Michael Angelo (1465-1574)
Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists

IN 1474, under a lucky star, was born a son to Lodovico di Lionardo Buonarroti Simoni, descended, it is said, from the ancient and noble family of the Counts of Canossa. This Lodovico was Podesta that year of Chiusi and Caprese, near Vernia, where S. Francis received the stigmata, and, as I have said, there was born to him on Sunday the 6th of March, in the eighth hour of the night, a son, to whom he gave the name of Michael Angelo, perceiving thaT there was something greater than usual, Mercury and Venus at his birth being in the second house of Jove, which demonstrated that he would produce marvellous and stupendous works of art and genius. Lodovico, his time of office being finished, returned to Florence to Settignano, three miles from the city, where he had a small estate. The place was rich in a hard stone, which was constantly being worked by stonecutters, mostly born in the place, and the wife of one of these stonecutters was made nurse to Michaelangelo. Speaking of this once to Vasari, Michaelangelo said jestingly, "Giorgio, if I have anything of genius, it came to me from being born in the subtle air of your country of Arezzo, while from my nurse I got the chisel and hammer with which I make my figures."

As in time many sons were born to Lodovico, and his revenues were small, he set them to the woollen and silk trades, Michaelangelo, who was already growing up, being placed at school with Master Francesco da Urbino. But his inclination to the arts of design being strong, he spent all his time in drawing, as far as he could do so secretly, for he was often scolded by his father and those who were over him, and sometimes beaten for it, they supposing, perhaps, that it was a low thing, and unworthy of his ancient house. At that time Michaelangelo made friends with Francesco Granacci, who; being then a youth, had been placed with Domenico del Ghirlandajo to learn painting; and Granacci loving Michaelangelo, and seeing him clever at drawing, used to give him every day drawings of Ghirlandajo's, who was esteemed not only in Florence but through all Italy as one of the best masters then living. By this means the desire grew stronger every day in Michaelangelo, and Lodovico, seeing there was no help for it, by the advice of his friends determined to put him with Ghirlandajo.

Michaelangelo was at this time fourteen years old, and he made such progress that he astonished Domenico, who saw that he not only surpassed his other pupils, of whom he had a great number, but often equalled the things he did himself. It happened once that one of the boys who was learning there had copied with a pen some women out of one of Ghirlandajo's works, and Michaelangelo, taking the paper, with a thicker pen outlined one of the women again, as she should have been drawn; and it is a wonderful thing to see the difference, and consider the courage of the youth who was daring enough to correct his master's things. I have this drawing still, as a relic, having received it from Granaccio; and in the year 1550, when he was in Rome, Giorgio showed it to Michaelangelo, who recognised it and was glad to see it, saying modestly that he knew more of the art when he was a boy than now he was old.

At that time the magnificent Lorenzo de' Medici had filled his garden on the Piazza of S. Marco with ancient and good sculpture, so that the terraces and alleys were adorned with good antique figures in marble, and with pictures and other things by the best masters in Italy and elsewhere. And not only were they a great ornament to the garden, but they became a school and academy for young painters and sculptors, particularly for young nobles; for Lorenzo held that those who are born of noble blood can more easily attain perfection in anything than those who come of low birth. Lorenzo therefore always favoured men of talent, but particularly nobles who had any inclination to art; so it is no wonder that some came forth from that school to astound the world. Besides this, he not only provided food and clothing for those who being poor could not afford time for study, but he also offered rewards for those who excelled in anything, that the youths by competing together might become more perfect. The head of this academy was Bertoldo, an old Florentine sculptor and a pupil of Donatello's. He taught the youths, and at the same time had the care of the things in the garden, and many drawings, cartoons, and models from the hand of Donatello, Brunellesco, Masaccio, Paolo Uccello, Fra Giovanni, and other masters native and foreign. And, indeed, these arts cannot be learned except by long study and by copying good works, and he who has not the opportunity, although he may be greatly endowed by nature, wi!l be long in attaining perfection.

