The Life of Michelangelo Buonarroti
by John Addington Symonds
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When Michelangelo complained that he was "rovinato per detta opera di San Lorenzo," he probably did not mean that he was ruined in purse, but in health and energy. For some while after Leo gave him his liberty, he seems to have remained comparatively inactive. During this period the sacristy at S. Lorenzo and the Medicean tombs were probably in contemplation. Giovanni Cambi says that they were begun at the end of March 1520. But we first hear something definite about them in a Ricordo which extends from April 9 to August 19, 1521. Michelangelo says that on the former of these dates he received money from the Cardinal de' Medici for a journey to Carrara, whither he went and stayed about three weeks, ordering marbles for "the tombs which are to be placed in the new sacristy at S. Lorenzo. And there I made out drawings to scale, and measured models in clay for the said tombs." He left his assistant Scipione of Settignano at Carrara as overseer of the work and returned to Florence. On the 20th of July following he went again to Carrara, and stayed nine days. On the 16th of August the contractors for the blocks, all of which were excavated from the old Roman quarry of Polvaccio, came to Florence, and were paid for on account. Scipione returned on the 19th of August. It may be added that the name of Stefano, the miniaturist, who acted as Michelangelo's factotum through several years, is mentioned for the first time in this minute and interesting record.

That the commission for the sacristy came from the Cardinal Giulio, and not from the Pope, appears in the document I have just cited. The fact is confirmed by a letter written to Fattucci in 1523: "About two years have elapsed since I returned from Carrara, whither I had gone to purchase marbles for the tombs of the Cardinal." The letter is curious in several respects, because it shows how changeable through many months Giulio remained about the scheme; at one time bidding Michelangelo prepare plans and models, at another refusing to listen to any proposals; then warming up again, and saying that, if he lived long enough, he meant to erect the facade as well. The final issue of the affair was, that after Giulio became Pope Clement VII., the sacristy went forward, and Michelangelo had to put the sepulchre of Julius aside. During the pontificate of Adrian, we must believe that he worked upon his statues for that monument, since a Cardinal was hardly powerful enough to command his services; but when the Cardinal became Pope, and threatened to bring an action against him for moneys received, the case was altered. The letter to Fattucci, when carefully studied, leads to these conclusions.

Very little is known to us regarding his private life in the year 1521. We only possess one letter, relating to the purchase of a house. In October he stood godfather to the infant son of Niccolo Soderini, nephew of his old patron, the Gonfalonier.

This barren period is marked by only one considerable event—that is, the termination of the Cristo Risorto, or Christ Triumphant, which had been ordered by Metello Varj de' Porcari in 1514. The statue seems to have been rough-hewn at the quarries, packed up, and sent to Pisa on its way to Florence as early as December 1518, but it was not until March 1521 that Michelangelo began to occupy himself about it seriously. He then despatched Pietro Urbano to Rome with orders to complete it there, and to arrange with the purchaser for placing it upon a pedestal. Sebastiano's letters contain some references to this work, which enable us to understand how wrong it would be to accept it as a representative piece of Buonarroti's own handicraft. On the 9th of November 1520 he writes that his gossip, Giovanni da Reggio, "goes about saying that you did not execute the figure, but that it is the work of Pietro Urbano. Take good care that it should be seen to be from your hand, so that poltroons and babblers may burst." On the 6th of September 1521 he returns to the subject. Urbano was at this time resident in Rome, and behaving himself so badly, in Sebastiano's opinion, that he feels bound to make a severe report. "In the first place, you sent him to Rome with the statue to finish and erect it. What he did and left undone you know already. But I must inform you that he has spoiled the marble wherever he touched it. In particular, he shortened the right foot and cut the toes off; the hands too, especially the right hand, which holds the cross, have been mutilated in the fingers. Frizzi says they seem to have been worked by a biscuit-maker, not wrought in marble, but kneaded by some one used to dough. I am no judge, not being familiar with the method of stone-cutting; but I can tell you that the fingers look to me very stiff and dumpy. It is clear also that he has been peddling at the beard; and I believe my little boy would have done so with more sense, for it looks as though he had used a knife without a point to chisel the hair. This can easily be remedied, however. He has also spoiled one of the nostrils. A little more, and the whole nose would have been ruined, and only God could have restored it." Michelangelo apparently had already taken measures to transfer the Christ from Urbano's hands to those of the sculptor Federigo Frizzi. This irritated his former friend and workman. "Pietro shows a very ugly and malignant spirit after finding himself cast off by you. He does not seem to care for you or any one alive, but thinks he is a great master. He will soon find out his mistake, for the poor young man will never be able to make statues. He has forgotten all he knew of art, and the knees of your Christ are worth more than all Rome together." It was Sebastiano's wont to run babbling on this way. Once again he returns to Pietro Urbano. "I am informed that he has left Rome; he has not been seen for several days, has shunned the Court, and I certainly believe that he will come to a bad end. He gambles, wants all the women of the town, struts like a Ganymede in velvet shoes through Rome, and flings his cash about. Poor fellow! I am sorry for him since, after all, he is but young."

Such was the end of Pietro Urbano. Michelangelo was certainly unfortunate with his apprentices. One cannot help fancying he may have spoiled them by indulgence. Vasari, mentioning Pietro, calls him "a person of talent, but one who never took the pains to work."

Frizzi brought the Christ Triumphant into its present state, patching up what "the lither lad" from Pistoja had boggled. Buonarroti, who was sincerely attached to Varj, and felt his artistic reputation now at stake, offered to make a new statue. But the magnanimous Roman gentleman replied that he was entirely satisfied with the one he had received. He regarded and esteemed it "as a thing of gold," and, in refusing Michelangelo's offer, added that "this proved his noble soul and generosity, inasmuch as, when he had already made what could not be surpassed and was incomparable, he still wanted to serve his friend better." The price originally stipulated was paid, and Varj added an autograph testimonial, strongly affirming his contentment with the whole transaction.

These details prove that the Christ of the Minerva must be regarded as a mutilated masterpiece. Michelangelo is certainly responsible for the general conception, the pose, and a large portion of the finished surface, details of which, especially in the knees, so much admired by Sebastiano, and in the robust arms, are magnificent. He designed the figure wholly nude, so that the heavy bronze drapery which now surrounds the loins, and bulges drooping from the left hip, breaks the intended harmony of lines. Yet, could this brawny man have ever suggested any distinctly religious idea? Christ, victor over Death and Hell, did not triumph by ponderosity and sinews. The spiritual nature of his conquest, the ideality of a divine soul disencumbered from the flesh, to which it once had stooped in love for sinful man, ought certainly to have been emphasised, if anywhere through art, in the statue of a Risen Christ. Substitute a scaling-ladder for the cross, and here we have a fine life-guardsman, stripped and posing for some classic battle-piece. We cannot quarrel with Michelangelo about the face and head. Those vulgarly handsome features, that beard, pomaded and curled by a barber's 'prentice, betray no signs of his inspiration. Only in the arrangement of the hair, hyacinthine locks descending to the shoulders, do we recognise the touch of the divine sculptor.

The Christ became very famous. Francis I. had it cast and sent to Paris, to be repeated in bronze. What is more strange, it has long been the object of a religious cult. The right foot, so mangled by poor Pietro, wears a fine brass shoe, in order to prevent its being kissed away. This almost makes one think of Goethe's hexameter: "Wunderthaetige Bilder sind meist nur schlechte Gemaelde." Still it must be remembered that excellent critics have found the whole work admirable. Gsell-Fels says: "It is his second Moses; in movement and physique one of the greatest masterpieces; as a Christ-ideal, the heroic conception of a humanist." That last observation is just. We may remember that Vida was composing his Christiad while Frizzi was curling the beard of the Cristo Risorto. Vida always speaks of Jesus as Heros and of God the Father as Superum Pater Nimbipotens or Regnator Olympi.



Leo X. expired upon the 1st day of December 1521. The vacillating game he played in European politics had just been crowned with momentary success. Some folk believed that the Pope died of joy after hearing that his Imperial allies had entered the town of Milan; others thought that he succumbed to poison. We do not know what caused his death. But the unsoundness of his constitution, over-taxed by dissipation and generous living, in the midst of public cares for which the man had hardly nerve enough, may suffice to account for a decease certainly sudden and premature. Michelangelo, born in the same year, was destined to survive him through more than eight lustres of the life of man.

