The Life of Michelangelo Buonarroti
by John Addington Symonds
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A second sonnet, enclosed in a letter to Vasari, runs as follows:—

The fables of the world have filched away The time I had for thinking upon God; His grace lies buried 'neath oblivion's sod, Whence springs an evil crop of sins alway.

What makes another wise, leads me astray, Slow to discern the bad path I have trod: Hope fades, but still desire ascends that God May free me from self-love, my sure decay. Shorten half-way my road to heaven from earth! Dear Lord, I cannot even half-way rise Unless Thou help me on this pilgrimage. Teach me to hate the world so little worth, And, all the lovely things I clasp and prize, That endless life, ere death, may be my wage.

While still in his seventieth year, Michelangelo had educated himself to meditate upon the thought of death as a prophylactic against vain distractions and the passion of love. "I may remind you that a man who would fain return unto and enjoy his own self ought not to indulge so much in merrymakings and festivities, but to think on death. This thought is the only one which makes us know our proper selves, which holds us together in the bond of our own nature, which prevents us from being stolen away by kinsmen, friends, great men of genius, ambition, avarice, and those other sins and vices which filch the man from himself, keep him distraught and dispersed, without ever permitting him to return unto himself and reunite his scattered parts. Marvellous is the operation of this thought of death, which, albeit death, by his nature, destroys all things, preserves and supports those who think on death, and defends them from all human passions." He supports this position by reciting a madrigal he had composed, to show how the thought of death is the greatest foe to love:—

Not death indeed, but the dread thought of death Saveth and severeth Me from the heartless fair who doth me slay: And should, perchance, some day The fire consuming blaze o'er measure bright, I find for my sad plight No help but from death's form fixed in my heart; Since, where death reigneth, love must dwell apart.

In some way or another, then, Michelangelo used the thought of death as the mystagogue of his spirit into the temple of eternal things—[Greek: ta aidia], die bleibenden Verhaeltnisse—and as the means of maintaining self-control and self-coherence amid the ever-shifting illusions of human life. This explains why in his love-sonnets he rarely speaks of carnal beauty except as the manifestation of the divine idea, which will be clearer to the soul after death than in the body.

When his life was drawing toward its close, Michelangelo's friends were not unnaturally anxious about his condition. Though he had a fairly good servant in Antonio del Franzese, and was surrounded by well-wishers like Tommaso Cavalieri, Daniele da Volterra, and Tiberio Calcagni, yet he led a very solitary life, and they felt he ought to be protected. Vasari tells us that he communicated privately with Averardo Serristori, the Duke's ambassador in Rome, recommending that some proper housekeeper should be appointed, and that due control should be instituted over the persons who frequented his house. It was very desirable, in case of a sudden accident, that his drawings and works of art should not be dispersed, but that what belonged to S. Peter's, to the Laurentian Library, and to the Sacristy should be duly assigned. Lionardo Buonarroti must have received similar advice from Rome, for a furious letter is extant, in which Michelangelo, impatient to the last of interference, literally rages at him:—

"I gather from your letter that you lend credence to certain envious and scoundrelly persons, who, since they cannot manage me or rob me, write you a lot of lies. They are a set of sharpers, and you are so silly as to believe what they say about my affairs, as though I were a baby. Get rid of them, the scandalous, envious, ill-lived rascals. As for my suffering the mismanagement you write about, I tell you that I could not be better off, or more faithfully served and attended to in all things. As for my being robbed, to which I think you allude, I assure you that I have people in my house whom I can trust and repose on. Therefore, look to your own life, and do not think about my affairs, because I know how to take care of myself if it is needful, and am not a baby. Keep well."

This is the last letter to Lionardo. It is singular that Michelangelo's correspondence with his father, with Luigi del Riccio, with Tommaso dei Cavalieri, and with his nephew, all of whom he sincerely loved, should close upon a note of petulance and wrath. The fact is no doubt accidental. But it is strange.


We have frequently had occasion to notice the extreme pain caused to Michelangelo's friends by his unreasonable irritability and readiness to credit injurious reports about them. These defects of temper justified to some extent his reputation for savagery, and they must be reckoned among the most salient features of his personality. I shall therefore add three other instances of the same kind which fell under my observation while studying the inedited documents of the Buonarroti Archives. Giovanni Francesco Fattucci was, as we well know, his most intimate friend and trusted counsellor during long and difficult years, when the negotiations with the heirs of Pope Julius were being carried on; yet there exists one letter of unaffected sorrow from this excellent man, under date October 14, 1545, which shows that for some unaccountable reason Michelangelo had suddenly chosen to mistrust him. Fattucci begins by declaring that he is wholly guiltless of things which his friend too credulously believed upon the strength of gossip. He expresses the deepest grief at this unjust and suspicious treatment. The letter shows him to have been more hurt than resentful. Another document signed by Francesco Sangallo (the son of his old friend Giuliano), bearing no date, but obviously written when they were both in Florence, and therefore before the year 1535, carries the same burden of complaint. The details are sufficiently picturesque to warrant the translation of a passage. After expressing astonishment at Michelangelo's habit of avoiding his society, he proceeds: "And now, this morning, not thinking that I should annoy you, I came up and spoke to you, and you received me with a very surly countenance. That evening, too, when I met you on the threshold with Granacci, and you left me by the shop of Pietro Osaio, and the other forenoon at S. Spirito, and to-day, it struck me as extremely strange, especially in the presence of Piloto and so many others. I cannot help thinking that you must have some grudge against me; but I marvel that you do not open out your mind to me, because it may be something which is wholly false." The letter winds up with an earnest protest that he has always been a true and faithful friend. He begs to be allowed to come and clear the matter up in conversation, adding that he would rather lose the good-will of the whole world than Michelangelo's.

The third letter is somewhat different in tone, and not so personally interesting. Still it illustrates the nervousness and apprehension under which Michelangelo's acquaintances continually lived. The painter commonly known as Rosso Fiorentino was on a visit to Rome, where he studied the Sistine frescoes. They do not appear to have altogether pleased him, and he uttered his opinion somewhat too freely in public. Now he pens a long elaborate epistle, full of adulation, to purge himself of having depreciated Michelangelo's works. People said that "when I reached Rome, and entered the chapel painted by your hand, I exclaimed that I was not going to adopt that manner." One of Buonarroti's pupils had been particularly offended. Rosso protests that he rather likes the man for his loyalty; but he wishes to remove any impression which Michelangelo may have received of his own irreverence or want of admiration. The one thing he is most solicitous about is not to lose the great man's good-will.

It must be added, at the close of this investigation, that however hot and hasty Michelangelo may have been, and however readily he lent his ear to rumours, he contrived to renew the broken threads of friendship with the persons he had hurt by his irritability.



During the winter of 1563-64 Michelangelo's friends in Rome became extremely anxious about his health, and kept Lionardo Buonarroti from time to time informed of his proceedings. After New Year it was clear that he could not long maintain his former ways of life. Though within a few months of ninety, he persisted in going abroad in all weathers, and refused to surround himself with the comforts befitting a man of his eminence and venerable age. On the 14th of February he seems to have had a kind of seizure. Tiberio Calcagni, writing that day to Lionardo, gives expression to his grave anxiety: "Walking through Rome to-day, I heard from many persons that Messer Michelangelo was ill. Accordingly I went at once to visit him, and although it was raining I found him out of doors on foot. When I saw him, I said that I did not think it right and seemly for him to be going about in such weather 'What do you want?' he answered; 'I am ill, and cannot find rest anywhere.' The uncertainty of his speech, together with the look and colour of his face, made me feel extremely uneasy about his life. The end may not be just now, but I fear greatly that it cannot be far off." Michelangelo did not leave the house again, but spent the next four days partly reclining in an arm-chair, partly in bed. Upon the 15th following, Diomede Leoni wrote to Lionardo, enclosing a letter by the hand of Daniele da Volterra, which Michelangelo had signed. The old man felt his end approaching, and wished to see his nephew. "You will learn from the enclosure how ill he is, and that he wants you to come to Rome. He was taken ill yesterday. I therefore exhort you to come at once, but do so with sufficient prudence. The roads are bad now, and you are not used to travel by post. This being so, you would run some risk if you came post-haste. Taking your own time upon the way, you may feel at ease when you remember that Messer Tommaso dei Cavalieri, Messer Daniele, and I are here to render every possible assistance in your absence. Beside us, Antonio, the old and faithful servant of your uncle, will be helpful in any service that may be expected from him." Diomede reiterates his advice that Lionardo should run no risks by travelling too fast. "If the illness portends mischief, which God forbid, you could not with the utmost haste arrive in time.... I left him just now, a little after 8 P.M., in full possession of his faculties and quiet in his mind, but oppressed with a continued sleepiness. This has annoyed him so much that, between three and four this afternoon, he tried to go out riding, as his wont is every evening in good weather. The coldness of the weather and the weakness of his head and legs prevented him; so he returned to the fire-side, and settled down into an easy chair, which he greatly prefers to the bed." No improvement gave a ray of hope to Michelangelo's friends, and two days later, on the 17th, Tiberio Calcagni took up the correspondence with Lionardo: "This is to beg you to hasten your coming as much as possible, even though the weather be unfavourable. It is certain now that our dear Messer Michelangelo must leave us for good and all, and he ought to have the consolation of seeing you." Next day, on the 18th, Diomede Leoni wrote again: "He died without making a will, but in the attitude of a perfect Christian, this evening, about the Ave Maria. I was present, together with Messer Tommaso dei Cavalieri and Messer Daniele da Volterra, and we put everything in such order that you may rest with a tranquil mind. Yesterday Michelangelo sent for our friend Messer Daniele, and besought him to take up his abode in the house until such time as you arrive, and this he will do."

