The Life of Michelangelo Buonarroti
by John Addington Symonds
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Michelangelo's fourth manner might be compared with that of Milton in "Paradise Regained" and "Samson Agonistes." Both of these great artists in old age exaggerate the defects of their qualities. Michelangelo's ideal of line and proportion in the human form becomes stereotyped and strained, as do Milton's rhythms and his Latinisms. The generous wine of the Bacchus and of "Comus," so intoxicating in its newness, the same wine in the Sistine and "Paradise Lost," so overwhelming in its mature strength, has acquired an austere aridity. Yet, strange to say, amid these autumn stubbles of declining genius we light upon oases more sweet, more tenderly suggestive, than aught the prime produced. It is not my business to speak of Milton here. I need not recall his "Knights of Logres and of Lyonesse," or resume his Euripidean garlands showered on Samson's grave. But, for my master Michelangelo, it will suffice to observe that all the grace his genius held, refined, of earthly grossness quit, appeared, under the dominance of this fourth manner, in the mythological subjects he composed for Tommaso Cavalieri, and, far more nobly, in his countless studies for the celebration of Christ's Passion. The designs bequeathed to us from this period are very numerous. They were never employed in the production of any monumental work of sculpture or of painting. For this very reason, because they were occasional improvisations, preludes, dreams of things to be, they preserve the finest bloom, the Indian summer of his fancy. Lovers of Michelangelo must dedicate their latest and most loving studies to this phase of his fourth manner.


If we seek to penetrate the genius of an artist, not merely forming a correct estimate of his technical ability and science, but also probing his personality to the core, as near as this is possible for us to do, we ought to give our undivided study to his drawings. It is there, and there alone, that we come face to face with the real man, in his unguarded moments, in his hours of inspiration, in the laborious effort to solve a problem of composition, or in the happy flow of genial improvisation. Michelangelo was wont to maintain that all the arts are included in the art of design. Sculpture, painting, architecture, he said, are but subordinate branches of draughtsmanship. And he went so far as to assert that the mechanical arts, with engineering and fortification, nay, even the minor arts of decoration and costume, owe their existence to design. The more we reflect upon this apparent paradox, the more shall we feel it to be true. At any rate, there are no products of human thought and feeling capable of being expressed by form which do not find their common denominator in a linear drawing. The simplicity of a sketch, the comparative rapidity with which it is produced, the concentration of meaning demanded by its rigid economy of means, render it more symbolical, more like the hieroglyph of its maker's mind, than any finished work can be. We may discover a greater mass of interesting objects in a painted picture or a carved statue; but we shall never find exactly the same thing, never the involuntary revelation of the artist's soul, the irrefutable witness to his mental and moral qualities, to the mysteries of his genius and to its limitations.

If this be true of all artists, it is in a peculiar sense true of Michelangelo. Great as he was as sculptor, painter, architect, he was only perfect and impeccable as draughtsman. Inadequate realisation, unequal execution, fatigue, satiety, caprice of mood, may sometimes be detected in his frescoes and his statues; but in design we never find him faulty, hasty, less than absolute master over the selected realm of thought. His most interesting and instructive work remains what he performed with pen and chalk in hand. Deeply, therefore, must we regret the false modesty which made him destroy masses of his drawings, while we have reason to be thankful for those marvellous photographic processes which nowadays have placed the choicest of his masterpieces within the reach of every one.

The following passages from Vasari's and Condivi's Lives deserve attention by those who approach the study of Buonarroti's drawings. Vasari says: "His powers of imagination were such, that he was frequently compelled to abandon his purpose, because he could not express by the hand those grand and sublime ideas which he had conceived in his mind; nay, he has spoiled and destroyed many works for this cause; and I know, too, that some short time before his death he burnt a large number of his designs, sketches, and cartoons, that none might see the labours he had endured, and the trials to which he had subjected his spirit, in his resolve not to fall short of perfection. I have myself secured some drawings by his hand, which were found in Florence, and are now in my book of designs, and these, although they give evidence of his great genius, yet prove also that the hammer of Vulcan was necessary to bring Minerva from the head of Jupiter. He would construct an ideal shape out of nine, ten and even twelve different heads, for no other purpose than to obtain a certain grace of harmony and composition which is not to be found in the natural form, and would say that the artist must have his measuring tools, not in the hand, but in the eye, because the hands do but operate, it is the eye that judges; he pursued the same idea in architecture also." Condivi adds some information regarding his extraordinary fecundity and variety of invention: "He was gifted with a most tenacious memory, the power of which was such that, though he painted so many thousands of figures, as any one can see, he never made one exactly like another or posed in the same attitude. Indeed, I have heard him say that he never draws a line without remembering whether he has drawn it before; erasing any repetition, when the design was meant to be exposed to public view. His force of imagination is also most extraordinary. This has been the chief reason why he was never quite satisfied with his own work, and always depreciated its quality, esteeming that his hand failed to attain the idea which he had formed within his brain."


The four greatest draughtsmen of this epoch were Lionardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raffaello, and Andrea del Sarto. They are not to be reckoned as equals; for Lionardo and Michelangelo outstrip the other two almost as much as these surpass all lesser craftsmen. Each of the four men expressed his own peculiar vision of the world with pen, or chalk, or metal point, finding the unique inevitable line, the exact touch and quality of stroke, which should present at once a lively transcript from real Nature, and a revelation of the artist's particular way of feeling Nature. In Lionardo it is a line of subtlety and infinite suggestiveness; in Michelangelo it compels attention, and forcibly defines the essence of the object; in Raffaello it carries melody, the charm of an unerring rhythm; in Andrea it seems to call for tone, colour, atmosphere, and makes their presence felt. Raffaello was often faulty: even in the wonderful pen-drawing of two nudes he sent to Albrecht Duerer as a sample of his skill, we blame the knees and ankles of his models. Lionardo was sometimes wilful, whimsical, seduced by dreamland, like a god born amateur. Andrea allowed his facility to lead him into languor, and lacked passion. Michelangelo's work shows none of these shortcomings; it is always technically faultness, instinct with passion, supereminent in force. But we crave more of grace, of sensuous delight, of sweetness, than he chose, or perhaps was able, to communicate. We should welcome a little more of human weakness if he gave a little more of divine suavity.

Michelangelo's style of design is that of a sculptor, Andrea's of a colourist, Lionardo's of a curious student, Raffaello's of a musician and improvisatore. These distinctions are not merely fanciful, nor based on what we know about the men in their careers. We feel similar distinctions in the case of all great draughtsmen. Titian's chalk-studies, Fra Bartolommeo's, so singularly akin to Andrea del Sarto's, Giorgione's pen-and-ink sketch for a Lucretia, are seen at once by their richness and blurred outlines to be the work of colourists. Signorelli's transcripts from the nude, remarkably similar to those of Michelangelo, reveal a sculptor rather than a painter. Botticelli, with all his Florentine precision, shows that, like Lionardo, he was a seeker and a visionary in his anxious feeling after curve and attitude. Mantegna seems to be graving steel or cutting into marble. It is easy to apply this analysis in succession to any draughtsman who has style. To do so would, however, be superfluous: we should only be enforcing what is a truism to all intelligent students of art—namely, that each individual stamps his own specific quality upon his handiwork; reveals even in the neutral region of design his innate preference for colour or pure form as a channel of expression; betrays the predominance of mental energy or sensuous charm, of scientific curiosity or plastic force, of passion or of tenderness, which controls his nature. This inevitable and unconscious revelation of the man in art-work strikes us as being singularly modern. We do not apprehend it to at all the same extent in the sculpture of the ancients, whether it be that our sympathies are too remote from Greek and Roman ways of feeling, or whether the ancients really conceived art more collectively in masses, less individually as persons.

No master exhibits this peculiarly modern quality more decisively than Michelangelo, and nowhere is the personality of his genius, what marks him off and separates him from all fellow-men, displayed with fuller emphasis than in his drawings. To use the words of a penetrative critic, from whom it is a pleasure to quote: "The thing about Michelangelo is this; he is not, so to say, at the head of a class, but he stands apart by himself: he is not possessed of a skill which renders him unapproached or unapproachable; but rather, he is of so unique an order, that no other artist whatever seems to suggest comparison with him." Mr. Selwyn Image goes on to define in what a true sense the words "creator" and "creative" may be applied to him: how the shows and appearances of the world were for him but hieroglyphs of underlying ideas, with which his soul was familiar, and from which he worked again outward; "his learning and skill in the arts supplying to his hand such large and adequate symbols of them as are otherwise beyond attainment." This, in a very difficult and impalpable region of aesthetic criticism, is finely said, and accords with Michelangelo's own utterances upon art and beauty in his poems. Dwelling like a star apart, communing with the eternal ideas, the permanent relations of the universe, uttering his inmost thoughts about these mysteries through the vehicles of science and of art, for which he was so singularly gifted, Michelangelo, in no loose or trivial sense of that phrase, proved himself to be a creator. He introduces us to a world seen by no eyes except his own, compels us to become familiar with forms unapprehended by our senses, accustoms us to breathe a rarer and more fiery atmosphere than we were born into.