Lorenzo, therefore, lamenting that there were no great sculptors in his time, though there were many painters of the greatest fame, asked Domenico Ghirlandajo if he had in his workshop any youths who were inclined to sculpture, to sond them to his garden. Now Domenico held Michaelangelo and Francesco Granacci to be the best of his pupils. So these two going to the garden, found young Torrigiano there working upon some figures in clay as Bertoldo had directed him. This Torrigiano was by nature very proud and choleric, and being robust and fierce and courageous, he domineered over all the others. His principal occupation was sculpture, but he also worked in clay in a very beautiful manner. He could not endure, however, that any one should ever surpass him, and would with his own hands injure any work of another which he could not equal; and if the other resented it, they often came to something more than words about it. He took a particular dislike to Michaelangelo, for no other reason than because he saw that he worked studiously, and knew that he drew at home secretly at night and on feast days, by which means he surpassed all the others in the garden, and was much in favour with the great Lorenzo. Therefore, moved by envy, he was always seeking to offend him in word or deed, and having one day come to blows, Torrigiano gave Michaelangelo such a blow with his fist on his nose that he broke it, and Michaelangelo bore the mark of it as long as he lived. The thing having come to the ears of Lorenzo, he was so angry that if Torrigiano had not fled from Florence he would have been severely punished. He fled to Rome, and was employed by Alexander VI. in the building of the Borgia tower, but being led astray by some Florentine youths, he turned soldier, and joining the Duke Valentino, bore himself valiantly in the war in Romagna. He was afterwards in the war of Pisa, and was with Pietro de' Medici in the deed of arms on the Garigliano, where he obtained a pair of colours and earned the name of the brave standardbearer. But finding he was never likely to attain to the rank of captain, and had not advanced his own affairs by war, but had rather lost his time, he returned to sculpture. He made some little figures in marble and bronze for some Florentine merchants, and was by them brought to England. There he worked for the king many things in marble, bronze, and wood, competing with the masters of that land, all of whom he surpassed; and he earned such honours and rewards that if he had not been a person without any self-control, he would have lived and died there quietly. However, leaving England, he went to Spain, where he produced many works which are much esteemed, and was charged by the Duke of Arcos to make a Madonna and Child for him, the duke making him such fine promises that he thought he should be rich for ever. Having finished the work, the duke paid him in those coins which are called maravedis, which are worth little or nothing; but Torrigiano, seeing two men laden with money come to his house, was fully persuaded that he was very rich. When, however, he had had it counted by one of his Florentine friends, and reduced to Italian money, he found there was not quite thirty ducats. Upon this, supposing himself to have been cheated, he went and destroyed in his fury the statue he had made for the duke. The Spaniard in his turn, considering himself insulted, accused Torrigiano of heresy. He was taken to prison, and brought up day after day, being sent from one inquisitor to another, and finally adjudged worthy of the gravest punishment. But meanwhile Torrigiano had fallen into a state of melancholy, and passed several days without eating, by which he brought himself to such weakness that he died, saving himself thus from shame, for it is said he had been condemned to death.

Another of the students in the garden of the Medici was Giuliano Bugiardini, who was united in close and intimate friendship with Michaelangelo, and loved him much. Michaelangelo returned his love, not because he saw anything very profound in him, but because he bore so much love to art. There was a certain natural goodness and simplicity in him, without any envy or malice, which pleased Buonarroti infinitely. He had no other fault than loving his own works too much. For though this is a common fault with men, he passed all bounds; for which reason Michaelangelo used to call him blessed, because he was content with what he knew, and himself unhappy because his works never satisfied him fully.

