Part 12: Last trip to Florence; plans for the Obsequies

Vasari's Lives of the Artists

WITH MOST HONORABLE obsequies, and with a concourse of all the craftsmen, all his friends, and all the Florentine colony, Michelagnolo was given burial in a sepulchre at S. Apostolo, in the sight of all Rome; his Holiness having intended to make him some particular memorial and tomb in S. Pietro at Rome. Leonardo, his nephew, arrived when all was over, although he travelled post. When Duke Cosimo was informed of the event, he confirmed his resolve that since he had not been able to have him and honor him alive, he would have him brought to Florence and not hesitate to honor him with all manner of pomp after death; and the body was sent secretly in a bale, under the title of merchandise, which method was adopted lest there might be a tumult in Rome, and lest perchance the body of Michelagnolo might be detained and prevented from leaving Rome for Florence. But before the body arrived, the news of the death having been heard, the principal painters, sculptors, and architects were assembled together at the summons of the Lieutenant of their Academy, and they were reminded by that Lieutenant, who at that time was the Reverend Don Vincenzio Borghini, that they were obliged by virtue of their statutes to pay due honor to the death of any of their brethren, and that, they having done this so lovingly and with such universal satisfaction in the obsequies of Fra Giovanni Agnolo Montorsoli, who had been the first to die after the creation of the Academy, they should look well to what it might be proper for them to do in honor of Buonarroti, who had been elected by an unanimous vote of the whole body of the Company as the first Academician and the head of them all. To which proposal they all replied, as men most deeply indebted and affected to the genius of so great a man, that at all costs pains should be taken to do him honor in the best and finest ways available to them.

This done, in order not to have to assemble so many persons together every day, to their great inconvenience, and to the end that matters might proceed more quietly, four men were elected as heads of the obsequies and the funeral pomp that were to be held; the painters Agnolo Bronzino and Giorgio Vasari, and the sculptors Benvenuto Cellini and Bartolommeo Ammanati, all men of illustrious name and eminent ability in their arts; to the end, I say, that they might consult and determine between themselves and the Lieutenant what was to be done in each particular, and in what way, with authority and power to dispose of the whole body of the Company and Academy. This charge they accepted all the more willingly because all the members, young and old, each in his own profession, offered their services for the execution of such pictures and statues as had to be done for that funeral pomp. They then ordained that the Lieutenant, in pursuance of his office, and the Consuls, in the name of the Company and Academy, should lay the whole matter before the Lord Duke, and beseech him for all the aids and favours that might be necessary, and especially for permission to have those obsequies held in S. Lorenzo, the church of the most illustrious House of Medici; wherein are the greater part of the works by the hand of Michelagnolo that there are to be seen in Florence; and, in addition, that his Excellency should allow Messer Benedetto Varchi to compose and deliver the funeral oration, to the end that the excellent genius of Michelagnolo might be extolled by the rare eloquence of a man so great as was Varchi, who, being in the particular service of his Excellency, would not have undertaken such a charge without a word from him, although they were very certain that, as one most loving by nature and deeply affected to the memory of Michelagnolo, of himself he would never have refused. This done, and the Academicians dismissed, the above-named Lieutenant wrote to the Lord Duke a letter of this precise tenor:

