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


Varchi says that Michelangelo, when he reached Venice, "wishing to avoid visits and ceremonies, of which he was the greatest enemy, and in order to live alone, according to his custom, far away from company, retired quietly to the Giudecca; but the Signory, unable to ignore the advent of so eminent a man, sent two of their first noblemen to visit him in the name of the Republic, and to offer kindly all things which either he or any persons of his train might stand in need of. This public compliment set forth the greatness of his fame as artist, and showed in what esteem the arts are held by their magnificent and most illustrious lordships." Vasari adds that the Doge, whom he calls Gritti, gave him commission to design a bridge for the Rialto, marvellous alike in its construction and its ornament.

Meanwhile the Signory of Florence issued a decree of outlawry against thirteen citizens who had quitted the territory without leave. It was promulgated on the 30th of September, and threatened them with extreme penalties if they failed to appear before the 8th of October. On the 7th of October a second decree was published, confiscating the property of numerous exiles. But this document does not contain the name of Michelangelo; and by a third decree, dated November 16, it appears that the Government were satisfied with depriving him of his office and stopping his pay. We gather indeed, from what Condivi and Varchi relate, that they displayed great eagerness to get him back, and corresponded to this intent with their envoy at Ferrara. Michelangelo's flight from Florence seemed a matter of sufficient importance to be included in the despatches of the French ambassador resident at Venice. Lazare de Baif, knowing his master's desire to engage the services of the great sculptor, and being probably informed of Buonarroti's own wish to retire to France, wrote several letters in the month of October, telling Francis that Michelangelo might be easily persuaded to join his court. We do not know, however, whether the King acted on this hint.

His friends at home took the precaution of securing his effects, fearing that a decree for their confiscation might be issued. We possess a schedule of wine, wheat, and furniture found in his house, and handed over by the servant Caterina to his old friend Francesco Granacci for safe keeping. They also did their best to persuade Michelangelo that he ought to take measures for returning under a safe-conduct. Galeotto Giugni wrote upon this subject to the War Office, under date October 13, from Ferrara. He says that Michelangelo has begged him to intercede in his favour, and that he is willing to return and lay himself at the feet of their lordships. In answer to this despatch, news was sent to Giugni on the 20th that the Signory had signed a safe-conduct for Buonarroti. On the 22nd Granacci paid Sebastiano di Francesco, a stone-cutter, to whom Michelangelo was much attached, money for his journey to Venice. It appears that this man set out upon the 23rd, carrying letters from Giovan Battista della Palla, who had now renounced all intention of retiring to France, and was enthusiastically engaged in, the defence of Florence. On the return of the Medici, Palla was imprisoned in the castle of Pisa, and paid the penalty of his patriotism by death. A second letter which he wrote to Michelangelo on this occasion deserves to be translated, since it proves the high spirit with which the citizens of Florence were now awaiting the approach of the Prince of Orange and his veteran army. "Yesterday I sent you a letter, together with ten from other friends, and the safe-conduct granted by the Signory for the whole month of November and though I feel sure that it will reach you safely, I take the precaution of enclosing a copy under this cover. I need hardly repeat what I wrote at great length in my last, nor shall I have recourse to friends for the same purpose. They all of them, I know, with one voice, without the least disagreement or hesitation, have exhorted you, immediately upon the receipt of their letters and the safe-conduct, to return home, in order to preserve your life, your country, your friends, your honour, and your property, and also to enjoy those times so earnestly desired and hoped for by you. If any one had foretold that I could listen without the least affright to news of an invading army marching on our walls, this would have seemed to me impossible. And yet I now assure you that I am not only quite fearless, but also full of confidence in a glorious victory. For many days past my soul has been filled with such gladness, that if God, either for our sins or for some other reason, according to the mysteries of His just judgment, does not permit that army to be broken in our hands, my sorrow will be the same as when one loses, not a good thing hoped for, but one gained and captured. To such an extent am I convinced in my fixed imagination of our success, and have put it to my capital account. I already foresee our militia system, established on a permanent basis, and combined with that of the territory, carrying our city to the skies. I contemplate a fortification of Florence, not temporary, as it now is, but with walls and bastions to be built hereafter. The principal and most difficult step has been already taken; the whole space round the town swept clean, without regard for churches or for monasteries, in accordance with the public need. I contemplate in these our fellow-citizens a noble spirit of disdain for all their losses and the bygone luxuries of villa-life; an admirable unity and fervour for the preservation of liberty; fear of God alone; confidence in Him and in the justice of our cause; innumerable other good things, certain to bring again the age of gold, and which I hope sincerely you will enjoy in company with all of us who are your friends. For all these reasons, I most earnestly entreat you, from the depth of my heart, to come at once and travel through Lucca, where I will meet you, and attend you with due form and ceremony until here: such is my intense desire that our country should not lose you, nor you her. If, after your arrival at Lucca, you should by some accident fail to find me, and you should not care to come to Florence without my company, write a word, I beg. I will set out at once, for I feel sure that I shall get permission.... God, by His goodness, keep you in good health, and bring you back to us safe and happy."

Michelangelo set forth upon his journey soon after the receipt of this letter. He was in Ferrara on the 9th of November, as appears from a despatch written by Galeotto Giugni, recommending him to the Government of Florence. Letters patent under the seal of the Duke secured him free passage through the city of Modena and the province of Garfagnana. In spite of these accommodations, he seems to have met with difficulties on the way, owing to the disturbed state of the country. His friend Giovan Battista Palla was waiting for him at Lucca, without information of his movements, up to the 18th of the month. He had left Florence on the 11th, and spent the week at Pisa and Lucca, expecting news in vain. Then, "with one foot in the stirrup," as he says, "the license granted by the Signory" having expired, he sends another missive to Venice, urging Michelangelo not to delay a day longer. "As I cannot persuade myself that you do not intend to come, I urgently request you to reflect, if you have not already started, that the property of those who incurred outlawry with you is being sold, and if you do not arrive within the term conceded by your safe-conduct—that is, during this month—the same will happen to yourself without the possibility of any mitigation. If you do come, as I still hope and firmly believe, speak with my honoured friend Messer Filippo Calandrini here, to whom I have given directions for your attendance from this town without trouble to yourself. God keep you safe from harm, and grant we see you shortly in our country, by His aid, victorious."

With this letter, Palla, who was certainly a good friend to the wayward artist, and an amiable man to boot, disappears out of this history. At some time about the 20th of November, Michelangelo returned to Florence. We do not know how he finished the journey, and how he was received; but the sentence of outlawry was commuted, on the 23rd, into exclusion from the Grand Council for three years. He set to work immediately at S. Miniato, strengthening the bastions, and turning the church-tower into a station for sharpshooters. Florence by this time had lost all her territory except a few strong places, Pisa, Livorno, Arezzo, Empoli, Volterra. The Emperor Charles V. signed her liberties away to Clement by the peace of Barcelona (June 20,1529), and the Republic was now destined to be the appanage of his illegitimate daughter in marriage with the bastard Alessandro de' Medici. It only remained for the army of the Prince of Orange to reduce the city. When Michelangelo arrived, the Imperial troops were leaguered on the heights above the town. The inevitable end of the unequal struggle could be plainly foreseen by those who had not Palla's enthusiasm to sustain their faith. In spite of Ferrucci's genius and spirit, in spite of the good-will of the citizens, Florence was bound to fall. While admitting that Michelangelo abandoned his post in a moment of panic, we must do him the justice of remembering that he resumed it when all his darkest prognostications were being slowly but surely realised. The worst was that his old enemy, Malatesta Baglioni, had now opened a regular system of intrigue with Clement and the Prince of Orange, terminating in the treasonable cession of the city. It was not until August 1530 that Florence finally capitulated. Still the months which intervened between that date and Michelangelo's return from Venice were but a dying close, a slow agony interrupted by spasms of ineffectual heroism.

In describing the works at S. Miniato, Condivi lays great stress upon Michelangelo's plan for arming the bell-tower. "The incessant cannonade of the enemy had broken it in many places, and there was a serious risk that it might come crashing down, to the great injury of the troops within the bastion. He caused a large number of mattresses well stuffed with wool to be brought, and lowered these by night from the summit of the tower down to its foundations, protecting those parts which were exposed to fire. Inasmuch as the cornice projected, the mattresses hung free in the air, at the distance of six cubits from the wall; so that when the missiles of the enemy arrived, they did little or no damage, partly owing to the distance they had travelled, and partly to the resistance offered by this swinging, yielding panoply." An anonymous writer, quoted by Milanesi, gives a fairly intelligible account of the system adopted by Michelangelo. "The outer walls of the bastion were composed of unbaked bricks, the clay of which was mingled with chopped tow. Its thickness he filled in with earth; and," adds this critic, "of all the buildings which remained, this alone survived the siege." It was objected that, in designing these bastions, he multiplied the flanking lines and embrasures beyond what was either necessary or safe. But, observes the anonymous writer, all that his duty as architect demanded was that he should lay down a plan consistent with the nature of the ground, leaving details to practical engineers and military men. "If, then, he committed any errors in these matters, it was not so much his fault as that of the Government, who did not provide him with experienced coadjutors. But how can mere merchants understand the art of war, which needs as much science as any other of the arts, nay more, inasmuch as it is obviously more noble and more perilous?" The confidence now reposed in him is further demonstrated by a license granted on the 22nd of February 1530, empowering him to ascend the cupola of the Duomo on one special occasion with two companions, in order to obtain a general survey of the environs of Florence.