The vehicles used by Michelangelo in his designs were mostly pen and chalk. He employed both a sharp-nibbed pen of some kind, and a broad flexible reed, according to the exigencies of his subject or the temper of his mood. The chalk was either red or black, the former being softer than the latter. I cannot remember any instances of those chiaroscuro washes which Raffaello handled in so masterly a manner, although Michelangelo frequently combined bistre shading with pen outlines. In like manner he does not seem to have favoured the metal point upon prepared paper, with which Lionardo produced unrivalled masterpieces. Some drawings, where the yellow outline bites into a parchment paper, blistering at the edges, suggest a rusty metal in the instrument. We must remember, however, that the inks of that period were frequently corrosive, as is proved by the state of many documents now made illegible through the gradual attrition of the paper by mineral acids. It is also not impossible that artists may have already invented what we call steel pens. Sarpi, in the seventeenth century, thanks a correspondent for the gift of one of these mechanical devices. Speaking broadly, the reed and the quill, red and black chalk, or matita, were the vehicles of Michelangelo's expression as a draughtsman. I have seen very few examples of studies heightened with white chalk, and none produced in the fine Florentine style of Ghirlandajo by white chalk alone upon a dead-brown surface. In this matter it is needful to speak with diffidence; for the sketches of our master are so widely scattered that few students can have examined the whole of them; and photographic reproductions, however admirable in their fidelity to outline, do not always give decisive evidence regarding the materials employed.

One thing seems manifest. Michelangelo avoided those mixed methods with which Lionardo, the magician, wrought wonders. He preferred an instrument which could be freely, broadly handled, inscribing form in strong plain strokes upon the candid paper. The result attained, whether wrought by bold lines, or subtly hatched, or finished with the utmost delicacy of modulated shading, has always been traced out conscientiously and firmly, with one pointed stylus (pen, chalk, or matita), chosen for the purpose. As I have said, it is the work of a sculptor, accustomed to wield chisel and mallet upon marble, rather than that of a painter, trained to secure effects by shadows and glazings.

It is possible, I think, to define, at least with some approximation to precision, Michelangelo's employment of his favourite vehicles for several purposes and at different periods of his life. A broad-nibbed pen was used almost invariably in making architectural designs of cornices, pilasters, windows, also in plans for military engineering. Sketches of tombs and edifices, intended to be shown to patrons, were partly finished with the pen; and here we find a subordinate and very limited use of the brush in shading. Such performances may be regarded as products of the workshop rather than as examples of the artist's mastery. The style of them is often conventional, suggesting the intrusion of a pupil or the deliberate adoption of an office mannerism. The pen plays a foremost part in all the greatest and most genial creations of his fancy when it worked energetically in preparation for sculpture or for fresco. The Louvre is rich in masterpieces of this kind—the fiery study of a David; the heroic figures of two male nudes, hatched into stubborn salience like pieces of carved wood; the broad conception of the Madonna at S. Lorenzo in her magnificent repose and passionate cascade of fallen draperies; the repulsive but superabundantly powerful profile of a goat-like faun. These, and the stupendous studies of the Albertina Collection at Vienna, including the supine man with thorax violently raised, are worked with careful hatchings, stroke upon stroke, effecting a suggestion of plastic roundness. But we discover quite a different use of the pen in some large simple outlines of seated female figures at the Louvre; in thick, almost muddy, studies at Vienna, where the form emerges out of oft-repeated sodden blotches; in the grim light and shade, the rapid suggestiveness of the dissection scene at Oxford. The pen in the hand of Michelangelo was the tool by means of which he realised his most trenchant conceptions and his most picturesque impressions. In youth and early manhood, when his genius was still vehement, it seems to have been his favourite vehicle.

The use of chalk grew upon him in later life, possibly because he trusted more to his memory now, and loved the dreamier softer medium for uttering his fancies. Black chalk was employed for rapid notes of composition, and also for the more elaborate productions of his pencil. To this material we owe the head of Horror which he gave to Gherardo Perini (in the Uffizi), the Phaethon, the Tityos, the Ganymede he gave to Tommaso Cavalieri (at Windsor). It is impossible to describe the refinements of modulated shading and the precision of predetermined outlines by means of which these incomparable drawings have been produced. They seem to melt and to escape inspection, yet they remain fixed on the memory as firmly as forms in carven basalt.

The whole series of designs for Christ's Crucifixion and Deposition from the Cross are executed in chalk, sometimes black, but mostly red. It is manifest, upon examination, that they are not studies from the model, but thoughts evoked and shadowed forth on paper. Their perplexing multiplicity and subtle variety—as though a mighty improvisatore were preluding again and yet again upon the clavichord to find his theme, abandoning the search, renewing it, altering the key, changing the accent—prove that this continued seeking with the crayon after form and composition was carried on in solitude and abstract moments. Incomplete as the designs may be, they reveal Michelangelo's loftiest dreams and purest visions. The nervous energy, the passionate grip upon the subject, shown in the pen-drawings, are absent here. These qualities are replaced by meditation and an air of rapt devotion. The drawings for the Passion might be called the prayers and pious thoughts of the stern master.

Red chalk he used for some of his most brilliant conceptions. It is not necessary to dwell upon the bending woman's head at Oxford, or the torso of the lance-bearer at Vienna. Let us confine our attention to what is perhaps the most pleasing and most perfect of all Michelangelo's designs—the "Bersaglio," or the "Arcieri," in the Queen's collection at Windsor.

It is a group of eleven naked men and one woman, fiercely footing the air, and driving shafts with all their might to pierce a classical terminal figure, whose face, like that of Pallas, and broad breast are guarded by a spreading shield. The draughtsman has indicated only one bow, bent with fury by an old man in the background. Yet all the actions proper to archery are suggested by the violent gestures and strained sinews of the crowd. At the foot of the terminal statue, Cupid lies asleep upon his wings, with idle bow and quiver. Two little genii of love, in the background, are lighting up a fire, puffing its flames, as though to drive the archers onward. Energy and ardour, impetuous movement and passionate desire, could not be expressed with greater force, nor the tyranny of some blind impulse be more imaginatively felt. The allegory seems to imply that happiness is not to be attained, as human beings mostly strive to seize it, by the fierce force of the carnal passions. It is the contrast between celestial love asleep in lustful souls, and vulgar love inflaming tyrannous appetites:—

The one love soars, the other downward tends; The soul lights this, while that the senses stir, And still lust's arrow at base quarry flies.

This magnificent design was engraved during Buonarroti's lifetime, or shortly afterwards, by Niccolo Beatrizet. Some follower of Raffaello used the print for a fresco in the Palazzo Borghese at Rome. It forms one of the series in which Raffaello's marriage of Alexander and Roxana is painted. This has led some critics to ascribe the drawing itself to the Urbinate. Indeed, at first sight, one might almost conjecture that the original chalk study was a genuine work of Raffaello, aiming at rivalry with Michelangelo's manner. The calm beauty of the statue's classic profile, the refinement of all the faces, the exquisite delicacy of the adolescent forms, and the dominant veiling of strength with grace, are not precisely Michelangelesque. The technical execution of the design, however, makes its attribution certain. Well as Raffaello could draw, he could not draw like this. He was incapable of rounding and modelling the nude with those soft stipplings and granulated shadings which bring the whole surface out like that of a bas-relief in polished marble. His own drawing for Alexander and Roxana, in red chalk, and therefore an excellent subject for comparison with the Arcieri, is hatched all over in straight lines; a method adopted by Michelangelo when working with the pen, but, so far as I am aware, never, or very rarely, used when he was handling chalk. The style of this design and its exquisite workmanship correspond exactly with the finish of the Cavalieri series at Windsor. The paper, moreover, is indorsed in Michelangelo's handwriting with a memorandum bearing the date April 12, 1530. We have then in this masterpiece of draughtsmanship an example, not of Raffaello in a Michelangelising mood, but of Michelangelo for once condescending to surpass Raffaello on his own ground of loveliness and rhythmic grace.



Julius died upon the 21st of February 1513. "A prince," says Guicciardini, "of inestimable courage and tenacity, but headlong, and so extravagant in the schemes he formed, that his own prudence and moderation had less to do with shielding him from ruin than the discord of sovereigns and the circumstances of the times in Europe: worthy, in all truth, of the highest glory had he been a secular potentate, or if the pains and anxious thought he employed in augmenting the temporal greatness of the Church by war had been devoted to her spiritual welfare in the arts of peace."

Italy rejoiced when Giovanni de' Medici was selected to succeed him, with the title of Leo X. "Venus ruled in Rome with Alexander, Mars with Julius, now Pallas enters on her reign with Leo." Such was the tenor of the epigrams which greeted Leo upon his triumphal progress to the Lateran. It was felt that a Pope of the house of Medici would be a patron of arts and letters, and it was hoped that the son of Lorenzo the Magnificent might restore the equilibrium of power in Italy. Leo X. has enjoyed a greater fame than he deserved. Extolled as an Augustus in his lifetime, he left his name to what is called the golden age of Italian culture. Yet he cannot be said to have raised any first-rate men of genius, or to have exercised a very wise patronage over those whom Julius brought forward. Michelangelo and Raffaello were in the full swing of work when Leo claimed their services. We shall see how he hampered the rare gifts of the former by employing him on uncongenial labours; and it was no great merit to give a free rein to the inexhaustible energy of Raffaello. The project of a new S. Peter's belonged to Julius. Leo only continued the scheme, using such assistants as the times provided after Bramante's death in 1514. Julius instinctively selected men of soaring and audacious genius, who were capable of planning on a colossal scale. Leo delighted in the society of clever people, poetasters, petty scholars, lutists, and buffoons. Rome owes no monumental work to his inventive brain, and literature no masterpiece to his discrimination. Ariosto, the most brilliant poet of the Renaissance, returned in disappointment from the Vatican. "When I went to Rome and kissed the foot of Leo," writes the ironical satirist, "he bent down from the holy chair, and took my hand and saluted me on both cheeks. Besides, he made me free of half the stamp-dues I was bound to pay; and then, breast full of hope, but smirched with mud, I retired and took my supper at the Ram."

