LINK TO BIB
Dawn. By 1533. Medici Chapel, San Lorenzo, Florence. 

MICHELAGNOLO BUONARROTI (1475-1564)
PAINTER, SCULPTOR, AND ARCHITECT OF FLORENCE

Part 9: Work at S. Pietro in Montorio, the San Gallo conspiracy, the Medici chapel statues, the end of the Florence Pieta' and Michelangelo's approach to carving


Vasari's Lives of the Artists






VASARI HAD FINISHED in that year the printing of his work, the Lives of the Painters, Sculptors, and Architects in Florence. Now he had not written the Life of any living master, although some who were old were still alive, save only of Michelagnolo; and in the book were many records of circumstances that Vasari had received from his lips, his age and his judgment being the greatest among all the craftsmen. Giorgio therefore presented the work to him, and he received it very gladly; and not long afterwards, having read it, Michelagnolo sent to him the following sonnet, written by himself, which I am pleased to include in this place in memory of his loving-kindness:


Se con lo stile o co' colori havete 

Alia Natura pareggiato 1'Arte, 

Anzi a quella scemato il pregio in parte, 

Che '1 bel di lei piu bello a noi rendete, 
Poiche con dotta man posto vi siete 

A piu degno lavoro, a vergar carte, 

Quel che vi manca a lei di pregio in parte, 

Nel dar vita ad altrui tutto togliete. 
Che se secolo alcuno omai contese 

In far bell' opre, almen cedale, poi 

Che convien', ch' al prescritto fine arrive. 
Or le memorie altrui gia spente accese 

Tornando fate, or che sien quelle, e voi, 

Mai grado d' esse, eternalmente vive. 

Vasari departed for Florence, and left to Michelagnolo the charge of having the work founded in the Montorio. Now Messer Bindo Altoviti, the Consul of the Florentine colony at that time, was much the friend of Vasari, and on this occasion Giorgio said to him that it would be well to have this work erected in the Church of S. Giovanni de' Fiorentini, and that he had already spoken of it with Michelagnolo, who would favor the enterprise; and that this would be a means of giving completion to that church. This proposal pleased Messer Bindo, and, being very intimate with the Pope, he urged it warmly upon him, demonstrating that it would be well that the chapel and the tombs which his Holiness was having executed for the Montorio should be placed in the Church of S. Giovanni de' Fiorentini; adding that the result would be that with this occasion and this spur the Florentine colony would undertake such expenditure that the church would receive its completion, and, if his Holiness were to build the principal chapel, the other merchants would build six chapels, and then little by little all the rest. Whereupon the Pope changed his mind, and, although the model for the work was already made and the price arranged, went to the Montorio and sent for Michelagnolo, to whom Vasari was writing every day, receiving answers from him according to the opportunities presented in the course of affairs. Michelagnolo then wrote to Vasari, on the first day of August in 1550, of the change that the Pope had made; and these are his words, written in his own hand:

ROME. 
MY DEAR MESSER GIORGIO, 

"With regard to the founding of the work at S. Pietro a Montorio, and how the 
Pope would not listen to a word, I wrote you nothing, knowing that you are kept 
informed by your man here. Now I must tell you what has happened, which is as 
follows. Yesterday morning the Pope, having gone to the said Montorio, sent for 
me. I met him on the bridge, on his way back, and had a long conversation with 
him about the tombs allotted to you; and in the end he told me that he was 
resolved that he would not place those tombs on that mount, but in the Church 
of the Florentines. He sought from me my opinion and also designs, and I 
encouraged him not a little, considering that by this means the said church 
would be finished. Respecting your three letters received, I have no pen 
wherewith to answer to such exalted matters, but if I should rejoice to be 
in some sort what you make me, I should rejoice for no other reason save that 
you might have a servant who might be worth something. But I do not marvel 
that you, who restore dead men to life, should lengthen the life of the 
living, or rather, that you should steal from death for an unlimited period
those barely alive. To cut this short, such as I am, I am wholly yours, 

"MICHELAGNOLO BUONARROTI." 