Michelangelo, in the midst of these serious duties, could not have had much time to bestow upon his art. Still there is no reason to doubt Vasari's emphatic statement that he went on working secretly at the Medicean monuments. To have done so openly while the city was in conflict to the death with Clement, would have been dangerous; and yet every one who understands the artist's temperament must feel that a man like Buonarroti was likely to seek rest and distraction from painful anxieties in the tranquillising labour of the chisel. It is also certain that, during the last months of the siege, he found leisure to paint a picture of Leda for the Duke of Ferrara, which will be mentioned in its proper place.

Florence surrendered in the month of August 1530. The terms were drawn up by Don Ferrante Gonzaga, who commanded the Imperial forces after the death of Filiberto, Prince of Orange, in concert with the Pope's commissary-general, Baccio Valori. Malatesta Baglioni, albeit he went about muttering that Florence "was no stable for mules" (alluding to the fact that all the Medici were bastards), approved of the articles, and showed by his conduct that he had long been plotting treason. The act of capitulation was completed on the 12th, and accepted unwillingly by the Signory. Valori, supported by Baglioni's military force, reigned supreme in the city, and prepared to reinstate the exiled family of princes. It said that Marco Dandolo of Venice, when news reached the Pregadi of the fall of Florence, exclaimed aloud: "Baglioni has put upon his head the cap of the biggest traitor upon record."


The city was saved from wreckage by a lucky quarrel between the Italian and Spanish troops in the Imperial camp. But no sooner was Clement aware that Florence lay at his mercy, than he disregarded the articles of capitulation, and began to act as an autocratic despot. Before confiding the government to his kinsmen, the Cardinal Ippolito and Alessandro Duke of Penna, he made Valori institute a series of criminal prosecutions against the patriots. Battista della Palla and Raffaello Girolami were sent to prison and poisoned. Five citizens were tortured and decapitated in one day of October. Those who had managed to escape from Florence were sentenced to exile, outlawry, and confiscation of goods by hundreds. Charles V. had finally to interfere and put a stop to the fury of the Pope's revenges. How cruel and exasperated the mind of Clement was, may be gathered from his treatment of Fra Benedetto da Foiano, who sustained the spirit of the burghers by his fiery preaching during the privations of the siege. Foiano fell into the clutches of Malatesta Baglioni, who immediately sent him down to Rome. By the Pope's orders the wretched friar was flung into the worst dungeon in the Castle of S. Angelo, and there slowly starved to death by gradual diminution of his daily dole of bread and water. Readers of Benvenuto Cellini's Memoirs will remember the horror with which he speaks of this dungeon and of its dreadful reminiscences, when it fell to his lot to be imprisoned there.

Such being the mood of Clement, it is not wonderful that Michelangelo should have trembled for his own life and liberty. As Varchi says, "He had been a member of the Nine, had fortified the hill and armed the bell-tower of S. Miniato. What was more annoying, he was accused, though falsely, of proposing to raze the palace of the Medici, where in his boyhood Lorenzo and Piero de' Medici had shown him honour as a guest at their own tables, and to name the space on which it stood the Place of Mules." For this reason he hid himself, as Condivi and Varchi assert, in the house of a trusty friend. The Senator Filippo Buonarroti, who diligently collected traditions about his illustrious ancestor, believed that his real place of retreat was the bell-tower of S. Nicolo, beyond the Arno. "When Clement's fury abated," says Condivi, "he wrote to Florence ordering that search should be made for Michelangelo, and adding that when he was found, if he agreed to go on working at the Medicean monuments, he should be left at liberty and treated with due courtesy. On hearing news of this, Michelangelo came forth from his hiding-place, and resumed the statues in the sacristy of S. Lorenzo, moved thereto more by fear of the Pope than by love for the Medici." From correspondence carried on between Rome and Florence during November and December, we learn that his former pension of fifty crowns a month was renewed, and that Giovan Battista Figiovanni, a Prior of S. Lorenzo, was appointed the Pope's agent and paymaster.

An incident of some interest in the art-history of Florence is connected with this return of the Medici, and probably also with Clement's desire to concentrate Michelangelo's energies upon the sacristy. So far back as May 10, 1508, Piero Soderini wrote to the Marquis of Massa-Carrara, begging him to retain a large block of marble until Michelangelo could come in person and superintend its rough-hewing for a colossal statue to be placed on the Piazza. After the death of Leo, the stone was assigned to Baccio Bandinelli; but Michelangelo, being in favour with the Government at the time of the expulsion of the Medici, obtained the grant of it. His first intention, in which Bandinelli followed him, was to execute a Hercules trampling upon Cacus, which should stand as pendant to his own David.

By a deliberation of the Signory, under date August 22, 1528, we are informed that the marble had been brought to Florence about three years earlier, and that Michelangelo now received instructions, couched in the highest terms of compliment, to proceed with a group of two figures until its accomplishment. If Vasari can be trusted, Michelangelo made numerous designs and models for the Cacus, but afterwards changed his mind, and thought that he would extract from the block a Samson triumphing over two prostrate Philistines. The evidence for this change of plan is not absolutely conclusive. The deliberation of August 22, 1528, indeed left it open to his discretion whether he should execute a Hercules and Cacus, or any other group of two figures; and the English nation at South Kensington possesses one of his noble little wax models for a Hercules. We may perhaps, therefore, assume that while Bandinelli adhered to the Hercules and Cacus, Michelangelo finally decided on a Samson. At any rate, the block was restored in 1530 to Bandinelli, who produced the misbegotten group which still deforms the Florentine Piazza.

Michelangelo had some reason to be jealous of Bandinelli, who exercised considerable influence at the Medicean court, and was an unscrupulous enemy both in word and deed. A man more widely and worse hated than Bandinelli never lived. If any piece of mischief happened which could be fixed upon him with the least plausibility, he bore the blame. Accordingly, when Buonarroti's workshop happened to be broken open, people said that Bandinelli was the culprit. Antonio Mini left the following record of the event: "Three months before the siege, Michelangelo's studio in Via Mozza was burst into with chisels, about fifty drawings of figures were stolen, and among them the designs for the Medicean tombs, with others of great value; also four models in wax and clay. The young men who did it left by accident a chisel marked with the letter M., which led to their discovery. When they knew they were detected, they made off or hid themselves, and sent to say they would return the stolen articles, and begged for pardon." Now the chisel branded with an M. was traced to Michelangelo, the father of Baccio Bandinelli, and no one doubted that he was the burglar.

The history of Michelangelo's Leda, which now survives only in doubtful reproductions, may be introduced by a passage from Condivi's account of his master's visit to Ferrara in 1529. "The Duke received him with great demonstrations of joy, no less by reason of his eminent fame than because Don Ercole, his son, was Captain of the Signory of Florence. Riding forth with him in person, there was nothing appertaining to the business of his mission which the Duke did not bring beneath his notice, whether fortifications or artillery. Beside this, he opened his own private treasure-room, displaying all its contents, and particularly some pictures and portraits of his ancestors, executed by masters in their time excellent. When the hour approached for Michelangelo's departure, the Duke jestingly said to him: 'You are my prisoner now. If you want me to let you go free, I require that you shall promise to make me something with your own hand, according to your will and fancy, be it sculpture or painting.' Michelangelo agreed; and when he arrived at Florence, albeit he was overwhelmed with work for the defences, he began a large piece for a saloon, representing the congress of the swan with Leda. The breaking of the egg was also introduced, from which sprang Castor and Pollux, according to the ancient fable. The Duke heard of this; and on the return of the Medici, he feared that he might lose so great a treasure in the popular disturbance which ensued. Accordingly he despatched one of his gentlemen, who found Michelangelo at home, and viewed the picture. After inspecting it, the man exclaimed: 'Oh! this is a mere trifle.' Michelangelo inquired what his own art was, being aware that men can only form a proper judgment in the arts they exercise. The other sneered and answered: 'I am a merchant.' Perhaps he felt affronted at the question, and at not being recognised in his quality of nobleman; he may also have meant to depreciate the industry of the Florentines, who for the most part are occupied with trade, as though to say: 'You ask me what my art is? Is it possible you think a man like me could be a trader?' Michelangelo, perceiving his drift, growled out: 'You are doing bad business for your lord! Take yourself away!' Having thus dismissed the ducal messenger, he made a present of the picture, after a short while, to one of his serving-men, who, having two sisters to marry, begged for assistance. It was sent to France, and there bought by King Francis, where it still exists."