"The Academy and Company of Painters and Sculptors having resolved among themselves, if it should 
please your most illustrious Excellency, to do honor in some sort to the memory of Michelagnolo 
Buonarroti, both from the general obligation due from their profession to the extraordinary genius 
of one who was perhaps the greatest craftsman who has ever lived, and from their particular 
obligation through their belonging to a common country, and also because of the great advantage 
that these professions have received from the perfection of his works and inventions, insomuch that 
they hold themselves obliged to prove their affection to his genius in whatever way they are able, 
they have laid this their desire before your illustrious Excellency in a letter, and have besought 
you, as their peculiar refuge, for a certain measure oi assistance. I, entreated by them, and being, 
as I think, obliged because your most illustrious Excellency has been content that I should be again 
this year in their Company with the title of your Lieutenant, with the added reason that the 
proposal is a generous one and worthy of virtuous and grateful minds, and, above all, knowing how 
your most illustrious Excellency is the patron of talent, and as it were a haven and unique 
protector for ingenious persons in this age, even surpassing in this respect your forefathers, who 
bestowed extraordinary favours on those excellent in these professions, as, by order of the 
Magnificent Lorenzo, Giotto, already so long dead, received a statue in the principal church, and 
Era Filippo a most beautiful tomb of marble at his expense, while many others obtained the greatest 
benefits and honors on various occasions; moved, I say, by all these reasons, I have taken it upon 
myself to recommend to your most illustrious Excellency the petition of this Academy, that they may 
be able to do honor to the genius of Michelagnolo, the particular nursling and pupil of the school 
of the Magnificent Lorenzo, which will be an extraordinary pleasure to them, a vast satisfaction to 
men in general, no small incitement to the professors of these arts, and to all Italy a proof of 
the lofty mind and overflowing goodness of your most illustrious Excellency, whom may God long 
preserve in happiness for the benefit of your people and the support of every talent." 

To which letter the above-named Lord Duke answered thus:


"The zeal that this Academy has displayed, and continues to 
display, to honor the memory of Michelagnolo Buonarroti, who has 
passed from this to a better life, has given us much consolation for the 
loss of a man so extraordinary; and we wish not only to satisfy them in 
all that they have demanded in their memorial, but also to have his 
remains brought to Florence, which, according as we are informed, was 
his own desire. All this we are writing to the aforesaid Academy, to 
encourage them to celebrate by every possible means the genius of that 
great man. May God content you in your desire." 

Of the letter, or rather, memorial, of which mention has been made above, addressed by the Academy to the Lord Duke, the tenor was as follows:


"The Academy and the Men of the Company of Design, 
created by the grace and favour of your most illustrious Excellency, 
knowing with what solicitude and affection you caused the body of 
Michelagnolo Buonarroti to be brought to Florence by means of your 
representative in Rome, have assembled together and have unanimously 
determined that they shall celebrate his obsequies in the best manner 
in their power and knowledge. Wherefore they, knowing that your most 
illustrious Excellency was revered by him as much as you yourself loved 
him, beseech you that you should deign in your infinite goodness and 
liberality to grant to them, first, that they may be allowed to celebrate 
the said obsequies in the Church of S. Lorenzo, a church built by your 
ancestors, in which are so many beautiful works wrought by his hand, 
both in architecture and in sculpture, and near which you are minded 
to have erected a place that shall be as it were a nest and an abiding school 
of architecture, sculpture, and painting, for the above-named Academy 
and Company of Design. Secondly, they pray you that you should 
consent to grant a commission to Messer Benedetto Varchi that he shall 
not only compose the funeral oration, but also deliver it with his own 
mouth, as he has promised most freely that he would do, when besought 
by us, in the event of your most illustrious Excellency consenting. In 
the third place, they entreat and pray you that you should deign, 
in the same goodness and liberality of your heart, to supply them with 
all that may be necessary for them in celebrating the above-mentioned 
obsequies, over and above their own resources, which are very small. 
All these matters, and each singly, have been discussed and determined 
in the presence and with the consent of the most Magnificent and Reverend 
Monsignor, Messer Vincenzio Borghini, Prior of the Innocenti and 
Lieutenant of your most illustrious Excellency in the aforesaid Academy 
and Company of Design, which, etc." 

To which letter of the Academy the Duke made this reply:


"We are well content to give full satisfaction to your petitions, 
so great is the affection that we have always borne to the rare genius of 
Michelagnolo Buonarroti, and that we still bear to all your profession; 
do not hesitate, therefore, to carry out all that you have proposed to do 
in his obsequies, for we will not fail to supply whatever you need. Mean- 
while, we have written to Messer Benedetto Varchi in the matter of the 
oration, and to the Director of the Hospital with regard to anything 
more that may be necessary in this undertaking. Fare you well. 