It was at a little before five o'clock on the afternoon of February 18, 1564, that Michelangelo breathed his last. The physicians who attended him to the end were Federigo Donati, and Gherardo Fidelissimi, of Pistoja. It is reported by Vasari that, during his last moments, "he made his will in three sentences, committing his soul into the hands of God, his body to the earth, and his substance to his nearest relatives; enjoining upon these last, when their hour came, to think upon the sufferings of Jesus Christ."

On the following day, February 19, Averardo Serristori, the Florentine envoy in Rome, sent a despatch to the Duke, informing him of Michelangelo's decease: "This morning, according to an arrangement I had made, the Governor sent to take an inventory of all the articles found in his house. These were few, and very few drawings. However, what was there they duly registered. The most important object was a box sealed with several seals, which the Governor ordered to be opened in the presence of Messer Tommaso dei Cavalieri and Maestro Daniele da Volterra, who had been sent for by Michelangelo before his death. Some seven or eight thousand crowns were found in it, which have now been deposited with the Ubaldini bankers. This was the command issued by the Governor, and those whom it concerns will have to go there to get the money. The people of the house will be examined as to whether anything has been carried away from it. This is not supposed to have been the case. As far as drawings are concerned, they say that he burned what he had by him before he died. What there is shall be handed over to his nephew when he comes, and this your Excellency can inform him."

The objects of art discovered in Michelangelo's house were a blocked-out statue of S. Peter, an unfinished Christ with another figure, and a statuette of Christ with the cross, resembling the Cristo Risorto of S. Maria Sopra Minerva. Ten original drawings were also catalogued, one of which (a Pieta) belonged to Tommaso dei Cavalieri; another (an Epiphany) was given to the notary, while the rest came into the possession of Lionardo Buonarroti. The cash-box, which had been sealed by Tommaso dei Cavalieri and Diomede Leoni, was handed over to the Ubaldini, and from them it passed to Lionardo Buonarroti at the end of February.


Lionardo travelled by post to Rome, but did not arrive until three days after his uncle's death. He began at once to take measures for the transport of Michelangelo's remains to Florence, according to the wish of the old man, frequently expressed and solemnly repeated two days before his death. The corpse had been deposited in the Church of the SS. Apostoli, where the funeral was celebrated with becoming pomp by all the Florentines in Rome, and by artists of every degree. The Romans had come to regard Buonarroti as one of themselves, and, when the report went abroad that he had expressed a wish to be buried in Florence, they refused to believe it, and began to project a decent monument to his memory in the Church of the SS. Apostoli. In order to secure his object, Lionardo was obliged to steal the body away, and to despatch it under the guise of mercantile goods to the custom-house of Florence. Vasari wrote to him from that city upon the 10th of March, informing him that the packing-case had duly arrived, and had been left under seals until his, Lionardo's, arrival at the custom-house.

About this time two plans were set on foot for erecting monuments to Michelangelo's memory. The scheme started by the Romans immediately after his death took its course, and the result is that tomb at the SS. Apostoli, which undoubtedly was meant to be a statue-portrait of the man. Vasari received from Lionardo Buonarroti commission to erect the tomb in S. Croce. The correspondence of the latter, both with Vasari and with Jacopo del Duca, who superintended the Roman monument, turns for some time upon these tombs. It is much to Vasari's credit that he wanted to place the Pieta which Michelangelo had broken, above the S. Croce sepulchre. He writes upon the subject in these words: "When I reflect that Michelangelo asserted, as is well known also to Daniele, Messer Tommaso dei Cavalieri, and many other of his friends, that he was making the Pieta of five figures, which he broke, to serve for his own tomb, I think that his heir ought to inquire how it came into the possession of Bandini. Besides, there is an old man in the group who represents the person of the sculptor. I entreat you, therefore, to take measures for regaining this Pieta, and I will make use of it in my design. Pierantonio Bandini is very courteous, and will probably consent. In this way you will gain several points. You will assign to your uncle's sepulchre the group he planned to place there, and you will be able to hand over the statues in Via Mozza to his Excellency, receiving in return enough money to complete the monument." Of the marbles in the Via Mozza at Florence, where Michelangelo's workshop stood, I have seen no catalogue, but they certainly comprised the Victory, probably also the Adonis and the Apollino. There had been some thought of adapting the Victory to the tomb in S. Croce. Vasari, however, doubted whether this group could be applied in any forcible sense allegorically to Buonarroti as man or as artist.

Eventually, as we know, the very mediocre monument designed by Vasari, which still exists at S. Croce, was erected at Lionardo Buonarroti's expense, the Duke supplying a sufficiency of marble.


It ought here to be mentioned that, in the spring of 1563, Cosimo founded an Academy of Fine Arts, under the title of "Arte del Disegno." It embraced all the painters, architects, and sculptors of Florence in a kind of guild, with privileges, grades, honours, and officers. The Duke condescended to be the first president of this academy. Next to him, Michelangelo was elected unanimously by all the members as their uncontested principal and leader, "inasmuch as this city, and peradventure the whole world, hath not a master more excellent in the three arts." The first great work upon which the Duke hoped to employ the guild was the completion of the sacristy at S. Lorenzo. Vasari's letter to Michelangelo shows that up to this date none of the statues had been erected in their proper places, and that it was intended to add a great number of figures, as well as to adorn blank spaces in the walls with frescoes. All the best artists of the time, including Gian Bologna, Cellini, Bronzino, Tribolo, Montelupo, Ammanati, offered their willing assistance, "forasmuch as there is not one of us but hath learned in this sacristy, or rather in this our school, whatever excellence he possesses in the arts of design." We know already only too well that the scheme was never carried out, probably in part because Michelangelo's rapidly declining strength prevented him from furnishing these eager artists with the necessary working drawings. Cosimo's anxiety to gain possession of any sketches left in Rome after Buonarroti's death may be ascribed to this project for completing the works begun at S. Lorenzo.

Well then, upon the news of Michelangelo's death, the academicians were summoned by their lieutenant, Don Vincenzo Borghini, to deliberate upon the best way of paying him honour, and celebrating his obsequies with befitting pomp. It was decided that all the leading artists should contribute something, each in his own line, to the erection of a splendid catafalque, and a sub-committee of four men was elected to superintend its execution. These were Angelo Bronzino and Vasari, Benvenuto Cellini and Ammanati, friends of the deceased, and men of highest mark in the two fields of painting and sculpture. The church selected for the ceremony was S. Lorenzo; the orator appointed was Benedetto Varchi. Borghini, in his capacity of lieutenant or official representative, obtained the Duke's assent to the plan, which was subsequently carried out, as we shall see in due course.