While these matters were being discussed, and the Florentine colony was seeking to raise money, certain difficulties arose, on account of which they came to no decision, and the affair grew cold. Meanwhile, Vasari and Ammanati having by this time had all the marbles quarried at Carrara, a great part of them were sent to Rome, and with them Ammanati, through whom Vasari wrote to Buonarroti that he should ascertain from the Pope where he wanted the tomb, and, after receiving his orders, should have the work begun. The moment that Michelagnolo received the letter, he spoke to his Holiness; and with his own hand he wrote the following resolution to Vasari:

"i4th of October, 1550. 
"MY DEAR MESSER GIORGIO, 

"The instant that Bartolommeo arrived here, I went to speak to the Pope, and, 
having perceived that he wished to begin the work once more at the Montorio, 
in the matter of the tombs, I looked for a mason from S. Pietro. "Tantecose" 
heard this, and insisted on sending one of his choosing, and I, to avoid 
contending with a man who commands the winds, have retired from the matter, 
because, he being a light-minded person, I would not care to be drawn into 
any entanglement. Enough that in my opinion there is no more thought to be 
given to the Church of the Florentines. Fare you well, and come back soon. 
Nothing else occurs to me." 

Michelagnolo used to call Monsignor di Forli "Tantecose,"[* Busybody, or Jack-of-all-Trades.] because he insisted on doing everything himself. Being Chamberlain to the Pope, he had charge of the medals, jewels, cameos, little figures in bronze, pictures, and drawings, and desired that everything should depend on him. Michelagnolo was always anxious to avoid the man, because he had been constantly working against the master's interests, and therefore Buonarroti feared lest he might be drawn into some entanglement by the intrigues of such a man. In short, the Florentine colony lost a very fine opportunity for that church, and God knows when they will have such another; and to me it was an indescribable grief. I have desired not to omit to make this brief record, to the end that it may be seen that our Michelagnolo always sought to help his fellow-countrymen and his friends, and also art.

Vasari had scarcely returned to Rome, when, before the beginning of the year 1551, the San Gallo faction arranged a conspiracy against Michelagnolo, whereby the Pope was to hold an assembly in S. Pietro, and to summon together the superintendents and all those who had the charge of the work, in order to show to the Pope, by means of false calumnies, that Michelagnolo had ruined that fabric, because, he having already built the apse of the King, where there are the three chapels, and having executed these with the three windows above, they, not knowing what was to be done with the vaulting, with feeble judgment had given the elder Cardinal Salviati and Marcello Cervini, who afterwards became Pope, to understand that S. Pietro was being left with little light. Whereupon, all being assembled, the Pope said to Michelagnolo that the deputies declared that the apse would give little light, and he answered: "I would like to hear these deputies speak in person." Cardinal Marcello replied: "We are here." Then Michelagnolo said to him: "Monsignore, above these windows, in the vaulting, which is to be made of travertine, there are to be three others." " You have never told us that," said the Cardinal. And Michelagnolo answered: "I am not obliged, nor do I intend to be obliged, to say either to your Highness or to any other person what I am bound or desirous to do. Your office is to obtain the money and to guard it from thieves, and the charge of the design for the building you must leave to me." And then, turning to the Pope, he said: "Holy Father, you see what my gains are, and that if these fatigues that I endure do not profit me in my mind, I am wasting my time and my work." The Pope, who loved him, laid his hands on his shoulders, and said: "You shall profit both in mind and in body; do not doubt it."

Michelagnolo having thus been able to get rid of those persons, the Pope came to love him even more; and he commanded him and Vasari that on the day following they should both present themselves at the Vigna Julia, in which place his Holiness had many discussions with him, and they carried that work almost to the condition of perfect beauty in which it now is; nor did the Pope discuss or do anything in the matter of design without Michelagnolo' s advice and judgment. And, among other things, since Michelagnolo went often with Vasari to visit him, the Pope insisted, once when he was at the fountain of the Acqua Vergine with twelve Cardinals, after Buonarroti had come up; the Pope, I say, insisted very strongly that he should sit beside him, although he sought most humbly to excuse himself; thus always honouring his genius as much as lay in his power.