Leo was a personality whom it is impossible to praise without reserve. The Pope at that time in Italy had to perform three separate functions. His first duty was to the Church. Leo left the See of Rome worse off than he found it: financially bankrupt, compromised by vague schemes set on foot for the aggrandisement of his family, discredited by many shameless means for raising money upon spiritual securities. His second duty was to Italy. Leo left the peninsula so involved in a mesh of meaningless entanglements, diplomatic and aimless wars, that anarchy and violence proved to be the only exit from the situation. His third duty was to that higher culture which Italy dispensed to Europe, and of which the Papacy had made itself the leading propagator. Here Leo failed almost as conspicuously as in all else he attempted. He debased the standard of art and literature by his ill-placed liberalities, seeking quick returns for careless expenditure, not selecting the finest spirits of his age for timely patronage, diffusing no lofty enthusiasm, but breeding round him mushrooms of mediocrity.

Nothing casts stronger light upon the low tone of Roman society created by Leo than the outburst of frenzy and execration which exploded when a Fleming was elected as his successor. Adrian Florent, belonging to a family surnamed Dedel, emerged from the scrutiny of the Conclave into the pontifical chair. He had been the tutor of Charles V., and this may suffice to account for his nomination. Cynical wits ascribed that circumstance to the direct and unexpected action of the Holy Ghost. He was the one foreigner who occupied the seat of S. Peter after the period when the metropolis of Western Christendom became an Italian principality. Adrian, by his virtues and his failings, proved that modern Rome, in her social corruption and religious indifference, demanded an Italian Pontiff. Single-minded and simple, raised unexpectedly by circumstances into his supreme position, he shut his eyes absolutely to art and culture, abandoned diplomacy, and determined to act only as the chief of the Catholic Church. In ecclesiastical matters Adrian was undoubtedly a worthy man. He returned to the original conception of his duty as the Primate of Occidental Christendom; and what might have happened had he lived to impress his spirit upon Rome, remains beyond the reach of calculation. Dare we conjecture that the sack of 1527 would have been averted?

Adrian reigned only a year and eight months. He had no time to do anything of permanent value, and was hardly powerful enough to do it, even if time and opportunity had been afforded. In the thunderstorm gathering over Rome and the Papacy, he represents that momentary lull during which men hold their breath and murmur. All the place-seekers, parasites, flatterers, second-rate artificers, folk of facile talents, whom Leo gathered round him, vented their rage against a Pope who lived sparsely, shut up the Belvedere, called statues "idols of the Pagans," and spent no farthing upon twangling lutes and frescoed chambers. Truly Adrian is one of the most grotesque and significant figures upon the page of modern history. His personal worth, his inadequacy to the needs of the age, and his incompetence to control the tempest loosed by Della Roveres, Borgias, and Medici around him, give the man a tragic irony.

After his death, upon the 23rd of September 1523, the Cardinal Giulio de' Medici was made Pope. He assumed the title of Clement VII. upon the 9th of November. The wits who saluted Adrian's doctor with the title of "Saviour of the Fatherland," now rejoiced at the election of an Italian and a Medici. The golden years of Leo's reign would certainly return, they thought; having no foreknowledge of the tragedy which was so soon to be enacted, first at Rome, and afterwards at Florence, Michelangelo wrote to his friend Topolino at Carrara: "You will have heard that Medici is made Pope; all the world seems to me to be delighted, and I think that here at Florence great things will soon be set on foot in our art. Therefore, serve well and faithfully."


Our records are very scanty, both as regards personal details and art-work, for the life of Michelangelo during the pontificate of Adrian VI. The high esteem in which he was held throughout Italy is proved by three incidents which may shortly be related. In 1522, the Board of Works for the cathedral church of S. Petronio at Bologna decided to complete the facade. Various architects sent in designs; among them Peruzzi competed with one in the Gothic style, and another in that of the Classical revival. Great differences of opinion arose in the city as to the merits of the rival plans, and the Board in July invited Michelangelo, through their secretary, to come and act as umpire. They promised to reward him magnificently. It does not appear that Michelangelo accepted the offer. In 1523, Cardinal Grimani, who was a famous collector of art-objects, wrote begging for some specimen of his craft. Grimani left it open to him "to choose material and subject; painting, bronze, or marble, according to his fancy." Michelangelo must have promised to fulfill the commission, for we have a letter from Grimani thanking him effusively. He offers to pay fifty ducats at the commencement of the work, and what Michelangelo thinks fit to demand at its conclusion: "for such is the excellence of your ability, that we shall take no thought of money-value." Grimani was Patriarch of Aquileja. In the same year, 1523, the Genoese entered into negotiations for a colossal statue of Andrea Doria, which they desired to obtain from the hand of Michelangelo. Its execution must have been seriously contemplated, for the Senate of Genoa banked 300 ducats for the purpose. We regret that Michelangelo could not carry out a work so congenial to his talent as this ideal portrait of the mighty Signer Capitano would have been; but we may console ourselves by reflecting that even his energies were not equal to all tasks imposed upon him. The real matter for lamentation is that they suffered so much waste in the service of vacillating Popes.

To the year 1523 belongs, in all probability, the last extant letter which Michelangelo wrote to his father. Lodovico was dissatisfied with a contract which had been drawn up on the 16th of June in that year, and by which a certain sum of money, belonging to the dowry of his late wife, was settled in reversion upon his eldest son. Michelangelo explains the tenor of the deed, and then breaks forth into the, following bitter and ironical invective: "If my life is a nuisance to you, you have found the means of protecting yourself, and will inherit the key of that treasure which you say that I possess. And you will be acting rightly; for all Florence knows how mighty rich you were, and how I always robbed you, and deserve to be chastised. Highly will men think of you for this. Cry out and tell folk all you choose about me, but do not write again, for you prevent my working. What I have now to do is to make good all you have had from me during the past five-and-twenty years. I would rather not tell you this, but I cannot help it. Take care, and be on your guard against those whom it concerns you. A man dies but once, and does not come back again to patch up things ill done. You have put off till the death to do this. May God assist you!"

In another draft of this letter Lodovico is accused of going about the town complaining that he was once a rich man, and that Michelangelo had robbed him. Still, we must not take this for proved; one of the great artist's main defects was an irritable suspiciousness, which caused him often to exaggerate slights and to fancy insults. He may have attached too much weight to the grumblings of an old man, whom at the bottom of his heart he loved dearly.


Clement, immediately after his election, resolved on setting Michelangelo at work in earnest on the Sacristy. At the very beginning of January he also projected the building of the Laurentian Library, and wrote, through his Roman agent, Giovanni Francesco Fattucci, requesting to have two plans furnished, one in the Greek, the other in the Latin style. Michelangelo replied as follows: "I gather from your last that his Holiness our Lord wishes that I should furnish the design for the library. I have received no information, and do not know where it is to be erected. It is true that Stefano talked to me about the scheme, but I paid no heed. When he returns from Carrara I will inquire, and will do all that is in my power, albeit architecture is not my profession." There is something pathetic in this reiterated assertion that his real art was sculpture. At the same time Clement wished to provide for him for life. He first proposed that Buonarroti should promise not to marry, and should enter into minor orders. This would have enabled him to enjoy some ecclesiastical benefice, but it would also have handed him over firmly bound to the service of the Pope. Circumstances already hampered him enough, and Michelangelo, who chose to remain his own master, refused. As Berni wrote: "Voleva far da se, non comandato." As an alternative, a pension was suggested. It appears that he only asked for fifteen ducats a month, and that his friend Pietro Gondi had proposed twenty-five ducats. Fattucci, on the 13th of January 1524, rebuked him in affectionate terms for his want of pluck, informing him that "Jacopo Salviati has given orders that Spina should be instructed to pay you a monthly provision of fifty ducats." Moreover, all the disbursements made for the work at S. Lorenzo were to be provided by the same agent in Florence, and to pass through Michelangelo's hands. A house was assigned him, free of rent, at S. Lorenzo, in order that he might be near his work. Henceforth he was in almost weekly correspondence with Giovanni Spina on affairs of business, sending in accounts and drawing money by means of his then trusted servant, Stefano, the miniaturist.

That Stefano did not always behave himself according to his master's wishes appears from the following characteristic letter addressed by Michelangelo to his friend Pietro Gondi: "The poor man, who is ungrateful, has a nature of this sort, that if you help him in his needs, he says that what you gave him came out of superfluities; if you put him in the way of doing work for his own good, he says you were obliged, and set him to do it because you were incapable; and all the benefits which he received he ascribes to the necessities of the benefactor. But when everybody can see that you acted out of pure benevolence, the ingrate waits until you make some public mistake, which gives him the opportunity of maligning his benefactor and winning credence, in order to free himself from the obligation under which he lies. This has invariably happened in my case. No one ever entered into relations with me—I speak of workmen—to whom I did not do good with all my heart. Afterwards, some trick of temper, or some madness, which they say is in my nature, which hurts nobody except myself, gives them an excuse for speaking evil of me and calumniating my character. Such is the reward of all honest men."