Notwithstanding what Vasari wrote to Lionardo about his uncle's coffin having been left at the Dogana, it seems that it was removed upon the very day of its arrival, March II, to the Oratory of the Assunta, underneath the church of S. Pietro Maggiore. On the following day the painters, sculptors, and architects of the newly founded academy met together at this place, intending to transfer the body secretly to S. Croce. They only brought a single pall of velvet, embroidered with gold, and a crucifix, to place upon the bier. When night fell, the elder men lighted torches, while the younger crowded together, vying one with another for the privilege of carrying the coffin. Meantime the Florentines, suspecting that something unusual was going forward at S. Pietro, gathered round, and soon the news spread through the city that Michelangelo was being borne to S. Croce. A vast concourse of people in this way came unexpectedly together, following the artists through the streets, and doing pathetic honour to the memory of the illustrious dead. The spacious church of S. Croce was crowded in all its length and breadth, so that the pall-bearers had considerable difficulty in reaching the sacristy with their precious burden. In that place Don Vincenzo Borghini, who was lieutenant of the academy, ordered that the coffin should be opened. "He thought he should be doing what was pleasing to many of those present; and, as he afterwards admitted, he was personally anxious to behold in death one whom he had never seen in life, or at any rate so long ago as to have quite forgotten the occasion. All of us who stood by expected to find the corpse already defaced by the outrage of the sepulchre, inasmuch as twenty-five days had elapsed since Michelangelo's death, and twenty-one since his consignment to the coffin; but, to our great surprise, the dead man lay before us perfect in all his parts, and without the evil odours of the grave; indeed, one might have thought that he was resting in a sweet and very tranquil slumber. Not only did the features of his countenance bear exactly the same aspect as in life, except for some inevitable pallor, but none of his limbs were injured, or repulsive to the sight. The head and cheeks, to the touch, felt just as though he had breathed his last but a few hours since." As soon as the eagerness of the multitude calmed down a little, the bier was carried into the church again, and the coffin was deposited in a proper place behind the altar of the Cavalcanti.

When the academicians decreed a catafalque for Michelangelo's solemn obsequies in S. Lorenzo, they did not aim so much at worldly splendour or gorgeous trappings as at an impressive monument, combining the several arts which he had practised in his lifetime. Being made of stucco, woodwork, plaster, and such perishable materials, it was unfortunately destined to decay. But Florence had always been liberal, nay, lavish, of her genius in triumphs, masques, magnificent street architecture, evoked to celebrate some ephemeral event. A worthier occasion would not occur again; and we have every reason to believe that the superb structure, which was finally exposed to view upon the 14th of July, displayed all that was left at Florence of the grand style in the arts of modelling and painting. They were decadent indeed; during the eighty-nine years of Buonarroti's life upon earth they had expanded, flourished, and flowered with infinite variety in rapid evolution. He lived to watch their decline; yet the sunset of that long day was still splendid to the eyes and senses.

The four deputies appointed by the academy held frequent sittings before the plan was fixed, and the several parts had been assigned to individual craftsmen. Ill health prevented Cellini from attending, but he sent a letter to the lieutenant, which throws some interesting light upon the project in its earlier stages. A minute description of the monument was published soon after the event. Another may be read in the pages of Vasari. Varchi committed his oration to the press, and two other panegyrical discourses were issued, under the names of Leonardo Salviati and Giovan Maria Tarsia. Poems composed on the occasion were collected into one volume, and distributed by the Florentine firm of Sermatelli. To load these pages with the details of allegorical statues and pictures which have long passed out of existence, and to cite passages from funeral speeches, seems to me useless. It is enough to have directed the inquisitive to sources where their curiosity may be gratified.


It would be impossible to take leave of Michelangelo without some general survey of his character and qualities. With this object in view I do not think I can do better than to follow what Condivi says at the close of his biography, omitting those passages which have been already used in the body of this book, and supplementing his summary with illustrative anecdotes from Vasari. Both of these men knew him intimately during the last years of his life; and if it is desirable to learn how a man strikes his contemporaries, we obtain from them a lively and veracious, though perhaps a slightly flattered, picture of the great master whom they studied with love and admiration from somewhat different points of view. This will introduce a critical examination of the analysis to which the psychology; of Michelangelo has recently been subjected.

Condivi opens his peroration with the following paragraphs:—

"Now, to conclude this gossiping discourse of mine, I say that it is my opinion that in painting and sculpture nature bestowed all her riches with a full hand upon Michelangelo. I do not fear reproach or contradiction when I repeat that his statues are, as it were, inimitable. Nor do I think that I have suffered myself to exceed the bounds of truth while making this assertion. In the first place, he is the only artist who has handled both brush and mallet with equal excellence. Then we have no relics left of antique paintings to compare with his; and though many classical works in statuary survive, to whom among the ancients does he yield the palm in sculpture? In the judgment of experts and practical artists, he certainly yields to none; and were, we to consult the vulgar, who admire antiquity without criticism, through a kind of jealousy toward the talents and the industry of their own times, even here we shall find none who say the contrary; to such a height has this great man soared above the scope of envy. Raffaello of Urbino, though he chose to strive in rivalry with Michelangelo, was wont to say that he thanked God for having been born in his days, since he learned from him a manner very different from that which his father, who was a painter, and his master, Perugino, taught him. Then, too, what proof of his singular excellence could be wished for, more convincing and more valid, than the eagerness with which the sovereigns of the world contended for him? Beside four pontiffs, Julius, Leo, Clement, and Paul, the Grand Turk, father of the present Sultan, sent certain Franciscans with letters begging him to come and reside at his court. By orders on the bank of the Gondi at Florence, he provided that whatever sums were asked for should be disbursed to pay the expenses of his journey; and when he should have reached Cossa, a town near Ragusa, one of the greatest nobles of the realm was told off to conduct him in most honourable fashion to Constantinople. Francis of Valois, King of France, tried to get him by many devices, giving instructions that, whenever he chose to travel, 3000 crowns should be told out to him in Rome. The Signory of Venice sent Bruciolo to Rome with an invitation to their city, offering a pension of 600 crowns if he would settle there. They attached no conditions to this offer, only desiring that he should honour the republic with his presence, and stipulating that whatever he might do in their service should be paid as though he were not in receipt of a fixed income. These are not ordinary occurrences, or such as happen every day, but strange and out of common usage; nor are they wont to befall any but men of singular and transcendent ability, as was Homer, for whom many cities strove in rivalry, each desirous of acquiring him and making him its own.

"The reigning Pope, Julius III., holds him in no less esteem than the princes I have mentioned. This sovereign, distinguished for rare taste and judgment, loves and promotes all arts and sciences, but is most particularly devoted to painting, sculpture, and architecture, as may be clearly seen in the buildings which his Holiness has erected in the Vatican and the Belvedere, and is now raising at his Villa Giulia (a monument worthy of a lofty and generous nature, as indeed his own is), where he has gathered together so many ancient and modern statues, such a variety of the finest pictures, precious columns, works in stucco, wall-painting, and every kind of decoration, of the which I must reserve a more extended account for some future occasion, since it deserves a particular study, and has not yet reached completion. This Pope has not used the services of Michelangelo for any active work, out of regard for his advanced age. He is fully alive to his greatness, and appreciates it, but refrains from adding burdens beyond those which Michelangelo himself desires; and this regard, in my opinion, confers more honour on him than any of the great under-takings which former pontiffs exacted from his genius. It is true that his Holiness almost always consults him on works of painting or of architecture he may have in progress, and very often sends the artists to confer with him at his own house. I regret, and his Holiness also regrets, that a certain natural shyness, or shall I say respect or reverence, which some folk call pride, prevents him from having recourse to the benevolence, goodness, and liberality of such a pontiff, and one so much his friend. For the Pope, as I first heard from the Most Rev. Monsignor of Forli, his Master of the Chamber, has often observed that, were this possible, he, would gladly give some of his own years and his own blood to add to Michelangelo's life, to the end that the world should not so soon be robbed of such a man. And this, when I had access to his Holiness, I heard with my own ears from his mouth. Moreover, if he happens to survive him, as seems reasonable in the course of nature, he has a mind to embalm him and keep him ever near to his own person, so that his body in death shall be as everlasting as his works. This he said to Michelangelo himself at the commencement of his reign, in the presence of many persons. I know not what could be more honourable to Michelangelo than such words, or a greater proof of the high account in which he is held by his Holiness.

