letter, Michelangelo writes again, blaming Lionardo pretty severely for negligence in giving particulars of his uncle's death and affairs. Later on, it seems that he was satisfied regarding Giovan Simone's manner of departure from this world. A grudge remained against Lionardo because he had omitted to inform him about the property. "I heard the details from other persons before you sent them, which angered me exceedingly."


The year 1549 is marked by an exchange of civilities between Michelangelo and Benedetto Varchi. The learned man of letters and minute historiographer of Florence probably enjoyed our great sculptor's society in former years: recently they had been brought into closer relations at Rome. Varchi, who was interested in critical and academical problems, started the question whether sculpture or painting could justly claim a priority in the plastic arts. He conceived the very modern idea of collecting opinions from practical craftsmen, instituting, in fact, what would now be called a "Symposium" upon the subject. A good number of the answers to his query have been preserved, and among them is a letter from Michelangelo. It contains the following passage, which proves in how deep a sense Buonarroti was by temperament and predilection a sculptor: "My opinion is that all painting is the better the nearer it approaches to relief, and relief is the worse in proportion as it inclines to painting. And so I have been wont to think that sculpture is the lamp of painting, and that the difference between them might be likened to the difference between the sun and moon. Now that I have read your essay, in which you maintain that, philosophically speaking, things which fulfil the same purpose are essentially the same, I have altered my view. Therefore I say that, if greater judgment and difficulty, impediment and labour, in the handling of material do not constitute higher nobility, then painting and sculpture form one art. This being granted, it follows that no painter should underrate sculpture, and no sculptor should make light of painting. By sculpture I understand an art which operates by taking away superfluous material; by painting, one that attains its result by laying on. It is enough that both emanate from the same human intelligence, and consequently sculpture and painting ought to live in amity together, without these lengthy disputations. More time is wasted in talking about the problem than would go to the making of figures in both species. The man who wrote that painting was superior to sculpture, if he understood the other things he says no better, might be called a writer below the level of my maid-servant. There are infinite points not yet expressed which might be brought out regarding these arts; but, as I have said, they want too much time; and of time I have but little, being not only old, but almost numbered with the dead. Therefore, I pray you to have me excused. I recommend myself to you, and thank you to the best of my ability for the too great honour you have done me, which is more than I deserve."

Varchi printed this letter in a volume which he published at Florence in 1549, and reissued through another firm in 1590. It contained the treatise alluded to above, and also a commentary upon one of Michelangelo's sonnets, "Non ha l'ottimo artista alcun concetto." The book was duly sent to Michelangelo by the favour of a noble Florentine gentleman, Luca Martini. He responded to the present in a letter which deserves here to be recited. It is an eminent example of the urbanity observed by him in the interchange of these and similar courtesies:—

"I have received your letter, together with a little book containing a commentary on a sonnet of mine. The sonnet does indeed proceed from me, but the commentary comes from heaven. In truth it is a marvellous production; and I say this not on my own judgment only, but on that of able men, especially of Messer Donato Giannotti, who is never tired of reading it. He begs to be remembered to you. About the sonnet, I know very well what that is worth. Yet be it what it may, I cannot refrain from piquing myself a little on having been the cause of so beautiful and learned a commentary. The author of it, by his words and praises, shows clearly that he thinks me to be other than I am; so I beg you to express me to him in terms corresponding to so much love, affection, and courtesy. I entreat you to do this, because I feel myself inadequate, and one who has gained golden opinions ought not to tempt fortune; it is better to keep silence than to fall from that height. I am old, and death has robbed me of the thoughts of my youth. He who knows not what old age is, let him wait till it arrives: he cannot know beforehand. Remember me, as I said, to Varchi, with deep affection for his fine qualities, and as his servant wherever I may be."