The Pope caused him to make the model of a facade for a palace that his Holiness desired to build beside S. Rocco, intending to avail himself of the Mausoleum of Augustus for the rest of the masonry ; and, as a design for a facade, there is nothing to be seen that is more varied, more ornate, or more novel in manner and arrangement, for the reason that, as has been seen in all his works, he never consented to be bound by any law, whether ancient or modern, in matters of architecture, as one who had a brain always able to discover things new and well-varied, and in no way less beautiful. That model is now in the possession of Duke Cosimo de' Medici, who had it as a present from Pope Pius IV when he went to Rome; and he holds it among his dearest treasures. That Pope had such respect for Michelagnolo, that he was constantly taking up his defence against Cardinals and others who sought to calumniate him and he desired that other craftsmen, however able and renowned they might be, should always go to seek him at his house; such, indeed, were the regard and reverence that he felt for him, that his Holiness did not venture, lest he might annoy him, to call upon Michelagnolo for many works which, although he was old, he could have executed.

As far back as the time of Paul III Michelagnolo had made a beginning with the work of refounding, under his own direction, the Ponte S. Maria at Rome, which had been weakened by the constant flow of water and by age, and was falling into ruin. The refounding was contrived by Michelagnolo by means of caissons, and by making stout reinforcements against the piers; and already he had carried a great part of it to completion, and had spent large sums on wood and travertine on behalf of the work, when, in the time of Julius III, an assembly was held by the Clerks of the Chamber with a view to making an end of it, and a proposal was made among them by the architect Nanni di Baccio Bigio, saying that if it were allotted by contract to him it would be finished in a short time and without much expense; and this they suggested on the pretext, as it were, of doing a favour to Michelagnolo and relieving him of a burden, because he was old, alleging that he gave no thought to it, and that if matters remained as they were the end would never be seen. The Pope, who little liked being troubled, not thinking what the result might be, gave authority to the Clerks of the Chamber that they should have charge of the work, as a thing pertaining to them; and then, without Michelagnolo hearing another word about it, they gave it with all those materials, without any conditions, to Nanni, who gave no attention to the reinforcements, which were necessary for the refounding, but relieved the bridge of some weight, in consequence of having seen a great quantity of travertine wherewith it had been flanked and faced in ancient times, the result of which was to give weight to the bridge and to make it stouter, stronger, and more secure. In place of that he used gravel and other materials cast with cement, in such a manner that no defect could be seen in the inner part of the work, and on the outer side he made parapets and other things, insomuch that to the eye it appeared as if made altogether new; but it was made lighter all over and weakened throughout. Five years afterwards, when the flood of the year 1557 came down, it happened that the bridge collapsed in such a manner as to make known the little judgment of the Clerks of the Chamber and the loss that Rome suffered by departing from the counsel of Michelagnolo, who predicted the ruin of the bridge many times to me and to his other friends. Thus I remember that he said to me, when we were passing there together on horseback, "Giorgio, this bridge is shaking under us; let us spur our horses, or it may fall while we are upon it."

But to return to the narrative interrupted above; when the work of the Montorio was finished, and that much to my satisfaction, I returned to Florence to re-enter the service of Duke Cosimo, which was in the year 1554. The departure of Vasari grieved Michelagnolo, and likewise Giorgio, for the reason that Michelagnolo's adversaries kept harassing him every day, now in one way and now in another; wherefore they did not fail to write to one another daily. And in April of the same year, Vasari giving him the news that Leonardo, the nephew of Michelagnolo, had had a male child, that they had accompanied him to baptism with an honorable company of most noble ladies, and that they had revived the name of Buonarroto, Michelagnolo answered in a letter to Vasari in these words:

"DEAR FRIEND GIORGIO, 

"I have had the greatest pleasure from your letter, seeing 
that you still remember the poor old man, and even more because you 
were present at the triumph which, as you write, you witnessed in the 
birth of another Buonarroto; for which intelligence I thank you with all 
my heart and soul. But so much pomp does not please me, for man 
should not be laughing when all the world is weeping. It seems to me 
that Leonardo should not make so much rejoicing over a new birth, with 
all that gladness which should be reserved for the death of one who has 
lived well. Do not marvel if I delay to answer; I do it so as not to appear 
a merchant. As for the many praises that you send me in your letter, I 
tell you that if I deserved a single one of them, it would appear to me 
that in giving myself to you body and soul, I had truly given you some- 
thing, and had discharged some infinitesimal part of the debt that I owe 
you; whereas I recognize you every hour as my creditor for more than I 
can repay, and, since I am an old man, I can now never hope to be able 
to square the account in this life, but perhaps in the next. Wherefore I 
pray you have patience, and remain wholly yours. Things here are much as usual." 

