St Proculus. 1494. San Domenico, Bologna.

Part 2: From Lorenzo de'Medici to the first move to Rome

Vasari's Lives of the Artists

MICHELAGNOLO, seeing this, made some out of emulation; wherefore Lorenzo, seeing his fine spirit, always regarded him with much expectation. And he, thus encouraged, after some days set himself to counterfeit from a piece of marble an antique head of a Faun that was there, old and wrinkled, which had the nose injured and the mouth laughing. Michelagnolo, who had never yet touched marble or chisels, succeeded so well in counterfeiting it, that the Magnificent Lorenzo was astonished; and then, perceiving that, departing from the form of the antique head, he had opened out the mouth after his own fancy and had made a tongue, with all the teeth showing, that lord, jesting pleasantly, as was his wont, said to him, "Surely you should have known that old folks never have all their teeth, and that some are always wanting." It appeared to Michelagnolo, in his simplicity, both fearing and loving that lord, that he had spoken the truth; and no sooner had Lorenzo departed than he straightway broke one of the teeth and hollowed out the gum, in such a manner, that it seemed as if the tooth had dropped out. And then he awaited with eagerness the return of the Magnificent Lorenzo, who, when he had come and had seen the simplicity and excellence of Michelagnolo, laughed at it more than once, relating it as a miracle to his friends. Moreover, having made a resolve to assist and favour Michelagnolo, he sent for his father Lodovico and asked for the boy from him, saying that he wished to maintain him as one of his own children; and Lodovico gave him up willingly.

Thereupon the Magnificent Lorenzo granted him a chamber in his own house and had him attended, and he ate always at his table with his own children and with other persons of quality and of noble blood who lived with that lord, by whom he was much honored. This was in the year after he had been placed with Domenico, when Michelagnolo was about fifteen or sixteen years of age; and he lived in that house four years, which was until the death of the Magnificent Lorenzo in 1492. During that time, then, Michelagnolo had five ducats a month from that lord as an allowance and also to help his father; and for his particular gratification Lorenzo gave him a violet cloak, and to his father an office in the Customs. Truth to tell, all the young men in the garden were salaried, some little and some much, by the liberality of that magnificent and most noble citizen, and rewarded by him as long as he lived.

At this time, at the advice of Poliziano, a man eminent in letters, Michelagnolo executed from a piece of marble given to him by that lord the Battle of Hercules with the Centaurs, which was so beautiful that now, to those who study it from time to time, it appears as if by the hand not of a youth but of a master of repute, perfected by study and well practised in that art. It is now in his house, treasured in memory of him by his nephew Leonardo as a rare thing, which indeed it is. That Leonardo, not many years since, had in his house in memory of his uncle a Madonna of marble in low-relief by the hand of Michelagnolo, little more than one braccio in height, in which when a lad, at this same time, wishing to counterfeit the manner of Donatello, he acquitted himself so well that it seems as if by Donatello's hand, save that there may be seen hi it more grace and more design. That work Leonardo afterwards gave to Duke Cosimo de' Medici, who treasures it as a unique thing, for we have no other low-relief in sculpture by his hand save that one.

Now, returning to the garden of the Magnificent Lorenzo; that garden was full of antiques and richly adorned with excellent pictures, all gathered together in that place for their beauty, for study, and for pleasure. Michelagnolo always had the keys, and he was much more earnest than the others in his every action, and showed himself always alert, bold, and resolute. He drew for many months from the pictures of Masaccio in the Carmine, where he copied those works with so much judgment, that the craftsmen and all other men were astonished, in such sort that envy grew against him together with his fame. It is said that Torrigiano, after contracting a friendship with him, mocked him, being moved by envy at seeing him more honoured than himself and more able in art, and struck him a blow of the fist on the nose with such force, that he broke and crushed it very grievously and marked him for life; on which account Torrigiano was banished from Florence, as has been related in another place.

When the Magnificent Lorenzo died, Michelagnolo returned to his father's house in infinite sorrow at the death of so great a man, the friend of every talent. There he bought a great piece of marble, and from it carved a Hercules of four braccia, which stood for many years in the Palace of the Strozzi; this was esteemed an admirable work, and afterwards, in the year of the siege, it was sent into Trance to King Francis by Giovan Battista della Palla. It is said that Piero de' Medici, who had been left heir to his father Lorenzo, having long been intimate with Michelagnolo, used often to send for him when he wished to buy antiques, such as cameos and other carved stones. One winter, when much snow fell in Florence, he caused him to make in his courtyard a statue of snow, which was very beautiful; and he honored Michelagnolo on account of his talents in such a manner, that his father, beginning to see that he was esteemed among the great, clothed him much more honorably than he had been wont to do.