Three other letters belonging to the same year show how deeply Michelangelo was touched and gratified by the distinguished honour Varchi paid him. In an earlier chapter of this book I have already pointed out how this correspondence bears upon the question of his friendship with Tommaso dei Cavalieri, and also upon an untenable hypothesis advanced by recent Florentine students of his biography. The incident is notable in other ways because Buonarroti was now adopted as a poet by the Florentine Academy. With a width of sympathy rare in such bodies, they condoned the ruggedness of his style and the uncouthness of his versification in their admiration for the high quality of his meditative inspiration. To the triple crown of sculptor, painter, architect, he now added the laurels of the bard; and this public recognition of his genius as a writer gave him well-merited pleasure in his declining years.

While gathering up these scattered fragments of Buonarroti's later life, I may here introduce a letter addressed to Benvenuto Cellini, which illustrates his glad acceptance of all good work in fellow-craftsmen:—

"My Benvenuto,—I have known you all these years as the greatest goldsmith of whom the world ever heard, and now I am to know you for a sculptor of the same quality. Messer Bindo Altoviti took me to see his portrait bust in bronze, and told me it was by your hand. I admired it much, but was sorry to see that it has been placed in a bad light. If it had a proper illumination, it would show itself to be the fine work it is."


Lionardo Buonarroti was at last married to Cassandra, the daughter of Donato Ridolfi, upon the 16th of May 1553. One of the dearest wishes which had occupied his uncle's mind so long, came thus to its accomplishment. His letters are full of kindly thoughts for the young couple, and of prudent advice to the husband, who had not arranged all matters connected with the settlements to his own satisfaction. Michelangelo congratulated Lionardo heartily upon his happiness, and told him that he was minded to send the bride a handsome present, in token of his esteem. "I have not been able to do so yet, because Urbino was away. Now that he has returned, I shall give expression to my sentiments. They tell me that a fine pearl necklace of some value would be very proper. I have sent a goldsmith, Urbino's friend, in search of such an ornament, and hope to find it; but say nothing to her, and if you would like me to choose another article, please let me know." This letter winds up with a strange admonition: "Look to living, reflect and weigh things well; for the number of widows in the world is always larger than that of the widowers." Ultimately he decided upon two rings, one a diamond, the other a ruby. He tells Lionardo to have the stones valued in case he has been cheated, because he does not understand such things; and is glad to hear in due course that the jewels are genuine. After the proper interval, Cassandra expected her confinement, and Michelangelo corresponded with his nephew as to the child's name in case it was a boy. "I shall be very pleased if the name of Buonarroto does not die out of our family, it having lasted three hundred years with us." The child was born upon the 16th of May 1544, turned out a boy, and received the name of Buonarroto. Though Lionardo had seven other children, including Michelangelo the younger (born November 4, 1568), this Buonarroto alone continued the male line of the family. The old man in Rome remarked resignedly during his later years, when he heard the news of a baby born and dead, that "I am not surprised; there was never in our family more than one at a time to keep it going."

Buonarroto was christened with some pomp, and Vasari wrote to Michelangelo describing the festivities. In the year 1554, Cosimo de' Medici had thrown his net round Siena. The Marquis of Marignano reduced the city first to extremities by famine, and finally to enslavement by capitulation. These facts account for the tone of Michelangelo's answer to Vasari's letter: "Yours has given me the greatest pleasure, because it assures me that you remember the poor old man; and more perhaps because you were present at the triumph you narrate, of seeing another Buonarroto reborn. I thank you heartily for the information. But I must say that I am displeased with so much pomp and show. Man ought not to laugh when the whole world weeps. So I think that Lionardo has not displayed great judgment, particularly in celebrating a nativity with all that joy and gladness which ought to be reserved for the decease of one who has lived well." There is what may be called an Elizabethan note—something like the lyrical interbreathings of our dramatists—in this blending of jubilation and sorrow, discontent and satisfaction, birth and death thoughts.