The letter to Varchi was as follows:


"The affection that we bear to the rare genius of Michelagnolo 
Buonarroti makes us desire that his memory should be honoured and 
celebrated in every possible way. It will be pleasing to us, therefore, 
that you for love of us shall undertake the charge of composing the 
oration that is to be delivered at his obsequies, according to the arrange- 
ments made by the deputies of the Academy ; and still more pleasing that 
it should be delivered by your own lips. Fare you well." 

Messer Bernardino Grazzini, also, wrote to the above-named deputies that they could not have expected in the Duke any desire in that matter more ardent than that which he had shown, and that they might be assured of every aid and favour from his most illustrious Excellency.

While these matters were being discussed in Florence, Leonardo Buonarroti, Michelagnolo' s nephew (who, when informed of his uncle's illness, had made his way to Rome by post, but had not found him alive), having heard from Daniele da Volterra, who had been the very familiar friend of Michelagnolo, and also from others who had been about the person of that saintly old man, that he had requested and prayed that his body should be carried to Florence, that most noble city of his birth, of which he was always a most tender lover; Leonardo, I say, with prompt and therefore good resolution, removed the body cautiously from Rome and sent it off to Florence in a bale, as if it had been a piece of merchandise. And here I must not omit to say that this final resolution of Michelagnolo's proved a thing against the opinion of certain persons, but nevertheless very true, namely, that his absence for so many years from Florence had been caused by no other thing but the nature of the air, for the reason that experience had taught him that the air of Florence, being sharp and subtle, was very injurious to his constitution, while that of Rome, softer and more temperate, had kept him in perfect health up to his ninetieth year, with all the senses as lively and sound as they had ever been, and with such strength, for his age, that up to the last day he had never ceased to work at something.

Since, then, the coming of the bale was so sudden and so unexpected that for the time being it was not possible to do what was done afterwards, the body of Michelagnolo, on arriving in Florence, was placed with the coffin, at the desire of the deputies, on the same day that it arrived in the city (namely, on the nth of March, which was a Saturday), in the Company of the Assumption, which is under the high altar of S. Pietro Maggiore, beneath the steps at the back; but it was not touched in any way whatever. The next day, which was Sunday of the second week of Lent, all the painters, sculptors, and architects assembled as quietly as possible round S. Pietro, whither they had brought nothing but a pall of velvet, all bordered and embroidered in gold, which covered the coffin and the whole bier; upon which coffin was an image of Christ Crucified. Then, about the middle hour of the night, all having gathered around the body, all at once the oldest and most eminent craftsmen laid their hands on a great quantity of torches that had been carried there, and the younger men took up the bier with such eagerness, that blessed was he who could approach it and place his shoulders under it, believing as it were that in the time to come they would be able to claim the glory of having borne the remains of the greatest man that there had ever been in their arts. >P>The sight of a certain number of persons assembled about S. Pietro had caused, as always happens in such cases, many others to stop there, and the rather as it had been trumpeted abroad that the body of Michelagnolo had arrived, and was to be carried to S. Croce. And although, as I have said, every precaution had been taken that the matter should not become known, lest the report might spread through the city, and there might flock thither such a multitude that it would not be possible to avoid a certain degree of tumult and confusion, and also because they desired that the little which they wished to do at that time should be done with more quiet than pomp, reserving the rest for a more convenient time with greater leisure; nevertheless, both the one thing and the other took a contrary course, for with regard to the multitude, the news, as has been related, passing from lip to lip, in the twinkling of an eye the church was so filled, that in the end it was with the greatest difficulty that the body was carried from the church to the sacristy, in order to take it out of the bale and then place it in the sepulchre.