These general remarks, he adds, apply to Stefano, whom he placed in a position of trust and responsibility, in order to assist him. "What I do is done for his good, because I have undertaken to benefit the man, and cannot abandon him; but let him not imagine or say that I am doing it because of my necessities, for, God be praised, I do not stand in need of men." He then begs Gondi to discover what Stefano's real mind is. This is a matter of great importance to him for several reasons, and especially for this: "If I omitted to justify myself, and were to put another in his place, I should be published among the Piagnoni for the biggest traitor who ever lived, even though I were in the right."

We conclude, then, that Michelangelo thought of dismissing Stefano, but feared lest he should get into trouble with the powerful political party, followers of Savonarola, who bore the name of Piagnoni at Florence. Gondi must have patched the quarrel up, for we still find Stefano's name in the Ricordi down to April 4, 1524. Shortly after that date, Antonio Mini seems to have taken his place as Michelangelo's right-hand man of business. These details are not so insignificant as they appear. They enable us to infer that the Sacristy of S. Lorenzo may have been walled and roofed in before the end of April 1524; for, in an undated letter to Pope Clement, Michelangelo says that Stefano has finished the lantern, and that it is universally admired. With regard to this lantern, folk told him that he would make it better than Brunelleschi's. "Different perhaps, but better, no!" he answered. The letter to Clement just quoted is interesting in several respects. The boldness of the beginning makes one comprehend how Michelangelo was terrible even to Popes:—

"Most Blessed Father,—Inasmuch as intermediates are often the cause of grave misunderstandings, I have summoned up courage to write without their aid to your Holiness about the tombs at S. Lorenzo. I repeat, I know not which is preferable, the evil that does good, or the good that hurts. I am certain, mad and wicked as I may be, that if I had been allowed to go on as I had begun, all the marbles needed for the work would have been in Florence to-day, and properly blocked out, with less cost than has been expended on them up to this date; and they would have been superb, as are the others I have brought here."

After this he entreats Clement to give him full authority in carrying out the work, and not to put superiors over him. Michelangelo, we know, was extremely impatient of control and interference; and we shall see, within a short time, how excessively the watching and spying of busybodies worried and disturbed his spirits.

But these were not his only sources of annoyance. The heirs of Pope Julius, perceiving that Michelangelo's time and energy were wholly absorbed at S. Lorenzo, began to threaten him with a lawsuit. Clement, wanting apparently to mediate between the litigants, ordered Fattucci to obtain a report from the sculptor, with a full account of how matters stood. This evoked the long and interesting document which has been so often cited. There is no doubt whatever that Michelangelo acutely felt the justice of the Duke of Urbino's grievances against him. He was broken-hearted at seeming to be wanting in his sense of honour and duty. People, he says, accused him of putting the money which had been paid for the tomb out at usury, "living meanwhile at Florence and amusing himself." It also hurt him deeply to be distracted from the cherished project of his early manhood in order to superintend works for which he had no enthusiasm, and which lay outside his sphere of operation.

It may, indeed, be said that during these years Michelangelo lived in a perpetual state of uneasiness and anxiety about the tomb of Julius. As far back as 1518 the Cardinal Leonardo Grosso, Bishop of Agen, and one of Julius's executors, found it necessary to hearten him with frequent letters of encouragement. In one of these, after commending his zeal in extracting marbles and carrying on the monument, the Cardinal proceeds: "Be then of good courage, and do not yield to any perturbations of the spirit, for we put more faith in your smallest word than if all the world should say the contrary. We know your loyalty, and believe you to be wholly devoted to our person; and if there shall be need of aught which we can supply, we are willing, as we have told you on other occasions, to do so; rest then in all security of mind, because we love you from the heart, and desire to do all that may be agreeable to you." This good friend was dead at the time we have now reached, and the violent Duke Francesco Maria della Rovere acted as the principal heir of Pope Julius.

In a passion of disgust he refused to draw his pension, and abandoned the house at S. Lorenzo. This must have happened in March 1524, for his friend Leonardo writes to him from Rome upon the 24th: "I am also told that you have declined your pension, which seems to me mere madness, and that you have thrown the house up, and do not work. Friend and gossip, let me tell you that you have plenty of enemies, who speak their worst; also that the Pope and Pucci and Jacopo Salviati are your friends, and have plighted their troth to you. It is unworthy of you to break your word to them, especially in an affair of honour. Leave the matter of the tomb to those who wish you well, and who are able to set you free without the least encumbrance, and take care you do not come short in the Pope's work. Die first. And take the pension, for they give it with a willing heart." How long he remained in contumacy is not quite certain; apparently until the 29th of August. We have a letter written on that day to Giovanni Spina: "After I left you yesterday, I went back thinking over my affairs; and, seeing that the Pope has set his heart on S. Lorenzo, and how he urgently requires my service, and has appointed me a good provision in order that I may serve him with more convenience and speed; seeing also that not to accept it keeps me back, and that I have no good excuse for not serving his Holiness; I have changed my mind, and whereas I hitherto refused, I now demand it (i.e., the salary), considering this far wiser, and for more reasons than I care to write; and, more especially, I mean to return to the house you took for me at S. Lorenzo, and settle down there like an honest man: inasmuch as it sets gossip going, and does me great damage not to go back there." From a Ricordo dated October 19, 1524, we learn in fact that he then drew his full pay for eight months.


Since Michelangelo was now engaged upon the Medicean tombs at S. Lorenzo, it will be well to give some account of the several plans he made before deciding on the final scheme, which he partially executed. We may assume, I think, that the sacristy, as regards its general form and dimensions, faithfully represents the first plan approved by Clement. This follows from the rapidity and regularity with which the structure was completed. But then came the question of filling it with sarcophagi and statues. As early as November 28, 1520, Giulio de' Medici, at that time Cardinal, wrote from the Villa Magliana. to Buonarroti, addressing him thus: "Spectabilis vir, amice noster charissime." He says that he is pleased with the design for the chapel, and with the notion of placing the four tombs in the middle. Then he proceeds to make some sensible remarks upon the difficulty of getting these huge masses of statuary into the space provided for them. Michelangelo, as Heath Wilson has pointed out, very slowly acquired the sense of proportion on which technical architecture depends. His early sketches only show a feeling for mass and picturesque effect, and a strong inclination to subordinate the building to sculpture.

It may be questioned who were the four Medici for whom these tombs were intended. Cambi, in a passage quoted above, writing at the end of March 1520(?), says that two were raised for Giuliano, Duke of Nemours, and Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino, and that the Cardinal meant one to be for himself. The fourth he does not speak about. It has been conjectured that Lorenzo the Magnificent and his brother Giuliano, fathers respectively of Leo and of Clement, were to occupy two of the sarcophagi; and also, with greater probability, that the two Popes, Leo and Clement, were associated with the Dukes.

Before 1524 the scheme expanded, and settled into a more definite shape. The sarcophagi were to support statue-portraits of the Dukes and Popes, with Lorenzo the Magnificent and his brother Giuliano. At their base, upon the ground, were to repose six rivers, two for each tomb, showing that each sepulchre would have held two figures. The rivers were perhaps Arno, Tiber, Metauro, Po, Taro, and Ticino. This we gather from a letter written to Michelangelo on the 23rd of May in that year. Michelangelo made designs to meet this plan, but whether the tombs were still detached from the wall does not appear. Standing inside the sacristy, it seems impossible that six statue-portraits and six river-gods on anything like a grand scale could have been crowded into the space, especially when we remember that there was to be an altar, with other objects described as ornaments—"gli altri ornamenti." Probably the Madonna and Child, with SS. Cosimo and Damiano, now extant in the chapel, formed an integral part of the successive schemes.

One thing is certain, that the notion of placing the tombs in the middle of the sacristy was soon abandoned. All the marble panelling, pilasters, niches, and so forth, which at present clothe the walls and dominate the architectural effect, are clearly planned for mural monuments. A rude sketch preserved in the Uffizi throws some light upon the intermediate stages of the scheme. It is incomplete, and was not finally adopted; but we see in it one of the four sides of the chapel, divided vertically above into three compartments, the middle being occupied by a Madonna, the two at the sides filled in with bas-reliefs. At the base, on sarcophagi or cassoni, recline two nude male figures. The space between these and the upper compartments seems to have been reserved for allegorical figures, since a colossal naked boy, ludicrously out of scale with the architecture and the recumbent figures, has been hastily sketched in. In architectural proportion and sculpturesque conception this design is very poor. It has the merit, however, of indicating a moment in the evolution of the project when the mural scheme had been adopted. The decorative details which surmount the composition confirm the feeling every one must have, that, in their present state, the architecture of the Medicean monuments remains imperfect.