We have seen that Vasari worked for a short time as pupil under Michelangelo, and that during the pontificate of Paul III. they were brought into frequent contact at Rome. With years their friendship deepened into intimacy, and after the date 1550 their correspondence forms one of our most important sources of information. Michelangelo's letters begin upon the 1st of August in that year. Vasari was then living and working for the Duke at Florence; but he had designed a chapel for S. Pietro a Montorio in Rome, where Julius III. wished to erect tombs to the memory of his ancestors; and the work had been allotted to Bartolommeo Ammanati under Michelangelo's direction.

This business, otherwise of no importance in his biography, necessitated the writing of despatches, one of which is interesting, since it acknowledges the receipt of Vasari's celebrated book:—

"Referring to your three letters which I have received, my pen refuses to reply to such high compliments. I should indeed be happy if I were in some degree what you make me out to be, but I should not care for this except that then you would have a servant worth something. However, I am not surprised that you, who resuscitate the dead, should prolong the life of the living, or that you should steal the half-dead from death for an endless period."

It seems that on this occasion he also sent Vasari the sonnet composed upon his Lives of the Painters. Though it cannot be called one of his poetical masterpieces, the personal interest attaching to the verses justifies their introduction here:—

With pencil and with palette hitherto You made your art high Nature's paragon; Nay more, from Nature her own prize you won, Making what she made fair more fair to view.

Now that your learned hand with labour new Of pen and ink a worthier work hath done, What erst you lacked, what still remained her own, The power of giving life, is gained for you.

If men in any age with Nature vied In beauteous workmanship, they had to yield When to the fated end years brought their name.

You, re-illuming memories that died, In spite of Time and Nature have revealed For them and for yourself eternal fame.

Vasari's official position at the ducal court of Florence brought him into frequent and personal relations with Cosimo de' Medici. The Duke had long been anxious to lure the most gifted of his subjects back to Florence; but Michelangelo, though he remained a loyal servant to the Medicean family, could not approve of Cosimo's despotic rule. Moreover, he was now engaged by every tie of honour, interest, and artistic ambition to superintend the fabric of S. Peter's. He showed great tact, through delicate negotiations carried on for many years, in avoiding the Duke's overtures without sacrificing his friendship. Wishing to found his family in Florence and to fund the earnings of his life there, he naturally assumed a courteous attitude. A letter written by the Bishop Tornabuoni to Giovanni Francesco Lottini in Rome shows that these overtures began as early as 1546. The prelate says the Duke is so anxious to regain "Michelangelo, the divine sculptor," that he promises "to make him a member of the forty-eight senators, and to give him any office he may ask for." The affair was dropped for some years, but in 1552 Cosimo renewed his attempts, and now began to employ Vasari and Cellini as ambassadors. Soon after finishing his Perseus, Benvenuto begged for leave to go to Rome; and before starting, he showed the Duke Michelangelo's friendly letter on the bust of Bindo Altoviti. "He read it with much kindly interest, and said to me: 'Benvenuto, if you write to him, and can persuade him to return to Florence, I will make him a member of the Forty-eight.' Accordingly I wrote a letter full of warmth, and offered in the Duke's name a hundred times more than my commission carried; but not wanting to make any mistake, I showed this to the Duke before I sealed it, saying to his most illustrious Excellency: 'Prince, perhaps I have made him too many promises.' He replied: 'Michel Agnolo deserves more than you have promised, and I will bestow on him still greater favours.' To this letter he sent no answer, and I could see that the Duke was much offended with him."