As a matter of fact, we know now that Antonio Mini, for a long time Michelangelo's man of all work, became part owner of this Leda, and took it with him to France. A certain Francesco Tedaldi acquired pecuniary interest in the picture, of which one Benedetto Bene made a copy at Lyons in 1532. The original and the copy were carried by Mini to Paris in 1533, and deposited in the house of Giuliano Buonaccorsi, whence they were transferred in some obscure way to the custody of Luigi Alamanni, and finally passed into the possession of the King. Meanwhile, Antonio Mini died, and Tedaldi wrote a record of his losses and a confused account of money matters and broker business, which he sent to Michelangelo in 1540. The Leda remained at Fontainebleau till the reign of Louis XIII., when M. Desnoyers, Minister of State, ordered the picture to be destroyed because of its indecency. Pierre Mariette says that this order was not carried into effect; for the canvas, in a sadly mutilated state, reappeared some seven or eight years before his date of writing, and was seen by him. In spite of injuries, he could trace the hand of a great master; "and I confess that nothing I had seen from the brush of Michelangelo showed better painting." He adds that it was restored by a second-rate artist and sent to England. What became of Mini's copy is uncertain. We possess a painting in the Dresden Gallery, a Cartoon in the collection of the Royal Academy of England, and a large oil picture, much injured, in the vaults of the National Gallery. In addition to these works, there is a small marble statue in the Museo Nazionale at Florence. All of them represent Michelangelo's design. If mere indecency could justify Desnoyers in his attempt to destroy a masterpiece, this picture deserved its fate. It represented the act of coition between a swan and a woman; and though we cannot hold Michelangelo responsible for the repulsive expression on the face of Leda, which relegates the marble of the Bargello to a place among pornographic works of art, there is no reason to suppose that the general scheme of his conception was abandoned in the copies made of it.

Michelangelo, being a true artist, anxious only for the presentation of his subject, seems to have remained indifferent to its moral quality. Whether it was a crucifixion, or a congress of the swan with Leda, or a rape of Ganymede, or the murder of Holofernes in his tent, or the birth of Eve, he sought to seize the central point in the situation, and to accentuate its significance by the inexhaustible means at his command for giving plastic form to an idea. Those, however, who have paid attention to his work will discover that he always found emotional quality corresponding to the nature of the subject. His ways of handling religious and mythological motives differ in sentiment, and both are distinguished from his treatment of dramatic episodes. The man's mind made itself a mirror to reflect the vision gloating over it; he cared not what that vision was, so long as he could render it in lines of plastic harmony, and express the utmost of the feeling which the theme contained.

Among the many statues left unfinished by Michelangelo is one belonging to this period of his life. "In order to ingratiate himself with Baccio Valori," says Vasari, "he began a statue of three cubits in marble. It was an Apollo drawing a shaft from his quiver. This he nearly finished. It stands now in the chamber of the Prince of Florence; a thing of rarest beauty, though not quite completed." This noble piece of sculpture illustrates the certainty and freedom of the master's hand. Though the last touches of the chisel are lacking, every limb palpitates and undulates with life. The marble seems to be growing into flesh beneath the hatched lines left upon its surface. The pose of the young god, full of strength and sinewy, is no less admirable for audacity than for ease and freedom. Whether Vasari was right in his explanation of the action of this figure may be considered more than doubtful. Were we not accustomed to call it an Apollo, we should rather be inclined to class it with the Slaves of the Louvre, to whom in feeling and design it bears a remarkable resemblance. Indeed, it might be conjectured with some probability that, despairing of bringing his great design for the tomb of Julius to a conclusion, he utilised one of the projected captives for his present to the all-powerful vizier of the Medicean tyrants. It ought, in conclusion, to be added, that there was nothing servile in Michelangelo's desire to make Valori his friend. He had accepted the political situation; and we have good reason, from letters written at a later date by Valori from Rome, to believe that this man took a sincere interest in the great artist. Moreover, Varchi, who is singularly severe in his judgment on the agents of the Medici, expressly states that Baccio Valori was "less cruel than the other Palleschi, doing many and notable services to some persons out of kindly feeling, and to others for money (since he had little and spent much); and this he was well able to perform, seeing he was then the lord of Florence, and the first citizens of the land paid court to him and swelled his train."


During the siege Lodovico Buonarroti passed his time at Pisa. His little grandson, Lionardo, the sole male heir of the family, was with him. Born September 25, 1519, the boy was now exactly eleven years old, and by his father's death in 1528 he had been two years an orphan. Lionardo was ailing, and the old man wearied to return. His two sons, Gismondo and Giansimone, had promised to fetch him home when the country should be safe for travelling. But they delayed; and at last, upon the 30th of September, Lodovico wrote as follows to Michelangelo: "Some time since I directed a letter to Gismondo, from whom you have probably learned that I am staying here, and, indeed, too long; for the flight of Buonarroto's pure soul to heaven, and my own need and earnest desire to come home, and Nardo's state of health, all makes me restless. The boy has been for some days out of health and pining, and I am anxious about him." It is probable that some means were found for escorting them both safely to Settignano. We hear no more about Lodovico till the period of his death, the date of which has not been ascertained with certainty.

From the autumn of 1530 on to the end of 1533 Michelangelo worked at the Medicean monuments. His letters are singularly scanty during all this period, but we possess sufficient information from other sources to enable us to reconstruct a portion of his life. What may be called the chronic malady of his existence, that never-ending worry with the tomb of Julius, assumed an acute form again in the spring of 1531. The correspondence with Sebastiano del Piombo, which had been interrupted since 1525, now becomes plentiful, and enables us to follow some of the steps which led to the new and solemn contract of May 1532.

It is possible that Michelangelo thought he ought to go to Rome in the beginning of the year. If we are right in ascribing a letter written by Benvenuto della Volpaia from Rome upon the 18th of January to the year 1531, and not to 1532, he must have already decided on this step. The document is curious in several respects. "Yours of the 13th informs me that you want a room. I shall be delighted if I can be of service to you in this matter; indeed, it is nothing in respect to what I should like to do for you. I can offer you a chamber or two without the least inconvenience; and you could not confer on me a greater pleasure than by taking up your abode with me in either of the two places which I will now describe. His Holiness has placed me in the Belvedere, and made me guardian there. To-morrow my things will be carried thither, for a permanent establishment; and I can place at your disposal a room with a bed and everything you want. You can even enter by the gate outside the city, which opens into the spiral staircase, and reach your apartment and mine without passing through Rome. From here I can let you into the palace, for I keep a key at your service; and what is better, the Pope comes every day to visit us. If you decide on the Belvedere, you must let me know the day of your departure, and about when you will arrive. In that case I will take up my post at the spiral staircase of Bramante, where you will be able to see me. If you wish, nobody but my brother and Mona Lisabetta and I shall know that you are here, and you shall do just as you please; and, in short, I beg you earnestly to choose this plan. Otherwise, come to the Borgo Nuovo, to the houses which Volterra built, the fifth house toward S. Angelo. I have rented it to live there, and my brother Fruosino is also going to live and keep shop in it. There you will have a room or two, if you like, at your disposal. Please yourself, and give the letter to Tommaso di Stefano Miniatore, who will address it to Messer Lorenzo de' Medici, and I shall have it quickly."

Nothing came of these proposals. But that Michelangelo did not abandon the idea of going to Rome appears from a letter of Sebastiano's written on the 24th of February. It was the first which passed between the friends since the terrible events of 1527 and 1530. For once, the jollity of the epicurean friar has deserted him. He writes as though those awful months of the sack of Rome were still present to his memory. "After all those trials, hardships, and perils, God Almighty has left us alive and in health, by His mercy and piteous kindness. A thing, in sooth, miraculous, when I reflect upon it; wherefore His Majesty be ever held in gratitude.... Now, gossip mine, since we have passed through fire and water, and have experienced things we never dreamed of, let us thank God for all; and the little remnant left to us of life, may we at least employ it in such peace as can be had. For of a truth, what fortune does or does not do is of slight importance, seeing how scurvy and how dolorous she is. I am brought to this, that if the universe should crumble round me, I should not care, but laugh at all. Menighella will inform you what my life is, how I am. I do not yet seem to myself to be the same Bastiano I was before the Sack. I cannot yet get back into my former frame of mind." In a postscript to this letter, eloquent by its very naivete, Sebastiano says that he sees no reason for Michelangelo's coming to Rome, except it be to look after his house, which is going to ruin, and the workshop tumbling to pieces. In another letter, of April 29, Sebastiano repeats that there is no need for Michelangelo to come to Rome, if it be only to put himself right with the Pope. Clement is sincerely his friend, and has forgiven the part he played during the siege of Florence. He then informs his gossip that, having been lately at Pesaro, he met the painter Girolamo Genga, who promised to be serviceable in the matter of the tomb of Julius. The Duke of Urbino, according to this man's account, was very eager to see it finished. "I replied that the work was going forward, but that 8000 ducats were needed for its completion, and we did not know where to get this money. He said that the Duke would provide, but his Lordship was afraid of losing both the ducats and the work, and was inclined to be angry. After a good deal of talking, he asked whether it would not be possible to execute the tomb upon a reduced scale, so as to satisfy both parties. I answered that you ought to be consulted." We have reason to infer from this that the plan which was finally adopted, of making a mural monument with only a few figures from the hand of Michelangelo, had already been suggested. In his next letter, Sebastiano communicates the fact that he has been appointed to the office of Piombatore; "and if you could see me in my quality of friar, I am sure you would laugh. I am the finest friar loon in Rome." The Duke of Urbino's agent, Hieronimo Staccoli, now appears for the first time upon the stage. It was through his negotiations that the former contracts for the tomb of Julius were finally annulled and a new design adopted. Michelangelo offered, with the view of terminating all disputes, to complete the monument on a reduced scale at his own cost, and furthermore to disburse the sum of 2000 ducats in discharge of any claims the Della Rovere might have against him. This seemed too liberal, and when Clement was informed of the project, he promised to make better terms. Indeed, during the course of these negotiations the Pope displayed the greatest interest in Michelangelo's affairs. Staccoli, on the Duke's part, raised objections; and Sebastiano had to remind him that, unless some concessions were made, the scheme of the tomb might fall through: "for it does not rain Michelangelos, and men could hardly be found to preserve the work, far less to finish it." In course of time the Duke's ambassador at Rome, Giovan Maria della Porta, intervened, and throughout the whole business Clement was consulted upon every detail.