The words which Leo is reported to have spoken to his brother Giuliano when he heard the news of his election, express the character of the man and mark the difference between his ambition and that of Julius. "Let us enjoy the Papacy, since God has given it us." To enjoy life, to squander the treasures of the Church on amusements, to feed a rabble of flatterers, to contract enormous debts, and to disturb the peace of Italy, not for some vast scheme of ecclesiastical aggrandisement, but in order to place the princes of his family on thrones, that was Leo's conception of the Papal privileges and duties. The portraits of the two Popes, both from the hand of Raffaello, are eminently characteristic. Julius, bent, white-haired, and emaciated, has the nervous glance of a passionate and energetic temperament. Leo, heavy-jawed, dull-eyed, with thick lips and a brawny jowl, betrays the coarser fibre of a sensualist.


We have seen already that Julius, before his death, provided for his monument being carried out upon a reduced scale. Michelangelo entered into a new contract with the executors, undertaking to finish the work within the space of seven years from the date of the deed, May 6, 1513. He received in several payments, during that year and the years 1514, 1515, 1516, the total sum of 6100 golden ducats. This proves that he must have pushed the various operations connected with the tomb vigorously forward, employing numerous workpeople, and ordering supplies of marble. In fact, the greater part of what remains to us of the unfinished monument may be ascribed to this period of comparatively uninterrupted labour. Michelangelo had his workshop in the Macello de' Corvi, but we know very little about the details of his life there. His correspondence happens to be singularly scanty between the years 1513 and 1516. One letter, however, written in May 1518, to the Capitano of Cortona throws a ray of light upon this barren tract of time, and introduces an artist of eminence, whose intellectual affinity to Michelangelo will always remain a matter of interest. "While I was at Rome, in the first year of Pope Leo, there came the Master Luca Signorelli of Cortona, painter. I met him one day near Monte Giordano, and he told me that he was come to beg something from the Pope, I forget what: he had run the risk of losing life and limb for his devotion to the house of Medici, and now it seemed they did not recognise him: and so forth, saying many things I have forgotten. After these discourses, he asked me for forty giulios [a coin equal in value to the more modern paolo, and worth perhaps eight shillings of present money], and told me where to send them to, at the house of a shoemaker, his lodgings. I not having the money about me, promised to send it, and did so by the hand of a young man in my service, called Silvio, who is still alive and in Rome, I believe. After the lapse of some days, perhaps because his business with the Pope had failed, Messer Luca came to my house in the Macello de' Corvi, the same where I live now, and found me working on a marble statue, four cubits in height, which has the hands bound behind the back, and bewailed himself with me, and begged another forty, saying that he wanted to leave Rome. I went up to my bedroom, and brought the money down in the presence of a Bolognese maid I kept, and I think the Silvio above mentioned was also there. When Luca got the cash, he went away, and I have never seen him since; but I remember complaining to him, because I was out of health and could not work, and he said: 'Have no fear, for the angels from heaven will come to take you in their arms and aid you.'" This is in several ways an interesting document. It brings vividly before our eyes magnificent expensive Signorelli and his meanly living comrade, each of them mighty masters of a terrible and noble style, passionate lovers of the nude, devoted to masculine types of beauty, but widely and profoundly severed by differences in their personal tastes and habits. It also gives us a glimpse into Michelangelo's workshop at the moment when he was blocking out one of the bound Captives at the Louvre. It seems from what follows in the letter that Michelangelo had attempted to recover the money through his brother Buonarroto, but that Signorelli refused to acknowledge his debt. The Capitano wrote that he was sure it had been discharged. "That," adds Michelangelo, "is the same as calling me the biggest blackguard; and so I should be, if I wanted to get back what had been already paid. But let your Lordship think what you like about it, I am bound to get the money, and so I swear." The remainder of the autograph is torn and illegible; it seems to wind up with a threat.

The records of this period are so scanty that every detail acquires a certain importance for Michelangelo's biographer. By a deed executed on the 14th of June 1514, we find that he contracted to make a figure of Christ in marble, "life-sized, naked, erect, with a cross in his arms, and in such attitude as shall seem best to Michelangelo." The persons who ordered the statue were Bernardo Cencio (a Canon of S. Peter's), Mario Scappucci, and Metello Varj dei Porcari, a Roman of ancient blood. They undertook to pay 200 golden ducats for the work; and Michelangelo promised to finish it within the space of four years, when it was to be placed in the Church of S. Maria sopra Minerva. Metello Varj, though mentioned last in the contract, seems to have been the man who practically gave the commission, and to whom Michelangelo was finally responsible for its performance. He began to hew it from a block, and discovered black veins in the working. This, then, was thrown aside, and a new marble had to be attacked. The statue, now visible at the Minerva, was not finished until the year 1521, when we shall have to return to it again.

There is a point of some interest in the wording of this contract, on which, as facts to dwell upon are few and far between at present, I may perhaps allow myself to digress. The master is here described as Michelangelo (di Lodovico) Simoni, Scultore. Now Michelangelo always signed his own letters Michelangelo Buonarroti, although he addressed the members of his family by the surname of Simoni. This proves that the patronymic usually given to the house at large was still Simoni, and that Michelangelo himself acknowledged that name in a legal document. The adoption of Buonarroti by his brother's children and descendants may therefore be ascribed to usage ensuing from the illustration of their race by so renowned a man. It should also be observed that at this time Michelangelo is always described in deeds as sculptor, and that he frequently signs with Michelangelo, Scultore. Later on in life he changed his views. He wrote in 1548 to his nephew Lionardo: "Tell the priest not to write to me again as Michelangelo the sculptor, for I am not known here except as Michelangelo Buonarroti. Say, too, that if a citizen of Florence wants to have an altar-piece painted, he must find some painter; for I was never either sculptor or painter in the way of one who keeps a shop. I have always avoided that, for the honour of my father and my brothers. True, I have served three Popes; but that was a matter of necessity." Earlier, in 1543, he had written to the same effect: "When you correspond with me, do not use the superscription Michelangelo Simoni, nor sculptor; it is enough to put Michelangelo Buonarroti, for that is how I am known here." On another occasion, advising his nephew what surname the latter ought to adopt, he says: "I should certainly use Simoni, and if the whole (that is, the whole list of patronymics in use at Florence) is too long, those who cannot read it may leave it alone." These communications prove that, though he had come to be known as Buonarroti, he did not wish the family to drop their old surname of Simoni. The reason was that he believed in their legendary descent from the Counts of Canossa through a Podesta of Florence, traditionally known as Simone da Canossa. This opinion had been confirmed in 1520, as we have seen above, by a letter he received from the Conte Alessandro da Canossa, addressing him as "Honoured kinsman." In the correspondence with Lionardo, Michelangelo alludes to this act of recognition: "You will find a letter from the Conte Alessandro da Canossa in the book of contracts. He came to visit me at Rome, and treated me like a relative. Take care of it." The dislike expressed by Michelangelo to be called sculptor, and addressed upon the same terms as other artists, arose from a keen sense of his nobility. The feeling emerges frequently in his letters between 1540 and 1550. I will give a specimen: "As to the purchase of a house, I repeat that you ought to buy one of honourable condition, at 1500 or 2000 crowns; and it ought to be in our quarter (Santa Croce), if possible. I say this, because an honourable mansion in the city does a family great credit. It makes more impression than farms in the country; and we are truly burghers, who claim a very noble ancestry. I always strove my utmost to resuscitate our house, but I had not brothers able to assist me. Try then to do what I write you, and make Gismondo come back to live in Florence, so that I may not endure the shame of hearing it said here that I have a brother at Settignano who trudges after oxen. One day, when I find the time, I will tell you all about our origin, and whence we sprang, and when we came to Florence. Perhaps you know nothing about it; still we ought not to rob ourselves of what God gave us." The same feeling runs through the letters he wrote Lionardo about the choice of a wife. One example will suffice: "I believe that in Florence there are many noble and poor families with whom it would be a charity to form connections. If there were no dower, there would also be no arrogance. Pay no heed should people say you want to ennoble yourself, since it is notorious that we are ancient citizens of Florence, and as noble as any other house."

Michelangelo, as we know now, was mistaken in accepting his supposed connection with the illustrious Counts of Canossa, whose castle played so conspicuous a part in the struggle between Hildebrand and the Empire, and who were imperially allied through the connections of the Countess Matilda. Still he had tradition to support him, confirmed by the assurance of the head of the Canossa family. Nobody could accuse him of being a snob or parvenu. He lived like a poor man, indifferent to dress, establishment, and personal appearances. Yet he prided himself upon his ancient birth; and since the Simoni had been indubitably noble for several generations, there was nothing despicable in his desire to raise his kinsfolk to their proper station. Almost culpably careless in all things that concerned his health and comfort, he spent his earnings for the welfare of his brothers, in order that an honourable posterity might carry on the name he bore, and which he made illustrious. We may smile at his peevishness in repudiating the title of sculptor after bearing it through so many years of glorious labour; but when he penned the letters I have quoted, he was the supreme artist of Italy, renowned as painter, architect, military engineer; praised as a poet; befriended with the best and greatest of his contemporaries; recognised as unique, not only in the art of sculpture. If he felt some pride of race, we cannot blame the plain-liver and high-thinker, who, robbing himself of luxuries and necessaries even, enabled his kinsmen to maintain their rank among folk gently born and nobly nurtured.


In June 1515 Michelangelo was still working at the tomb of Julius. But a letter to Buonarroto shows that he was already afraid of being absorbed for other purposes by Leo: "I am forced to put great strain upon myself this summer in order to complete my undertaking; for I think that I shall soon be obliged to enter the Pope's service. For this reason, I have bought some twenty migliaia [measure of weight] of brass to cast certain figures." The monument then was so far advanced that, beside having a good number of the marble statues nearly finished, he was on the point of executing the bronze reliefs which filled their interspaces. We have also reason to believe that the architectural basis forming the foundation of the sepulchre had been brought well forward, since it is mentioned, in the next ensuing contracts.