In this process of endeavouring to trace the development of Michelangelo's ideas for the sacristy, seven original drawings at the British Museum are of the greatest importance. They may be divided into three groups. One sketch seems to belong to the period when the tombs were meant to be placed in the centre of the chapel. It shows a single facet of the monument, with two sarcophagi placed side by side and seated figures at the angles. Five are variations upon the mural scheme, which was eventually adopted. They differ considerably in details, proving what trouble the designer took to combine a large number of figures in a single plan. He clearly intended at some time to range the Medicean statues in pairs, and studied several types of curve for their sepulchral urns. The feature common to all of them is a niche, of door or window shape, with a powerfully indented architrave. Reminiscences of the design for the tomb of Julius are not infrequent; and it may be remarked, as throwing a side-light upon that irrecoverable project of his earlier manhood, that the figures posed upon the various spaces of architecture differ in their scale. Two belonging to this series are of especial interest, since we learn from them how he thought of introducing the rivers at the basement of the composition. It seems that he hesitated long about the employment of circular spaces in the framework of the marble panelling. These were finally rejected. One of the finest and most comprehensive of the drawings I am now describing contains a rough draft of a curved sarcophagus, with an allegorical figure reclining upon it, indicating the first conception of the Dawn. Another, blurred and indistinct, with clumsy architectural environment, exhibits two of these allegories, arranged much as we now see them at S. Lorenzo. A river-god, recumbent beneath the feet of a female statue, carries the eye down to the ground, and enables us to comprehend how these subordinate figures were wrought into the complex harmony of flowing lines he had imagined. The seventh study differs in conception from the rest; it stands alone. There are four handlings of what begins like a huge portal, and is gradually elaborated into an architectural scheme containing three great niches for statuary. It is powerful and simple in design, governed by semicircular arches—a feature which is absent from the rest.

All these drawings are indubitably by the hand of Michelangelo, and must be reckoned among his first free efforts to construct a working plan. The Albertina Collection at Vienna yields us an elaborate design for the sacristy, which appears to have been worked up from some of the rougher sketches. It is executed in pen, shaded with bistre, and belongs to what I have ventured to describe as office work. It may have been prepared for the inspection of Leo and the Cardinal. Here we have the sarcophagi in pairs, recumbent figures stretched upon a shallow curve inverted, colossal orders of a bastard Ionic type, a great central niche framing a seated Madonna, two male figures in side niches, suggestive of Giuliano and Lorenzo as they were at last conceived, four allegorical statues, and, to crown the whole structure, candelabra of a peculiar shape, with a central round, supported by two naked genii. It is difficult, as I have before observed, to be sure how much of the drawings executed in this way can be ascribed with safety to Michelangelo himself. They are carefully outlined, with the precision of a working architect; but the sculptural details bear the aspect of what may be termed a generic Florentine style of draughtsmanship.

Two important letters from Michelangelo to Fattucci, written in October 1525 and April 1526, show that he had then abandoned the original scheme, and adopted one which was all but carried into effect. "I am working as hard as I can, and in fifteen days I shall begin the other captain. Afterwards the only important things left will be the four rivers. The four statues on the sarcophagi, the four figures on the ground which are the rivers, the two captains, and Our Lady, who is to be placed upon the tomb at the head of the chapel; these are what I mean to do with my own hand. Of these I have begun six; and I have good hope of finishing them in due time, and carrying the others forward in part, which do not signify so much." The six he had begun are clearly the Dukes and their attendant figures of Day, Night, Dawn, Evening. The Madonna, one of his noblest works, came within a short distance of completion. SS. Cosimo and Damiano passed into the hands of Montelupo and Montorsoli. Of the four rivers we have only fragments in the shape of some exquisite little models. Where they could have been conveniently placed is difficult to imagine; possibly they were abandoned from a feeling that the chapel would be overcrowded.


According to the plan adopted in this book, I shall postpone such observations as I have to make upon the Medicean monuments until the date when Michelangelo laid down his chisel, and shall now proceed with the events of his life during the years 1525 and 1526.

He continued to be greatly troubled about the tomb of Julius II. The lawsuit instituted by the Duke of Urbino hung over his head; and though he felt sure of the Pope's powerful support, it was extremely important, both for his character and comfort, that affairs should be placed upon a satisfactory basis. Fattucci in Rome acted not only as Clement's agent in business connected with S. Lorenzo; he also was intrusted with negotiations for the settlement of the Duke's claims. The correspondence which passed between them forms, therefore, our best source of information for this period. On Christmas Eve in 1524 Michelangelo writes from Florence to his friend, begging him not to postpone a journey he had in view, if the only business which detained him was the trouble about the tomb. A pleasant air of manly affection breathes through this document, showing Michelangelo to have been unselfish in a matter which weighed heavily and daily on his spirits. How greatly he was affected can be inferred from a letter written to Giovanni Spina on the 19th of April 1525. While reading this, it must be remembered that the Duke laid his action for the recovery of a considerable balance, which he alleged to be due to him upon disbursements made for the monument. Michelangelo, on the contrary, asserted that he was out of pocket, as we gather from the lengthy report he forwarded in 1524 to Fattucci. The difficulty in the accounts seems to have arisen from the fact that payments for the Sistine Chapel and the tomb had been mixed up. The letter to Spina runs as follows: "There is no reason for sending a power of attorney about the tomb of Pope Julius, because I do not want to plead. They cannot bring a suit if I admit that I am in the wrong; so I assume that I have sued and lost, and have to pay; and this I am disposed to do, if I am able. Therefore, if the Pope will help me in the matter—and this would be the greatest satisfaction to me, seeing I am too old and ill to finish the work—he might, as intermediary, express his pleasure that I should repay what I have received for its performance, so as to release me from this burden, and to enable the relatives of Pope Julius to carry out the undertaking by any master whom they may choose to employ. In this way his Holiness could be of very great assistance to me. Of course I desire to reimburse as little as possible, always consistently with justice. His Holiness might employ some of my arguments, as, for instance, the time spent for the Pope at Bologna, and other times wasted without any compensation, according to the statements I have made in full to Ser Giovan Francesco (Fattucci). Directly the terms of restitution have been settled, I will engage my property, sell, and put myself in a position to repay the money. I shall then be able to think of the Pope's orders and to work; as it is, I can hardly be said to live, far less to work. There is no other way of putting an end to the affair more safe for myself, nor more agreeable, nor more certain to ease my mind. It can be done amicably without a lawsuit. I pray to God that the Pope may be willing to accept the mediation, for I cannot see that any one else is fit to do it."

Giorgio Vasari says that he came in the year 1525 for a short time as pupil to Michelangelo. In his own biography he gives the date, more correctly, 1524. At any rate, the period of Vasari's brief apprenticeship was closed by a journey which the master made to Rome, and Buonarroti placed the lad in Andrea del Sarto's workshop. "He left for Rome in haste. Francesco Maria, Duke of Urbino, was again molesting him, asserting that he had received 16,000 ducats to complete the tomb, while he stayed idling at Florence for his own amusement. He threatened that, if he did not attend to the work, he would make him suffer. So, when he arrived there, Pope Clement, who wanted to command his services, advised him to reckon with the Duke's agents, believing that, for what he had already done, he was rather creditor than debtor. The matter remained thus." We do not know when this journey to Rome took place. From a hint in the letter of December 24, 1524, to Fattucci, where Michelangelo observes that only he in person would be able to arrange matters, it is possible that we may refer it to the beginning of 1525. Probably he was able to convince, not only the Pope, but also the Duke's agents that he had acted with scrupulous honesty, and that his neglect of the tomb was due to circumstances over which he had no control, and which he regretted as acutely as anybody. There is no shadow of doubt that this was really the case. Every word written by Michelangelo upon the subject shows that he was heart-broken at having to abandon the long-cherished project.