Sebastiano kept up his correspondence through the summer of 1531. Meanwhile the suspense and anxiety were telling seriously on Michelangelo's health. Already in June news must have reached Rome that his health was breaking down; for Clement sent word recommending him to work less, and to relax his spirits by exercise. Toward the autumn he became alarmingly ill. We have a letter from Paolo Mini, the uncle of his servant Antonio, written to Baccio Valori on the 29th of September. After describing the beauty of two statues for the Medicean tombs, Mini says he fears that "Michelangelo will not live long, unless some measures are taken for his benefit. He works very hard, eats little and poorly, and sleeps less. In fact, he is afflicted with two kinds of disorder, the one in his head, the other in his heart. Neither is incurable, since he has a robust constitution; but for the good of his head, he ought to be restrained by our Lord the Pope from working through the winter in the sacristy, the air of which is bad for him; and for his heart, the best remedy would be if his Holiness could accommodate matters with the Duke of Urbino." In a second letter, of October 8, Mini insists again upon the necessity of freeing Michelangelo's mind from his anxieties. The upshot was that Clement, on the 21st of November, addressed a brief to his sculptor, whereby Buonarroti was ordered, under pain of excommunication, to lay aside all work except what was strictly necessary for the Medicean monuments, and to take better care of his health. On the 26th of the same month Benvenuto della Volpaia wrote, repeating what the Pope had written in his brief, and adding that his Holiness desired him to select some workshop more convenient for his health than the cold and cheerless sacristy.

In spite of Clement's orders that Michelangelo should confine himself strictly to working on the Medicean monuments, he continued to be solicited with various commissions. Thus the Cardinal Cybo wrote in December begging him to furnish a design for a tomb which he intended to erect. Whether Michelangelo consented is not known.

Early in December Sebastiano resumed his communications on the subject of the tomb of Julius, saying that Michelangelo must not expect to satisfy the Duke without executing the work, in part at least, himself. "There is no one but yourself that harms you: I mean, your eminent fame and the greatness of your works. I do not say this to flatter you. Therefore, I am of opinion that, without some shadow of yourself, we shall never induce those parties to do what we want. It seems to me that you might easily make designs and models, and afterwards assign the completion to any master whom you choose. But the shadow of yourself there must be. If you take the matter in this way, it will be a trifle; you will do nothing, and seem to do all; but remember that the work must be carried out under your shadow." A series of despatches, forwarded between December 4, 1531, and April 29, 1532, by Giovan Maria della Porta to the Duke of Urbino, confirm the particulars furnished by the letters which Sebastiano still continued to write from Rome. At the end of 1531 Michelangelo expressed his anxiety to visit Rome, now that the negotiations with the Duke were nearly complete. Sebastiano, hearing this, replies: "You will effect more in half an hour than I can do in a whole year. I believe that you will arrange everything after two words with his Holiness; for our Lord is anxious to meet your wishes." He wanted to be present at the drawing up and signing of the contract. Clement, however, although he told Sebastiano that he should be glad to see him, hesitated to send the necessary permission, and it was not until the month of April 1532 that he set out. About the 6th, as appears from the indorsement of a letter received in his absence, he must have reached Rome. The new contract was not ready for signature before the 29th, and on that date Michelangelo left for Florence, having, as he says, been sent off by the Pope in a hurry on the very day appointed for its execution. In his absence it was duly signed and witnessed before Clement; the Cardinals Gonzaga and da Monte and the Lady Felice della Rovere attesting, while Giovan Maria della Porta and Girolamo Staccoli acted for the Duke of Urbino. When Michelangelo returned and saw the instrument, he found that several clauses prejudicial to his interests had been inserted by the notary. "I discovered more than 1000 ducats charged unjustly to my debit, also the house in which I live, and certain other hooks and crooks to ruin me. The Pope would certainly not have tolerated this knavery, as Fra Sebastiano can bear witness, since he wished me to complain to Clement and have the notary hanged. I swear I never received the moneys which Giovan Maria della Porta wrote against me, and caused to be engrossed upon the contract."

It is difficult to understand why Michelangelo should not have immediately taken measures to rectify these errors. He seems to have been well aware that he was bound to refund 2000 ducats, since the only letter from his pen belonging to the year 1532 is one dated May, and addressed to Andrea Quarantesi in Pisa. In this document he consults Quarantesi about the possibility of raising that sum, with 1000 ducats in addition. "It was in my mind, in order that I might not be left naked, to sell houses and possessions, and to let the lira go for ten soldi." As the contract was never carried out, the fraudulent passages inserted in the deed did not prove of practical importance. Delia Porta, on his part, wrote in high spirits to his master: "Yesterday we executed the new contract with Michelangelo, for the ratification of which by your Lordship we have fixed a limit of two months. It is of a nature to satisfy all Rome, and reflects great credit on your Lordship for the trouble you have taken in concluding it. Michelangelo, who shows a very proper respect for your Lordship, has promised to make and send you a design. Among other items, I have bound him to furnish six statues by his own hand, which will be a world in themselves, because they are sure to be incomparable. The rest he may have finished by some sculptor at his own choice, provided the work is done under his direction. The Pope allows him to come twice a year to Rome, for periods of two months each, in order to push the work forward. And he is to execute the whole at his own costs." He proceeds to say, that since the tomb cannot be put up in S. Peter's, S. Pietro in Vincoli has been selected as the most suitable church. It appears that the Duke's ratification was sent upon the 5th of June and placed in the hands of Clement, so that Michelangelo probably did not see it for some months. Della Porta, writing to the Duke again upon the 19th of June, says that Clement promised to allow Michelangelo to come to Rome in the winter, and to reside there working at the tomb. But we have no direct information concerning his doings after the return to Florence at the end of April 1532.

It will be worth while to introduce Condivi's account of these transactions relating to the tomb of Julius, since it throws some light upon the sculptor's private feelings and motives, as well as upon the falsification of the contract as finally engrossed.