"So then Michelangelo, while he was yet a youth, devoted himself not only to sculpture and painting, but also to all those other arts which to them are allied or subservient, and this he did with such absorbing energy that for a time he almost entirely cut himself off from human society, conversing with but very few intimate friends. On this account some folk thought him proud, others eccentric and capricious, although he was tainted with none of these defects; but, as hath happened to many men of great abilities, the love of study and the perpetual practice of his art rendered him solitary, being so taken up with the pleasure and delight of these things that society not only afforded him no solace, but even caused him annoyance by diverting him from meditation, being (as the great Scipio used to say) never less alone than when he was alone. Nevertheless, he very willingly embraced the friendship of those whose learned and cultivated conversation could be of profit to his mind, and in whom some beams of genius shone forth: as, for example, the most reverend and illustrious Monsignor Pole, for his rare virtues and singular goodness; and likewise the most reverend, my patron, Cardinal Crispo, in whom he discovered, beside his many excellent qualities, a distinguished gift of acute judgment; he was also warmly attached to the Cardinal of S. Croce, a man of the utmost gravity and wisdom, whom I have often heard him name in the highest terms; and to the most reverend Maffei, whose goodness and learning he has always praised: indeed, he loves and honours all the dependants of the house of Farnese, owing to the lively memory he cherishes of Pope Paul, whom he invariably mentions with the deepest reverence as a good and holy old man; and in like manner the most reverend Patriarch of Jerusalem, sometime Bishop of Cesena, has lived for some time in close intimacy with him, finding peculiar pleasure in so open and generous a nature. He was also on most friendly terms with my very reverend patron the Cardinal Ridolfi, of blessed memory, that refuge of all men of parts and talent. There are several others whom I omit for fear of being prolix, as Monsignor Claudio Tolomei, Messer Lorenzo Ridolfi, Messer Donato Giannotti, Messer Lionardo Malespini, Lottino, Messer Tommaso dei Cavalieri, and other honoured gentlemen. Of late years he has become deeply attached to Annibale Caro, of whom he told me that it grieves him not to have come to know him earlier, seeing that he finds him much to his taste."

"In like manner as he enjoyed the converse of learned men, so also did he take pleasure in the study of eminent writers, whether of prose or verse. Among these he particularly admired Dante, whose marvellous poems he hath almost all by heart. Nevertheless, the same might perhaps be said about his love for Petrarch. These poets he not only delighted in studying, but he also was wont to compose from time to time upon his own account. There are certain sonnets among those he wrote which give a very good notion of his great inventive power and judgment. Some of them have furnished Varchi with the subject of Discourses. It must be remembered, however, that he practised poetry for his amusement, and not as a profession, always depreciating his own talent, and appealing to his ignorance in these matters. Just in the same way he has perused the Holy Scriptures with great care and industry, studying not merely the Old Testament, but also the New, together with their commentators, as, for example, the writings of Savonarola, for whom he always retained a deep affection, since the accents of the preacher's living voice rang in his memory.

"He has given away many of his works, the which, if he had chosen to sell them, would have brought him vast sums of money. A single instance of this generosity will suffice—namely, the two statues which he presented to his dearest friend, Messer Ruberto Strozzi. Nor was it only of his handiwork that he has been liberal. He opened his purse readily to poor men of talent in literature or art, as I can testify, having myself been the recipient of his bounty. He never showed an envious spirit toward the labours of other masters in the crafts he practised, and this was due rather to the goodness of his nature than to any sense of his own superiority. Indeed, he always praised all men of excellence without exception, even Raffaello of Urbino, between whom and himself there was of old time some rivalry in painting. I have only heard him say that Raffaello did not derive his mastery in that art so much from nature as from prolonged study. Nor is it true, as many persons assert to his discredit, that he has been unwilling to impart instruction. On the contrary, he did so readily, as I know by personal experience, for to me he unlocked all the secrets of the arts he had acquired. Ill-luck, however, willed that he should meet either with subjects ill adapted to such studies, or else with men of little perseverance, who, when they had been working a few months under his direction, began to think themselves past-masters. Moreover, although he was willing to teach, he did not like it to be known that he did so, caring more to do good than to seem to do it. I may add that he always attempted to communicate the arts to men of gentle birth, as did the ancients, and not to plebeians."


To this passage about Michelangelo's pupils we may add the following observation by Vasari: "He loved his workmen, and conversed with them on friendly terms. Among these I will mention Jacopo Sansovino, Rosso, Pontormo, Daniele da Volterra, and Giorgio Vasari. To the last of these men he showed unbounded kindness, and caused him to study architecture, with the view of employing his services in that art. He exchanged thoughts readily with him, and discoursed upon artistic topics. Those are in the wrong who assert that he refused to communicate his stores of knowledge. He always did so to his personal friends, and to all who sought his advice. It ought, however, to be mentioned that he was not lucky in the craftsmen who lived with him, since chance brought him into contact with people unfitted to profit by his example. Pietro Urbano of Pistoja was a man of talent but no industry. Antonio Mini had the will but not the brains, and hard wax takes a bad impression. Ascanio dalla Ripa Transone (i.e., Condivi) took great pains, but brought nothing to perfection either in finished work or in design. He laboured many years upon a picture for which Michelangelo supplied the drawing. At last the expectations based upon this effort vanished into smoke. I remember that Michelangelo felt pity for his trouble, and helped him with his own hand. Nothing, however, came of it. He often told me that if he had found a proper subject he should have liked, old as he was, to have recommended anatomy, and to have written on it for the use of his workmen. However, he distrusted his own powers of expressing what he wanted in writing, albeit his letters show that he could easily put forth his thoughts in a few brief words."

About Michelangelo's kindness to his pupils and servants there is no doubt. We have only to remember his treatment of Pietro Urbano and Antonio Mini, Urbino and Condivi, Tiberio Calcagni and Antonio del Franzese. A curious letter from Michelangelo to Andrea Quarantesi, which I have quoted in another connection, shows that people were eager to get their sons placed under his charge. The inedited correspondence in the Buonarroti Archives abounds in instances illustrating the reputation he had gained for goodness. We have two grateful letters from a certain Pietro Bettino in Castel Durante speaking very warmly of Michelangelo's attention to his son Cesare. Two to the same effect from Amilcare Anguissola in Cremona acknowledge services rendered to his daughter Sofonisba, who was studying design in Rome. Pietro Urbano wrote twenty letters between the years 1517 and 1525, addressing him in terms like "carissimo quanto padre." After recovering from his illness at Pistoja, he expresses the hope that he will soon be back again at Florence (September 18, 1519): "Dearest to me like the most revered of fathers, I send you salutations, announcing that I am a little better, but not yet wholly cured of that flux; still I hope before many days are over to find myself at Florence." A certain Silvio Falcone, who had been in his service, and who had probably been sent away because of some misconduct, addressed a letter from Rome to him in Florence, which shows both penitence and warm affection. "I am and shall always be a good servant to you in every place where I may be. Do not remember my stupidity in those past concerns, which I know that, being a prudent man, you will not impute to malice. If you were to do so, this would cause me the greatest sorrow; for I desire nothing but to remain in your good grace, and if I had only this in the world, it would suffice me." He begs to be remembered to Pietro Urbano, and requests his pardon if he has offended him. Another set of letters, composed in the same tone by a man who signs himself Silvio di Giovanni da Cepparello, was written by a sculptor honourably mentioned in Vasari's Life of Andrea da Fiesole for his work at S. Lorenzo, in Genoa, and elsewhere. They show how highly the fame of having been in Michelangelo's employ was valued. He says that he is now working for Andrea Doria, Prince of Melfi, at Genoa. Still he should like to return, if this were possible, to his old master's service: "For if I lost all I had in the world, and found myself with you, I should think myself the first of men." A year later Silvio was still at work for Prince Doria and the Fieschi, but he again begs earnestly to be taken back by Michelangelo. "I feel what obligations I am under for all the kindness received from you in past times. When I remember the love you bore me while I was in your service, I do not know how I could repay it; and I tell you that only through having been in your service, wherever I may happen now to be, honour and courtesy are paid me; and that is wholly due to your excellent renown, and not to any merit of my own."

The only letter from Ascanio Condivi extant in the Buonarroti Archives may here be translated in full, since its tone does honour both to master and servant:—

"Unique lord and my most to be observed patron,—I have already written you two letters, but almost think you cannot have received them, since I have heard no news of you. This I write merely to beg that you will remember to command me, and to make use not of me alone, but of all my household, since we are all your servants. Indeed, my most honoured and revered master, I entreat you deign to dispose of me and do with me as one is wont to do with the least of servants. You have the right to do so, since I owe more to you than to my own father, and I will prove my desire to repay your kindness by my deeds. I will now end this letter, in order not to be irksome, recommending myself humbly, and praying you to let me have the comfort of knowing that you are well: for a greater I could not receive. Farewell."