Just at this point, however, when two or three years of steady labour would have sufficed to terminate this mount of sculptured marble, Leo diverted Michelangelo's energies from the work, and wasted them in schemes that came to nothing. When Buonarroti penned that sonnet in which he called the Pope his Medusa, he might well have been thinking of Leo, though the poem ought probably to be referred to the earlier pontificate of Julius. Certainly the Medici did more than the Delia Rovere to paralyse his power and turn the life within him into stone. Writing to Sebastiano del Piombo in 1521, Michelangelo shows how fully he was aware of this. He speaks of "the three years I have lost."

A meeting had been arranged for the late autumn of 1515 between Leo X. and Francis I. at Bologna. The Pope left Rome early in November, and reached Florence on the 30th. The whole city burst into a tumult of jubilation, shouting the Medicean cry of "Palle" as Leo passed slowly through the streets, raised in his pontifical chair upon the shoulders of his running footmen. Buonarroto wrote a long and interesting account of this triumphal entry to his brother in Rome. He describes how a procession was formed by the Pope's court and guard and the gentlemen of Florence. "Among the rest, there went a bevy of young men, the noblest in our commonwealth, all dressed alike with doublets of violet satin, holding gilded staves in their hands. They paced before the Papal chair, a brave sight to see. And first there marched his guard, and then his grooms, who carried him aloft beneath a rich canopy of brocade, which was sustained by members of the College, while round about the chair walked the Signory." The procession moved onward to the Church of S. Maria del Fiore, where the Pope stayed to perform certain ceremonies at the high altar, after which he was carried to his apartments at S. Maria Novella. Buonarroto was one of the Priors during this month, and accordingly he took an official part in all the entertainments and festivities, which continued for three days. On the 3rd of December Leo left Florence for Bologna, where Francis arrived upon the 11th. Their conference lasted till the 15th, when Francis returned to Milan. On the 18th Leo began his journey back to Florence, which he re-entered on the 22nd. On Christmas day (Buonarroto writes Pasgua) a grand Mass was celebrated at S. Maria Novella, at which the Signory attended. The Pope celebrated in person, and, according to custom on high state occasions, the water with which he washed his hands before and during the ceremony had to be presented by personages of importance. "This duty," says Buonarroto, "fell first to one of the Signori, who was Giannozzo Salviati; and as I happened that morning to be Proposto, I went the second time to offer water to his Holiness; the third time, this was done by the Duke of Camerino, and the fourth time by the Gonfalonier of Justice." Buonarroto remarks that "he feels pretty certain it will be all the same to Michelangelo whether he hears or does not hear about these matters. Yet, from time to time, when I have leisure, I scribble a few lines."

Buonarroto himself was interested in this event; for, having been one of the Priors, he received from Leo the title of Count Palatine, with reversion to all his posterity. Moreover, for honourable addition to his arms, he was allowed to bear a chief charged with the Medicean ball and fleur-de-lys, between the capital letters L. and X.

Whether Leo conceived the plan of finishing the facade of S. Lorenzo at Florence before he left Rome, or whether it occurred to him during this visit, is not certain. The church had been erected by the Medici and other magnates from Brunelleschi's designs, and was perfect except for the facade. In its sacristy lay the mortal remains of Cosimo, Lorenzo the Magnificent, and many other members of the Medicean family. Here Leo came on the first Sunday in Advent to offer up prayers, and the Pope is said to have wept upon his father's tomb. It may possibly have been on this occasion that he adopted the scheme so fatal to the happiness of the great sculptor. Condivi clearly did not know what led to Michelangelo's employment on the facade of S. Lorenzo, and Vasari's account of the transaction is involved. Both, however, assert that he was wounded, even to tears, at having to abandon the monument of Julius, and that he prayed in vain to be relieved of the new and uncongenial task.


Leo at first intended to divide the work between several masters, giving Buonarroti the general direction of the whole. He ordered Giuliano da San Gallo, Raffaello da Urbino, Baccio d'Agnolo, Andrea and Jacopo Sansovino to prepare plans. While these were in progress, Michelangelo also thought that he would try his hand at a design. As ill-luck ruled, Leo preferred his sketch to all the rest. Vasari adds that his unwillingness to be associated with any other artist in the undertaking, and his refusal to follow the plans of an architect, prevented the work from being executed, and caused the men selected by Leo to return in desperation to their ordinary pursuits. There may be truth in the report; for it is certain that, after Michelangelo had been forced to leave the tomb of Julius and to take part in the facade, he must have claimed to be sole master of the business. The one thing we know about his mode of operation is, that he brooked no rival near him, mistrusted collaborators, and found it difficult to co-operate even with the drudges whom he hired at monthly wages.

Light is thrown upon these dissensions between Michelangelo and his proposed assistants by a letter which Jacopo Sansovino wrote to him at Carrara, on the 30th of June 1517. He betrays his animus at the commencement by praising Baccio Bandinelli, to mention whom in the same breath with Buonarroti was an insult. Then he proceeds: "The Pope, the Cardinal, and Jacopo Salviati are men who when they say yes, it is a written contract, inasmuch as they are true to their word, and not what you pretend them to be. You measure them with your own rod; for neither contracts nor plighted troth avail with you, who are always saying nay and yea, according as you think it profitable. I must inform you, too, that the Pope promised me the sculptures, and so did Salviati; and they are men who will maintain me in my right to them. In what concerns you, I have done all I could to promote your interests and honour, not having earlier perceived that you never conferred a benefit on any one, and that, beginning with myself, to expect kindness from you, would be the same as wanting water not to wet. I have reason for what I say, since we have often met together in familiar converse, and may the day be cursed on which you ever said any good about anybody on earth." How Michelangelo answered this intemperate and unjust invective is not known to us. In some way or other the quarrel between the two sculptors must have been made up—probably through a frank apology on Sansovino's part. When Michelangelo, in 1524, supplied the Duke of Sessa with a sketch for the sepulchral monument to be erected for himself and his wife, he suggested that Sansovino should execute the work, proving thus by acts how undeserved the latter's hasty words had been.

The Church of S. Lorenzo exists now just as it was before the scheme for its facade occurred to Leo. Not the smallest part of that scheme was carried into effect, and large masses of the marbles quarried for the edifice lay wasted on the Tyrrhene sea-shore. We do not even know what design Michelangelo adopted. A model may be seen in the Accademia at Florence ascribed to Baccio d'Agnolo, and there is a drawing of a facade in the Uffizi attributed, to Michelangelo, both of which have been supposed to have some connection with S. Lorenzo. It is hardly possible, however, that Buonarroti's competitors could have been beaten from the field by things so spiritless and ugly. A pen-and-ink drawing at the Museo Buonarroti possesses greater merit, find may perhaps have been a first rough sketch for the facade. It is not drawn to scale or worked out in the manner of practical architects; but the sketch exhibits features which we know to have existed in Buonarroti's plan—masses of sculpture, with extensive bas-reliefs in bronze. In form the facade would not have corresponded to Brunelleschi's building. That, however, signified nothing to Italian architects, who were satisfied when the frontispiece to a church or palace agreeably masked what lay behind it. As a frame for sculpture, the design might have served its purpose, though there are large spaces difficult to account for; and spiteful folk were surely justified in remarking to the Pope that no one life sufficed for the performance of the whole.

Nothing testifies more plainly to the ascendancy which this strange man acquired over the imagination of his contemporaries, while yet comparatively young, than the fact that Michelangelo had to relinquish work for which he was pre-eminently fitted (the tomb of Julius) for work to which his previous studies and his special inclinations in no-wise called him. He undertook the facade of S. Lorenzo reluctantly, with tears in his eyes and dolour in his bosom, at the Pope Medusa's bidding. He was compelled to recommence art at a point which hitherto possessed for him no practical importance. The drawings of the tomb, the sketch of the facade, prove that in architecture he was still a novice. Hitherto, he regarded building as the background to sculpture, or the surface on which frescoes might be limned. To achieve anything great in this new sphere implied for him a severe course of preliminary studies. It depends upon our final estimate of Michelangelo as an architect whether we regard the three years spent in Leo's service for S. Lorenzo as wasted. Being what he was, it is certain that, when the commission had been given, and he determined to attack his task alone, the man set himself down to grasp the principles of construction. There was leisure enough for such studies in the years during which we find him moodily employed among Tuscan quarries. The question is whether this strain upon his richly gifted genius did not come too late. When called to paint the Sistine, he complained that painting was no art of his. He painted, and produced a masterpiece; but sculpture still remained the major influence in all he wrought there. Now he was bidden to quit both sculpture and painting for another field, and, as Vasari hints, he would not work under the guidance of men trained to architecture. The result was that Michelangelo applied himself to building with the full-formed spirit of a figurative artist. The obvious defects and the salient qualities of all he afterwards performed as architect seem due to the forced diversion of his talent at this period to a type of art he had not properly assimilated. Architecture was not the natural mistress of his spirit. He bent his talents to her service at a Pontiff's word, and, with the honest devotion to work which characterised the man, he produced renowned monuments stamped by his peculiar style. Nevertheless, in building, he remains a sublime amateur, aiming at scenical effect, subordinating construction to decoration, seeking ever back toward opportunities for sculpture or for fresco, and occasionally (as in the cupola of S. Peter's) hitting upon a thought beyond the reach of inferior minds.