Some sort of arrangement must have been arrived at. Clement took the matter into his own hands, and during the summer of 1525 amicable negotiations were in progress. On the 4th of September Michelangelo writes again to Fattucci, saying that he is quite willing to complete the tomb upon the same plan as that of the Pope Pius (now in the Church of S. Andrea della Valle)—that is, to adopt a mural system instead of the vast detached monument. This would take less time. He again urges his friend not to stay at Rome for the sake of these affairs. He hears that the plague is breaking out there. "And I would rather have you alive than my business settled. If I die before the Pope, I shall not have to settle any troublesome affairs. If I live, I am sure the Pope will settle them, if not now, at some other time. So come back. I was with your mother yesterday, and advised her, in the presence of Granacci and John the turner, to send for you home."

While in Rome Michelangelo conferred with Clement about the sacristy and library at S. Lorenzo. For a year after his return to Florence he worked steadily at the Medicean monuments, but not without severe annoyances, as appears from the following to Fattucci: "The four statues I have in hand are not yet finished, and much has still to be done upon them. The four rivers are not begun, because the marble is wanting, and yet it is here. I do not think it opportune to tell you why. With regard to the affairs of Julius, I am well disposed to make the tomb like that of Pius in S. Peter's, and will do so little by little, now one piece and now another, and will pay for it out of my own pocket, if I keep my pension and my house, as you promised me. I mean, of course, the house at Rome, and the marbles and other things I have there. So that, in fine, I should not have to restore to the heirs of Julius, in order to be quit of the contract, anything which I have hitherto received; the tomb itself, completed after the pattern of that of Pius, sufficing for my full discharge. Moreover, I undertake to perform the work within a reasonable time, and to finish the statues with my own hand." He then turns to his present troubles at Florence. The pension was in arrears, and busybodies annoyed him with interferences of all sorts. "If my pension were paid, as was arranged, I would never stop working for Pope Clement with all the strength I have, small though that be, since I am old. At the same time I must not be slighted and affronted as I am now, for such treatment weighs greatly on my spirits. The petty spites I speak of have prevented me from doing what I want to do these many months; one cannot work at one thing with the hands, another with the brain, especially in marble. 'Tis said here that these annoyances are meant to spur me on; but I maintain that those are scurvy spurs which make a good steed jib. I have not touched my pension during the past year, and struggle with poverty. I am left in solitude to bear my troubles, and have so many that they occupy me more than does my art; I cannot keep a man to manage my house through lack of means."

Michelangelo's dejection caused serious anxiety to his friends. Jacopo Salviati, writing on the 30th October from Rome, endeavoured to restore his courage. "I am greatly distressed to hear of the fancies you have got into your head. What hurts me most is that they should prevent your working, for that rejoices your ill-wishers, and confirms them in what they have always gone on preaching about your habits." He proceeds to tell him how absurd it is to suppose that Baccio Bandinelli is preferred before him. "I cannot perceive how Baccio could in any way whatever be compared to you, or his work be set on the same level as your own." The letter winds up with exhortations to work. "Brush these cobwebs of melancholy away; have confidence in his Holiness; do not give occasion to your enemies to blaspheme, and be sure that your pension will be paid; I pledge my word for it." Buonarroti, it is clear, wasted his time, not through indolence, but through allowing the gloom of a suspicious and downcast temperament—what the Italians call accidia—to settle on his spirits.

Skipping a year, we find that these troublesome negotiations about the tomb were still pending. He still hung suspended between the devil and the deep sea, the importunate Duke of Urbino and the vacillating Pope. Spina, it seems, had been writing with too much heat to Rome, probably urging Clement to bring the difficulties about the tomb to a conclusion. Michelangelo takes the correspondence up again with Fattucci on November 6, 1526. What he says at the beginning of the letter is significant. He knows that the political difficulties in which Clement had become involved were sufficient to distract his mind, as Julius once said, from any interest in "stones small or big." Well, the letter starts thus: "I know that Spina wrote in these days past to Rome very hotly about my affairs with regard to the tomb of Julius. If he blundered, seeing the times in which we live, I am to blame, for I prayed him urgently to write. It is possible that the trouble of my soul made me say more than I ought. Information reached me lately about the affair which alarmed me greatly. It seems that the relatives of Julius are very ill-disposed towards me. And not without reason.—The suit is going on, and they are demanding capital and interest to such an amount that a hundred of my sort could not meet the claims. This has thrown me into terrible agitation, and makes me reflect where I should be if the Pope failed me. I could not live a moment. It is that which made me send the letter alluded to above. Now, I do not want anything but what the Pope thinks right. I know that he does not desire my ruin and my disgrace."

He proceeds to notice that the building work at S. Lorenzo is being carried forward very slowly, and money spent upon it with increasing parsimony. Still he has his pension and his house; and these imply no small disbursements. He cannot make out what the Pope's real wishes are. If he did but know Clement's mind, he would sacrifice everything to please him. "Only if I could obtain permission to begin something either here or in Rome, for the tomb of Julius, I should be extremely glad; for, indeed, I desire to free myself from that obligation more than to live." The letter closes on a note of sadness: "If I am unable to write what you will understand, do not be surprised, for I have lost my wits entirely."

After this we hear nothing more about the tomb in Michelangelo's correspondence till the year 1531. During the intervening years Italy was convulsed by the sack of Rome, the siege of Florence, and the French campaigns in Lombardy and Naples. Matters only began to mend when Charles V. met Clement at Bologna in 1530, and established the affairs of the peninsula upon a basis which proved durable. That fatal lustre (1526-1530) divided the Italy of the Renaissance from the Italy of modern times with the abruptness of an Alpine watershed. Yet Michelangelo, aged fifty-one in 1526, was destined to live on another thirty-eight years, and, after the death of Clement, to witness the election of five successive Popes. The span of his life was not only extraordinary in its length, but also in the events it comprehended. Born in the mediaeval pontificate of Sixtus IV., brought up in the golden days of Lorenzo de' Medici, he survived the Franco-Spanish struggle for supremacy, watched the progress of the Reformation, and only died when a new Church and a new Papacy had been established by the Tridentine Council amid states sinking into the repose of decrepitude.


We must return from this digression and resume the events of Michelangelo's life in 1525.

The first letter to Sebastiano del Piombo is referred to April of that year. He says that a picture, probably the portrait of Anton Francesco degli Albizzi, is eagerly expected at Florence. When it arrived in May, he wrote again under the influence of generous admiration for his friend's performance: "Last evening our friend the Captain Cuio and certain other gentlemen were so kind as to invite me to sup with them. This gave me exceeding great pleasure, since it drew me forth a little from my melancholy, or shall we call it my mad mood. Not only did I enjoy the supper, which was most agreeable, but far more the conversation. Among the topics discussed, what gave me most delight was to hear your name mentioned by the Captain; nor was this all, for he still added to my pleasure, nay, to a superlative degree, by saying that, in the art of painting he held you to be sole and without peer in the whole world, and that so you were esteemed at Rome. I could not have been better pleased. You see that my judgment is confirmed; and so you must not deny that you are peerless, when I write it, since I have a crowd of witnesses to my opinion. There is a picture too of yours here, God be praised, which wins credence for me with every one who has eyes."

Correspondence was carried on during this year regarding the library at S. Lorenzo; and though I do not mean to treat at length about that building in this chapter, I cannot omit an autograph postscript added by Clement to one of his secretary's missives: "Thou knowest that Popes have no long lives; and we cannot yearn more than we do to behold the chapel with the tombs of our kinsmen, or at any rate to hear that it is finished. Likewise, as regards the library. Wherefore we recommend both to thy diligence. Meantime we will betake us (as thou saidst erewhile) to a wholesome patience, praying God that He may put it into thy heart to push the whole forward together. Fear not that either work to do or rewards shall fail thee while we live. Farewell, with the blessing of God and ours.—Julius." [Julius was the Pope's baptismal name.—ED.]

Michelangelo began the library in 1526, as appears from his Ricordi. Still the work went on slowly, not through his negligence, but, as we have seen, from the Pope's preoccupation with graver matters. He had a great many workmen in his service at this period, and employed celebrated masters in their crafts, as Tasso and Carota for wood-carving, Battista del Cinque and Ciapino for carpentry, upon the various fittings of the library. All these details he is said to have designed; and it is certain that he was considered responsible for their solidity and handsome appearance. Sebastiano, for instance, wrote to him about the benches: "Our Lord wishes that the whole work should be of carved walnut. He does not mind spending three florins more; for that is a trifle, if they are Cosimesque in style, I mean resemble the work done for the magnificent Cosimo." Michelangelo could not have been the solitary worker of legend and tradition. The nature of his present occupations rendered this impossible. For the completion of his architectural works he needed a band of able coadjutors. Thus in 1526 Giovanni da Udine came from Rome to decorate the vault of the sacristy with frescoed arabesques. His work was nearly terminated in 1533, when some question arose about painting the inside of the lantern. Sebastiano, apparently in good faith, made the following burlesque suggestion: "For myself, I think that the Ganymede would go there very well; one could put an aureole about him, and turn him into a S. John of the Apocalypse when he is being caught up into the heavens." The whole of one side of the Italian Renaissance, its so-called neo-paganism, is contained in this remark.