Ottaviano de' Medici having secretly asked him to draw Michaelangelo, he set to work, and having kept him still for two hours,for he was fond of his conversation, he said to him, "Michaelangelo, if you would like to see yourself, come here, for I have just caught your look." Michaelangelo got up, and looking at the portrait said, "What have you done? you have put one of my eyes in my temple; look and see." Giuliano looked at it several times, and said, "It does not seem so to me; but sit down and I shall see a little better how it is." Buonarroti, who saw what the mistake was, sat down laughing, and Giuliano looked again and again at Michaelangelo and the portrait, and then getting up at last said, "It seems that the thing is exactly as I have drawn it." "Then," answered Buonarroti, "it is a defect of nature; go on, and do not spare pencils or art."

M. Palla Rucellai had given him a picture to paint for his altar in S. Maria Novella, and Giuliano began the martyrdom of S. Catherine; but he kept it on hand for twelve years, not having invention or knowledge enough for such a work. But Rucellai pressing for it to be done, he resolved one day to take Michaelangelo to see it, and having told him with what trouble he had made the lightning coming down from heaven and breaking the wheel, and the sun coming out of a cloud, he prayed Michaelangelo, who could not help laughing at his troubles, to tell him how to do eight or ten principal figures of the soldiers standing in file on guard, for he could not see how to foreshorten them so that they should appear all in a row, or how he could find room for them in so narrow a place. Buonarroti, feeling compassion for the poor man, took up a piece of charcoal and sketched a file of naked figures with all the judgment and excellence proper to him, and went away with many thanks from Giuliano. Not long after, the latter brought Il Tribolo his friend to see what Buonarroti had done, and told him all about it; but because Buonarroti had only sketched them in outline, without any shadow, Bugiardini could not carry them out; so Il Tribolo resolved to help him and he made some rough models in clay, giving them all that rough force which Michaelangelo had put into the drawing; and so he brought them to Giuliano. But this manner did not please Bugiardini's smooth fancy, and as soon as Il Tribolo was gone he took a brush and, dipping it in water, smoothed them all down. Il Tribolo, hearing about it from Giuliano himself, laughed at his honest simplicity, and the work was at last finished, so that none would have known that Michaelangelo had ever looked at it.

Giuliano, when he was old and poor, and doing little work, took great pains over a Pieta in a tabernacle which was to go to Spain. To reprcsent the darkness at the death of the Saviour, he made a Night on a black ground, copying the figure from Michaelangelo's in the sacristy of S. Lorenzo. But that statue having no emblem but an owl, Giuliano added his own conceits--a net with a lantern for catching thrushes at night, a little vessel with a candle in it, besides nightcaps and pillows and bats. And when Michaelangelo saw the work he nearly killed himself with laughing at the strange things with which Bugiardini had enriched his Night.

Giuliano was once telling Il Bronzino how he had seen a very beautiful woman, and after he had praised her a great deal, Il Bronzino asked, "Do you know her?" "No," he replied; "but she is very beautiful. Think she is like a picture of mine, and that is enough."

But to return to Michaelangelo in the garden. When he saw Torrigiano's work in clay he was fired with emulation. He set himself to imitate an ancient head of an old faun, and although he had never touched marble or a chisel before, he succeeded so well that Lorenzo was quite astonished. Seeing that out of his own fancy he had opened the mouth and shown the tongue and teeth, De' Medici said in jest, but speaking gravely, as was his wont, "You ought to know that old men never have all their teeth, but have always lost some." Michael Angelo, with his simple respect and love for this lord, thought he spoke in earnest, and no sooner was he departed than he broke away a tooth and altered the gum to look as if he had lost it, and waited with desire the return of his Magnificence. He, when he came and saw the simplicity of Michaelangelo, laughed much, telling the story to his friends. But desiring to assist him, he sent for Lodovico his father, and prayed him to give him his son, promising that he would treat him like a son of his own. And he willingly consenting Lorenzo gave him a room in his house, and he eat continually at his table with his sons and the noble persons who were around his Magnificence.

This was in the year after he had gone to Domenico, when he was about fifteen or sixteen years old, and he stayed in that house four years, until the death of the magnificent Lorenzo.