The paradox implied in this diversion of our hero from the path he ought to have pursued may be explained in three ways. First, he had already come to be regarded as a man of unique ability, from whom everything could be demanded. Next, it was usual for the masters of the Renaissance, from Leo Battista Alberti down to Raffaello da Urbino and Lionardo da Vinci, to undertake all kinds of technical work intrusted to their care by patrons. Finally, Michelangelo, though he knew that sculpture was his goddess, and never neglected her first claim upon his genius, felt in him that burning ambition for greatness, that desire to wrestle with all forms of beauty and all depths of science, which tempted him to transcend the limits of a single art and try his powers in neighbour regions. He was a man born to aim at all, to dare all, to embrace all, to leave his personality deep-trenched on all the provinces of art he chose to traverse.


The whole of 1516 and 1517 elapsed before Leo's plans regarding S. Lorenzo took a definite shape. Yet we cannot help imagining that when Michelangelo cancelled his first contract with the executors of Julius, and adopted a reduced plan for the monument, he was acting under Papal pressure. This was done at Rome in July, and much against the will of both parties. Still it does not appear that any one contemplated the abandonment of the scheme; for Buonarroti bound himself to perform his new contract within the space of nine years, and to engage "in no work of great importance which should interfere with its fulfilment." He spent a large part of the year 1516 at Carrara, quarrying marbles, and even hired the house of a certain Francesco Pelliccia in that town. On the 1st of November he signed an agreement with the same Pelliccia involving the purchase of a vast amount of marble, whereby the said Pelliccia undertook to bring down four statues of 4-1/2 cubits each and fifteen of 4-1/4 cubits from the quarries where they were being rough-hewn. It was the custom to block out columns, statues, &c., on the spot where the stone had been excavated, in order, probably, to save weight when hauling. Thus the blocks arrived at the sea-shore with rudely adumbrated outlines of the shape they were destined to assume under the artist's chisel. It has generally been assumed that the nineteen figures in question were intended for the tomb. What makes this not quite certain, however, is that the contract of July specifies a greatly reduced quantity and scale of statues. Therefore they may have been intended for the facade. Anyhow, the contract above-mentioned with Francesco Pelliccia was cancelled on the 7th of April following, for reasons which will presently appear.

During the month of November 1516 Michelangelo received notice from the Pope that he was wanted in Rome. About the same time news reached him from Florence of his father's severe illness. On the 23rd he wrote as follows to Buonarroto: "I gathered from your last that Lodovico was on the point of dying, and how the doctor finally pronounced that if nothing new occurred he might be considered out of danger. Since it is so, I shall not prepare to come to Florence, for it would be very inconvenient. Still, if there is danger, I should desire to see him, come what might, before he died, if even I had to die together with him. I have good hope, however, that he will get well, and so I do not come. And if he should have a relapse—from which may God preserve him and us—see that he lacks nothing for his spiritual welfare and the sacraments of the Church, and find out from him if he wishes us to do anything for his soul. Also, for the necessaries of the body, take care that he lacks nothing; for I have laboured only and solely for him, to help him in his needs before he dies. So bid your wife look with loving-kindness to his household affairs. I will make everything good to her and all of you, if it be necessary. Do not have the least hesitation, even if you have to expend all that we possess."

We may assume that the subsequent reports regarding Lodovico's health were satisfactory; for on the 5th of December Michelangelo set out for Rome. The executors of Julius had assigned him free quarters in a house situated in the Trevi district, opposite the public road which leads to S. Maria del Loreto. Here, then, he probably took up his abode. We have seen that he had bound himself to finish the monument of Julius within the space of nine years, and to engage "in no work of great moment which should interfere with its performance." How this clause came to be inserted in a deed inspired by Leo is one of the difficulties with which the whole tragedy of the sepulchre bristles. Perhaps we ought to conjecture that the Pope's intentions with regard to the facade of S. Lorenzo only became settled in the late autumn. At any rate, he had now to transact with the executors of Julius, who were obliged to forego the rights over Michelangelo's undivided energies which they had acquired by the clause I have just cited. They did so with extreme reluctance, and to the bitter disappointment of the sculptor, who saw the great scheme of his manhood melting into air, dwindling in proportions, becoming with each change less capable of satisfactory performance.

Having at last definitely entered the service of Pope Leo, Michelangelo travelled to Florence, and intrusted Baccio d'Agnolo with the construction of the model of his facade. It may have been upon the occasion of this visit that one of his father's whimsical fits of temper called out a passionate and sorry letter from his son. It appears that Pietro Urbano, Michelangelo's trusty henchman at this period, said something which angered Lodovico, and made him set off in a rage to Settignano:—

"Dearest Father,—I marvelled much at what had happened to you the other day, when I did not find you at home. And now, hearing that you complain of me, and say that I have turned you out of doors, I marvel much the more, inasmuch as I know for certain that never once from the day that I was born till now had I a single thought of doing anything or small or great which went against you; and all this time the labours I have undergone have been for the love of you alone. Since I returned from Rome to Florence, you know that I have always cared for you, and you know that all that belongs to me I have bestowed on you. Some days ago, then, when you were ill, I promised solemnly never to fail you in anything within the scope of my whole faculties so long as my life lasts; and this I again affirm. Now I am amazed that you should have forgotten everything so soon. And yet you have learned to know me by experience these thirty years, you and your sons, and are well aware that I have always thought and acted, so far as I was able, for your good. How can you go about saying I have turned you out of doors? Do you not see what a reputation you have given me by saying I have turned you out? Only this was wanting to complete my tale of troubles, all of which I suffer for your love. You repay me well, forsooth. But let it be as it must: I am willing to acknowledge that I have always brought shame and loss on you, and on this supposition I beg your pardon. Reckon that you are pardoning a son who has lived a bad life and done you all the harm which it is possible to do. And so I once again implore you to pardon me, scoundrel that I am, and not bring on me the reproach of having turned you out of doors; for that matters more than you imagine to me. After all, I am your son."

From Florence Michelangelo proceeded again to Carrara for the quarrying of marble. This was on the last day of December. From his domestic correspondence we find that he stayed there until at least the 13th of March 1517; but he seems to have gone to Florence just about that date, in order to arrange matters with Baccio d'Agnolo about the model. A fragmentary letter to Buonarroto, dated March 13, shows that he had begun a model of his own at Carrara, and that he no longer needed Baccio's assistance. On his arrival at Florence he wrote to Messer Buoninsegni, who acted as intermediary at Rome between himself and the Pope in all things that concerned the facade: "Messer Domenico, I have come to Florence to see the model which Baccio has finished, and find it a mere child's plaything. If you think it best to have it sent, write to me. I leave again to-morrow for Carrara, where I have begun to make a model in clay with Grassa [a stone-hewer from Settignano]." Then he adds that, in the long run, he believes that he shall have to make the model himself, which distresses him on account of the Pope and the Cardinal Giulio. Lastly, he informs his correspondent that he has contracted with two separate companies for two hundred cartloads of Carrara marble.

An important letter to the same Domenico Buoninsegni, dated Carrara, May 2, 1517, proves that Michelangelo had become enthusiastic about his new design. "I have many things to say to you. So I beg you to take some patience when you read my words, because it is a matter of moment. Well, then, I feel it in me to make this facade of S. Lorenzo such that it shall be a mirror of architecture and of sculpture to all Italy. But the Pope and the Cardinal must decide at once whether they want to have it done or not. If they desire it, then they must come to some definite arrangement, either intrusting the whole to me on contract, and leaving me a free hand, or adopting some other plan which may occur to them, and about which I can form no idea." He proceeds at some length to inform Buoninsegni of various transactions regarding the purchase of marble, and the difficulties he encounters in procuring perfect blocks. His estimate for the costs of the whole facade is 35,000 golden ducats, and he offers to carry the work through for that sum in six years. Meanwhile he peremptorily demands an immediate settlement of the business, stating that he is anxious to leave Carrara. The vigorous tone of this document is unmistakable. It seems to have impressed his correspondents; for Buoninsegni replies upon the 8th of May that the Cardinal expressed the highest satisfaction at "the great heart he had for conducting the work of the facade." At the same time the Pope was anxious to inspect the model.

Leo, I fancy, was always more than half-hearted about the facade. He did not personally sympathise with Michelangelo's character; and, seeing what his tastes were, it is impossible that he can have really appreciated the quality of his genius. Giulio de' Medici, afterwards Pope Clement VII., was more in sympathy with Buonarroti both as artist and as man. To him we may with probability ascribe the impulse given at this moment to the project. After several visits to Florence during the summer, and much correspondence with the Medici through their Roman agent, Michelangelo went finally, upon the 31st of August, to have the model completed under his own eyes by a workman in his native city. It was carefully constructed of wood, showing the statuary in wax-relief. Nearly four months were expended on this miniature. The labour was lost, for not a vestige of it now remains. Near the end of December he despatched his servant, Pietro Urbano, with the finished work to Rome. On the 29th of that month, Urbano writes that he exposed the model in Messer Buoninsegni's apartment, and that the Pope and Cardinal were very well pleased with it. Buoninsegni wrote to the same effect, adding, however, that folk said it could never be finished in the sculptor's lifetime, and suggesting that Michelangelo should hire assistants from Milan, where he, Buoninsegni, had seen excellent stonework in progress at the Duomo.

Some time in January 1518, Michelangelo travelled to Rome, conferred with Leo, and took the facade of S. Lorenzo on contract. In February he returned by way of Florence to Carrara, where the quarry-masters were in open rebellion against him, and refused to carry out their contracts. This forced him to go to Genoa, and hire ships there for the transport of his blocks. Then the Carraresi corrupted the captains of these boats, and drove Michelangelo to Pisa (April 7), where he finally made an arrangement with a certain Francesco Peri to ship the marbles lying on the sea-shore at Carrara.