"When Michelangelo had been called to Rome by Pope Clement, he began to be harassed by the agents of the Duke of Urbino about the sepulchre of Julius. Clement, who wished to employ him in Florence, did all he could to set him free, and gave him for his attorney in this matter Messer Tommaso da Prato, who was afterwards datary. Michelangelo, however, knowing the devil disposition of Duke Alessandro toward him, and being in great dread on this account, also because he bore love and reverence to the memory of Pope Julius and to the illustrious house of Della Rovere, strained every nerve to remain in Rome and busy himself about the tomb. What made him more anxious was that every one accused him of having received from Pope Julius at least 16,000 crowns, and of having spent them on himself without fulfilling his engagements. Being a man sensitive about his reputation, he could not bear the dishonour of such reports, and wanted the whole matter to be cleared up; nor, although he was now old, did he shrink from the very onerous task of completing what he had begun so long ago. Consequently they came to strife together, and his antagonists were unable to prove payments to anything like the amount which had first been noised abroad; indeed, on the contrary, more than two thirds of the whole sum first stipulated by the two Cardinals was wanting. Clement then thinking he had found an excellent opportunity for setting him at liberty and making use of his whole energies, called Michelangelo to him, and said: 'Come, now, confess that you want to make this tomb, but wish to know who will pay you the balance.' Michelangelo, knowing well that the Pope was anxious to employ him on his own work, answered: 'Supposing some one is found to pay me.' To which Pope Clement: 'You are a great fool if you let yourself believe that any one will come forward to offer you a farthing.' Accordingly, his attorney, Messer Tommaso, and the agents of the Duke, after some negotiations, came to an agreement that a tomb should at least be made for the amount he had received. Michelangelo, thinking the matter had arrived at a good conclusion, consented with alacrity. He was much influenced by the elder Cardinal di Monte, who owed his advancement to Julius II., and was uncle of Julius III., our present Pope by grace of God. The arrangement was as follows: That he should make a tomb of one facade only; should utilise those marbles which he had already blocked out for the quadrangular monument, adapting them as well as circumstances allowed; and finally, that he should be bound to furnish six statues by his own hand. In spite of this arrangement, Pope Clement was allowed to employ Michelangelo in Florence or where he liked during four months of the year, that being required by his Holiness for his undertakings at S. Lorenzo. Such then was the contract made between the Duke and Michelangelo. But here it has to be observed, that after all accounts had been made up, Michelangelo secretly agreed with the agents of his Excellency that it should be reported that he had received some thousands of crowns above what had been paid to him; the object being to make his obligation to the Duke of Urbino seem more considerable, and to discourage Pope Clement from sending him to Florence, whither he was extremely unwilling to go. This acknowledgment was not only bruited about in words, but, without his knowledge or consent, was also inserted into the deed; not when this was drawn up, but when it was engrossed; a falsification which caused Michelangelo the utmost vexation. The ambassador, however, persuaded him that this would do him no real harm: it did not signify, he said, whether the contract specified a thousand or twenty thousand crowns, seeing they were agreed that the tomb should be reduced to suit the sums actually received; adding, that nobody was concerned in the matter except himself, and that Michelangelo might feel safe with him on account of the understanding between them. Upon this Michelangelo grew easy in his mind, partly because he thought he might have confidence, and partly because he wished the Pope to receive the impression I have described above. In this way the thing was settled for the time, but it did not end there; for when he had worked his four months in Florence and came back to Rome, the Pope set him to other tasks, and ordered him to paint the wall above the altar in the Sistine Chapel. He was a man of excellent judgment in such matters, and had meditated many different subjects for this fresco. At last he fixed upon the Last Judgment, considering that the variety and greatness of the theme would enable the illustrious artist to exhibit his powers in their full extent. Michelangelo, remembering the obligation he was under to the Duke of Urbino, did all he could to evade this new engagement; but when this proved impossible, he began to procrastinate, and, pretending to be fully occupied with the cartoons for his huge picture, he worked in secret at the statues intended for the monument."


Michelangelo's position at Florence was insecure and painful, owing to the undisguised animosity of the Duke Alessandro. This man ruled like a tyrant of the worst sort, scandalising good citizens by his brutal immoralities, and terrorising them by his cruelties. "He remained," says Condivi, "in continual alarm; because the Duke, a young man, as is known to every one, of ferocious and revengeful temper, hated him exceedingly. There is no doubt that, but for the Pope's protection, he would have been removed from this world. What added to Alessandro's enmity was that when he was planning the fortress which he afterwards erected, he sent Messer Vitelli for Michelangelo, ordering him to ride with them, and to select a proper position for the building. Michelangelo refused, saying that he had received no commission from the Pope. The Duke waxed very wroth; and so, through this new grievance added to old grudges and the notorious nature of the Duke, Michelangelo not unreasonably lived in fear. It was certainly by God's aid that he happened to be away from Florence when Clement died." Michelangelo was bound under solemn obligations to execute no work but what the Pope ordered for himself or permitted by the contract with the heirs of Julius. Therefore he acted in accordance with duty when he refused to advise the tyrant in this scheme for keeping the city under permanent subjection. The man who had fortified Florence against the troops of Clement could not assist another bastard Medici to build a strong place for her ruin. It may be to this period of his life that we owe the following madigral, written upon the loss of Florentine liberty and the bad conscience of the despot:—

_Lady, for joy of lovers numberless Thou wast created fair as angels are. Sure God hath fallen asleep in heaven afar When one man calls the bliss of many his! Give back to streaming eyes The daylight of thy face, that seems to shun Those who must live defrauded of their bliss!

Vex not your pure desire with tears and sighs: For he who robs you of my light hath none. Dwelling in fear, sin hath no happiness; Since, amid those who love, their joy is less, Whose great desire great plenty still curtails, Than theirs who, poor, have hope that never fails._

During the siege Michelangelo had been forced to lend the Signory a sum of about 1500 ducats. In the summer of 1533 he corresponded with Sebastiano about means for recovering this loan. On the 16th of August Sebastiano writes that he has referred the matter to the Pope. "I repeat, what I have already written, that I presented your memorial to his Holiness. It was about eight in the evening, and the Florentine ambassador was present. The Pope then ordered the ambassador to write immediately to the Duke; and this he did with such vehemence and passion as I do not think he has displayed on four other occasions concerning the affairs of Florence. His rage and fury were tremendous, and the words he used to the ambassador would stupefy you, could you hear them. Indeed, they are not fit to be written down, and I must reserve them for viva voce. I burn to have half an hour's conversation with you, for now I know our good and holy master to the ground. Enough, I think you must have already seen something of the sort. In brief, he has resolved that you are to be repaid the 400 ducats of the guardianship and the 500 ducats lent to the old Government." It may be readily imagined that this restitution of a debt incurred by Florence when she was fighting for her liberties, to which act of justice her victorious tyrant was compelled by his Papal kinsman, did not soften Alessandro's bad feeling for the creditor.

Several of Sebastiano's letters during the summer and autumn of 1533 refer to an edition of some madrigals by Michelangelo, which had been set to music by Bartolommeo Tromboncino, Giacomo Archadelt, and Costanzo Festa. We have every reason to suppose that the period we have now reached was the richest in poetical compositions. It was also in 1532 or 1533 that he formed the most passionate attachment of which we have any knowledge in his life; for he became acquainted about this time with Tommaso Cavalieri. A few years later he was destined to meet with Vittoria Colonna. The details of these two celebrated friendships will be discussed in another chapter.

Clement VII. journeyed from Rome in September, intending to take ship at Leghorn for Nice and afterwards Marseilles, where his young cousin, Caterina de' Medici, was married to the Dauphin. He had to pass through S. Miniato al Tedesco, and thither Michelangelo went to wait upon him on the 22nd. This was the last, and not the least imposing, public act of the old Pope, who, six years after his imprisonment and outrage in the Castle of S. Angelo, was now wedding a daughter of his plebeian family to the heir of the French crown. What passed between Michelangelo and his master on this occasion is not certain.

The years 1532-1534 form a period of considerable chronological perplexity in Michelangelo's life. This is in great measure due to the fact that he was now residing regularly part of the year in Rome and part in Florence. We have good reason to believe that he went to Rome in September 1532, and stayed there through the winter. It is probable that he then formed the friendship with Cavalieri, which played so important a part in his personal history. A brisk correspondence carried on between him and his two friends, Bartolommeo Angelini and Sebastiano del Piombo, shows that he resided at Florence during the summer and early autumn of 1533. From a letter addressed to Figiovanni on the 15th of October, we learn that he was then impatient to leave Florence for Rome. But a Ricordo, bearing date October 29, 1533, renders it almost certain that he had not then started. Angelini's letters, which had been so frequent, stop suddenly in that month. This renders it almost certain that Michelangelo must have soon returned to Rome. Strangely enough there are no letters or Ricordi in his handwriting which bear the date 1534. When we come to deal with this year, 1534, we learn from Michelangelo's own statement to Vasari that he was in Florence during the summer, and that he reached Rome two days before the death of Clement VII., i.e., upon September 23. Condivi observes that it was lucky for him that the Pope did not die while he was still at Florence, else he would certainly have been exposed to great peril, and probably been murdered or imprisoned by Duke Alessandro.

Nevertheless, Michelangelo was again in Florence toward the close of 1534. An undated letter to a certain Febo (di Poggio) confirms this supposition. It may probably be referred to the month of December. In it he says that he means to leave Florence next day for Pisa and Rome, and that he shall never return. Febo's answer, addressed to Rome, is dated January 14, 1534, which, according to Florentine reckoning, means 1535.

We may take it, then, as sufficiently well ascertained that Michelangelo departed from Florence before the end of 1534, and that he never returned during the remainder of his life. There is left, however, another point of importance referring to this period, which cannot be satisfactorily cleared up. We do not know the exact date of his father, Lodovico's, death. It must have happened either in 1533 or in 1534. In spite of careful researches, no record of the event has yet been discovered, either at Settignano or in the public offices of Florence. The documents of the Buonarroti family yield no direct information on the subject. We learn, however, from the Libri delle Eta, preserved at the Archivio di Stato, that Lodovico di Lionardo di Buonarrota Simoni was born upon the 11th of June 1444. Now Michelangelo, in his poem on Lodovico's death, says very decidedly that his father was ninety when he breathed his last. If we take this literally, it must be inferred that he died after the middle of June 1534. There are many reasons for supposing that Michelangelo was in Florence when this happened. The chief of these is that no correspondence passed between the Buonarroti brothers on the occasion, while Michelangelo's minutes regarding the expenses of his father's burial seem to indicate that he was personally responsible for their disbursement. I may finally remark that the schedule of property belonging to Michelangelo, recorded under the year 1534 in the archives of the Decima at Florence, makes no reference at all to Lodovico. We conclude from it that, at the time of its redaction, Michelangelo must have succeeded to his father's estate.