It cannot be denied that Michelangelo sometimes treated his pupils and servants with the same irritability, suspicion, and waywardness of temper as he showed to his relatives and friends. It is only necessary to recall his indignation against Lapo and Lodovico at Bologna, Stefano at Florence, Sandro at Serravalle, all his female drudges, and the anonymous boy whom his father sent from Rome. That he was a man "gey ill to live with" seems indisputable. This may in part account for the fact that, unlike other great Italian masters, he formed no school. The frescanti who came from Florence to assist him in the Sistine Chapel were dismissed with abruptness, perhaps even with brutality. Montelupo and Montorsoli, among sculptors, Marcello Venusti and Pontormo, Daniele da Volterra and Sebastiano del Piombo, among painters, felt his direct influence. But they did not stand in the same relation to him as Raffaello's pupils to their master. The work of Giulio Romano, Giovanni da Udine, Francesco Penni, Perino del Vaga, Primaticcio, at Rome, at Mantua, and elsewhere, is a genial continuation of Raffaello's spirit and manner after his decease. Nothing of the sort can be maintained about the statues and the paintings which display a study of the style of Michelangelo. And this holds good in like manner of his imitators in architecture. For worse rather than for better, he powerfully and permanently affected Italian art; but he did not create a body of intelligent craftsmen, capable of carrying on his inspiration, as Giulio Romano expanded the Loggie of the Vatican into the Palazzo del Te. I have already expressed my opinions regarding the specific quality of the Michelangelo tradition in a passage which I may perhaps be here permitted to resume:—

"Michelangelo formed no school in the strict sense of the word; yet his influence was not the less felt on that account, nor less powerful than Raffaello's. During his manhood a few painters endeavoured to add the charm of oil-colouring to his designs, and long before his death the seduction of his mighty mannerism began to exercise a fatal charm for all the schools of Italy. Painters incapable of fathoming his intention, unsympathetic to his rare type of intellect, and gifted with less than a tithe of his native force, set themselves to reproduce whatever may be justly censured in his works. To heighten and enlarge their style was reckoned a chief duty of aspiring craftsmen, and it was thought that recipes for attaining to this final perfection of the modern arts might be extracted without trouble from Michelangelo's masterpieces. Unluckily, in proportion as his fame increased, his peculiarities became with the advance of age more manneristic and defined, so that his imitators fixed precisely upon that which sober critics now regard as a deduction from his greatness. They failed to perceive that he owed his grandeur to his personality, and that the audacities which fascinated them became mere whimsical extravagances when severed from his terribilita and sombre simplicity of impassioned thought. His power and his spirit were alike unique and incommunicable, while the admiration of his youthful worshippers betrayed them into imitating the externals of a style that was rapidly losing spontaneity. Therefore they fancied they were treading in his footsteps and using the grand manner when they covered church-roofs and canvases with sprawling figures in distorted attitudes. Instead of studying nature, they studied Michelangelo's cartoons, exaggerating by their unintelligent discipleship his willfulness and arbitrary choice of form.

"Vasari's and Cellini's criticisms of a master they both honestly revered may suffice to illustrate the false method adopted by these mimics of Michelangelo's ideal. To charge him with faults proceeding from the weakness and blindness of the Decadence—the faults of men too blind to read his art aright, too weak to stand on their own feet without him—would be either stupid or malicious. If at the close of the sixteenth century the mannerists sought to startle and entrance the world by empty exhibitions of muscular anatomy misunderstood, and by a braggadocio display of meaningless effects—crowding their compositions with studies from the nude, and painting agitated groups without a discernible cause for agitation—the crime surely lay with the patrons who liked such decoration, and with the journeymen who provided it. Michelangelo himself always made his manner serve his thought. We may fail to appreciate his manner and may be incapable of comprehending his thought, but only insincere or conceited critics will venture to gauge the latter by what they feel to be displeasing in the former. What seems lawless in him follows the law of a profound and peculiar genius, with which, whether we like it or not, we must reckon. His imitators were devoid of thought, and too indifferent to question whether there was any law to be obeyed. Like the jackass in the fable, they assumed the dead lion's skin, and brayed beneath it, thinking they could roar."


Continuing these scattered observations upon Michelangelo's character and habits, we may collect what Vasari records about his social intercourse with brother-artists. Being himself of a saturnine humour, he took great delight in the society of persons little better than buffoons. Writing the Life of Jacopo surnamed L'Indaco, a Florentine painter of some merit, Vasari observes: "He lived on very familiar terms of intimacy with Michelangelo; for that great artist, great above all who ever were, when he wished to refresh his mind, fatigued by studies and incessant labours of the body and the intellect, found no one more to his liking and more congenial to his humour than was Indaco." Nothing is recorded concerning their friendship, except that Buonarroti frequently invited Indaco to meals; and one day, growing tired of the man's incessant chatter, sent him out to buy figs, and then locked the house-door, so that he could not enter when he had discharged his errand. A boon-companion of the same type was Menighella, whom Vasari describes as "a mediocre and stupid painter of Valdarno, but extremely amusing." He used to frequent Michelangelo's house, "and he, who could with difficulty be induced to work for kings, would lay aside all other occupations in order to make drawings for this fellow." What Menighella wanted was some simple design or other of S. Rocco, S. Antonio, or S. Francesco, to be coloured for one of his peasant patrons. Vasari says that Michelangelo modelled a very beautiful Christ for this humble friend, from which Menighella made a cast, and repeated it in papier-mache, selling these crucifixes through the country-side. What would not the world give for one of them, even though Michelangelo is said to have burst his sides with laughing at the man's stupidity! Another familiar of the same sort was a certain stone-cutter called Domenico Fancelli, and nicknamed Topolino. From a letter addressed to him by Buonarroti in 1523 it appears that he was regarded as a "very dear friend." According to Vasari, Topolino thought himself an able sculptor, but was in reality extremely feeble. He blocked out a marble Mercury, and begged the great master to pronounce a candid opinion on its merits. "You are a madman, Topolino," replied Michelangelo, "to attempt this art of statuary. Do you not see that your Mercury is too short by more than a third of a cubit from the knees to the feet? You have made him a dwarf, and spoiled the whole figure." "Oh, that is nothing! If there is no other fault, I can easily put that to rights. Leave the matter to me." Michelangelo laughed at the man's simplicity, and went upon his way. Then Topolino took a piece of marble, and cut off the legs of his Mercury below the knees. Next he fashioned a pair of buskins of the right height, and joined these on to the truncated limbs in such wise that the tops of the boots concealed the lines of juncture. When Buonarroti saw the finished statue, he remarked that fools were gifted with the instinct for rectifying errors by expedients which a wise man would not have hit upon.

Another of Michelangelo's buffoon friends was a Florentine celebrity, Piloto, the goldsmith. We know that he took this man with him when he went to Venice in 1530; but Vasari tells no characteristic stories concerning their friendship. It may be remarked that Il Lasca describes Piloto as a "most entertaining and facetious fellow," assigning him the principal part in one of his indecent novels. The painter Giuliano Bugiardini ought to be added to the same list. Messer Ottaviano de' Medici begged him to make a portrait of Michelangelo, who gave him a sitting without hesitation, being extremely partial to the man's company. At the end of two hours Giuliano exclaimed: "Michelangelo, if you want to see yourself, stand up; I have caught the likeness." Michelangelo did as he was bidden, and when he had examined the portrait, he laughed and said: "What the devil have you been about? You have painted me with one of my eyes up in the temple." Giuliano stood some time comparing the drawing with his model's face, and then remarked: "I do not think so; but take your seat again, and I shall be able to judge better when I have you in the proper pose." Michelangelo, who knew well where the fault lay, and how little judgment belonged to his friend Bugiardini, resumed his seat, grinning. After some time of careful contemplation, Giuliano rose to his feet and cried: "It seems to me that I have drawn it right, and that the life compels me to do so." "So then," replied Buonarroti, "the defect is nature's, and see you spare neither the brush nor art."