Afterwards Michaelangelo returned to his father's house, but Piero de' Medici, Lorenzo's heir, often sent for him, and one winter when it snowed heavily in Florence, he made him make a statue of snow in his courtyard, which was most beautiful. When the Medici were driven out of Florence, Michaelangelo had gone to Bologna and Venice, having left some weeks before, for he feared some evil would befall him from his intimacy with that house, seeing the insolence and bad government of Piero de' Medici. He tarried in Bologna a year and then returned to Florence, where he made a sleeping Cupid, which being shown by Baldassari del Milanese to Lorenzo di Pier Francesco de' Medici, he said, "If you were to bury it till it looked old, and then sent it to Rome, I am sure it would pass for an antique, and you would get much more for it than if you sold it here." Some say that Michaelangelo did so, making it look old, and others that Milanese carried it to Rome and buried it in one of his vineyards, and then sold it as an antique for two hundred ducats to the Cardinal S. Giorgio. However it may be, it brought such reputation to Michaelangelo that he was summoned to Rome by the Cardinal S. Giorgio, and tarried there a year, but the cardinal, knowing little of art, gave him nothing to do. Nevertheless during his stay in Rome he made much progress in the study of art, and the Cardinal de S. Denis, desiring to leave some worthy memorial of himself in so famous a city, caused him to make a Pieta in marble for the chapel of the Virgin in S. Peter's. To this work Michaelangelo bore such love that he inscribed his name on the girdle of our Lady, a thing he never did again. For one day Michaelangelo, entering the place where it stood, found a number of Lombard strangers there. And as they were giving it great praise, one of them asked another who had made it, and he answered, "Our Gobbo from Milan." Michaelangelo remained silent, but it seemed strange to him that his labours should be attributed to another. And one night he shut himself into the place with a light and cut his name upon it.

At this time some of his friends wrote to him advising him to come back to Florence, because there was some talk of having the great piece of marble which was lying spoilt made into a statue, and Piero Soderini the Gonfaloniere had talked of giving it to Lionardo da Vinci, and now was preparing to give it to Andrea Contucci [Andrea Sansovino]. Michaelangelo had desired to have it many years before; so he returned to Florence, and tried for it. It was a piece of marble nine braccia in size, out of which a Master Simone da Fiesole had begun to carve a giant, and had managed it so badly that the heads of the works at S. Maria del Fiore, without caring to have it finished, had abandoned it, and it had been lying thus for many years. Michaelangelo measured it again, and examined it to see if a reasonable figure could be cut out of the rock by accommodating its attitude to the maimed condition in which Master Simone had left it, and resolved to make request for it from the architects and Soderini. They, considering it a useless thing, granted it to him, thinking that anything would be better than the state it was in. Then Michaelangelo made a model in wax of a young David with a sling in his hand, and began to work in S. Maria del Fiore, setting up a hoarding round the marble, and working at it continually without any seeing it until he had brought it to perfection. Master Simone had so spoilt the marble that in some places there was not enough left for Michaelangelo's purpose, and certainly it was a miracle restoring thus one that was dead.

When Piero Soderini saw it, it pleased him much, but he said to Michaelangelo, who was engaged in retouching it in certain places, that he thought the nose was too thick. Michaelangelo, perceiving that the Gonfaloniere was below the statue, and could not see it truly, to satisfy him went up the scaffold, taking a chisel in his left hand with a little marble dust, and began to work with his chisel, letting a little dust fall now and then, but not touching the nose. Then looking down to the Gonfaloniere, who was watching, he said, "Look at it now." "It pleases me better," said the Gonfaloniere; "you have given it life." So Michaelangelo came down pitying those who make a show of understanding matters about which they really know nothing. Michaelangelo received from Soderini for the statue four hundred crowns, and it was set up in the year 1504.