Already, in the time of Paul III, Duke Cosimo had sent Tribolo to Rome to see if he might be able to persuade Michelagnolo to return to Florence, in order to give completion to the Sacristy of S. Lorenzo. But Michelagnolo excused himself because, having grown old, he could not support the burden of such fatigues, and demonstrated to him with many reasons that he could not leave Rome. Whereupon Tribolo finally asked him about the staircase of the library of S. Lorenzo, for which Michelagnolo had caused many stones to be prepared, but there was no model of it nor any certainty as to the exact form, and, although there were some marks on a pavement and some other sketches in clay, the true and final design could not be found. However, no matter how much Tribolo might beseech him and invoke the name of the Duke, Michelagnolo would never answer a word save that he remembered nothing of it. Orders were given to Vasari by Duke Cosimo that he should write to Michelagnolo, requesting him to write saying what final form that staircase was to have; in the hope that through the friendship and love that he bore to Vasari, he would say something that might lead to some solution and to the completion of the work. Vasari wrote to Michelagnolo the mind of the Duke, saying that the execution of all that was to be done would fall to him; which he would do with that fidelity and care with which, as Michelagnolo knew, he was wont to treat such of his works as he had in charge. Wherefore Michelagnolo sent the directions for making the above-named staircase in a letter by his own hand on the 28th of September, 1555.

"MESSER GIORGIO, DEAR FRIEND, 

"Concerning the staircase for the library, of which so much 
has been said to me, you may believe that if I could remember how I had 
designed it, I would not need to be entreated. There does, indeed, come 
back to my mind, like a dream, a certain staircase; but I do not believe 
that it is exactly the one which I conceived at that time, because it comes 
out so stupid. However, I will describe it here. Take a quantity of 
oval boxes, each one palm in depth, but not of equal length and breadth. 
The first and largest place on the pavement at such a distance from the 
wall of the door as may make the staircase easy or steep, according to 
your pleasure. Upon this place another, which must be so much smaller 
in every direction as to leave on the first one below as much space as the 
foot requires in ascending; diminishing and drawing back the steps one 
after another towards the door, in accord with the ascent. And the 
diminution of the last step must reduce it to the proportion of the space 
of the door. The said part of the staircase with the oval steps must have 
two wings, one on one side and one on the other, with corresponding steps 
but not oval. Of these the central flight shall serve as the principal 
staircase, and from the centre of the staircase to the top the curves of the 
said wings shall meet the wall ; but from the centre down to the pavement 
they shall stand, together with the whole staircase, at a distance of 
about three palms from the wall, in such a manner that the basement 
of the vestibule shall not be obstructed in any part, and every face shall 
be left free. I am writing nonsense; but I know well that you will find 
something to your purpose." 

Michelagnolo also wrote to Vasari in those days that Julius III being dead, and Marcellus elected, the faction that was against him, in consequence of the election of the new Pontiff, had again begun to harass him. Which hearing, and not liking these ways, the Duke caused Giorgio to write and tell him that he should leave Rome and come to live in Florence, where the Duke did not desire more than his advice and designs at times for his buildings, and that he would receive from that lord all that he might desire, without doing anything with his own hand. Again, there were carried to him by M. Leonardo Marinozzi, the private Chamberlain of Duke Cosimo, letters written by his Excellency; and so also by Vasari. But then, Marcellus being dead, and Paul IV having been elected, by whom once again numerous offers had been made to him from the very beginning, when he went to kiss his feet, the desire to finish the fabric of S. Pietro, and the obligation by which he thought himself bound to that task, kept him back; and, employing certain excuses, he wrote to the Duke that for the time being he was not able to serve him, and to Vasari a letter in these very words:


"MESSER GIORGIO, MY DEAR FRIEND, 

"I call God to witness how it was against my will and under 
the strongest compulsion that I was set to the building of S. Pietro in 
Rome by Pope Paul III, ten years ago. Had they continued to work at 
that fabric up to the present day, as they were doing then, I would now 
have reached such a point in the undertaking that I might be thinking 
of returning home; but for want of money it has been much retarded, 
and is still being retarded at the time when it has reached the most 
laborious and difficult stage, insomuch that to abandon it now would be 
nothing short of the greatest possible disgrace and sin, losing the reward 
of the labors that I have endured in those ten years for the love of God. 
I have made you this discourse in answer to your letter, and also because 
I have a letter from the Duke that has made me marvel much that his 
Excellency should have deigned to write so graciously ; for which I thank 
God and his Excellency to the best of my power and knowledge. I 
wander from the subject, because I have lost my memory and my wits, 
and writing is a great affliction to me, for it is not my art. The con- 
clusion is this: to make you understand what would be the result if I 
were to abandon the fabric and depart from Rome ; firstly, I would please 
a number of thieves, and secondly, I would be the cause of its ruin, and 
perhaps, also, of its being suspended for ever." 