While in Rome, Cellini went to visit Michelangelo, and renewed his offers in the Duke's name. What passed in that interview is so graphically told, introducing the rustic personality of Urbino on the stage, and giving a hint of Michelangelo's reasons for not returning in person to Florence, that the whole passage may be transcribed as opening a little window on the details of our hero's domestic life:—

"Then I went to visit Michel Agnolo Buonarroti, and repeated what I had written from Florence to him in the Duke's name. He replied that he was engaged upon the fabric of S. Peter's, and that this would prevent him from leaving Rome. I rejoined that, as he had decided on the model of that building, he could leave its execution to his man Urbino, who would carry out his orders to the letter. I added much about future favours, in the form of a message from the Duke. Upon this he looked me hard in the face, and said with a sarcastic smile: 'And you! to what extent are you satisfied with him?' Although I replied that I was extremely contented and was very well treated by his Excellency, he showed that he was acquainted with the greater part of my annoyances, and gave as his final answer that it would be difficult for him to leave Rome. To this I added that he could not do better than to return to his own land, which was governed by a prince renowned for justice, and the greatest lover of the arts and sciences who ever saw the light of this world. As I have remarked above, he had with him a servant of his who came from Urbino, and had lived many years in his employment, rather as valet and housekeeper than anything else; this indeed was obvious, because he had acquired no skill in the arts. Consequently, while I was pressing Michel Agnolo with arguments he could not answer, he turned round sharply to Urbino, as though to ask him his opinion. The fellow began to bawl out in his rustic way: 'I will never leave my master Michel Agnolo's side till I shall have flayed him or he shall have flayed me.' These stupid words forced me to laugh, and without saying farewell, I lowered my shoulders and retired."

This was in 1552. The Duke was loth to take a refusal, and for the next eight years he continued to ply Michelangelo with invitations, writing letters by his own hand, employing his agents in Rome and Florence, and working through Vasari. The letters to Vasari during this period are full of the subject. Michelangelo remains firm in his intention to remain at Rome and not abandon S. Peter's. As years went on, infirmities increased, and the solicitations of the Duke became more and more irksome to the old man. His discomfort at last elicited what may be called a real cry of pain in a letter to his nephew:—

"As regards my condition, I am ill with all the troubles which are wont to afflict old men. The stone prevents me passing water. My loins and back are so stiff that I often cannot climb upstairs. What makes matters worse is that my mind is much worried with anxieties. If I leave the conveniences I have here for my health, I can hardly live three days. Yet I do not want to lose the favour of the Duke, nor should I like to fail in my work at S. Peter's, nor in my duty to myself. I pray God to help and counsel me; and if I were taken ill by some dangerous fever, I would send for you at once."

Meanwhile, in spite of his resistance to the Duke's wishes, Michelangelo did not lose the favour of the Medicean family. The delicacy of behaviour by means of which he contrived to preserve and strengthen it, is indeed one of the strongest evidences of his sincerity, sagacity, and prudence. The Cardinal Giovanni, son of Cosimo, travelled to Rome in March 1560, in order to be invested with the purple by the Pope's hands. On this occasion Vasari, who rode in the young prince's train, wrote despatches to Florence which contain some interesting passages about Buonarroti. In one of them (March 29) he says: "My friend Michelangelo is so old that I do not hope to obtain much from him." Beside the reiterated overtures regarding a return to Florence, the Church of the Florentines was now in progress, and Cosimo also required Buonarroti's advice upon the decoration of the Great Hall in the Palazzo della Signoria. In a second letter (April 8) Vasari tells the Duke: "I reached Rome, and immediately after the most reverend and illustrious Medici had made his entrance and received the hat from our lord's hands, a ceremony which I wished to see with a view to the frescoes in the Palace, I went to visit my friend, the mighty Michelangelo. He had not expected me, and the tenderness of his reception was such as old men show when lost sons unexpectedly return to them. He fell upon my neck with a thousand kisses, weeping for joy. He was so glad to see me, and I him, that I have had no greater pleasure since I entered the service of your Excellency, albeit I enjoy so many through your kindness. We talked about the greatness and the wonders which our God in heaven has wrought for you, and he lamented that he could not serve you with his body, as he is ready to do with his talents at the least sign of your will. He also expressed his sorrow at being unable to wait upon the Cardinal, because he now can move about but little, and is grown so old that he gets small rest, and is so low in health I fear he will not last long, unless the goodness of God preserves him for the building of S. Peter's." After some further particulars, Vasari adds that he hopes "to spend Monday and Tuesday discussing the model of the Great Hall with Michelangelo, as well as the composition of the several frescoes. I have all that is necessary with me, and will do my utmost, while remaining in his company, to extract useful information and suggestions." We know from Vasari's Life of Michelangelo that the plans for decorating the Palace were settled to his own and the Duke's satisfaction during these colloquies at Rome.