Lionardo da Vinci was now occupied in painting the great Council Hall, and Pietro Soderini assigned one part of it to Michaelangelo, who chose for his subject the war of Pisa. He took a room in the dyers' hospital at S. Onofrio, and began a great cartoon, which he would not allow any one to see. He covered it with nude figures of the soldiers bathing in the river Arno and suddenly called to arms, the enemy making an assault. Some are coming out of the water, others are hastening to arm themselves and gc to the help of their companions, buckling on their cuirasses and their other arms. When it was shown, many said that such a thing had never been seen before, either from his hand or another's. And indeed this must be true, for all who have studied this cartoon have become men excellent in the art. And because it became thus a study for artists it was carried to the Medici palace, and was left in too great security in the hands of the artists. For during the sickness of Duke Giuliano, when no one was thinking of the matter, it was torn and cut into many pieces, and dispersed in many places, some pieces being to be seen now in Mantua.

Michaelangelo's fame was grown so great that in the year 1503, when he was twentynine years of age, Julius II. sent for him to come and build his tomb. Therefore he proceeded to Rome, and after many months he completed a design which in beauty, ornament, and the number of the statues surpassed every ancient or imperial sepulchre. Thereupan Pope Julius enlarged his projects, and resolved to rebuild the church of St. Peter's that it might contain it. So Michael Angelo set to work and went to Carrara with two of his youths to obtain the marble, and spent in those mountains eight months. Having chosen a quantity of marble, he caused it to be carried to the sea and thence to Rome, where it filled half the Piazza of St. Peter's, and the part round S. Caterina, and the space between the church and the corridor that goes to the castle, where Michaelangelo had made a room in which to work at the statues and the rest of the tomb. And that the Pope might easily come and see the work, he had a drawbridge made from the corridor to the room. Being treated with such familiarity he became exposed to great persecution, and much envy was aroused among the artists.

Of this work Michaelangelo finished four statues and began eight more. Some of the marble was carried to Florence, where he worked for some time to escape the bad air of Rome. In Rome he made the two Captives, and the Moses, which no other modern work will ever equal in beauty. Meanwhile the rest of the marble, which had been left at Carrara, arrived, and was carried to the Piazza of St. Peter's, and it being necessary to pay those who had brought it, Michaelangelo went as usual to the Pope, but finding that his Holiness was occupied with important business concerning the affairs of Bologna, he returned home and paid for the marble himself. He returned another day to speak of it to the Pope, but found difficulty in obtaining admission, one of the lackeys bidding him have patience, for he had orders not to let him in. A bishop said to the lackey "Perhaps you do not know this man;" but he answered, "I know him too well, but I am here to do what my superiors and the Pope command me." This displeased Michaelangelo, and thinking it treatment contrary to what he had before experienced, he replied in anger to the Pope's lackey, bidding him say, when his Holiness asked for him, that he had gone elsewhere. He returned home and set off in haste at two o'clock of the night, leaving two servants with orders to sell all the things in the house to the Jews, and to follow him to Florence. He journeyed on till he reached Poggibonsi, a place in the Florentine district. It was not long before five couriers arrived with letters from the Pope to bring him back; but he would listen neither to their prayers nor to the letters, which commanded him to return to Rome under pain of disgrace. At last the couriers' entreaties induced him to write a few words to his Holiness, saying that he must pardon him for not returning to his presence since he had been driven away, that his faithful service had not deserved such treatment, and therefore his Holiness must seek elsewhere for one to serve him. And so coming to Florence he set himself to finish the cartoon for the Great Hall, which Pier Soderini greatly desired he should execute. In the meantime there came three briefs to the Signory, commanding them to send back Michaelangelo to Rome.

He, perceiving the fury of the Pope, meditated going to Constantinople to serve the Turk, who desired to have him to construct a bridge from Constantinople to Pera. At last Pier Soderini persuaded him against his will to go back to the Pope, sending him back as a public person, with the title of ambassador of the city, and recommending him to his brother, Cardinal Soderini So he came to Bologna, whither his Holiness had come from Rome.