With regard to the question of honor, although it cannot be denied that to see in funeral pomps a great show of priests, a large quantity of wax tapers, and a great number of mourners dressed in black, is a thing of grand and magnificent appearance, it does not follow that it was not also a great thing to see thus assembled in a small company, without preparation, all those eminent men who are now in such repute, and who will be even more in the future, honoring that body with such loving and affectionate offices. And, in truth, the number of such craftsmen in Florence and they were all there has always been very great, for the reason that these arts have always flourished in Florence in such a manner, that I believe that it may be said without prejudice to other cities that their principal and true nest and domicile is Florence, not otherwise than Athens once was of the sciences. In addition to that number of craftsmen, there were so many citizens following them, and so many at the sides of the streets where the procession passed, that there was no place for any more; and, what is an even greater thing, there was nothing heard but praises in every man's mouth of the merits of Michelagnolo, all saying that true genius has such force that, after all expectation of such honor and profit as can be obtained from a gifted man has failed, nevertheless, by its own nature and peculiar merits, it remains honored and beloved. For these reasons that demonstration was more vivid in effect and more precious than any pomp of gold and trappings that could have been contrived.

The body having been carried with so beautiful a train into S. Croce, after the friars had finished the ceremonies that were customary for the dead, it was borne not without very great difficulty, as has been related, by reason of the concourse of people into the sacristy, where the above-named Lieutenant, who had been present in virtue of his office, thinking to do a thing pleasing to many, and also (as he afterwards con- fessed) desiring to see in death one whom he had not seen in life, or had seen at such an early age that he had lost all memory of him, then resolved to have the coffin opened. This done, when he and all the rest of us present thought to find the body already marred and putrefied, because Michelagnolo had been dead twenty-five days and twenty-two in the coffin, we found it so perfect in every part, and so free from any noisome odour, that we were ready to believe that it was rather at rest in a sweet and most peaceful sleep; and, besides that the features of the face were exactly as in life (except that there was something of the color of death), it had no member that was marred or revealed any corruption, and the head and cheeks were not otherwise to the touch than as if he had passed away but a few hours before.

When the tumult of the people had abated, arrangements were made to place the body in a sepulchre in the church, beside the altar of the Cavalcanti, by the door that leads into the cloister of the chapter-house. Meanwhile the news had spread through the city, and such a multitude of young people flocked thither to see the corpse, that there was great difficulty in contriving to close the tomb; and if it had been day, instead of night, we would have been forced to leave it open many hours in order to satisfy the public. The following morning, while the painters and sculptors were commencing to make arrangements for the memorial of honor, many choice spirits, such as have always abounded in Florence, began to attach above the aforesaid sepulchre verses both Latin and in the vulgar tongue, and so it was continued for some time; but those compositions that were printed at that time were but a small part with respect to the many that were written.

Now to come to the obsequies, which were not held the day after the day of S. John, as had been intended, but were postponed until the I4th of July. The three deputies (for Benvenuto Cellini, having felt somewhat indisposed from the beginning, had never taken any part in the matter), having appointed the sculptor Zanobi Lastricati as their proveditor, resolved that they would do something ingenious and worthy of their arts rather than costly and full of pomp. And, in truth, since honor was to be paid (said those deputies and their proveditor) to such a man as Michelagnolo, and by men of the profession that he had practised, men rich rather in talents than in excess of means, that must be done not with regal pomp or superfluous vanities, but with inventions and works abounding in spirit and loveliness, such as issue from the knowledge and readiness of hand of our craftsmen; thus honoring art with art. For although, they said, we may expect from his Excellency the Lord Duke any sum of money that may be necessary, and we have already received such amounts as we have demanded, nevertheless we must hold it as certain that from us there is expected something ingenious and pleasing in invention and art, rather than rich through vast expense or grand by reason of superb appurtenances. But, notwithstanding this, it was seen in the end that the work was equal in magnificence to any that ever issued from the hands of those Academicians, and that this memorial of honour was no less truly magnificent than it was ingenious and full of fanciful and praiseworthy inventions.