Later on in the year, Cosimo came in person to Rome, attended by the Duchess Eleonora. Michelangelo immediately waited on their Highnesses, and was received with special marks of courtesy by the Duke, who bade him to be seated at his side, and discoursed at length about his own designs for Florence and certain discoveries he had made in the method of working porphyry. These interviews, says Vasari, were repeated several times during Cosimo's sojourn in Rome; and when the Crown-Prince of Florence, Don Francesco, arrived, this young nobleman showed his high respect for the great man by conversing with him cap in hand.

The project of bringing Buonarroti back to Florence was finally abandoned; but he had the satisfaction of feeling that, after the lapse of more than seventy years, his long connection with the House of Medici remained as firm and cordial as it had ever been. It was also consolatory to know that the relations established between himself and the reigning dynasty in Florence would prove of service to Lionardo, upon whom he now had concentrated the whole of his strong family affection.

In estimating Michelangelo as man, independent of his eminence as artist, the most singular point which strikes us is this persistent preoccupation with the ancient house he desired so earnestly to rehabilitate. He treated Lionardo with the greatest brutality. Nothing that this nephew did, or did not do, was right. Yet Lionardo was the sole hope of the Buonarroti-Simoni stock. When he married and got children, the old man purred with satisfaction over him, but only as a breeder of the race; and he did all in his power to establish Lionardo in a secure position.


Returning to the history of Michelangelo's domestic life, we have to relate two sad events which happened to him at the end of 1555. On the 28th of September he wrote to Lionardo: "The bad news about Gismondo afflicts me deeply. I am not without my own troubles of health, and have many annoyances besides. In addition to all this, Urbino has been ill in bed with me three months, and is so still, which causes me much trouble and anxiety." Gismondo, who had been declining all the summer, died upon the 13th of November. His brother in Rome was too much taken up with the mortal sickness of his old friend and servant Urbino to express great sorrow. "Your letter informs me of my brother Gismondo's death, which is the cause to me of serious grief. We must have patience; and inasmuch as he died sound of mind and with all the sacraments of the Church, let God be praised. I am in great affliction here. Urbino is still in bed, and very seriously ill. I do not know what will come of it. I feel this trouble as though he were my own son, because he has lived in my service twenty-five years, and has been very faithful. Being old, I have no time to form another servant to my purpose; and so I am sad exceedingly. If then, you know of some devout person, I beg you to have prayers offered up to God for his recovery."

The next letter gives a short account of his death:—

"I inform you that yesterday, the 3rd of December, at four o'clock, Francesco called Urbino passed from this life, to my very great sorrow. He has left me sorely stricken and afflicted; nay, it would have been sweeter to have died with him, such is the love I bore him. Less than this love he did not deserve; for he had grown to be a worthy man, full of faith and loyalty. So, then, I feel as though his death had left me without life, and I cannot find heart's ease. I should be glad to see you, therefore; only I cannot think how you can leave Florence because of your wife."

To Vasari he wrote still more passionately upon this occasion:—

"I cannot write well; yet, in answer to your letter, I will say a few words. You know that Urbino is dead. I owe the greatest thanks to God, at the same time that my own loss is heavy and my sorrow infinite. The grace He gave me is that, while Urbino kept me alive in life, his death taught me to die without displeasure, rather with a deep and real desire. I had him with me twenty-six years, and found him above measure faithful and sincere. Now that I had made him rich, and thought to keep him as the staff and rest of my old age, he has vanished from my sight; nor have I hope left but that of seeing him again in Paradise. God has given us good foundation for this hope in the exceedingly happy ending of his life. Even more than dying, it grieved him to leave me alive in this treacherous world, with so many troubles; and yet the better part of me is gone with him, nor is there left to me aught but infinite distress. I recommend myself to you, and beg you, if it be not irksome, to make my excuses to Messer Benvenuto (Cellini) for omitting to answer his letter. The trouble of soul I suffer in thought about these things prevents me from writing. Remember me to him, and take my best respects to yourself."