Continuing to write to Giorgio, Michelagnolo said to him, to excuse himself with the Duke, that he had a house and many convenient things at his disposal in Rome, which were worth thousands of crowns, in addition to being in danger of his life from disease of the kidneys, colic, and the stone, as happens to every old person, and as could be proved by Maestro Realdo, his physician, from whom he congratulated himself on having his life, after God; that for these reasons he was not able to leave Rome, and, finally, that he had no heart for anything but death. He besought Vasari, as he did in several other letters that Giorgio has by his hand, that he should recommend him to the Duke for pardon, in addition to what he wrote to the Duke, as I have said, to excuse himself. If Michelagnolo had been able to ride, he would have gone straightway to Florence, whence, I believe, he would never have consented to depart in order to return to Rome, so much was he influenced by the tenderness and love that he felt for the Duke; but meanwhile he gave his attention to working at many parts of the above-named fabric, in order so to fix the form that it might never again be changed.

During this time certain persons had informed him that Pope Paul IV was minded to make him alter the facade of the chapel where the Last Judgment is, because, he said, those figures showed their nakedness too shamelessly. When, therefore, the mind of the Pope was made known to Michelagnolo, he answered: "Tell the Pope that it is no great affair, and that it can be altered with ease. Let him put the world right, and every picture will be put right in a moment." The office of the Chancellery of Rimini was taken away from Michelagnolo, but he would never speak of this to the Pope, who did not know it; and it was taken away from him by the Pope's Cup-bearer, who sought to have a hundred crowns a month given to him in respect of the fabric of S. Pietro, and caused a month's payment to be taken to his house, but Michelagnolo would not accept it. In the same year took place the death of Urbino, his servant, or rather, as he may be called, and as he had been, his companion. This man came to live with Michelagnolo in Florence in the year 1530, after the siege was finished, when his disciple Antonio Mini went to France; and he rendered very faithful service to Michelagnolo, insomuch that in twenty-six years that faithful and intimate service brought it about that Michelagnolo made him rich and so loved him, that in this, Urbino's last illness, old as he was, he nursed him and slept in his clothes at night to watch over him. Wherefore, after he was dead, Vasari wrote to Michelagnolo to console him, and he answered in these words:

 

"MY DEAR MESSER GIORGIO, 

"I am scarce able to write, but, in reply to your letter, I shall say something. You know how 
Urbino died, wherein God has shown me very great grace, although it is also a grave loss and an 
infinite grief to me. This grace is that whereas when living he kept me alive, dying he has taught 
me to die not with regret, but with a desire for death. I have had him twenty-six years, and have 
found him a very rare and faithful servant; and now, when I had made him rich and was looking 
to him as the staff and repose of my old age, he has flown from me, nor is any hope left to me but 
to see him again in Paradise. And of this God has granted a sign in the happy death that he died, 
in that dying grieved him much less than leaving me in this traitorous world with so many 
afflictions; although the greater part of me is gone with him, and nothing is left me but infinite 
misery. I commend myself to you." 