Finally, then, it was arranged that in the central nave of S. Lorenzo, between the two lateral doors, of which one leads out of the church and the other into the cloister, there should be erected, as was done, a catafalque of a rectangular form, twenty-eight braccia high, eleven braccia long, and nine broad, with a figure of Fame on the summit. On the base of the catafalque, which rose two braccia from the ground, on the part looking towards the principal door of the church, there were placed two most beautiful recumbent figures of Rivers, one representing the Arno and the other the Tiber. Arno had a horn of plenty, full of flowers and fruits, signifying thereby the fruits that have come to these professions from the city of Florence, which have been of such a kind and so many that they have filled the world, and particularly Rome, with extraordinary beauty. This was demonstrated excellently well by the other River, representing, as has been said, the Tiber, in that, extending one arm, it had the hands full of flowers and fruits received from the horn of plenty of the Arno, which lay beside it, face to face; and it served also to demonstrate, by enjoying the fruits of Arno, that Michelagnolo had lived a great part of his life in Rome, and had executed there those marvels that cause amazement to the world. Arno had for a sign the Lion, and Tiber the She- Wolf , with the infants Romulus and Remus; and they were both colossal figures of extraordinary grandeur and beauty, in the likeness of marble.

One, the Tiber, was by the hand of Giovanni di Benedetto of Castello, a pupil of Bandinelli, and the other by Battista di Benedetto, a pupil of Ammanati ; both excellent young men of the highest promise. From this level rose fagades of five braccia and a half, with the proper cornices above and below, and also at the corners, leaving space for four pictures, one in the centre of each. In the first of these, which was on the fa9ade where the two Rivers were, there was painted in chiaroscuro (as were also all the other pictures of this structure) the Magnificent Lorenzo de' Medici, the Elder, receiving Michelagnolo as a boy in his garden, of which there has been an account in another place, after he had seen certain specimens of his handiwork, which foreshadowed, as early flowers, the fruits that afterwards issued in abundance from the living force and grandeur of his genius. Such, then, was the story contained in that picture, which was painted by Mirabello and Girolamo del Crocifissaio, so called, who, as very dear friends and companions, undertook to do the work together. In it were animated and lively attitudes, and there could be seen the above-named Magnificent Lorenzo, portrayed from nature, graciously receiving Michelagnolo, a boy all full of reverence, into his garden, and, after an examination, handing him over to some masters who should teach him.

In the second scene, which continuing the same order, to face towards the lateral door that leads out of the church, was figured Pope Clement, who, contrary to the expectation of the public, which thought that his Holiness felt disdain against Michelagnolo on account of his actions in the siege of Florence, not only assures his safety and shows himself lovingly disposed tofwards him, but sets him to work on the new sacristy and the library of S. Lorenzo, in which places how divinely well he worked has been already told. In this picture, then, there was painted by the hand of Federigo Fiammingo, called Del Padovano, with much dexterity and great sweetness of manner, Michelagnolo showing to the Pope the groundplan of that sacristy, and behind him were borne, partly by little Angels and partly by other figures, the models of the library and sacristy and of the statues that are there, finished, at the present day ; which was all very well composed and executed with diligence.

In the third picture, which stood on the first level, like the others described above, and looked towards the high-altar, was a great Latin epitaph composed br the most learned M. Pier Vettori, the sense of which was in the Florentine speech as follows:

"The Acadeny of Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, with the favor and assistance of Duke Cosimo 
de' Medici, their head and the supreme protector of these arts, admiring the extraordinary genius of 
Michelagnolo Bumarroti, and seeking to acknowledge in part the benefits received from Us divine 
works, has dedicated this memorial, born from their own hano and from all the affection of their 
hearts, to the excellence and genius ofche greatest painter, sculptor, and architect that there has 
ever been." 

The Latin words were these:


This epitaph was supported ttwo little Angels, who, with weeping faces, and extinguishing each a tot, appeared to be lamenting that genius so great and so rare was now s\nt.

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