How tenderly Michelangelo's thought dwelt upon Urbino appears from this sonnet, addressed in 1556 to Monsignor Lodovico Beccadelli:—

God's grace, the cross, our troubles multiplied, Will make us meet in heaven, full well I know: Yet ere we yield, our breath on earth below, Why need a little solace be denied? Though seas and mountains and rough ways divide Our feet asunder, neither frost nor snow Can make the soul her ancient love; or ego; Nor chains nor bonds the wings of thought have tied. Borne by these wings, with thee I dwell for aye, And weep, and of my dead Urbino talk, Who, were he living, now perchance would be— For so 'twas planned—thy guest as well as I. Warned by his death, another way I walk To meet him where he waits to live with me.

By his will, dated November 24, 1555, Urbino, whose real name was Francesco degli Amadori of Castel Durante, appointed his old friend and master one of his executors and the chief guardian of his widow and children. A certain Roso de Rosis and Pietro Filippo Vandini, both of Castel Durante, are named in the trust; and they managed the estate. Yet Michelangelo was evidently the principal authority. A voluminous correspondence preserved in the Buonarroti Archives proves this; for it consists of numerous letters addressed by Urbino's executors and family from Castel Durante and elsewhere to the old sculptor in Rome. Urbino had married a woman of fine character and high intelligence, named Cornelia Colonnelli. Two of her letters are printed by Gotti, and deserve to be studied for the power of their style and the elevation of their sentiments. He has not made use, however, of the other documents, all of which have some interest as giving a pretty complete view of a private family and its vexations, while they illustrate the conscientious fidelity with which Michelangelo discharged his duties as trustee. Urbino had a brother, also resident at Castel Durante, Raffaello's celebrated pupil in fresco-painting, Il Fattorino. This man and Vandini, together with Cornelia and her parents and her second husband, Giulio Brunelli, all wrote letters to Rome about the welfare of the children and the financial affairs of the estate. The coexecutor Roso de Rosis did not write; it appears from one of Cornelia's despatches that he took no active interest in the trust, while Brunelli even complains that he withheld moneys which were legally due to the heirs. One of Michelangelo's first duties was to take care that Cornelia got a proper man for her second husband. Her parents were eager to see her married, being themselves old, and not liking to leave a comparatively young widow alone in the world with so many children to look after. Their choice fell first upon a very undesirable person called Santagnolo, a young man of dissolute habits, ruined constitution, bad character, and no estate. She refused, with spirit, to sign the marriage contract; and a few months later wrote again to inform her guardian that a suitable match had been found in the person of Giulio Brunelli of Gubbio, a young doctor of laws, then resident at Castel Durante in the quality of podesta. Michelangelo's suspicions must have been aroused by the unworthy conduct of her parents in the matter of Santagnolo; for we infer that he at first refused to sanction this second match. Cornelia and the parents wrote once more, assuring him that Brunelli was an excellent man, and entreating him not to open his ears to malignant gossip. On the 15th of June Brunelli himself appears upon the scene, announcing his marriage with Cornelia, introducing himself in terms of becoming modesty to Michelangelo, and assuring him that Urbino's children have found a second father. He writes again upon the 29th of July, this time to announce the fact that Il Fattorino has spread about false rumours to the effect that Cornelia and himself intend to leave Castel Durante and desert the children. Their guardian must not credit such idle gossip, for they are both sincerely attached to the children, and intend to do the best they can for them. Family dissensions began to trouble their peace. In the course of the next few months Brunelli discovers that he cannot act with the Fattorino or with Vandini; Cornelia's dowry is not paid; Roso refuses to refund money due to the heirs; Michelangelo alone can decide what ought to be done for the estate and his wards. The Fattorino writes that Vandini has renounced the trust, and that all Brunelli's and his own entreaties cannot make him resume it. For himself, he is resolved not to bear the burden alone. He has his own shop to look after, and will not let himself be bothered. Unluckily, none of Michelangelo's answers have been preserved. We possess only one of his letters to Cornelia, which shows that she wished to place her son and his godson, Michelangelo, under his care at Rome. He replied that he did not feel himself in a position to accept the responsibility. "It would not do to send Michelangelo, seeing that I have nobody to manage the house and no female servants; the boy is still of tender age, and things might happen which would cause me the utmost annoyance. Moreover, the Duke of Florence has during the last month been making me the greatest offers, and putting strong pressure upon me to return home. I have begged for time to arrange my affairs here and leave S. Peter's in good order. So I expect to remain in Rome all the summer; and when I have settled my business, and yours with the Monte della Fede, I shall probably remove to Florence this winter and take up my abode there for good. I am old now, and have not the time to return to Rome. I will travel by way of Urbino; and if you like to give me Michelangelo, I will bring him to Florence, with more love than the sons of my nephew Lionardo, and will teach him all the things which I know that his father desired that he should learn."