Some tell the story of his departure from Rome in another manner, and say that the Pope was angry with Michaelangelo because he would not let him see his work, and that he came more than once disguised when Michaelangelo was not at home, and corrupted his lads with money to let him in to see the chapel of Sixtus his uncle, which he was painting, and that once Michaelangelo, doubting his boys, hid himself and let something fall upon the Pope as he entered the chapel, which made him rush out in a fury.

However it was, as soon as he reached Bologna before he had taken off his boots, he was conducted by the Pope's servant to his Holiness accompanied by a bishop from Cardinal Soderini the cardinal himself being ill. Arrived in the Pope's presence, Michaelangelo knelt down and his Holiness looked at him severely as if in anger, saying, "Instead of coming to us, you have waited for us to come to you," meaning that Bologna was nearer to Florence than Rome. Michaelangelo humbly begged pardon, saying he had not done it to offend, but that he could not endure to be driven away in such a manner. And the bishop who had brought him in began to excuse him, saying that such men were ignorant, except in matters of art, and were not like other men. Upon this the Pope grew angry, and with a stick he had in his hand he struck the bishop, saying, "It is you who are ignorant and speak evil of him, which we did not do." So the bishop was driven out from his presence by the lackey, and the Pope, having vented his anger upon him, blessed Michaelangelo, and showered upon him gifts and promises.

He was employed to make a bronze statue of Pope Julius, five braccia high, for the city of Bologna. The attitude is most beautiful, having great dignity, and in the drapery there is richness and magnificence, and in the countenance vivacity and force, promptness and terrible majesty. It was set up in a niche over the gate of S. Petronio. It is said that while Michaelangelo was working upon it, Francia the goldsmith and also a most excellent painter came to see it, having heard much of him and his works, and never having seen any of them. Gazing upon the work with astonishment, he was asked by Michaelangelo what he thought of it, and he answered that it was a very beautiful cast and a fine material. Michaelangelo, thinking that he was praising the bronze rather than the artist, said, " I am as much obliged to Pope Julius who gave it to me as you are to the men from whom you get your colours for painting," adding before some gentlemen that he was a fool.

Michaelangelo finished this statue in clay before the Pope left Bologna for Rome, and his Holiness went to see it. He asked what was to be in his left hand, and whether the right hand, which was raised with so haughty a gesture, was blessing or cursing. Michaelangelo replied that he was advising the people of Bologna to conduct themselves well, and prayed him to decide if he should put a book in his left hand, but he answered, "Put a sword, for I am not a man of letters." This statue was afterwards destroyed by Bentivogli, and the bronze sold to Duke Alphonso of Ferrara, who made it into a cannon called the Julia, but the head is still preserved.

When the Pope was returned to Rome, Bramante (a friend of Raffaello's, and therefore little a friend to Michael Angelo) tried to turn his mind from finishing his sepulchre, saying it was an evil augury and seemed like hastening his death to make his own grave; and he persuaded him that on Michaelangelo's return he should set him to paint the ceiling of the chapel in the palace, in memory of Sixtus his uncle. For Bramante and Michaelangelo's other rivals thought to draw him away from sculpture, in which they saw he was perfect, and make him produce less worthy works, not to be compared with Raffaello's, knowing he had had no experience in painting in fresco. So when he was returned and proposed to the Pope to finish his tomb, he desired him instead to paint the ceiling of the chapel. Michaelangelo sought in every way to shift the load off his back, proposing Raffaello instead. But the more he excused himself, the more impetuous the Pope became. So seeing that his Holiness persevered, he resolved to do it, and the Pope ordered Bramante to make the scaffold. He made it hanging by ropes passed through holes in the ceiling, which when Michaelangelo saw, he asked Bramante how the holes were to be stopped up when the painting was finished. He answered, "We must think of that afterwards, but there is no other way." So Michaelangelo knew that either Bramante was worth little or that he was no friend to him, and he went to the Pope and told him the scaffolding would not do. So he told him to do it his own way. He therefore ordered it to be made on supports, not touching the wall, and he gave to a poor carpenter who made it so many of the useless ropes that by the sale of them he obtained a dowry for one of his daughters.

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