The death of Lodovico and Buonarroto, happening within a space of little more than five years, profoundly affected Michelangelo's mind, and left an indelible mark of sadness on his life. One of his best poems, a capitolo, or piece of verse in terza rima stanzas, was written on the occasion of his father's decease. In it he says that Lodovico had reached the age of ninety. If this statement be literally accurate, the old man must have died in 1534, since he was born upon the 11th of June 1444. But up to the present time, as I have observed above, the exact date of his death has not been discovered. One passage of singular and solemn beauty may be translated from the original:—

Thou'rt dead of dying, and art made divine, Nor fearest now to change or life or will; Scarce without envy can I call this thine. Fortune and time beyond your temple-sill Dare not advance, by whom is dealt for us A doubtful gladness, and too certain ill. Cloud is there none to dim you glorious: The hours distinct compel you not to fade: Nor chance nor fate o'er you are tyrannous. Your splendour with the night sinks not in shade, Nor grows with day, howe'er that sun ride high Which on our mortal hearts life's heat hath rayed. Thus from thy dying I now learn to die, Dear father mine! In thought I see thy place, Where earth but rarely lets men climb the sky. Not, as some deem, is death the worst disgrace For one whose last day brings him to the first, The next eternal throne to God's by grace. There by God's grace I trust that thou art nursed, And hope to find thee, If but my cold heart High reason draw from earthly slime accursed.



The collegiate church of S. Lorenzo at Florence had long been associated with the Medicean family, who were its most distinguished benefactors, Giovanni d'Averardo de' Medici, together with the heads of six other Florentine houses, caused it to be rebuilt at the beginning of the fifteenth century. He took upon himself the entire costs of the sacristy and one chapel; it was also owing to his suggestion that Filippo Brunelleschi, in the year 1421, designed the church and cloister as they now appear. When he died, Giovanni was buried in its precincts, while his son Cosimo de' Medici, the father of his country, continued these benevolences, and bestowed a capital of 40,000 golden florins on the Chapter. He too was buried in the church, a simple monument in the sacristy being erected to his memory. Lorenzo the Magnificent followed in due course, and found his last resting-place at S. Lorenzo.

We have seen in a previous chapter how and when Leo X. conceived the idea of adding a chapel which should serve as mausoleum for several members of the Medicean family at S. Lorenzo, and how Clement determined to lodge the famous Medicean library in a hall erected over the west side of the cloister. Both of these undertakings, as well as the construction of a facade for the front of the church, were assigned to Michelangelo. The ground plan of the monumental chapel corresponds to Brunelleschi's sacristy, and is generally known as the Sagrestia Nuova. Internally Buonarroti altered its decorative panellings, and elevated the vaulting of the roof into a more ambitious cupola. This portion of the edifice was executed in the rough during his residence at Florence. The facade was never begun in earnest, and remains unfinished. The library was constructed according to his designs, and may be taken, on the whole, as a genuine specimen of his style in architecture.

The books which Clement lodged there were the priceless manuscripts brought together by Cosimo de' Medici in the first enthusiasm of the Revival, at that critical moment when the decay of the Eastern Empire transferred the wrecks of Greek literature from Constantinople to Italy. Cosimo built a room to hold them in the Convent of S. Marco, which Flavio Biondo styled the first library opened for the use of scholars. Lorenzo the Magnificent enriched the collection with treasures acquired during his lifetime, buying autographs wherever it was possible to find them, and causing copies to be made. In the year 1508 the friars of S. Marco sold this inestimable store of literary documents, in order to discharge the debts contracted by them during their ill-considered interference in the state affairs of the Republic. It was purchased for the sum of 2652 ducats by the Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici, a second son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, and afterwards Pope Leo X. He transferred them to his Roman villa, where the collection was still further enlarged by all the rarities which a prince passionate for literature and reckless in expenditure could there assemble. Leo's cousin and executor, Giulio de' Medici, Pope Clement VII., fulfilled his last wishes by transferring them to Florence, and providing the stately receptacle in which they still repose.

The task assigned to Michelangelo, when he planned the library, was not so simple as that of the new sacristy. Some correspondence took place before the west side of the cloister was finally decided on. What is awkward in the approach to the great staircase must be ascribed to the difficulty of fitting this building into the old edifice; and probably, if Michelangelo had carried out the whole work, a worthier entrance from the piazza into the loggia, and from the loggia into the vestibule, might have been devised.


Vasari, in a well-known passage of his Life of Michelangelo, reports the general opinion of his age regarding the novelties introduced by Buonarroti into Italian architecture. The art of building was in a state of transition. Indeed, it cannot be maintained that the Italians, after they abandoned the traditions of the Romanesque manner, advanced with certitude on any line of progress in this art. Their work, beautiful as it often is, ingenious as it almost always is, marked invariably by the individuality of the district and the builder, seems to be tentative, experimental. The principles of the Pointed Gothic style were never seized or understood by Italian architects. Even such cathedrals as those of Orvieto and Siena are splendid monuments of incapacity, when compared with the Romanesque churches of Pisa, S. Miniato, S. Zenone at Verona, the Cathedral of Parma. The return from Teutonic to Roman standards of taste, which marked the advent of humanism, introduced a hybrid manner. This, in its first commencement, was extremely charming. The buildings of Leo Battista Alberti, of Brunelleschi, and of Bramante are distinguished by an exquisite purity and grace combined with picturesqueness. No edifice in any style is more stately, and at the same time more musical in linear proportions, than the Church of S. Andrea at Mantua. The Cappella dei Pazzi and the Church of S. Spirito at Florence are gems of clear-cut and harmonious dignity. The courtyard of the Cancelleria at Rome, the Duomo at Todi, show with what supreme ability the great architect of Casteldurante blended sublimity with suavity, largeness and breadth with naivete and delicately studied detail. But these first endeavours of the Romantic spirit to assimilate the Classic mannerism—essays no less interesting than those of Boiardo in poetry, of Botticelli in painting, of Donatello and Omodei in sculpture—all of them alike, whether buildings, poems, paintings, or statues, displaying the genius of the Italic race, renascent, recalcitrant against the Gothic style, while still to some extent swayed by its influence (at one and the same time both Christian and chivalrous, Pagan and precociously cynical; yet charmingly fresh, unspoiled by dogma, uncontaminated by pedantry)—these first endeavours of the Romantic spirit to assimilate the Classic mannerism could not create a new style representative of the national life. They had the fault inherent in all hybrids, however fanciful and graceful. They were sterile and unprocreative. The warring elements, so deftly and beautifully blent in them, began at once to fall asunder. The San Galli attempted to follow classical precedent with stricter severity. Some buildings of their school may still be reckoned among the purest which remain to prove the sincerity of the Revival of Learning. The Sansovini exaggerated the naivete of the earlier Renaissance manner, and pushed its picturesqueness over into florid luxuriance or decorative detail. Meanwhile, humanists and scholars worked slowly but steadily upon the text of Vitruvius, impressing the paramount importance of his theoretical writings upon practical builders. Neither students nor architects reflected that they could not understand Vitruvius; that, if they could understand him, it was by no means certain he was right; and that, if he was right for his own age, he would not be right for the sixteenth century after Christ. It was just at this moment, when Vitruvius began to dominate the Italian imagination, that Michelangelo was called upon to build. The genial adaptation of classical elements to modern sympathies and uses, which had been practised by Alberti, Brunelleschi, Bramante, yielded now to painful efforts after the appropriation of pedantic principles. Instead of working upon antique monuments with their senses and emotions, men approached them through the medium of scholastic erudition. Instead of seeing and feeling for themselves, they sought by dissection to confirm the written precepts of a defunct Roman writer. This diversion of a great art from its natural line of development supplies a striking instance of the fascination which authority exercises at certain periods of culture. Rather than trust their feeling for what was beautiful and useful, convenient and attractive, the Italians of the Renaissance surrendered themselves to learning. Led by the spirit of scholarship, they thought it their duty to master the text of Vitruvius, to verify his principles by the analysis of surviving antique edifices, and, having formed their own conception of his theory, to apply this, as well as they were able, to the requirements of contemporary life.

Two exits from the false situation existed: one was the picturesqueness of the Barocco style; the other was the specious vapid purity of the Palladian. Michelangelo, who was essentially the genius of this transition, can neither be ascribed to the Barocco architects, although he called them into being, nor yet can he be said to have arrived at the Palladian solution. He held both types within himself in embryo, arriving at a moment of profound and complicated difficulty for the practical architect; without technical education, but gifted with supreme genius, bringing the imperious instincts of a sublime creative amateur into every task appointed him. We need not wonder if a man of his calibre left the powerful impress of his personality upon an art in chaos, luring lesser craftsmen into the Barocco mannerism, while he provoked reaction in the stronger, who felt more scientifically what was needed to secure firm standing-ground. Bernini and the superb fountain of Trevi derive from Michelangelo on one side; Vignola's cold classic profiles and Palladio's resuscitation of old Rome in the Palazzo della Ragione at Vicenza emerge upon the other. It remained Buonarroti's greatest-glory that, lessoned by experience and inspired for high creation by the vastness of the undertaking, he imagined a world's wonder in the cupola of S. Peter's.