Both Sebastiano del Piombo and Giorgio Vasari were appreciated by Michelangelo for their lively parts and genial humour. The latter has told an anecdote which illustrates the old man's eccentricity. He was wont to wear a cardboard hat at night, into which he stuck a candle, and then worked by its light upon his statue of the Pieta. Vasari observing this habit, wished to do him a kindness by sending him 40 lbs. of candles made of goat's fat, knowing that they gutter less than ordinary dips of tallow. His servant carried them politely to the house two hours after nightfall, and presented them to Michelangelo. He refused, and said he did not want them. The man answered, "Sir, they have almost broken my arms carrying them all this long way from the bridge, nor will I take them home again. There is a heap of mud opposite your door, thick and firm enough to hold them upright. Here then will I set them all up, and light them." When Michelangelo heard this, he gave way: "Lay them down; I do not mean you to play pranks at my house-door." Varsari tells another anecdote about the Pieta. Pope Julius III. sent him late one evening to Michelangelo's house for some drawing. The old man came down with a lantern, and hearing what was wanted, told Urbino to look for the cartoon. Meanwhile, Vasari turned his attention to one of the legs of Christ, which Michelangelo had been trying to alter. In order to prevent his seeing, Michelangelo let the lamp fall, and they remained in darkness. He then called for a light, and stepped forth from the enclosure of planks behind which he worked. As he did so, he remarked, "I am so old that Death oftentimes plucks me by the cape to go with him, and one day this body of mine will fall like the lantern, and the light of life will be put out." Of death he used to say, that "if life gives us pleasure, we ought not to expect displeasure from death, seeing as it is made by the hand of the same master."

Among stories relating to craftsmen, these are perhaps worth gleaning. While he was working on the termini for the tomb of Julius, he gave directions to a certain stone-cutter: "Remove such and such parts here to-day, smooth out in this place, and polish up in that." In the course of time, without being aware of it, the man found that he had produced a statue, and stared astonished at his own performance. Michelangelo asked, "What do you think of it?" "I think it very good," he answered, "and I owe you a deep debt of gratitude." "Why do you say that?" "Because you have caused me to discover in myself a talent which I did not know that I possessed."—A certain citizen, who wanted a mortar, went to a sculptor and asked him to make one. The fellow, suspecting some practical joke, pointed out Buonarroti's house, and said that if he wanted mortars, a man lived there whose trade it was to make them. The customer accordingly addressed himself to Michelangelo, who, in his turn suspecting a trick, asked who had sent him. When he knew the sculptor's name, he promised to carve the mortar, on the condition that it should be paid for at the sculptor's valuation. This was settled, and the mortar turned out a miracle of arabesques and masks and grotesque inventions, wonderfully wrought and polished. In due course of time the mortar was taken to the envious and suspicious sculptor, who stood dumbfounded before it, and told the customer that there was nothing left but to carry this masterpiece of carving back to him who fashioned it, and order a plain article for himself.—At Modena he inspected the terra-cotta groups by Antonio Begarelli, enthusiastically crying out, "If this clay could become marble, woe to antique statuary."—A Florentine citizen once saw him gazing at Donatello's statue of S. Mark upon the outer wall of Orsanmichele. On being asked what he thought of it, Michelangelo replied, "I never saw a figure which so thoroughly represents a man of probity; if S. Mark was really like that, we have every reason to believe everything which he has said." To the S. George in the same place he is reported to have given the word of command, "March!"—Some one showed him a set of medals by Alessandro Cesari, upon which he exclaimed, "The death hour of art has struck; nothing more perfect can be seen than these."—Before Titian's portrait of Duke Alfonso di Ferrara he observed that he had not thought art could perform so much, adding that Titian alone deserved the name of painter.—He was wont to call Cronaca's church of S. Francesco al Monte "his lovely peasant girl," and Ghiberti's doors in the Florentine Baptistery "the Gates of Paradise."—Somebody showed him a boy's drawings, and excused their imperfection by pleading that he had only just begun to study: "That is obvious," he answered. A similar reply is said to have been made to Vasari, when he excused his own frescoes in the Cancelleria at Rome by saying they had been painted in a few days.—An artist showed him a Pieta which he had finished: "Yes, it is indeed a pieta (pitiful object) to see."—Ugo da Carpi signed one of his pictures with a legend declaring he had not used a brush on it: "It would have been better had he done so."—Sebastiano del Piombo was ordered to paint a friar in a chapel at S. Pietro a Montorio. Michelangelo observed, "He will spoil the chapel." Asked why, he answered, "When the friars have spoiled the world, which is so large, it surely is an easy thing for them to spoil such a tiny chapel."—A sculptor put together a number of figures imitated from the antique, and thought he had surpassed his models. Michelangelo remarked, "One who walks after another man, never goes in front of him; and one who is not able to do well by his own wit, will not be able to profit by the works of others."—A painter produced some notably poor picture, in which only an ox was vigorously drawn: "Every artist draws his own portrait best," said Michelangelo.—He went to see a statue which was in the sculptor's studio, waiting to be exposed before the public. The man bustled about altering the lights, in order to show his work off to the best advantage: "Do not take this trouble; what really matters will be the light of the piazza;" meaning that the people in the long-run decide what is good or bad in art.—Accused of want of spirit in his rivalry with Nanni di Baccio Bigio, he retorted, "Men who fight with folk of little worth win nothing."—A priest who was a friend of his said, "It is a pity that you never married, for you might have had many children, and would have left them all the profit and honour of your labours." Michelangelo answered, "I have only too much of a wife in this art of mine. She has always kept me struggling on. My children will be the works I leave behind me. Even though they are worth naught, yet I shall live awhile in them. Woe to Lorenzo Ghiberti if he had not made the gates of S. Giovanni! His children and grandchildren have sold and squandered the substance that he left. The gates are still in their places."


This would be an appropriate place to estimate Michelangelo's professional gains in detail, to describe the properties he acquired in lands and houses, and to give an account of his total fortune. We are, however, not in the position to do this accurately. We only know the prices paid for a few of his minor works. He received, for instance, thirty ducats for the Sleeping Cupid, and 450 ducats for the Pieta of S. Peter's. He contracted with Cardinal Piccolomini to furnish fifteen statues for 500 ducats. In all of these cases the costs of marble, workmen, workshop, fell on him. He contracted with Florence to execute the David in two years, at a salary of six golden florins per month, together with a further sum when the work was finished. It appears that 400 florins in all (including salary) were finally adjudged to him. In these cases all incidental expenses had been paid by his employers. He contracted with the Operai del Duomo to make twelve statues in as many years, receiving two florins a month, and as much as the Operai thought fit to pay him when the whole was done. Here too he was relieved from incidental expenses. For the statue of Christ at S. Maria sopra Minerva he was paid 200 crowns.

These are a few of the most trustworthy items we possess, and they are rendered very worthless by the impossibility of reducing ducats, florins, and crowns to current values. With regard to the bronze statue of Julius II. at Bologna, Michelangelo tells us that he received in advance 1000 ducats, and when he ended his work there remained only 4-1/2 ducats to the good. In this case, as in most of his great operations, he entered at the commencement into a contract with his patron, sending in an estimate of what he thought it would be worth his while to do the work for. The Italian is "pigliare a cottimo;" and in all of his dealings with successive Popes Michelangelo evidently preferred this method. It must have sometimes enabled the artist to make large profits; but the nature of the contract prevents his biographer from forming even a vague estimate of their amount. According to Condivi, he received 3000 ducats for the Sistine vault, working at his own costs. According to his own statement, several hundred ducats were owing at the end of the affair. It seems certain that Julius II. died in Michelangelo's debt, and that the various contracts for his tomb were a source of loss rather than of gain.

Such large undertakings as the sacristy and library of S. Lorenzo were probably agreed for on the contract system. But although there exist plenty of memoranda recording Michelangelo's disbursements at various times for various portions of these works, we can strike no balance showing an approximate calculation of his profits. What renders the matter still more perplexing is, that very few of Michelangelo's contracts were fulfilled according to the original intention of the parties. For one reason or another they had to be altered and accommodated to circumstances.

It is clear that, later on in life, he received money for drawings, for architectural work, and for models, the execution of which he bound himself to superintend. Cardinal Grimani wrote saying he would pay the artist's own price for a design he had requested. Vasari observes that the sketches he gave away were worth thousands of crowns. We know that he was offered a handsome salary for the superintendence of S. Peter's, which he magnanimously and piously declined to touch. But what we cannot arrive at is even a rough valuation of the sums he earned in these branches of employment.

Again, we know that he was promised a yearly salary from Clement VII., and one more handsome from Paul III. But the former was paid irregularly, and half of the latter depended on the profits of a ferry, which eventually failed him altogether. In each of these cases, then, the same circumstances of vagueness and uncertainty throw doubt on all investigation, and render a conjectural estimate impossible. Moreover, there remain no documents to prove what he may have gained, directly or indirectly, from succeeding Pontiffs. That he felt the loss of Paul III., as a generous patron, is proved by a letter written on the occasion of his death; and Vasari hints that the Pope had been munificent in largesses bestowed upon him. But of these occasional presents and emoluments we have no accurate information; and we are unable to state what he derived from Pius IV., who was certainly one of his best friends and greatest admirers.