While still occupied with thoughts about S. Lorenzo, Clement ordered Michelangelo to make a receptacle for the precious vessels and reliques collected by Lorenzo the Magnificent. It was first intended to place this chest, in the form of a ciborium, above the high altar, and to sustain it on four columns. Eventually, the Pope resolved that it should be a sacrarium, or cabinet for holy things, and that this should stand above the middle entrance door to the church. The chest was finished, and its contents remained there until the reign of the Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo, when they were removed to the chapel next the old sacristy.

Another very singular idea occurred to his Holiness in the autumn of 1525. He made Fattucci write that he wished to erect a colossal statue on the piazza of S. Lorenzo, opposite the Stufa Palace. The giant was to surmount the roof of the Medicean Palace, with its face turned in that direction and its back to the house of Luigi della Stufa. Being so huge, it would have to be composed of separate pieces fitted together. Michelangelo speedily knocked this absurd plan on the head in a letter which gives a good conception of his dry and somewhat ponderous humour.

"About the Colossus of forty cubits, which you tell me is to go or to be placed at the corner of the loggia in the Medicean garden, opposite the corner of Messer Luigi della Stufa, I have meditated not a little, as you bade me. In my opinion that is not the proper place for it, since it would take up too much room on the roadway. I should prefer to put it at the other, where the barber's shop is. This would be far better in my judgment, since it has the square in front, and would not encumber the street. There might be some difficulty about pulling down the shop, because of the rent. So it has occurred to me that the statue might be carved in a sitting position; the Colossus would be so lofty that if we made it hollow inside, as indeed is the proper method for a thing which has to be put together from pieces, the shop might be enclosed within it, and the rent be saved. And inasmuch as the shop has a chimney in its present state, I thought of placing a cornucopia in the statue's hand, hollowed out for the smoke to pass through. The head too would be hollow, like all the other members of the figure. This might be turned to a useful purpose, according to the suggestion made me by a huckster on the square, who is my good friend. He privily confided to me that it would make an excellent dovecote. Then another fancy came into my head, which is still better, though the statue would have to be considerably heightened. That, however, is quite feasible, since towers are built up of blocks; and then the head might serve as bell-tower to San Lorenzo, which is much in need of one. Setting up the bells inside, and the sound booming through the mouth, it would seem as though the Colossus were crying mercy, and mostly upon feast-days, when peals are rung most often and with bigger bells."

Nothing more is heard of this fantastic project; whence we may conclude that the irony of Michelangelo's epistle drove it out of the Pope's head.



It lies outside the scope of this work to describe the series of events which led up to the sack of Rome in 1527. Clement, by his tortuous policy, and by the avarice of his administration, had alienated every friend and exasperated all his foes. The Eternal City was in a state of chronic discontent and anarchy. The Colonna princes drove the Pope to take refuge in the Castle of S. Angelo; and when the Lutheran rabble raised by Frundsberg poured into Lombardy, the Duke of Ferrara assisted them to cross the Po, and the Duke of Urbino made no effort to bar the passes of the Apennines. Losing one leader after the other, these ruffians, calling themselves an Imperial army, but being in reality the scum and offscourings of all nations, without any aim but plunder and ignorant of policy, reached Rome upon the 6th of May. They took the city by assault, and for nine months Clement, leaning from the battlements of Hadrian's Mausoleum, watched smoke ascend from desolated palaces and desecrated temples, heard the wailing of women and the groans of tortured men, mingling with the ribald jests of German drunkards and the curses of Castilian bandits. Roaming those galleries and gazing from those windows, he is said to have exclaimed in the words of Job: "Why died I not from the womb? why did I not give up the ghost when I came out of the belly?"

The immediate effect of this disaster was that the Medici lost their hold on Florence. The Cardinal of Cortona, with the young princes Ippolito and Alessandro de' Medici, fled from the city on the 17th of May, and a popular government was set up under the presidency of Niccolo Capponi.

During this year and the next, Michelangelo was at Florence; but we know very little respecting the incidents of his life. A Ricordo bearing the date April 29 shows the disturbed state of the town. "I record how, some days ago, Piero di Filippo Gondi asked for permission to enter the new sacristy at S. Lorenzo, in order to hide there certain goods belonging to his family, by reason of the perils in which we are now. To-day, upon the 29th of April 1527, he has begun to carry in some bundles, which he says are linen of his sisters; and I, not wishing to witness what he does or to know where he hides the gear away, have given him the key of the sacristy this evening."

There are only two letters belonging to the year 1527. Both refer to a small office which had been awarded to Michelangelo with the right to dispose of the patronage. He offered it to his favourite brother, Buonarroto, who does not seem to have thought it worth accepting.

The documents for 1528 are almost as meagre. We do not possess a single letter, and the most important Ricordi relate to Buonarroto's death and the administration of his property. He died of the plague upon the 2nd of July, to the very sincere sorrow of his brother. It is said that Michelangelo held him in his arms while he was dying, without counting the risk to his own life. Among the minutes of disbursements made for Buonarroto's widow and children after his burial, we find that their clothes had been destroyed because of the infection. All the cares of the family now fell on Michelangelo's shoulders. He placed his niece Francesca in a convent till the time that she should marry, repaid her dowry to the widow Bartolommea, and provided for the expenses of his nephew Lionardo.

For the rest, there is little to relate which has any bearing on the way in which he passed his time before the siege of Florence began. One glimpse, however, is afforded of his daily life and conversation by Benvenuto Cellini, who had settled in Florence after the sack of Rome, and was working in a shop he opened at the Mercato Nuovo. The episode is sufficiently interesting to be quoted. A Sienese gentleman had commissioned Cellini to make him a golden medal, to be worn in the hat. "The subject was to be Hercules wrenching the lion's mouth. While I was working at this piece, Michel Agnolo Buonarroti came oftentimes to see it. I had spent infinite pains upon the design, so that the attitude of the figure and the fierce passion of the beast were executed in quite a different style from that of any craftsman who had hitherto attempted such groups. This, together with the fact that the special branch of art was totally unknown to Michel Agnolo, made the divine master give such praises to my work that I felt incredibly inspired for further effort.

"Just then I met with Federigo Ginori, a young man of very lofty spirit. He had lived some years in Naples and being endowed with great charms of person and presence, had been the lover of a Neapolitan princess. He wanted to have a medal made with Atlas bearing the world upon his shoulders, and applied to Michel Agnolo for a design. Michel Agnolo made this answer: 'Go and find out a young goldsmith named Benvenuto; he will serve you admirably, and certainly he does not stand in need of sketches by me. However, to prevent your thinking that I want to save myself the trouble of so slight a matter, I will gladly sketch you something; but meanwhile speak to Benvenuto, and let him also make a model; he can then execute the better of the two designs.' Federigo Ginori came to me and told me what he wanted, adding thereto how Michel Agnolo had praised me, and how he had suggested I should make a waxen model while he undertook to supply a sketch. The words of that great man so heartened me, that I set myself to work at once with eagerness upon the model; and when I had finished it, a painter who was intimate with Michel Agnolo, called Giuliano Bugiardini, brought me the drawing of Atlas. On the same occasion I showed Giuliano my little model in wax, which was very different from Michel Agnolo's drawing; and Federigo, in concert with Bugiardini, agreed that I should work upon my model. So I took it in hand, and when Michel Agnolo saw it, he praised me to the skies."

The courtesy shown by Michelangelo on this occasion to Cellini may be illustrated by an inedited letter addressed to him from Vicenza. The writer was Valerio Belli, who describes himself as a cornelian-cutter. He reminds the sculptor of a promise once made to him in Florence of a design for an engraved gem. A remarkably fine stone has just come into his hands, and he should much like to begin to work upon it. These proofs of Buonarroti's liberality to brother artists are not unimportant, since he was unjustly accused during his lifetime of stinginess and churlishness.