Michelagnolo was employed in the time of Pope Paul IV on many parts of the fortifications of Rome, and also by Salustio Peruzzi, to whom that Pope, as has been related elsewhere, had given the charge of executing the great portal of the Castello di S. Angelo, which is now half ruined; and he occupied himself in distributing the statues of that work, examining the models of the sculptors, and correcting them. At that time the French army approached near to Rome, and Michelagnolo thought that he was like to come to an evil end together with that city; whereupon he resolved to fly from Rome with Antonio Franzese of Castel Durante, whom Urbino at his death had left in his house as his servant, and went secretly to the mountains of Spoleto, where he visited certain seats of hermits. Meanwhile Vasari wrote to him, sending him a little work that Carlo Lenzoni, a citizen of Florence, had left at his death to Messer Cosimo Bartoli, who was to have it printed and dedicated to Michelagnolo; which, when it was finished, Vasari sent in those days to Michelagnolo, and he, having received it, answered thus:

September 18, 1556. 
MESSER GIORGIO, DEAR FRIEND, "I have received Messer Cosimo's little book, which you send to me, and this shall be a letter of thanks. I pray you to give them to him, and send him my compliments. "I have had in these days great discomfort and expense, but also great pleasure, in visiting the hermits in the mountains of Spoleto, insomuch that less than half of me has returned to Rome, seeing that in truth there is no peace to be found save in the woods. I have nothing more to tell you. I am glad that you are well and happy, and I commend myself to you."

Michelagnolo used to work almost every day, as a pastime, at that block with the four figures of which we have already spoken; which block he broke into pieces at this time for these reasons, either because it was hard and full of emery, and the chisel often struck sparks from it, or it may have been that the judgment of the man was so great that he was never content with anything that he did. A proof that this is true is that there are few finished statues to be seen out of all that he executed in the prime of his manhood, and that those completely finished were executed by him in his youth, such as the Bacchus, the Pieta in S. Maria della Febbre, the Giant of Florence, and the Christ of the Minerva, which it would not be possible to increase or diminish by as little as a grain of millet without spoiling them; and the others, with the exception of the Dukes Giuliano and Lorenzo, Night, Dawn, and Moses, with the other two, the whole number of these statues not amounting in all to eleven, the others, I say, were all left unfinished, and, moreover, they are many, Michelagnolo having been wont to say that if he had had to satisfy himself in what he did, he would have sent out few, nay, not one. For he had gone so far with his art and judgment, that, when he had laid bare a figure and had perceived in it the slightest degree of error, he would set it aside and run to lay his hand on another block of marble, trusting that the same would not happen to the new block; and he often said that this was the reason that he gave for having executed so few statues and pictures.

This Pieta', when it was broken, he presented to Francesco Bandini. Now at this time Tiberio Calcagni, a Florentine sculptor, had become much the friend of Michelagnolo by means of Francesco Bandini and Messer Donate Giannotti; and being one day in Michelagnolo's house, where there was the Pieta', all broken, after a long conversation he asked him for what reason he had broken it up and destroyed labors so marvellous, and he answered that the reason was the importunity of his servant Urbino, who kept urging him every day to finish it, besides which, among other things, a piece of one of the elbows of the Madonna had been broken off, and even before that he had taken an aversion to it, and had had many misfortunes with it by reason of a flaw that was in the marble, so that he lost his patience and began to break it up; and he would have broken it altogether into pieces if his servant Antonio had not besought him that he should present it to him as it was. Whereupon Tiberio, having heard this, spoke to Bandini, who desired to have something by the hand of Michelagnolo, and Bandini contrived that Tiberio should promise to Antonio two hundred crowns of gold, and prayed Michelagnolo to consent that Tiberio should finish it for Bandini with the assistance of models by his hand, urging that thus his labor would not be thrown away. Michelagnolo was satisfied, and then made them a present of it. The work was carried away immediately, and then put together again and reconstructed with I know not what new pieces by Tiberio; but it was left unfinished by reason of the death of Bandini, Michelagnolo, and Tiberio. At the present day it is in the possession of Pier Antonio Bandini, the son of Francesco, at his villa on Monte Cavallo. But to return to Michelagnolo; it became necessary to find some work in marble on which he might be able to pass some time every day with the chisel, and another piece of marble was put before him, from which another Pieta had been already blocked out, different from the first and much smaller.