The year 1556 was marked by an excursion which took Michelangelo into the mountain district of Spoleto. Paul IV.'s anti-Spanish policy had forced the Viceroy of Naples to make a formidable military demonstration. Accordingly the Duke of Alva, at the head of a powerful force, left Naples on the 1st of September and invaded the Campagna. The Romans dreaded a second siege and sack; not without reason, although the real intention of the expedition was to cow the fiery Pope into submission. It is impossible, when we remember Michelangelo's liability to panics, not to connect his autumn journey with a wish to escape from trouble in Rome. On the 31st of October he wrote to Lionardo that he had undertaken a pilgrimage to Loreto, but feeling tired, had stopped to rest at Spoleto. While he was there, a messenger arrived post-haste from Rome, commanding his immediate return. He is now once more at home there, and as well as the troublous circumstances of the times permit.

Later on he told Vasari: "I have recently enjoyed a great pleasure, though purchased at the cost of great discomfort and expense, among the mountains of Spoleto, on a visit to those hermits. Consequently, I have come back less than half myself to Rome; for of a truth there is no peace to be found except among the woods." This is the only passage in the whole of Michelangelo's correspondence which betrays the least feeling for wild nature. We cannot pretend, even here, to detect an interest in landscape or a true appreciation of country life. Compared with Rome and the Duke of Alva, those hermitages of the hills among their chestnut groves seemed to him haunts of ancient peace. That is all; but when dealing with a man so sternly insensible to the charm of the external world, we have to be contented with a little.

In connection with this brief sojourn at Spoleto I will introduce two letters written to Michelangelo by the Archbishop of Ragusa from his See. The first is dated March 28, 1557. and was sent to Spoleto, probably under the impression that Buonarroti had not yet returned to Rome. After lamenting the unsettled state of public affairs, the Archbishop adds: "Keep well in your bodily health; as for that of your soul, I am sure you cannot be ill, knowing what prudence and piety keep you in perpetual companionship." The second followed at the interval of a year, April 6, 1558. and gave a pathetic picture of the meek old prelate's discomfort in his Dalmatian bishopric. He calls Ragusa "this exceedingly ill-cultivated vineyard of mine. Oftentimes does the carnal man in me revolt and yearn for Italy, for relatives and friends; but the spirit keeps desire in check, and compels it to be satisfied with that which is the pleasure of our Lord." Though the biographical importance of these extracts is but slight, I am glad, while recording the outlines of Buonarroti's character, to cast a side-light on his amiable qualities, and to show how highly valued he was by persons of the purest life.