Writing in the mid-stream of this architectural regurgitation, Vasari explains what contemporaries thought about Michelangelo's innovations. "He wished to build the new sacristy upon the same lines as the older one by Brunelleschi, but at the same time to clothe the edifice with a different style of decoration. Accordingly, he invented for the interior a composite adornment, of the newest and most varied manner which antique and modern masters joined together could have used. The novelty of his style consisted in those lovely cornices, capitals, basements, doors, niches, and sepulchres which transcended all that earlier builders, working by measurements, distribution of parts, and rule, had previously effected, following Vitruvius and the ancient relics. Such men were afraid to supplement tradition with original invention. The license he introduced gave great courage to those who studied his method, and emboldened them to follow on his path. Since that time, new freaks of fancy have been seen, resembling the style of arabesque and grotesque more than was consistent with tradition. For this emancipation of the art, all craftsmen owe him an infinite and everduring debt of gratitude, since he at one blow broke down the bands and chains which barred the path they trod in common."

If I am right in thus interpreting an unusually incoherent passage of Vasari's criticism, no words could express more clearly the advent of Barocco mannerism. But Vasari proceeds to explain his meaning with still greater precision. Afterwards he made a plainer demonstration of his intention in the library of S. Lorenzo, by the splendid distribution of the windows, the arrangement of the upper chamber, and the marvellous entrance-hall into that enclosed building.

"The grace and charm of art were never seen more perfectly displayed in the whole and in the parts of any edifice than here. I may refer in particular to the corbels, the recesses for statues, and the cornices. The staircase, too, deserves attention for its convenience, with the eccentric breakage of its flights of steps; the whole construction being so altered from the common usage of other architects as to excite astonishment in all who see it."

What emerges with distinctness from Vasari's account of Michelangelo's work at S. Lorenzo is that a practical Italian architect, who had been engaged on buildings of importance since this work was carried out, believed it to have infused freedom and new vigour into architecture. That freedom and new vigour we now know to have implied the Barocco style.


In estimating Michelangelo's work at S. Lorenzo, we must not forget that at this period of his life he contemplated statuary, bronze bas-relief, and painting, as essential adjuncts to architecture. The scheme is, therefore, not so much constructive as decorative, and a great many of its most offensive qualities may be ascribed to the fact that the purposes for which it was designed have been omitted. We know that the facade of S. Lorenzo was intended to abound in bronze and marble carvings. Beside the Medicean tombs, the sacristy ought to have contained a vast amount of sculpture, and its dome was actually painted in fresco by Giovanni da Udine under Michelangelo's own eyes. It appears that his imagination still obeyed those leading principles which he applied in the rough sketch for the first sepulchre of Julius. The vestibule and staircase of the library cannot therefore be judged fairly now; for if they had been finished according to their maker's plan, the faults of their construction would have been compensated by multitudes of plastic shapes.

M. Charles Gamier, in L'OEuvre et la Vie, speaking with the authority of a practical architect, says: "Michelangelo was not, properly speaking, an architect. He made architecture, which is quite a different thing; and most often it was the architecture of a painter and sculptor, which points to colour, breadth, imagination, but also to insufficient studies and incomplete education. The thought may be great and strong, but the execution of it is always feeble and naive.... He had not learned the language of the art. He has all the qualities of imagination, invention, will, which form a great composer; but he does not know the grammar, and can hardly write.... In seeking the great, he has too often found the tumid; seeking the original, he has fallen upon the strange, and also on bad taste."

There is much that is true in this critique, severe though it may seem to be. The fact is that Michelangelo aimed at picturesque effect in his buildings; not, as previous architects had done, by a lavish use of loosely decorative details, but by the piling up and massing together of otherwise dry orders, cornices, pilasters, windows, all of which, in his conception, were to serve as framework and pedestals for statuary. He also strove to secure originality and to stimulate astonishment by bizarre modulations of accepted classic forms, by breaking the lines of architraves, combining angularities with curves, adopting a violently accented rhythm and a tortured multiplicity of parts, wherever this was possible.


In this new style, so much belauded by Vasari, the superficial design is often rich and grandiose, making a strong pictorial appeal to the imagination. Meanwhile, the organic laws of structure have been sacrificed; and that chaste beauty which emerges from a perfectly harmonious distribution of parts, embellished by surface decoration only when the limbs and members of the building demand emphasis, may be sought for everywhere in vain. The substratum is a box, a barn, an inverted bottle; built up of rubble, brick, and concrete; clothed with learned details, which have been borrowed from the pseudo-science of the humanist. There is nothing here of divine Greek candour, of dominant Roman vigour, of Gothic vitality, of fanciful invention governed by a sincere sense of truth. Nothing remains of the shy graces, the melodious simplicities, the pure seeking after musical proportion, which marked the happier Italian effort of the early Renaissance, through Brunelleschi and Alberti, Bramante, Giuliano da Sangallo, and Peruzzi. Architecture, in the highest sense of that word, has disappeared. A scenic scheme of panelling for empty walls has superseded the conscientious striving to construct a living and intelligible whole.

The fault inherent in Italian building after the close of the Lombard period, reaches its climax here. That fault was connected with the inability of the Italians to assimilate the true spirit of the Gothic style, while they attempted its imitation in practice. The fabrication of imposing and lovely facades at Orvieto, at Siena, at Cremona, and at Crema, glorious screens which masked the poverty of the edifice, and corresponded in no point to the organism of the structure, taught them to overrate mere surface-beauty. Their wonderful creativeness in all the arts which can be subordinated to architectural effect seduced them further. Nothing, for instance, taken by itself alone, can be more satisfactory than the facade of the Certosa at Pavia; but it is not, like the front of Chartres or Rheims or Amiens, a natural introduction to the inner sanctuary. At the end of the Gothic period architecture had thus come to be conceived as the art of covering shapeless structures with a wealth of arabesques in marble, fresco, bronze, mosaic.

The revival of learning and a renewed interest in the antique withdrew the Italians for a short period from this false position. With more or less of merit, successive builders, including those I have above mentioned, worked in a pure style: pure because it obeyed the laws of its own music, because it was intelligible and self-consistent, aiming at construction as the main end, subordinating decoration of richer luxuriance or of sterner severity to the prime purpose of the total scheme. But this style was too much the plaything of particular minds to create a permanent tradition. It varied in the several provinces of Italy, and mingled personal caprice with the effort to assume a classic garb. Meanwhile the study of Vitruvius advanced, and that pedantry which infected all the learned movements of the Renaissance struck deep and venomous roots into the art of building.

Michelangelo arrived at the moment I am attempting to indicate. He protested that architecture was not his trade. Over and over again he repeated this to his Medicean patrons; but they compelled him to build, and he applied himself with the predilections and prepossessions of a plastic artist to the task. The result was a retrogression from the point reached by his immediate predecessors to the vicious system followed by the pseudo-Gothic architects in Italy. That is to say, he treated the structure as an inert mass, to be made as substantial as possible, and then to be covered with details agreeable to the eye. At the beginning of his career he had a defective sense of the harmonic ratios upon which a really musical building may be constructed out of mere bricks and mortar—such, for example, as the Church of S. Giustina at Padua. He was overweighted with ill-assimilated erudition; and all the less desirable licenses of Brunelleschi's school, especially in the abuse of square recesses, he adopted without hesitation. It never seems to have occurred to him that doors which were intended for ingress and egress, windows which were meant to give light, and attics which had a value as the means of illumination from above, could not with any propriety be applied to the covering of blank dead spaces in the interiors of buildings.

The vestibule of the Laurentian Library illustrates his method of procedure. It is a rectangular box of about a cube and two thirds, set length-way up. The outside of the building, left unfinished, exhibits a mere blank space of bricks. The interior might be compared to a temple in the grotesque-classic style turned outside in: colossal orders, meaningless consoles, heavy windows, square recesses, numerous doors—the windows, doors, and attics having no right to be there, since they lead to nothing, lend view to nothing, clamour for bronze and sculpture to explain their existence as niches and receptacles for statuary. It is nevertheless indubitably true that these incongruous and misplaced elements, crowded together, leave a strong impression of picturesque force upon the mind. From certain points and angles, the effect of the whole, considered as a piece of deception and insincerity, is magnificent. It would be even finer than it is, were not the Florentine pietra serena of the stonework so repellent in its ashen dulness, the plaster so white, and the false architectural system so painfully defrauded of the plastic forms for which it was intended to subserve as setting.