There had entered into the service of Paul IV, and also into the charge of the fabric of S. Pietro, the architect Pirro Ligorio, and he was now once more harassing Michelagnolo, going about saying that he had sunk into his second childhood. Wherefore, angered by such treatment, he would willingly have returned to Florence, and, having delayed to return, he was again urged in letters by Giorgio, but he knew that he was too old, having now reached the age of eighty-one. Writing at that time to Vasari by his courier, and sending him various spiritual sonnets, he said that he was come to the end of his life, that he must be careful where he directed his thoughts, that by reading he would see that he was at his last hour, and that there arose in his mind no thought upon which was not graved the image of death; and in one letter he said:

"It is God's will, Vasari, that I should continue to live in misery for some years. I know that you 
will tell me that I am an old fool to wish to write sonnets, but since many say that I am in my 
second childhood, I have sought to act accordingly. By your letter I see the love that you bear me, 
and you may take it as certain that I would be glad to lay these feeble bones of mine beside those 
of my father, as you beg me to do; but by departing from here I would be the cause of the utter 
ruin of the fabric of S. Pietro, which would be a great disgrace and a very grievous sin. However, 
when it is so firmly established that it can never be changed, I hope to do all that you ask me, if 
it be not a sin to keep in anxious expectation certain gluttons that await my immediate departure." 

With this letter was the following sonnet, also written in his own hand:

Giunto e gia'l corso della vita mia 

Con tempestoso mar' per fragil barca 
Al comun porto, ov' a render' si varca 
Conto e ragion' d'ogni opra trista e pia. 

Onde 1'affetuosa fantasia, 

Che 1'arte mi fece idolo e monarca, 
Conosco or' ben' quant' era d'error' carca, 
E quel ch' a mal suo grado ognun" desia. 

Gli amorosi pensier' gia vani e lieti 

Che sien' or', s' a due morti mi avvicino ? 
D'una so certo, e 1'altra mi minaccia. 

Ne pinger' ne scolpir' sia piu che quieti 
L'anima volta a quello Amor Divino 
Ch' aperse a prender' noi in Croce le braccia. 

Whereby it was evident that he was drawing towards God, abandoning the cares of art on account of the persecution of his malignant fellow- craftsmen, and also through the fault of certain overseers of the fabric, who would have liked, as he used to say, to dip their hands in the chest. By order of Duke Cosimo, a reply was written to Michelagnolo by Vasari in a letter of few words, exhorting him to repatriate himself, with a sonnet corresponding in the rhymes. Michelagnolo would willingly have left Rome, but he was so weary and aged, that although, as will be told below, he was determined to go back, while the spirit was willing the flesh was weak, and that kept him in Rome. It happened in June of the year 1557, he having made a model for the vault that was to cover the apse, which was being built of travertine in the Chapel of the King, that, from his not being able to go there as he had been wont, an error arose, in that the capomaestro took the measurements over the whole body of the vault with one single centre, whereas there should have been a great number; and Michelagnolo, as the friend and confidant of Vasari, sent him designs by his own hand, with these words written at the foot of two of them:

"The center marked with red was used by the capomaestro over the body of the whole vault; then, when he began to pass to the half-circle, which is at the summit of the vault, he became aware of the error which that centre was producing, as may be seen here in the design, marked in black. With this error the vault has gone so far forward, that we have to displace a great number of stones, for in that vault there is being placed no brick-work, but all travertine, and the diameter of the circle, without the cornice that borders it, is twenty-two palms. This error, after I had made an exact model, as I do of everything, has been caused by my not being able, on account of my old age, to go there often; so that, whereas I believed that the vault was now finished, it will not be finished all this winter, and, if it were possible to die of shame and grief, I should not be alive now. I pray you account to the Duke for my not being at this moment in Florence."

And continuing in the other design, where he had drawn the plan, he said this:

"MESSER GIORGIO, 

"To the end that it may be easier to understand the difficulty of the vault by observing its rise 
from the level of the ground, let me explain that I have been forced to divide it into three vaults, 
corresponding to the windows below divided by pilasters; and you see that they go pyramidally into 
the centre of the summit of the vault, as also do the base and sides of the same. It was necessary 
to regulate them with an infinite number of centres, and there are in them so many changes in 
various directions, from point to point, that no fixed rule can be maintained. And the circles and 
squares that come in the middle of their deepest parts have to diminish and increase in so many 
directions, and to go to so many points, that it is a difficult thing to find the true method. 

"Nevertheless, having the model, such as I make for everything, they should never have committed so 
great an error as to seek to regulate with one single centre all those three shells; whence it has 
come about that we have been obliged with shame and loss to pull down, as we are still doing, a 
great number of stones. The vault, with its sections and hewn stonework, is all of travertine, like 
all the rest below; a thing not customary in Rome." 


On to Part 10

Return to Vasari's Lives of the Artists




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