For the Church of S. Spirito in the city of Florence Michelagnolo made a Crucifix of wood, which was placed, as it still is, above the lunette of the high altar; doing this to please the Prior, who placed rooms at his disposal, in which he was constantly flaying dead bodies, in order to study the secrets of anatomy, thus beginning to give perfection to the great knowledge of design that he afterwards acquired. It came about that the Medici were driven out of Florence, and a few weeks before that Michelagnolo had gone to Bologna, and then to Venice, fearing, as he saw the insolence and bad government of Piero de' Medici, lest some evil thing might befall him from his being the servant of that family; but, not having found any means of living in Venice, he returned to Bologna. There he had the misfortune to neglect, through lack of thought, when entering by the gate, to learn the countersign for going out again, a command having been issued at that time, as a precaution, at the desire of Messer Giovanni Bentivogli, that all strangers who had not the countersign should be fined fifty Bolognese lire; and having fallen into such a predicament, nor having the means to pay, Michelagnolo by chance was seen by Messer Giovan Francesco Aldovrandi, one of the Sixteen of the Government, who had compassion on him, and, having made him tell his story, liberated him, and then kept him in his house for more than a year. One day Aldovrandi took him to see the tomb of S. Dominic, made, as has been related, by Giovanni Pisano and then by Maestro Niccolo dell' Area, sculptors of olden days. In that work there were wanting a S. Petronio and an Angel holding a candelabrum, figures of about one braccio, and Aldovrandi asked him if he felt himself able to make them ; and he answered Yes. Whereupon he had the marble given to him, and Michelagnolo executed them in such a manner, that they are the best figures that are there ; and Messer Francesco Aldovrandi caused thirty ducats to be given to him for the two. Michelagnolo stayed a little more than a year in Bologna, and he would have stayed there even longer, in order to repay the courtesy of Aldovrandi, who loved him both for his design and because, liking Michelagnolo' s Tuscan pronunciation in reading, he was pleased to hear from his lips the works of Dante, Petrarca, Boccaccio, and other Tuscan poets. But, since he knew that he was wasting his time, he was glad to return to Florence.

There he made for Lorenzo di Pier Francesco de' Medici a S. Giovannino of marble, and then set himself to make from another piece of marble a Cupid that was sleeping, of the size of life. This, when finished, was shown by means of Baldassarre del Milanese to Lorenzo di Pier Francesco as a beautiful thing, and he, having pronounced the same judgment, said to Michelagnolo: "If you were to bury it under ground and then sent it to Rome treated in such a manner as to make it look old, I am certain that it would pass for an antique, and you would thus obtain much more for it than by selling it here." It is said that Michelagnolo handled it in such a manner as to make it appear an antique; nor is there any reason to marvel at that, seeing that he had genius enough to do it, and even more. Others maintain that Milanese took it to Rome and buried it in a vineyard that he had there, and then sold it as an antique to Cardinal San Giorgio for two hundred ducats. Others, again, say that Milanese sold to the Cardinal one that Michelagnolo had made for him, and that he wrote to Lorenzo di Pier Francesco that he should cause thirty crowns to be given to Michelagnolo, saying that he had not received more for the Cupid, and thus deceiving the Cardinal, Lorenzo di Pier Francesco, and Michelagnolo; but afterwards, having received information from one who had seen that the boy was fashioned in Florence, the Cardinal contrived to learn the truth by means of a messenger, and so went to work that Milanese's agent had to restore the money and take back the Cupid. That work, having come into the possession of Duke Valentino, was presented by him to the Marchioness of Mantua, who took it to her own country, where it is still to be seen at the present day. This affair did not happen without some censure attaching to Cardinal San Giorgio, in that he did not recognize the value of the work, which consisted in its perfection; for modern works, if only they be excellent, are as good as the ancient. What greater vanity is there than that of those who concern themselves more with the name than the fact? But of that kind of men, who pay more attention to the appearance than to the reality, there are some to be found at any time.

Now this event brought so much reputation to Michelagnolo, that he was straightway summoned to Rome and engaged by Cardinal San Giorgio, with whom he stayed nearly a year, although, as one little conversant with our arts, he did not commission Michelagnolo to do any- thing. At that time a barber of the Cardinal, who had been a painter, and could paint with great diligence in distemper colors, but knew nothing of design, formed a friendship with Michelagnolo, who made for him a cartoon of S. Francis receiving the Stigmata. That cartoon was painted very carefully in colors by the barber on a little panel; and the picture is now to be seen in S. Pietro a Montorio in the first chapel on the left hand as one enters the church. The talent of Michelagnolo was then clearly recognized by a Roman gentleman named Messer Jacopo Galli, an ingenious person, who caused him to make a Cupid of marble as large as life, and then a figure of a Bacchus ten palms high, who has a cup in the right hand, and in the left hand the skin of a tiger, with a bunch of grapes at which a little satyr is trying to nibble. In that figure it may be seen that he sought to achieve a certain fusion in the members that is marvellous, and in particular that he gave it both the youthful slendemess of the male and the fullness and roundness of the female a thing so admirable, that he proved himself excellent in statuary beyond any other modern that had worked up to that time. On which account, during his stay in Rome, he made so much proficience in the studies of art, that it was a thing incredible to see his exalted thoughts and the difficulties of the manner exercised by him with such supreme facility; to the amazement not only of those who were not accustomed to see such things, but also of those familiar with good work, for the reason that all the works executed up to that time appeared as nothing in comparison with his. These things awakened in Cardinal di San Dionigi, called Cardinal de Rohan, a Frenchman, a desire to leave in a city so famous some worthy memorial of himself by the hand of so rare a craftsman; and he caused him to make a Pieta of marble in the round, which, when finished, was placed in the Chapel of the Vergine Maria della Febbre in S. Pietro, where the Temple of Mars used to be.

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