At his death in Rome he left cash amounting to something under 9000 crowns. But, since he died intestate, we have no will to guide us as to the extent and nature of his whole estate. Nor, so far as I am aware, has the return of his property, which Lionardo Buonarroti may possibly have furnished to the state of Florence, been yet brought to light.

That he inherited some landed property at Settignano from his father is certain; and he added several plots of ground to the paternal acres. He also is said to have bought a farm in Valdichiana (doubtful), and other pieces of land in Tuscany. He owned a house at Rome, a house and workshop in the Via Mozza at Florence, and he purchased the Casa Buonarroti in Via Ghibellina. But we have no means of determining the total value of these real assets.

In these circumstances I feel unable to offer any probable opinion regarding the amount of Michelangelo's professional earnings, or the exact way in which they were acquired. That he died possessed of a considerable fortune, and that he was able during his lifetime to assist his family with large donations, cannot be disputed. But how he came to command so much money does not appear. His frugality, bordering upon penuriousness, impressed contemporaries. This, considering the length of his life, may account for not contemptible accumulations.


We have seen that Michelangelo's contemporaries found fault with several supposed frailties of his nature. These may be briefly catalogued under the following heads: A passionate violence of temper (terribilita), expressing itself in hasty acts and words; extreme suspiciousness and irritability; solitary habits, amounting to misanthropy or churlishness; eccentricity and melancholy bordering on madness; personal timidity and avarice; a want of generosity in imparting knowledge, and an undue partiality for handsome persons of his own sex. His biographers, Condivi and Vasari, thought these charges worthy of serious refutation, which proves that they were current. They had no difficulty in showing that his alleged misanthropy, melancholy, and madness were only signs of a studious nature absorbed in profound meditations. They easily refuted the charges of avarice and want of generosity in helping on young artists. But there remained a great deal in the popular conception which could not be dismissed, and which has recently been corroborated by the publication of his correspondence. The opinion that Michelangelo was a man of peculiar, and in some respects not altogether healthy nervous temperament, will force itself upon all those who have fairly weighed the evidence of the letters in connection with the events of his life. It has been developed in a somewhat exaggerated form, of late years, by several psychologists of the new school (Parlagreco and Lombroso in Italy, Nisbet in England), who attempt to prove that Michelangelo was the subject of neurotic disorder. The most important and serious essay in this direction is a little book of great interest and almost hypercritical acumen published recently at Naples. Signor Parlagreco lays great stress upon Michelangelo's insensibility to women, his "strange and contradictory feeling about feminine beauty." He seeks to show, what is indeed, I think, capable of demonstration, that the man's intense devotion to art and study, his solitary habits and constitutional melancholy, caused him to absorb the ordinary instincts and passions of a young man into his aesthetic temperament; and that when, in later life, he began to devote his attention to poetry, he treated love from the point of view of mystical philosophy. In support of this argument Parlagreco naturally insists upon the famous friendship with Vittoria Colonna, and quotes the Platonising poems commonly attributed to this emotion. He has omitted to mention, what certainly bears upon the point of Michelangelo's frigidity, that only one out of the five Buonarroti brothers, sons of Lodovico, married. Nor does he take into account the fact that Raffaello da Urbino, who was no less devoted and industrious in art and study, retained the liveliest sensibility to female charms. In other words, the critic appears to neglect that common-sense solution of the problem, which is found in a cold and physically sterile constitution as opposed to one of greater warmth and sensuous activity.

Parlagreco attributes much value to what he calls the religious terrors and remorse of Michelangelo's old age; says that "his fancy became haunted with doubts and fears; every day discovering fresh sins in the past, inveighing against the very art which made him famous among men, and seeking to propitiate Paradise for his soul by acts of charity to dowerless maidens." The sonnets to Vasari and some others are quoted in support of this view. But the question remains, whether it is not exaggerated to regard pious aspirations, and a sense of human life's inadequacy at its close, as the signs of nervous malady. The following passage sums up Parlagreco's theory in a succession of pregnant sentences. "An accurate study, based upon his correspondence in connection with the events of the artist's life and the history of his works, has enabled me to detect in his character a persistent oscillation. Continual contradictions between great and generous ideas upon the one side, and puerile ideas upon the other; between the will and the word, thought and action; an excessive irritability and the highest degree of susceptibility; constant love for others, great activity in doing good, sudden sympathies, great outbursts of enthusiasm, great fears; at times an unconsciousness with respect to his own actions; a marvellous modesty in the field of art, an unreasonable vanity regarding external appearances:—these are the diverse manifestations of psychical energy in Buonarroti's life; all which makes me believe that the mighty artist was affected by a degree of neuropathy bordering closely upon hysterical disease." He proceeds to support this general view by several considerations, among which the most remarkable are Michelangelo's asseverations to friends: "You will say that I am old and mad to make sonnets, but if people assert that I am on the verge of dotage, I have wished to act up to my character:" "You will say that I am old and mad; but I answer that there is no better way of keeping sane and free from anxiety, than by being mad:" "As regards the madness they ascribe to me, it does harm to nobody but myself:" "I enjoyed last evening, because it drew me out of my melancholy and mad humour."

Reviewing Parlagreco's argument in general, I think it may be justly remarked that if the qualities rehearsed above constitute hysterical neuropathy, then every testy, sensitive, impulsive, and benevolent person is neuropathically hysterical. In particular we may demur to the terms "puerile ideas," "unreasonable vanity regarding external appearances." It would be difficult to discover puerility in any of Buonarroti's utterances; and his only vanity was a certain pride in the supposed descent of his house from that of Canossa. The frequent allusions to melancholy and madness do not constitute a confession of these qualities. They express Michelangelo's irritation at being always twitted with unsociability and eccentricity. In the conversations recorded by Francesco d'Olanda he quietly and philosophically exculpates men of the artistic temperament from such charges, which were undoubtedly brought against him, and which the recluse manner of his life to some extent accounted for.

It may be well here to resume the main points of the indictment brought against Michelangelo's sanity by the neo-psychologists. In the first place, he admired male more than female beauty, and preferred the society of men to that of women. But this peculiarity, in an age and climate which gave larger licence to immoderate passions, exposed him to no serious malignancy of rumour. Such predilections were not uncommon in Italy. They caused scandal when they degenerated into vice, and rarely failed in that case to obscure the good fame of persons subject to them. Yet Michelangelo, surrounded by jealous rivals, was only very lightly touched by the breath of calumny in his lifetime. Aretino's malicious insinuation and Condivi's cautious vindication do not suffice to sully his memory with any dark suspicion. He lived with an almost culpable penuriousness in what concerned his personal expenditure. But he was generous towards his family, bountiful to his dependants, and liberal in charity. He suffered from constitutional depression, preferred solitude to crowds, and could not brook the interference of fashionable idlers with his studious leisure. But, as he sensibly urged in self-defence, these eccentricities, so frequent with men of genius, ought to have been ascribed to the severe demands made upon an artist's faculties by the problems with which he was continually engaged; the planning of a Pope's mausoleum, the distribution of a score of histories and several hundreds of human figures on a chapel-vaulting, the raising of S. Peter's cupola in air: none of which tasks can be either lightly undertaken or carried out with ease. At worst, Michelangelo's melancholy might be ascribed to that morbus eruditorum of which Burton speaks. It never assumed the form of hypochondria, hallucination, misogyny, or misanthropy. He was irritable, suspicious, and frequently unjust both to his friends and relatives on slight occasions. But his relatives gave him good reason to be fretful by their greediness, ingratitude, and stupidity; and when he lost his temper he recovered it with singular ease. It is also noticeable that these paroxysms of crossness on which so much stress has been laid, came upon him mostly when he was old, worn out with perpetual mental and physical fatigue, and troubled by a painful disease of the bladder. There is nothing in their nature, frequency, or violence to justify the hypothesis of more than a hyper-sensitive nervous temperament; and without a temperament of this sort how could an artist of Michelangelo's calibre and intensity perform his life-work? In old age he dwelt upon the thought of death, meditated in a repentant spirit on the errors of his younger years, indulged a pious spirit, and clung to the cross of Christ. But when a man has passed the period allotted for the average of his race, ought not these preoccupations to be reckoned to him rather as appropriate and meritorious? We must not forget that he was born and lived as a believing Christian, in an age of immorality indeed, but one which had not yet been penetrated with scientific conceptions and materialism. There is nothing hysterical or unduly ascetic in the religion of his closing years. It did not prevent him from taking the keenest interest in his family, devoting his mind to business and the purchase of property, carrying on the Herculean labour of building the mother-church of Latin Christendom. He was subject, all through his career, to sudden panics, and suffered from a constitutional dread of assassination. We can only explain his flight from Rome, his escape from Florence, the anxiety he expressed about his own and his family's relations to the Medici, by supposing that his nerves were sensitive upon this point. But, considering the times in which he lived, the nature of the men around him, the despotic temper of the Medicean princes, was there anything morbid in this timidity? A student of Cellini's Memoirs, of Florentine history, and of the dark stories in which the private annals of the age abound, will be forced to admit that imaginative men of acute nervous susceptibility, who loved a quiet life and wished to keep their mental forces unimpaired for art and thought, were justified in feeling an habitual sense of uneasiness in Italy of the Renaissance period. Michelangelo's timidity, real as it was, did not prevent him from being bold upon occasion, speaking the truth to popes and princes, and making his personality respected. He was even accused of being too "terrible," too little of a courtier and time-server.