At the end of the year 1528 it became clear to the Florentines that they would have to reckon with Clement VII. As early as August 18, 1527, France and England leagued together, and brought pressure upon Charles V., in whose name Rome had been sacked. Negotiations were proceeding, which eventually ended in the peace of Barcelona (June 20, 1529), whereby the Emperor engaged to sacrifice the Republic to the Pope's vengeance. It was expected that the remnant of the Prince of Orange's army would be marched up to besiege the town. Under the anxiety caused by these events, the citizens raised a strong body of militia, enlisted Malatesta Baglioni and Stefano Colonna as generals, and began to take measures for strengthening the defences. What may be called the War Office of the Florentine Republic bore the title of Dieci della Guerra, or the Ten. It was their duty to watch over and provide for all the interests of the commonwealth in military matters, and now at this juncture serious measures had to be taken for putting the city in a state of defence. Already in the year 1527, after the expulsion of the Medici, a subordinate board had been created, to whom very considerable executive and administrative faculties were delegated. This board, called the Nove della Milizia, or the Nine, were empowered to enrol all the burghers under arms, and to take charge of the walls, towers, bastions, and other fortifications. It was also within their competence to cause the destruction of buildings, and to compensate the evicted proprietors at a valuation which they fixed themselves. In the spring of 1529 the War Office decided to gain the services of Michelangelo, not only because he was the most eminent architect of his age in Florence, but also because the Buonarroti family had always been adherents of the Medicean party, and the Ten judged that his appointment to a place on the Nove di Milizia would be popular with the democracy. The patent conferring this office upon him, together with full authority over the work of fortification, was issued on the 6th of April. Its terms were highly complimentary. "Considering the genius and practical attainments of Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti, our citizen, and knowing how excellent he is in architecture, beside his other most singular talents in the liberal arts, by virtue whereof the common consent of men regards him as unsurpassed by any masters of our times; and, moreover, being assured that in love and affection toward the country he is the equal of any other good and loyal burgher; bearing in mind, too, the labour he has undergone and the diligence he has displayed, gratis and of his free will, in the said work (of fortification) up to this day; and wishing to employ his industry and energies to the like effect in future; we, of our motion and initiative, do appoint him to be governor and procurator-general over the construction and fortification of the city walls, as well as every other sort of defensive operation and munition for the town of Florence, for one year certain, beginning with the present date; adding thereto full authority over all persons in respect to the said work of reparation or pertaining to it." From this preamble it appears that Michelangelo had been already engaged in volunteer service connected with the defence of Florence. A stipend of one golden florin per diem was fixed by the same deed; and upon the 22nd of April following a payment of thirty florins was decreed, for one month's salary, dating from the 6th of April.

If the Government thought to gain popular sympathy by Michelangelo's appointment, they made the mistake of alienating the aristocracy. It was the weakness of Florence at this momentous crisis in her fate, to be divided into parties, political, religious, social; whose internal jealousies deprived her of the strength which comes alone from unity. When Giambattista Busini wrote that interesting series of letters to Benedetto Varchi from which the latter drew important materials for his annals of the siege, he noted this fact. "Envy must always be reckoned as of some account in republics, especially when the nobles form a considerable element, as in ours: for they were angry, among other matters, to see a Carducci made Gonfalonier, Michelangelo a member of the Nine, a Cei or a Giugni elected to the Ten."

Michelangelo had scarcely been chosen to control the general scheme for fortifying Florence, when the Signory began to consider the advisability of strengthening the citadels of Pisa and Livorno, and erecting lines along the Arno. Their commissary at Pisa wrote urging the necessity of Buonarroti's presence on the spot. In addition to other pressing needs, the Arno, when in flood, threatened the ancient fortress of the city. Accordingly we find that Michelangelo went to Pisa on the 5th of June, and that he stayed there over the 13th, returning to Florence perhaps upon the 17th of the month. The commissary, who spent several days in conferring with him and in visiting the banks of the Arno, was perturbed in mind because Michelangelo refused to exchange the inn where he alighted for an apartment in the official residence. This is very characteristic of the artist. We shall soon find him, at Ferrara, refusing to quit his hostelry for the Duke's palace, and, at Venice, hiring a remote lodging on the Giudecca in order to avoid the hospitality of S. Mark.

An important part of Michelangelo's plan for the fortification of Florence was to erect bastions covering the hill of S. Miniato. Any one who stands upon the ruined tower of the church there will see at a glance that S. Miniato is the key to the position for a beleaguering force; and "if the enemy once obtained possession of the hill, he would become immediately master of the town." It must, I think, have been at this spot that Buonarroti was working before he received the appointment of controller-general of the works. Yet he found some difficulty in persuading the rulers of the state that his plan was the right one. Busini, using information supplied by Michelangelo himself at Rome in 1549, speaks as follows: "Whatever the reason may have been, Niccolo Capponi, while he was Gonfalonier, would not allow the hill of S. Miniato to be fortified, and Michelangelo, who is a man of absolute veracity, tells me that he had great trouble in convincing the other members of the Government, but that he could never convince Niccolo. However, he began the work, in the way you know, with those fascines of tow. But Niccolo made him abandon it, and sent him to another post; and when he was elected to the Nine, they despatched him twice or thrice outside the city. Each time, on his return, he found the hill neglected, whereupon he complained, feeling this a blot upon his reputation and an insult to his magistracy. Eventually, the works went on, until, when the besieging army arrived, they were tenable."

Michelangelo had hitherto acquired no practical acquaintance with the art of fortification. That the system of defence by bastions was an Italian invention (although Albert Duerer first reduced it to written theory in his book of 1527, suggesting improvements which led up to Vauban's method) is a fact acknowledged by military historians. But it does not appear that Michelangelo did more than carry out defensive operations in the manner familiar to his predecessors. Indeed, we shall see that some critics found reason to blame him for want of science in the construction of his outworks. When, therefore, a difference arose between the controller-general of defences and the Gonfalonier upon this question of strengthening S. Miniato, it was natural that the War Office should have thought it prudent to send their chief officer to the greatest authority upon fortification then alive in Italy. This was the Duke of Ferrara. Busini must serve as our text in the first instance upon this point. "Michelangelo says that, when neither Niccolo Capponi nor Baldassare Carducci would agree to the outworks at S. Miniato, he convinced all the leading men except Niccolo of their necessity, showing that Florence could not hold out a single day without them. Accordingly he began to throw up bastions with fascines of tow; but the result was far from perfect, as he himself confessed. Upon this, the Ten resolved to send him to Ferrara to inspect that renowned work of defence. Thither accordingly he went; nevertheless, he believes that Niccolo did this in order to get him out of the way, and to prevent the construction of the bastion. In proof thereof he adduces the fact that, upon his return, he found the whole work interrupted."

Furnished with letters to the Duke, and with special missives from the Signory and the Ten to their envoy, Galeotto Giugni, Michelangelo left Florence for Ferrara after the 28th of July, and reached it on the and of August. He refused, as Giugni writes with some regret, to abandon his inn, but was personally conducted with great honour by the Duke all round the walls and fortresses of Ferrara. On what day he quitted that city, and whither he went immediately after his departure, is uncertain. The Ten wrote to Giugni on the 8th of August, saying that his presence was urgently required at Florence, since the work of fortification was going on apace, "a multitude of men being employed, and no respect being paid to feast-days and holidays." It would also seem that, toward the close of the month, he was expected at Arezzo, in order to survey and make suggestions on the defences of the city.

These points are not insignificant, since we possess a Ricordo by Michelangelo, written upon an unfinished letter bearing the date "Venice, September 10," which has been taken to imply that he had been resident in Venice fourteen days—that is, from the 28th of August. None of his contemporaries or biographers mention a visit to Venice at the end of August 1529. It has, therefore, been conjectured that he went there after leaving Ferrara, but that his mission was one of a very secret nature. This seems inconsistent with the impatient desire expressed by the War Office for his return to Florence after the 8th of August. Allowing for exchange of letters and rate of travelling, Michelangelo could not have reached home much before the 15th. It is also inconsistent with the fact that he was expected in Arezzo at the beginning of September. I shall have to return later on to the Ricordo in question, which has an important bearing on the next and most dramatic episode in his biography.


Michelangelo must certainly have been at Florence soon after the middle of September. One of those strange panics to which he was constitutionally subject, and which impelled him to act upon a suddenly aroused instinct, came now to interrupt his work at S. Miniato, and sent him forth into outlawry. It was upon the 21st of September that he fled from Florence, under circumstances which have given considerable difficulty to his biographers. I am obliged to disentangle the motives and to set forth the details of this escapade, so far as it is possible for criticism to connect them into a coherent narrative. With this object in view, I will begin by translating what Condivi says upon the subject.