The reason of this revolt against him at Carrara may be briefly stated. The Medici determined to begin working the old marble quarries of Pietra Santa, on the borders of the Florentine domain, and this naturally aroused the commercial jealousy of the folk at Carrara. "Information," says Condivi, "was sent to Pope Leo that marbles could be found in the high-lands above Pietra Santa, fully equal in quality and beauty to those of Carrara. Michelangelo, having been sounded on the subject, chose to go on quarrying at Carrara rather than to take those belonging to the State of Florence. This he did because he was befriended with the Marchese Alberigo, and lived on a good understanding with him. The Pope wrote to Michelangelo, ordering him to repair to Pietra Santa, and see whether the information he had received from Florence was correct. He did so, and ascertained that the marbles were very hard to work, and ill-adapted to their purpose; even had they been of the proper kind, it would be difficult and costly to convey them to the sea. A road of many miles would have to be made through the mountains with pick and crowbar, and along the plain on piles, since the ground there was marshy. Michelangelo wrote all this to the Pope, who preferred, however, to believe the persons who had written to him from Florence. So he ordered him to construct the road." The road, it may parenthetically be observed, was paid for by the wealthy Wool Corporation of Florence, who wished to revive this branch of Florentine industry. "Michelangelo, carrying out the Pope's commands, had the road laid down, and transported large quantities of marbles to the sea-shore. Among these were five columns of the proper dimensions, one of which may be seen upon the Piazza di S. Lorenzo. The other four, forasmuch as the Pope changed his mind and turned his thoughts elsewhere, are still lying on the sea-beach. Now the Marquis of Carrara, deeming that Michelangelo had developed the quarries at Pietra Santa out of Florentine patriotism, became his enemy, and would not suffer him to return to Carrara, for certain blocks which had been excavated there: all of which proved the source of great loss to Michelangelo."

When the contract with Francesco Pellicia was cancelled, April 7, 1517, the project for developing the Florentine stone-quarries does not seem to have taken shape. We must assume, therefore, that the motive for this step was the abandonment of the tomb. The Ricordi show that Michelangelo was still buying marbles and visiting Carrara down to the end of February 1518. His correspondence from Pietra Santa and Serravezza, where he lived when he was opening the Florentine quarries of Monte Altissimo, does not begin, with any certainty, until March 1518. We have indeed one letter written to Girolamo del Bardella of Porto Venere upon the 6th of August, without date of year. This was sent from Serravezza, and Milanesi, when he first made use of it, assigned it to 1517. Gotti, following that indication, asserts that Michelangelo began his operations at Monte Altissimo in July 1517; but Milanesi afterwards changed his opinion, and assigned it to the year 1519. I believe he was right, because the first letter, bearing a certain date from Pietra Santa, was written in March 1518 to Pietro Urbano. It contains the account of Michelangelo's difficulties with the Carraresi, and his journey to Genoa and Pisa. We have, therefore, every reason to believe that he finally abandoned Carrara, for Pietra Santa at the end of February 1518.

Pietra Santa is a little city on the Tuscan seaboard; Serravezza is a still smaller fortress-town at the foot of the Carrara mountains. Monte Altissimo rises above it; and on the flanks of that great hill lie the quarries Della Finocchiaja, which Michelangelo opened at the command of Pope Leo. It was not without reluctance that Michelangelo departed from Carrara, offending the Marquis Malaspina, breaking his contracts, and disappointing the folk with whom he had lived on friendly terms ever since his first visit in 1505. A letter from the Cardinal Giulio de' Medici shows that great pressure was put upon him. It runs thus: "We have received yours, and shown it to our Lord the Pope. Considering that all your doings are in favour of Carrara, you have caused his Holiness and us no small astonishment. What we heard from Jacopo Salviati contradicts your opinion. He went to examine the marble-quarries at Pietra Santa, and informed us that there are enormous quantities of stone, excellent in quality and easy to bring down. This being the case, some suspicion has arisen in our minds that you, for your own interests, are too partial to the quarries of Carrara, and want to depreciate those of Pietra Santa. This of a truth, would be wrong in you, considering the trust we have always reposed in your honesty. Wherefore we inform you that, regardless of any other consideration, his Holiness wills that all the work to be done at S. Peter's or S. Reparata, or on the facade of S. Lorenzo, shall be carried out with marbles supplied from Pietra Santa, and no others, for the reasons above written. Moreover, we hear that they will cost less than those of Carrara; but, even should they cost more, his Holiness is firmly resolved to act as I have said, furthering the business of Pietra Santa for the public benefit of the city. Look to it, then, that you carry out in detail all that we have ordered without fail; for if you do otherwise, it will be against the expressed wishes of his Holiness and ourselves, and we shall have good reason to be seriously wroth with you. Our agent Domenico (Buoninsegni) is bidden to write to the same effect. Reply to him how much money you want, and quickly, banishing from your mind every kind of obstinacy."

Michelangelo began to work with his usual energy at roadmaking and quarrying. What he learned of practical business as engineer, architect, master of works, and paymaster during these years among the Carrara mountains must have been of vast importance for his future work. He was preparing himself to organise the fortifications of Florence and the Leonine City, and to crown S. Peter's with the cupola. Quarrying, as I have said, implied cutting out and rough-hewing blocks exactly of the right dimensions for certain portions of a building or a piece of statuary. The master was therefore obliged to have his whole plan perfect in his head before he could venture to order marble. Models, drawings made to scale, careful measurements, were necessary at each successive step. Day and night Buonarroti was at work; in the saddle early in the morning, among stone-cutters and road-makers; in the evening, studying, projecting, calculating, settling up accounts by lamplight.


The narrative of Michelangelo's personal life and movements must here be interrupted in order to notice an event in which he took no common interest. The members of the Florentine Academy addressed a memorial to Leo X., requesting him to authorise the translation of Dante Alighieri's bones from Ravenna to his native city. The document was drawn up in Latin, and dated October 20, 1518. Among the names and signatures appended, Michelangelo's alone is written in Italian: "I, Michelangelo, the sculptor, pray the like of your Holiness, offering my services to the divine poet for the erection of a befitting sepulchre to him in some honourable place in this city." Nothing resulted from this petition, and the supreme poet's remains still rest beneath "the little cupola, more neat than solemn," guarded by Pietro Lombardi's half-length portrait.

Of Michelangelo's special devotion to Dante and the "Divine Comedy" we have plenty of proof. In the first place, there exist the two fine sonnets to his memory, which were celebrated in their author's lifetime, and still remain among the best of his performances in verse. It does not appear when they were composed. The first is probably earlier than the second; for below the autograph of the latter is written, "Messer Donato, you ask of me what I do not possess." The Donato is undoubtedly Donato Giannotti, with whom Michelangelo lived on very familiar terms at Rome about 1545. I will here insert my English translation of these sonnets:—

_From heaven his spirit came, and, robed in clay, The realms of justice and of mercy trod: Then rose a living man to gaze on God, That he might make the truth as clear as day._ _For that pure star, that brightened with his ray The undeserving nest where I was born, The whole wide world would be a prize to scorn; None but his Maker can due guerdon pay. I speak of Dante, whose high work remains Unknown, unhonoured by that thankless brood, Who only to just men deny their wage. Were I but he! Born for like lingering pains, Against his exile coupled with his good I'd gladly change the world's best heritage!

No tongue can tell of him what should be told, For on blind eyes his splendour shines too strong; 'Twere easier to blame those who wrought him wrong, Than sound his least praise with a mouth of gold. He to explore the place of pain was bold, Then soared to God, to teach our souls by song; The gates heaven oped to bear his feet along, Against his just desire his country rolled. Thankless I call her, and to her own pain The nurse of fell mischance; for sign take this, That ever to the best she deals more scorn; Among a thousand proofs let one remain; Though ne'er was fortune more unjust than his, His equal or his better ne'er was born._

The influence of Dante over Buonarroti's style of composition impressed his contemporaries. Benedetto Varchi, in the proemium to a lecture upon one of Michelangelo's poems, speaks of it as "a most sublime sonnet, full of that antique purity and Dantesque gravity." Dante's influence over the great artist's pictorial imagination is strongly marked in the fresco of the Last Judgment, where Charon's boat, and Minos with his twisted tail, are borrowed direct from the Inferno. Condivi, moreover, informs us that the statues of the Lives Contemplative and Active upon the tomb of Julius were suggested by the Rachel and Leah of the Purgatorio. We also know that he filled a book with drawings illustrative of the "Divine Comedy." By a miserable accident this most precious volume, while in the possession of Antonio Montauti, the sculptor, perished at sea on a journey from Livorno to Rome.

But the strongest proof of Michelangelo's reputation as a learned student of Dante is given in Donato Giannotti's Dialogue upon the number of days spent by the poet during his journey through Hell and Purgatory. Luigi del Riccio, who was a great friend of the sculptor's, is supposed to have been walking one day toward the Lateran with Antonio Petreo. Their conversation fell upon Cristoforo Landino's theory that the time consumed by Dante in this transit was the whole of the night of Good Friday, together with the following day. While engaged in this discussion, they met Donato Giannotti taking the air with Michelangelo. The four friends joined company, and Petreo observed that it was a singular good fortune to have fallen that morning upon two such eminent Dante scholars. Donato replied: "With regard to Messer Michelangelo, you have abundant reason to say that he is an eminent Dantista, since I am acquainted with no one who understands him better and has a fuller mastery over his works." It is not needful to give a detailed account of Buonarroti's Dantesque criticism, reported in these dialogues, although there are good grounds for supposing them in part to represent exactly what Giannotti heard him say. This applies particularly to his able interpretation of the reason why Dante placed Brutus and Cassius in hell—not as being the murderers of a tyrant, but as having laid violent hands upon the sacred majesty of the Empire in the person of Caesar. The narrative of Dante's journey through Hell and Purgatory, which is put into Michelangelo's mouth, if we are to believe that he really made it extempore and without book, shows a most minute knowledge of the Inferno.