When the whole subject of Michelangelo's temperament has been calmly investigated, the truth seems to be that he did not possess a nervous temperament so evenly balanced as some phlegmatic men of average ability can boast of. But who could expect the creator of the Sistine, the sculptor of the Medicean tombs, the architect of the cupola, the writer of the sonnets, to be an absolutely normal individual? To identify genius with insanity is a pernicious paradox. To recognise that it cannot exist without some inequalities of nervous energy, some perturbations of nervous function, is reasonable. In other words, it is an axiom of physiology that the abnormal development of any organ or any faculty is balanced by some deficiency or abnormality elsewhere in the individual. This is only another way of saying that the man of genius is not a mediocre and ordinary personality: in other words, it is a truism, the statement of which appears superfluous. Rather ought we, in Michelangelo's case, to dwell upon the remarkable sobriety of his life, his sustained industry under very trying circumstances, his prolonged intellectual activity into extreme old age, the toughness of his constitution, and the elasticity of that nerve-fibre which continued to be sound and sane under the enormous and varied pressure put upon it over a period of seventy-five laborious years.

If we dared attempt a synthesis or reconstitution of this unique man's personality, upon the data furnished by his poems, letters, and occasional utterances, all of which have been set forth in their proper places in this work, I think we must construct him as a being gifted, above all his other qualities and talents, with a burning sense of abstract beauty and an eager desire to express this through several forms of art—design, sculpture, fresco-painting, architecture, poetry. The second point forced in upon our mind is that the same man vibrated acutely to the political agitation of his troubled age, to mental influences of various kinds, and finally to a persistent nervous susceptibility, which made him exquisitely sensitive to human charm. This quality rendered him irritable in his dealings with his fellow-men, like an instrument of music, finely strung, and jangled on a slight occasion. In the third place we discover that, while accepting the mental influences and submitting to the personal attractions I have indicated, he strove, by indulging solitary tastes, to maintain his central energies intact for art—joining in no rebellious conspiracies against the powers that be, bending his neck in silence to the storm, avoiding pastimes and social diversions which might have called into activity the latent sensuousness of his nature. For the same reason, partly by predilection, and partly by a deliberate wish to curb his irritable tendencies, he lived as much alone as possible, and poorly. At the close of his career, when he condescended to unburden his mind in verse and friendly dialogue, it is clear that he had formed the habit of recurring to religion for tranquillity, and of combating dominant desire by dwelling on the thought of inevitable death. Platonic speculations upon the eternal value of beauty displayed in mortal creatures helped him always in his warfare with the flesh and roving inclination. Self-control seems to have been the main object of his conscious striving, not for its own sake, but as the condition necessary to his highest spiritual activity. Self-coherence, self-concentration, not for any mean or self-indulgent end, but for the best attainment of his intellectual ideal, was what he sought for by the seclusion and the renunciations of a lifetime.

The total result of this singular attitude toward human life, which cannot be rightly described as either ascetic or mystical, but seems rather to have been based upon some self-preservative instinct, bidding him sacrifice lower and keener impulses to what he regarded as the higher and finer purpose of his being, is a certain clash and conflict of emotions, a certain sense of failure to attain the end proposed, which excuses, though I do not think it justifies, the psychologists, when they classify him among morbid subjects. Had he yielded at any period of his career to the ordinary customs of his easy-going age, he would have presented no problem to the scientific mind. After consuming the fuel of the passions, he might have subsided into common calm, or have blunted the edge of inspiration, or have finished in some phase of madness or ascetical repentance. Such are the common categories of extinct volcanic temperaments. But the essential point about Michelangelo is that he never burned out, and never lost his manly independence, in spite of numerous nervous disadvantages. That makes him the unparalleled personality he is, as now revealed to us by the impartial study of the documents at our disposal.


It is the plain duty of criticism in this age to search and probe the characters of world-important individuals under as many aspects as possible, neglecting no analytical methods, shrinking from no tests, omitting no slight details or faint shadows that may help to round a picture. Yet, after all our labour, we are bound to confess that the man himself eludes our insight. "The abysmal deeps of personality" have never yet been sounded by mere human plummets. The most that microscope and scalpel can perform is to lay bare tissue and direct attention to peculiarities of structure. In the long-run we find that the current opinion formed by successive generations remains true in its grand outlines. That large collective portrait of the hero, slowly emerging from sympathies and censures, from judgments and panegyrics, seems dim indeed and visionary, when compared with some sharply indented description by a brilliant literary craftsman. It has the vagueness of a photograph produced by superimposing many negatives of the same face one upon the other. It lacks the pungent piquancy of an etching. Yet this is what we must abide by; for this is spiritually and generically veracious.

At the end, then, a sound critic returns to think of Michelangelo, not as Parlagreco and Lombroso show him, nor even as the minute examination of letters and of poems proves him to have been, but as tradition and the total tenor of his life display him to our admiration. Incalculable, incomprehensible, incommensurable: yes, all souls, the least and greatest, attack them as we will, are that. But definite in solitary sublimity, like a supreme mountain seen from a vast distance, soaring over shadowy hills and misty plains into the clear ether of immortal fame.

Viewed thus, he lives for ever as the type and symbol of a man, much-suffering, continually labouring, gifted with keen but rarely indulged passions, whose energies from boyhood to extreme old age were dedicated with unswerving purpose to the service of one master, plastic art. On his death-bed he may have felt, like Browning, in that sweetest of his poems, "other heights in other lives, God willing." But, for this earthly pilgrimage, he was contented to leave the ensample of a noble nature made perfect and completed in itself by addiction to one commanding impulse. We cannot cite another hero of the modern world who more fully and with greater intensity realised the main end of human life, which is self-effectuation, self-realisation, self-manifestation in one of the many lines of labour to which men may be called and chosen. Had we more of such individualities, the symphony of civilisation would be infinitely glorious; for nothing is more certain than that God and the world cannot be better served than by each specific self pushing forward to its own perfection, sacrificing the superfluous or hindering elements in its structure, regardless of side issues and collateral considerations.

Michelangelo, then, as Carlyle might have put it, is the Hero as Artist. When we have admitted this, all dregs and sediments of the analytical alembic sink to the bottom, leaving a clear crystalline elixir of the spirit. About the quality of his genius opinions may, will, and ought to differ. It is so pronounced, so peculiar, so repulsive to one man, so attractive to another, that, like his own dread statue of Lorenzo de' Medici, "it fascinates and is intolerable." There are few, I take it, who can feel at home with him in all the length and breadth and dark depths of the regions that he traversed. The world of thoughts and forms in which he lived habitually is too arid, like an extinct planet, tenanted by mighty elemental beings with little human left to them but visionary Titan-shapes, too vast and void for common minds to dwell in pleasurably. The sweetness that emerges from his strength, the beauty which blooms rarely, strangely, in unhomely wise, upon the awful crowd of his conceptions, are only to be apprehended by some innate sympathy or by long incubation of the brooding intellect. It is probable, therefore, that the deathless artist through long centuries of glory will abide as solitary as the simple old man did in his poor house at Rome. But no one, not the dullest, not the weakest, not the laziest and lustfullest, not the most indifferent to ideas or the most tolerant of platitudes and paradoxes, can pass him by without being arrested, quickened, stung, purged, stirred to uneasy self-examination by so strange a personality expressed in prophecies of art so pungent.


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