There was nothing peculiarly severe about the infirmities of Michelangelo's old age. We first hear of the dysuria from which he suffered, in 1548. He writes to Lionardo thanking him for pears: "I duly received the little barrel of pears you sent me. There were eighty-six. Thirty-three of them I sent to the Pope, who praised them as fine, and who enjoyed them. I have lately been in great difficulty from dysuria. However, I am better now. And thus I write to you, chiefly lest some chatterbox should scribble a thousand lies to make you jump." In the spring of 1549 he says that the doctors believe he is suffering from calculus: "The pain is great, and prevents me from sleeping. They propose that I should try the mineral waters of Viterbo; but I cannot go before the beginning of May. For the rest, as concerns my bodily condition, I am much the same as I was at thirty. This mischief has crept upon me through the great hardships of my life and heedlessness." A few days later he writes that a certain water he is taking, whether mineral or medicine, has been making a beneficial change. The following letters are very cheerful, and at length he is able to write: "With regard to my disease, I am greatly improved in health, and have hope, much to the surprise of many; for people thought me a lost man, and so I believed. I have had a good doctor, but I put more faith in prayers than I do in medicines." His physician was a very famous man, Realdo Colombo. In the summer of the same year he tells Lionardo that he has been drinking for the last two months water from a fountain forty miles distant from Rome. "I have to lay in a stock of it, and to drink nothing else, and also to use it in cooking, and to observe rules of living to which I am not used."

Although the immediate danger from the calculus passed away, Michelangelo grew feebler yearly. We have already seen how he wrote to Lionardo while Cosimo de' Medici was urging him to come to Florence in 1557. Passages in his correspondence with Lionardo like the following are frequent: "Writing is the greatest annoyance to my hand, my sight, my brains. So works old age!" "I go on enduring old age as well as I am able, with all the evils and discomforts it brings in its train; and I recommend myself to Him who can assist me." It was natural, after he had passed the ordinary term of life and was attacked with a disease so serious as the stone, that his thoughts should take a serious tone. Thus he writes to Lionardo: "This illness has made me think of setting the affairs of my soul and body more in order than I should have done. Accordingly, I have drawn up a rough sketch of a will, which I will send you by the next courier if I am able, and you can tell me what you think." The will provided that Gismondo and Lionardo Buonarroti should be his joint-heirs, without the power of dividing the property. This practically left Lionardo his sole heir after Gismondo's life-tenancy of a moiety. It does not, however, seem to have been executed, for Michelangelo died intestate. Probably, he judged it simplest to allow Lionardo to become his heir-general by the mere course of events. At the same time, he now displayed more than his usual munificence in charity. Lionardo was frequently instructed to seek out a poor and gentle family, who were living in decent distress, poveri vergognosi, as the Italians called such persons. Money was to be bestowed upon them with the utmost secrecy; and the way which Michelangelo proposed, was to dower a daughter or to pay for her entrance into a convent. It has been suggested that this method of seeking to benefit the deserving poor denoted a morbid tendency in Michelangelo's nature; but any one who is acquainted with Italian customs in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance must be aware that nothing was commoner than to dower poor girls or to establish them in nunneries by way of charity. Urbino, for example, by his will bound his executors to provide for the marriage of two honest girls with a dowry of twenty florins apiece within the space of four years from his death.

The religious sonnets, which are certainly among the finest of Michelangelo's compositions, belong to this period. Writing to Vasari on the 10th of September 1554, he begins: "You will probably say that I am old and mad to think of writing sonnets; yet since many persons pretend that I am in my second childhood, I have thought it well to act accordingly." Then follows this magnificent piece of verse, in which the sincerest feelings of the pious heart are expressed with a sublime dignity:—

Now hath my life across a stormy sea, Like a frail bark, reached that wide fort 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.

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