Michelangelo's doings at Serravezza can be traced with some accuracy during the summers of 1518 and 1519. An important letter to Buonarroto, dated April 2, 1518, proves that the execution of the road had not yet been decided on. He is impatient to hear whether the Wool Corporation has voted the necessary funds and appointed him to engineer it. "With regard to the construction of the road here, please tell Jacopo Salviati that I shall carry out his wishes, and he will not be betrayed by me. I do not look after any interests of my own in this matter, but seek to serve my patrons and my country. If I begged the Pope and Cardinal to give me full control over the business, it was that I might be able to conduct it to those places where the best marbles are. Nobody here knows anything about them. I did not ask for the commission in order to make money; nothing of the sort is in my head." This proves conclusively that much which has been written about the waste of Michelangelo's abilities on things a lesser man might have accomplished is merely sentimental. On the contrary, he was even accused of begging for the contract from a desire to profit by it. In another letter, of April 18, the decision of the Wool Corporation was still anxiously expected. Michelangelo gets impatient. "I shall mount my horse, and go to find the Pope and Cardinal, tell them how it is with me, leave the business here, and return to Carrara. The folk there pray for my return as one is wont to pray to Christ." Then he complains of the worthlessness and disloyalty of the stone-hewers he brought from Florence, and winds up with an angry postscript: "Oh, cursed a thousand times the day and hour when I left Carrara! This is the cause of my utter ruin. But I shall go back there soon. Nowadays it is a sin to do one's duty." On the 22nd of April the Wool Corporation assigned to Michelangelo a contract for the quarries, leaving him free to act as he thought best. Complaints follow about his workmen. One passage is curious: "Sandro, he too has gone away from here. He stopped several months with a mule and a little mule in grand style, doing nothing but fish and make love. He cost me a hundred ducats to no purpose; has left a certain quantity of marble, giving me the right to take the blocks that suit my purpose. However, I cannot find among them what is worth twenty-five ducats, the whole being a jumble of rascally work. Either maliciously or through ignorance, he has treated me very ill."

Upon the 17th April 1517, Michelangelo had bought a piece of ground in Via Mozza, now Via S. Zanobi, at Florence, from the Chapter of S. Maria del Fiore, in order to build a workshop there. He wished, about the time of the last letter quoted, to get an additional lot of land, in order to have larger space at his command for the finishing of marbles. The negotiations went on through the summer of 1518, and on the 24th of November he records that the purchase was completed. Premises adapted to the sculptor's purpose were erected, which remained in Michelangelo's possession until the close of his life.

In August 1518 he writes to a friend at Florence that the road is now as good as finished, and that he is bringing down his columns. The work is more difficult than he expected. One man's life had been already thrown away, and Michelangelo himself was in great danger. "The place where we have to quarry is exceedingly rough, and the workmen are very stupid at their business. For some months I must make demands upon my powers of patience until the mountains are tamed and the men instructed. Afterwards we shall proceed more quickly. Enough, that I mean to do what I promised, and shall produce the finest thing that Italy has ever seen, if God assists me."

There is no want of heart and spirit in these letters. Irritable at moments, Michelangelo was at bottom enthusiastic, and, like Napoleon Buonaparte, felt capable of conquering the world with his sole arm.

In September we find him back again at Florence, where he seems to have spent the winter. His friends wanted him to go to Rome; they thought that his presence there was needed to restore the confidence of the Medici and to overpower calumniating rivals. In reply to a letter of admonition written in this sense by his friend Lionardo di Compagno, the saddle-maker, he writes: "Your urgent solicitations are to me so many stabs of the knife. I am dying of annoyance at not being able to do what I should like to do, through my ill-luck." At the same time he adds that he has now arranged an excellent workshop, where twenty statues can be set up together. The drawback is that there are no means of covering the whole space in and protecting it against the weather. This yard, encumbered with the marbles for S. Lorenzo, must have been in the Via Mozza.

Early in the spring he removed to Serravezza, and resumed the work of bringing down his blocked-out columns from the quarries. One of these pillars, six of which he says were finished, was of huge size, intended probably for the flanks to the main door at S. Lorenzo. It tumbled into the river, and was smashed to pieces. Michelangelo attributed the accident solely to the bad quality of iron which a rascally fellow had put into the lewis-ring by means of which the block was being raised. On this occasion he again ran considerable risk of injury, and suffered great annoyance. The following letter of condolence, written by Jacopo Salviati, proves how much he was grieved, and also shows that he lived on excellent terms with the Pope's right-hand man and counsellor: "Keep up your spirits and proceed gallantly with your great enterprise, for your honour requires this, seeing you have commenced the work. Confide in me; nothing will be amiss with you, and our Lord is certain to compensate you for far greater losses than this. Have no doubt upon this point, and if you want one thing more than another, let me know, and you shall be served immediately. Remember that your undertaking a work of such magnitude will lay our city under the deepest obligation, not only to yourself, but also to your family for ever. Great men, and of courageous spirit, take heart under adversities, and become more energetic."

A pleasant thread runs through Michelangelo's correspondence during these years. It is the affection he felt for his workman Pietro Urbano. When he leaves the young man behind him at Florence, he writes frequently, giving him advice, bidding him mind his studies, and also telling him to confess. It happened that Urbano fell ill at Carrara, toward the end of August. Michelangelo, on hearing the news, left Florence and travelled by post to Carrara. Thence he had his friend transported on the backs of men to Serravezza, and after his recovery sent him to pick up strength in his native city of Pistoja. In one of the Ricordi he reckons the cost of all this at 33-1/2 ducats.

While Michelangelo was residing at Pietra Santa in 1518, his old friend and fellow-worker, Pietro Rosselli, wrote to him from Rome, asking his advice about a tabernacle of marble which Pietro Soderini had ordered. It was to contain the head of S. John the Baptist, and to be placed in the Church of the Convent of S. Silvestro. On the 7th of June Soderini wrote upon the same topic, requesting a design. This Michelangelo sent in October, the execution of the shrine being intrusted to Federigo Frizzi. The incident would hardly be worth mentioning, except for the fact that it brings to mind one of Michelangelo's earliest patrons, the good-hearted Gonfalonier of Justice, and anticipates the coming of the only woman he is known to have cared for, Vittoria Colonna. It was at S. Silvestro that she dwelt, retired in widowhood, and here occurred those Sunday morning conversations of which Francesco d'Olanda has left us so interesting a record.

During the next year, 1519, a certain Tommaso di Dolfo invited him to visit Adrianople. He reminded him how, coming together in Florence, when Michelangelo lay there in hiding from Pope Julius, they had talked about the East, and he had expressed a wish to travel into Turkey. Tommaso di Dolfo dissuaded him on that occasion, because the ruler of the province was a man of no taste and careless about the arts. Things had altered since, and he thought there was a good opening for an able sculptor. Things, however, had altered in Italy also, and Buonarroti felt no need to quit the country where his fame was growing daily.

Considerable animation is introduced into the annals of Michelangelo's life at this point by his correspondence with jovial Sebastiano del Piombo. We possess one of this painter's letters, dating as early as 1510, when he thanks Buonarroti for consenting to be godfather to his boy Luciano; a second of 1512, which contains the interesting account of his conversation with Pope Julius about Michelangelo and Raffaello; and a third, of 1518, turning upon the rivalry between the two great artists. But the bulk of Sebastiano's gossipy and racy communications belongs to the period of thirteen years between 1520 and 1533; then it suddenly breaks off, owing to Michelangelo's having taken up his residence at Rome during the autumn of 1533. A definite rupture at some subsequent period separated the old friends. These letters are a mine of curious information respecting artistic life at Rome. They prove, beyond the possibility of doubt, that, whatever Buonarroti and Sanzio may have felt, their flatterers, dependants, and creatures cherished the liveliest hostility and lived in continual rivalry. It is somewhat painful to think that Michelangelo could have lent a willing ear to the malignant babble of a man so much inferior to himself in nobleness of nature—have listened when Sebastiano taunted Raffaello as "Prince of the Synagogue," or boasted that a picture of his own was superior to "the tapestries just come from Flanders." Yet Sebastiano was not the only friend to whose idle gossip the great sculptor indulgently stooped. Lionardo, the saddle-maker, was even more offensive. He writes, for instance, upon New Year's Day, 1519, to say that the Resurrection of Lazarus, for which Michelangelo had contributed some portion of the design, was nearly finished, and adds: "Those who understand art rank it far above Raffaello. The vault, too, of Agostino Chigi has been exposed to view, and is a thing truly disgraceful to a great artist, far worse than the last hall of the Palace. Sebastiano has nothing to fear."