We have here no masterpiece of sound constructive science, but a freak of inventive fancy using studied details for the production of a pictorial effect. The details employed to compose this curious illusion are painfully dry and sterile; partly owing to the scholastic enthusiasm for Vitruvius, partly to the decline of mediaeval delight in naturalistic decoration, but, what seems to me still more apparent, through Michelangelo's own passionate preoccupation with the human figure. He could not tolerate any type of art which did not concede a predominant position to the form of man. Accordingly, his work in architecture at this period seems waiting for plastic illustration, demanding sculpture and fresco for its illumination and justification.

It is easy, one would think, to make an appeal to the eye by means of colossal orders, bold cornices, enormous consoles, deeply indented niches. How much more easy to construct a box, and then say, "Come, let us cover its inside with an incongruous and inappropriate but imposing parade of learning," than to lift some light and genial thing of beauty aloft into the air, as did the modest builder of the staircase to the hall at Christ Church, Oxford! The eye of the vulgar is entranced, the eye of the artist bewildered. That the imagination which inspired that decorative scheme was powerful, original, and noble, will not be denied; but this does not save us from the desolating conviction that the scheme itself is a specious and pretentious mask, devised to hide a hideous waste of bricks and mortar.

Michelangelo's imagination, displayed in this distressing piece of work, was indeed so masterful that, as Vasari says, a new delightful style in architecture seemed to be revealed by it. A new way of clothing surfaces, falsifying facades, and dealing picturesquely with the lifeless element of Vitruvian tradition had been demonstrated by the genius of one who was a mighty amateur in building. In other words, the Barocco manner had begun; the path was opened to prank, caprice, and license. It required the finer tact and taste of a Palladio to rectify the false line here initiated, and to bring the world back to a sense of seriousness in its effort to deal constructively and rationally with the pseudo-classic mannerism.

The qualities of wilfulness and amateurishness and seeking after picturesque effect, upon which I am now insisting, spoiled Michelangelo's work as architect, until he was forced by circumstance, and after long practical experience, to confront a problem of pure mathematical construction. In the cupola of S. Peter's he rose to the stern requirements of his task. There we find no evasion of the builder's duty by mere surface-decoration, no subordination of the edifice to plastic or pictorial uses. Such side-issues were excluded by the very nature of the theme. An immortal poem resulted, an aerial lyric of melodious curves and solemn harmonies, a thought combining grace and audacity translated into stone uplifted to the skies. After being cabined in the vestibule to the Laurentian Library, our soul escapes with gladness to those airy spaces of the dome, that great cloud on the verge of the Campagna, and feels thankful that we can take our leave of Michelangelo as architect elsewhere.


While seeking to characterise what proved pernicious to contemporaries in Michelangelo's work as architect, I have been led to concentrate attention upon the Library at S. Lorenzo. This was logical; for, as we have seen, Vasari regarded that building as the supreme manifestation of his manner. Vasari never saw the cupola of S. Peter's in all its glory, and it may be doubted whether he was capable of learning much from it.

The sacristy demands separate consideration. It was an earlier work, produced under more favourable conditions of place and space, and is in every way a purer specimen of the master's style. As Vasari observed, the Laurentian Library indicated a large advance upon the sacristy in the development of Michelangelo's new manner.

At this point it may not unprofitably be remarked, that none of the problems offered for solution at S. Lorenzo were in the strictest sense of that word architectural. The facade presented a problem of pure panelling. The ground-plan of the sacristy was fixed in correspondence with Brunelleschi's; and here again the problem resolved itself chiefly into panelling. A builder of genius, working on the library, might indeed have displayed his science and his taste by some beautiful invention adapted to the awkward locality; as Baldassare Peruzzi, in the Palazzo Massimo at Rome, converted the defects of the site into graces by the exquisite turn he gave to the curved portion of the edifice. Still, when the scheme was settled, even the library became more a matter of panelling and internal fittings than of structural design. Nowhere at S. Lorenzo can we affirm that Michelangelo enjoyed, the opportunity of showing what he could achieve in the production of a building independent in itself and planned throughout with a free hand. Had he been a born architect, he would probably have insisted upon constructing the Medicean mausoleum after his own conception instead of repeating Brunelleschi's ground-plan, and he would almost certainly have discovered a more genial solution for the difficulties of the library. But he protested firmly against being considered an architect by inclination or by education. Therefore he accepted the most obvious conditions of each task, and devoted himself to schemes of surface decoration.

The interior of the sacristy is planned with a noble sense of unity. For the purpose of illuminating a gallery of statues, the lighting may be praised without reserve; and there is no doubt whatever that Michelangelo intended every tabernacle to be filled with figures, and all the whitewashed spaces of the walls to be encrusted with bas-reliefs in stucco or painted in fresco. The recesses or niches, taking the form of windows, are graduated in three degrees of depth to suit three scales of sculptural importance. The sepulchres of the Dukes had to emerge into prominence; the statues subordinate to these main masses occupied shallower recesses; the shallowest of all, reserved for minor statuary, are adorned above with garlands, which suggest the flatness of the figures to be introduced. Architecturally speaking, the building is complete; but it sadly wants the plastic decoration for which it was designed, together with many finishing touches of importance. It is clear, for instance, that the square pedestals above the double pilasters flanking each of the two Dukes were meant to carry statuettes or candelabra, which would have connected the marble panelling with the cornices and stucchi and frescoed semicircles of the upper region. Our eyes are everywhere defrauded of the effect calculated by Michelangelo when he planned this chapel. Yet the total impression remains harmonious. Proportion has been observed in all the parts, especially in the relation of the larger to the smaller orders, and in the balance of the doors and windows. Merely decorative carvings are used with parsimony, and designed in a pure style, although they exhibit originality of invention. The alternation of white marble surfaces and mouldings with pietra serena pilasters, cornices, and arches, defines the structural design, and gives a grave but agreeable sense of variety. Finally, the recess behind the altar adds lightness and space to what would otherwise have been a box. What I have already observed when speaking of the vestibule to the library must be repeated here: the whole scheme is that of an exterior turned outside in, and its justification lies in the fact that it demanded statuary and colour for its completion. Still the bold projecting cornices, the deeper and shallower niches resembling windows, have the merit of securing broken lights and shadows under the strong vertical illumination, all of which are eminently picturesque. No doubt remains now that tradition is accurate in identifying the helmeted Duke with Lorenzo de' Medici, and the more graceful seated hero opposite with Giuliano. The recumbent figures on the void sepulchres beneath them are with equal truth designated as Night and Day, Morning and Evening. But Michelangelo condescended to no realistic portraiture in the statues of the Dukes, and he also meant undoubtedly to treat the phases of time which rule man's daily life upon the planet as symbols for far-reaching thoughts connected with our destiny. These monumental figures are not men, not women, but vague and potent allegories of our mortal fate. They remain as he left them, except that parts of Giuliano's statue, especially the hands, seem to have been worked over by an assistant. The same is true of the Madonna, which will ever be regarded, in her imperfectly finished state, as one of the finest of his sculptural conceptions. To Montelupo belongs the execution of S. Damiano, and to Montorsoli that of S. Cosimo. Vasari says that Tribolo was commissioned by Michelangelo to carve statues of Earth weeping for the loss of Giuliano, and Heaven rejoicing over his spirit. The death of Pope Clement, however, put a stop to these subordinate works, which, had they been accomplished, might perhaps have shown us how Buonarroti intended to fill the empty niches on each side of the Dukes.

When Michelangelo left Florence for good at the end of 1534, his statues had not been placed; but we have reason to think that the Dukes and the four allegorical figures were erected in his lifetime. There is something singular in the maladjustment of the recumbent men and women to the curves of the sarcophagi, and in the contrast between the roughness of their bases and the smooth polish of the chests they rest on. These discrepancies do not, however, offend the eye, and they may even have been deliberately adopted from a keen sense of what the Greeks called asymmetreia as an adjunct to effect. It is more difficult to understand what he proposed to do with the Madonna and her two attendant saints. Placed as they now are upon a simple ledge, they strike one as being too near the eye, and out of harmony with the architectural tone of the building. It is also noticeable that the saints are more than a head taller than the Dukes, while the Madonna overtops the saints by more than another head. We are here in a region of pure conjecture; and if I hazard an opinion, it is only thrown out as a possible solution of a now impenetrable problem. I think, then, that Michelangelo may have meant to pose these three figures where they are, facing the altar; to raise the Madonna upon a slightly projecting bracket above the level of SS. Damiano and Cosimo, and to paint the wall behind them with a fresco of the Crucifixion. That he had no intention of panelling that empty space with marble may be taken for granted, considering the high finish which has been given to every part of this description of work in the chapel. Treated as I have suggested, the statue of the Madonna, with the patron saints of the House of Medici, overshadowed by a picture of Christ's sacrifice, would have confronted the mystery of the Mass during every celebration at the altar. There are many designs for the Crucifixion, made by Michelangelo in later life, so lofty as almost to suggest a group of figures in the foreground, cutting the middle distance.

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