"Michelangelo's sagacity with regard to the importance of S. Miniato guaranteed the safety of the town, and proved a source of great damage to the enemy. Although he had taken care to secure the position, he still remained at his post there, in case of accidents; and after passing some six months, rumours began to circulate among the soldiers about expected treason. Buonarroti, then, noticing these reports, and being also warned by certain officers who were his friends, approached the Signory, and laid before them what he had heard and seen. He explained the danger hanging over the city, and told them there was still time to provide against it, if they would. Instead of receiving thanks for this service, he was abused, and rebuked as being timorous and too suspicious. The man who made him this answer would have done better had he opened his ears to good advice; for when the Medici returned he was beheaded, whereas he might have kept himself alive. When Michelangelo perceived how little his words were worth, and in what certain peril the city stood, he caused one of the gates to be opened, by the authority which he possessed, and went forth with two of his comrades, and took the road for Venice."

As usual with Condivi, this paragraph gives a general and yet substantially accurate account of what really took place. The decisive document, however, which throws light upon Michelangelo's mind in the transaction, is a letter written by him from Venice to his friend Battista della Palla on the 25th of September. Palla, who was an agent for Francis I. in works of Italian art, antiques, and bric-a-brac, had long purposed a journey into France; and Michelangelo, considering the miserable state of Italian politics, agreed to join him. These explanations will suffice to make the import of Michelangelo's letter clear.

"Battista, dearest friend, I left Florence, as I think you know, meaning to go to France. When I reached Venice, I inquired about the road, and they told me I should have to pass through German territory, and that the journey is both perilous and difficult. Therefore I thought it well to ask you, at your pleasure, whether you are still inclined to go, and to beg you; and so I entreat you, let me know, and say where you want me to wait for you, and we will travel together, I left home without speaking to any of my friends, and in great confusion. You know that I wanted in any case to go to France, and often asked for leave, but did not get it. Nevertheless I was quite resolved, and without any sort of fear, to see the end of the war out first. But on Tuesday morning, September 21, a certain person came out by the gate at S. Niccolo, where I was attending to the bastions, and whispered in my ear that, if I meant to save my life, I must not stay at Florence. He accompanied me home, dined there, brought me horses, and never left my side till he got me outside the city, declaring that this was my salvation. Whether God or the devil was the man, I do not know.

"Pray answer the questions in this letter as soon as possible, because I am burning with impatience to set out. If you have changed your mind, and do not care to go, still let me know, so that I may provide as best I can for my own journey."

What appears manifest from this document is that Michelangelo was decoyed away from Florence by some one, who, acting on his sensitive nervous temperament, persuaded him that his life was in danger. Who the man was we do not know, but he must have been a person delegated by those who had a direct interest in removing Buonarroti from the place. If the controller-general of the defences already scented treason in the air, and was communicating his suspicions to the Signory, Malatesta Baglioni, the archtraitor, who afterwards delivered Florence over for a price to Clement, could not but have wished to frighten him away.

From another of Michelangelo's letters we learn that he carried 3000 ducats in specie with him on the journey. It is unlikely that he could have disposed so much cash upon his person. He must have had companions.

Talking with Michelangelo in 1549—that is, twenty years after the event—Busini heard from his lips this account of the flight. "I asked Michelangelo what was the reason of his departure from Florence. He spoke as follows: 'I was one of the Nine when the Florentine troops mustered within our lines under Malatesta Baglioni and Mario Orsini and the other generals: whereupon the Ten distributed the men along the walls and bastions, assigning to each captain his own post, with victuals and provisions; and among the rest, they gave eight pieces of artillery to Malatesta for the defence of part of the bastions at S. Miniato. He did not, however, mount these guns within the bastions, but below them, and set no guard.' Michelangelo, as architect and magistrate, having to inspect the lines at S. Miniato, asked Mario Orsini how it was that Malatesta treated his artillery so carelessly. The latter answered: 'You must know that the men of his house are all traitors, and in time he too will betray this town.' These words inspired him with such terror that he was obliged to fly, impelled by dread lest the city should come to misfortune, and he together with it. Having thus resolved, he found Rinaldo Corsini, to whom he communicated his thought, and Corsini replied lightly: 'I will go with you.' So they mounted horse with a sum of money, and road to the Gate of Justice, where the guards would not let them pass. While waiting there, some one sung out: 'Let him by, for he is of the Nine, and it is Michelangelo.' So they went forth, three on horseback, he, Rinaldo, and that man of his who never left him. They came to Castelnuovo (in the Garfagnana), and heard that Tommaso Soderini and Niccolo Capponi were staying there. Michelangelo refused to go and see them, but Rinaldo went, and when he came back to Florence, as I shall relate, he reported how Niccolo had said to him: 'O Rinaldo, I dreamed to-night that Lorenzo Zampalochi had been made Gonfalonier;' alluding to Lorenzo Giacomini, who had a swollen leg, and had been his adversary in the Ten. Well, they took the road for Venice; but when they came to Polesella, Rinaldo proposed to push on to Ferrara and have an interview with Galeotto Giugni. This he did, and Michelangelo awaited him, for so he promised. Messer Galeotto, who was spirited and sound of heart, wrought so with Rinaldo that he persuaded him to turn back to Florence. But Michelangelo pursued his journey to Venice, where he took a house, intending in due season to travel into France."

Varchi follows this report pretty closely, except that he represents Rinaldo Corsini as having strongly urged him to take flight, "affirming that the city in a few hours, not to say days, would be in the hands of the Medici." Varchi adds that Antonio Mini rode in company with Michelangelo, and, according to his account of the matter, the three men came together to Ferrara. There the Duke offered hospitality to Michelangelo, who refused to exchange his inn for the palace, but laid all the cash he carried with him at the disposition of his Excellency.

Segni, alluding briefly to this flight of Michelangelo from Florence, says that he arrived at Castelnuovo with Rinaldo Corsini, and that what they communicated to Niccolo Capponi concerning the treachery of Malatesta and the state of the city, so affected the ex-Gonfalonier that he died of a fever after seven days. Nardi, an excellent authority on all that concerns Florence during the siege, confirms the account that Michelangelo left his post together with Corsini under a panic; "by common agreement, or through fear of war, as man's fragility is often wont to do." Vasari, who in his account of this episode seems to have had Varchi's narrative under his eyes, adds a trifle of information, to the effect that Michelangelo was accompanied upon his flight, not only by Antonio Mini, but also by his old friend Piloto. It may be worth adding that while reading in the Archivio Buonarroti, I discovered two letters from a friend named Piero Paesano addressed to Michelangelo on January 1, 1530, and April 21, 1532, both of which speak of his having "fled from Florence." The earlier plainly says: "I heard from Santi Quattro (the Cardinal, probably) that you have left Florence in order to escape from the annoyance and also from the evil fortune of the war in which the country is engaged." These letters, which have not been edited, and the first of which is important, since it was sent to Michelangelo in Florence, help to prove that Michelangelo's friends believed he had run away from Florence.

It was necessary to enter into these particulars, partly in order that the reader may form his own judgment of the motives which prompted Michelangelo to desert his official post at Florence, and partly because we have now to consider the Ricordo above mentioned, with the puzzling date, September 10. This document is a note of expenses incurred during a residence of fourteen days at Venice. It runs as follows:—

"Honoured Sir. In Venice, this tenth day of September.... Ten ducats to Rinaldo Corsini. Five ducats to Messer Loredan for the rent of the house. Seventeen lire for the stockings of Antonio (Mini, perhaps). For two stools, a table to eat on, and a coffer, half a ducat. Eight soldi for straw. Forty soldi for the hire of the bed. Ten lire to the man (fante) who came from Florence. Three ducats to Bondino for the journey to Venice with boats. Twenty soldi to Piloto for a pair of shoes. Fourteen days' board in Venice, twenty lire."

It has been argued from the date of the unfinished letter below which these items are jotted down, that Michelangelo must have been in Venice early in September, before his flight from Florence at the end of that month. But whatever weight we may attach to this single date, there is no corroborative proof that he travelled twice to Venice, and everything in the Ricordo indicates that it refers to the period of his flight from Florence. The sum paid to Corsini comes first, because it must have been disbursed when that man broke the journey at Ferrara. Antonio Mini and Piloto are both mentioned: a house has been engaged, and furnished with Michelangelo's usual frugality, as though he contemplated a residence of some duration. All this confirms Busini, Varchi, Segni, Nardi, and Vasari in the general outlines of their reports. I am of opinion that, unassisted by further evidence, the Ricordo, in spite of its date, will not bear out Gotti's view that Michelangelo sought Venice on a privy mission at the end of August 1529. He was not likely to have been employed as ambassador extraordinary; the Signory required his services at home; and after Ferrara, Venice had little of importance to show the controller-general of defences in the way of earthworks and bastions.

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