We gladly turn from these quarrels to what Sebastiano teaches us about Michelangelo's personal character. The general impression in the world was that he was very difficult to live with. Julius, for instance, after remarking that Raffaello changed his style in imitation of Buonarroti, continued: "'But he is terrible, as you see; one cannot get on with him.' I answered to his Holiness that your terribleness hurt nobody, and that you only seem to be terrible because of your passionate devotion to the great works you have on hand." Again, he relates Leo's estimate of his friend's character:

"I know in what esteem the Pope holds you, and when he speaks of you, it would seem that he were talking about a brother, almost with tears in his eyes; for he has told me you were brought up together as boys" (Giovanni de' Medici and the sculptor were exactly of the same age), "and shows that he knows and loves you. But you frighten everybody, even Popes!" Michelangelo must have complained of this last remark, for Sebastiano, in a letter dated a few days later, reverts to the subject: "Touching what you reply to me about your terribleness, I, for my part, do not esteem you terrible; and if I have not written on this subject do not be surprised, seeing you do not strike me as terrible, except only in art—that is to say, in being the greatest master who ever lived: that is my opinion; if I am in error, the loss is mine." Later on, he tells us what Clement VII. thought: "One letter to your friend (the Pope) would be enough; you would soon see what fruit it bore; because I know how he values you. He loves you, knows your nature, adores your work, and tastes its quality as much as it is possible for man to do. Indeed, his appreciation is miraculous, and such as ought to give great satisfaction to an artist. He speaks of you so honourably, and with such loving affection, that a father could not say of a son what he does of you. It is true that he has been grieved at times by buzzings in his ear about you at the time of the siege of Florence. He shrugged his shoulders and cried, 'Michelangelo is in the wrong; I never did him any injury.'" It is interesting to find Sebastiano, in the same letter, complaining of Michelangelo's sensitiveness. "One favour I would request of you, that is, that you should come to learn your worth, and not stoop as you do to every little thing, and remember that eagles do not prey on flies. Enough! I know that you will laugh at my prattle; but I do not care; Nature has made me so, and I am not Zuan da Rezzo."


The year 1520 was one of much importance for Michelangelo. A Ricordo dated March 10 gives a brief account of the last four years, winding up with the notice that "Pope Leo, perhaps because he wants to get the facade at S. Lorenzo finished quicker than according to the contract made with me, and I also consenting thereto, sets me free ... and so he leaves me at liberty, under no obligation of accounting to any one for anything which I have had to do with him or others upon his account." It appears from the draft of a letter without date that some altercation between Michelangelo and the Medici preceded this rupture. He had been withdrawn from Serravezza to Florence in order that he might plan the new buildings at S. Lorenzo; and the workmen of the Opera del Duomo continued the quarrying business in his absence. Marbles which he had excavated for S. Lorenzo were granted by the Cardinal de' Medici to the custodians of the cathedral, and no attempt was made to settle accounts. Michelangelo's indignation was roused by this indifference to his interests, and he complains in terms of extreme bitterness. Then he sums up all that he has lost, in addition to expected profits. "I do not reckon the wooden model for the said facade, which I made and sent to Rome; I do not reckon the period of three years wasted in this work; I do not reckon that I have been ruined (in health and strength perhaps) by the undertaking; I do not reckon the enormous insult put on me by being brought here to do the work, and then seeing it taken away from me, and for what reason I have not yet learned; I do not reckon my house in Rome, which I left, and where marbles, furniture and blocked-out statues have suffered to upwards of 500 ducats. Omitting all these matters, out of the 2300 ducats I received, only 500 remain in my hands."

When he was an old man, Michelangelo told Condivi that Pope Leo changed his mind about S. Lorenzo. In the often-quoted letter to the prelate he said: "Leo, not wishing me to work at the tomb of Julius, pretended that he wanted to complete the facade of S. Lorenzo at Florence." What was the real state of the case can only be conjectured. It does not seem that the Pope took very kindly to the facade; so the project may merely have been dropped through carelessness. Michelangelo neglected his own interests by not going to Rome, where his enemies kept pouring calumnies into the Pope's ears. The Marquis of Carrara, as reported by Lionardo, wrote to Leo that "he had sought to do you honour, and had done so to his best ability. It was your fault if he had not done more—the fault of your sordidness, your quarrelsomeness, your eccentric conduct." When, then, a dispute arose between the Cardinal and the sculptor about the marbles, Leo may have felt that it was time to break off from an artist so impetuous and irritable. Still, whatever faults of temper Michelangelo may have had, and however difficult he was to deal with, nothing can excuse the Medici for their wanton waste of his physical and mental energies at the height of their development.

On the 6th of April 1520 Raffaello died, worn out with labour and with love, in the flower of his wonderful young manhood. It would be rash to assert that he had already given the world the best he had to offer, because nothing is so incalculable as the evolution of genius. Still we perceive now that his latest manner, both as regards style and feeling, and also as regards the method of execution by assistants, shows him to have been upon the verge of intellectual decline. While deploring Michelangelo's impracticability—that solitary, self-reliant, and exacting temperament which made him reject collaboration, and which doomed so much of his best work to incompleteness—we must remember that to the very end of his long life he produced nothing (except perhaps in architecture) which does not bear the seal and superscription of his fervent self. Raffaello, on the contrary, just before his death, seemed to be exhaling into a nebulous mist of brilliant but unsatisfactory performances. Diffusing the rich and facile treasures of his genius through a host of lesser men, he had almost ceased to be a personality. Even his own work, as proved by the Transfiguration, was deteriorating. The blossom was overblown, the bubble on the point of bursting; and all those pupils who had gathered round him, drawing like planets from the sun their lustre, sank at his death into frigidity and insignificance. Only Giulio Romano burned with a torrid sensual splendour all his own. Fortunately for the history of the Renaissance, Giulio lived to evoke the wonder of the Mantuan villa, that climax of associated crafts of decoration, which remains for us the symbol of the dream of art indulged by Raffaello in his Roman period.

These pupils of the Urbinate claimed now, on their master's death, and claimed with good reason, the right to carry on his great work in the Borgian apartments of the Vatican. The Sala de' Pontefici, or the Hall of Constantine, as it is sometimes called, remained to be painted. They possessed designs bequeathed by Raffaello for its decoration, and Leo, very rightly, decided to leave it in their hands. Sebastiano del Piombo, however, made a vigorous effort to obtain the work for himself. His Raising of Lazarus, executed in avowed competition with the Transfiguration, had brought him into the first rank of Roman painters. It was seen what the man, with Michelangelo to back him up, could do. We cannot properly appreciate this picture in its present state. The glory of the colouring has passed away; and it was precisely here that Sebastiano may have surpassed Raffaello, as he was certainly superior to the school. Sebastiano wrote letter after letter to Michelangelo in Florence. He first mentions Raffaello's death, "whom may God forgive;" then says that the "garzoni" of the Urbinate are beginning to paint in oil upon the walls of the Sala de' Pontefici. "I pray you to remember me, and to recommend me to the Cardinal, and if I am the man to undertake the job, I should like you to set me to work at it; for I shall not disgrace you, as indeed I think I have not done already. I took my picture (the Lazarus) once more to the Vatican, and placed it beside Raffaello's (the Transfiguration), and I came without shame out of the comparison." In answer, apparently, to this first letter on the subject, Michelangelo wrote a humorous recommendation of his friend and gossip to the Cardinal Bernardo Dovizi da Bibbiena. It runs thus: "I beg your most reverend Lordship, not as a friend or servant, for I am not worthy to be either, but as a low fellow, poor and brainless, that you will cause Sebastian, the Venetian painter, now that Rafael is dead, to have some share in the works, at the Palace. If it should seem to your Lordship that kind offices are thrown away upon a man like me, I might suggest that on some rare occasions a certain sweetness may be found in being kind even to fools, as onions taste well, for a change of food, to one who is tired of capons. You oblige men of mark every day. I beg your Lordship to try what obliging me is like. The obligation will be a very great one, and Sebastian is a worthy man. If, then, your kind offers are thrown away on me, they will not be so on Sebastian, for I am certain he will prove a credit to your Lordship."

In his following missives Sebastiano flatters Michelangelo upon the excellent effect produced by the letter. "The Cardinal informed me that the Pope had given the Hall of the Pontiffs to Raffaello's 'prentices, and they have begun with a figure in oils upon the wall, a marvellous production which eclipses all the rooms painted by their master, and proves that when it is finished, this hall will beat the record, and be the finest thing done in painting since the ancients. Then he asked if I had read your letter. I said, No. He laughed loudly, as though at a good joke, and I quitted him with compliments. Bandinelli, who is copying the Laocoon, tells me that the Cardinal showed him your letter, and also showed it to the Pope; in fact, nothing is talked about at the Vatican except your letter, and it makes everybody laugh." He adds that he does not think the hall ought to be committed to young men. Having discovered what sort of things they meant to paint there, battle-pieces and vast compositions, he judges the scheme beyond their scope. Michelangelo alone is equal to the task. Meanwhile, Leo, wishing to compromise matters, offered Sebastiano the great hall in the lower apartments of the Borgias, where Alexander VI. used to live, and where Pinturicchio painted—rooms shut up in pious horror by Julius when he came to occupy the palace of his hated and abominable predecessor. Sebastiano's reliance upon Michelangelo, and his calculation that the way to get possession of the coveted commission would depend on the latter's consenting to supply him with designs, emerge in the following passage: "The Cardinal told me that he was ordered by the Pope to offer me the lower hall. I replied that I could accept nothing without your permission, or until your answer came, which is not to hand at the date of writing. I added that, unless I were engaged to Michelangelo, even if the Pope commanded me to paint that hall, I would not do so, because I do not think myself inferior to Raffaello's 'prentices, especially after the Pope, with his own mouth, had offered me half of the upper hall; and anyhow, I do not regard it as creditable to myself to paint the cellars, and they to have the gilded chambers. I said they had better be allowed to go on painting. He answered that the Pope had only done this to avoid rivalries. The men possessed designs ready for that hall, and I ought to remember that the lower one was also a hall of the Pontiffs. My reply was that I would have nothing to do with it; so that now they are laughing at me, and I am so worried that I am well-nigh mad." Later on he adds: "It has been my object, through you and your authority, to execute vengeance for myself and you too, letting malignant fellows know that there are other demigods alive beside Raffael da Urbino and his 'prentices." The vacillation of Leo in this business, and his desire to make things pleasant, are characteristic of the man, who acted just in the same way while negotiating with princes.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12     Next Part
Home - Random Browse