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The Life of Michelangelo Buonarroti by John Addington Symonds

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And wiser still I grow, remembering it.
Yea, well I see what folly 'twere to think
That largess dropped from thee like dews from heaven
Could e'er be paid by work so frail as mine!
To nothingness my art and talent sink;
He fails who from his mortal stores hath given
A thousandfold to match one gift divine_.

Michelangelo's next letter refers to the design for the Crucified
Christ, described by Condivi. It is pleasant to find that this was
sent by the hand of Cavalieri: "Lady Marchioness,--Being myself in
Rome, I thought it hardly fitting to give the Crucified Christ to
Messer Tommaso, and to make him an intermediary between your ladyship
and me, your servant; especially because it has been my earnest wish
to perform more for you than for any one I ever knew upon the world.
But absorbing occupations, which still engage me, have prevented my
informing your ladyship of this. Moreover, knowing that you know that
love needs no taskmaster, and that he who loves doth not sleep, I
thought the less of using go-betweens. And though I seemed to have
forgotten, I was doing what I did not talk about in order to effect a
thing that was not looked for. My purpose has been spoiled: _He sins
who faith like this so soon forgets._"

A sonnet which may or may not have been written at this time, but
seems certainly intended for the Marchioness, shall here be given as a
pendant to the letter:--

_Blest spirit, who with loving tenderness
Quickenest my heart, so old and near to die,
Who 'mid thy joys on me dost bend an eye,
Though many nobler men around thee press!
As thou wert erewhile wont my sight to bless,
So to console, my mind thou now dost fly;
Hope therefore stills the pangs of memory,
Which, coupled with desire, my soul distress.
So finding in thee grace to plead for me--
Thy thoughts for me sunk in so sad a case--
He who now writes returns thee thanks for these.
Lo! it were foul and monstrous usury
To send thee ugliest paintings in the place
Of thy fair spirit's living phantasies.

Unfortunately we possess no other document in prose addressed
immediately to Vittoria. But four of her letters to him exist, and
from these I will select some specimens reflecting light upon the
nature of the famous intimacy. The Marchioness writes always in the
tone and style of a great princess, adding that peculiar note of
religious affectionateness which the French call "_onction_," and
marking her strong admiration of the illustrious artist. The letters
are not dated; but this matters little, since they only turn on
literary courtesies exchanged, drawings presented, and pious interests
in common.

"Unique Master Michelangelo, and my most singular friend,--I have
received your letter, and examined the crucifix, which truly hath
crucified in my memory every other picture I ever saw. Nowhere could
one find another figure of our Lord so well executed, so living, and
so exquisitely finished. Certes, I cannot express in words how subtly
and marvellously it is designed. Wherefore I am resolved to take the
work as coming from no other hand but yours, and accordingly I beg you
to assure me whether this is really yours or another's. Excuse the
question. If it is yours, I must possess it under any conditions. In
case it is not yours, and you want to have it carried out by your
assistant, we will talk the matter over first. I know how extremely
difficult it would be to copy it, and therefore I would rather let him
finish something else than this. But if it be in fact yours, rest
assured, and make the best of it, that it will never come again into
your keeping. I have examined it minutely in full light and by the
lens and mirror, and never saw anything more perfect.--Yours to

"The Marchioness of Pescara."

Like many grand ladies of the highest rank, even though they are
poetesses, Vittoria Colonna did not always write grammatically or
coherently. I am not therefore sure that I have seized the exact
meaning of this diplomatical and flattering letter. It would appear,
however, that Michelangelo had sent her the drawing for a crucifix,
intimating that, if she liked it, he would intrust its execution to
one of his workmen, perhaps Urbino. This, as we know, was a common
practice adopted by him in old age, in order to avoid commissions
which interfered with his main life-work at S. Peter's. The noble
lady, fully aware that the sketch is an original, affects some doubt
upon the subject, declines the intervention of a common craftsman, and
declares her firm resolve to keep it, leaving an impression that she
would gladly possess the crucifix if executed by the same hand which
had supplied the masterly design.

Another letter refers to the drawing of a Christ upon the cross
between two angels.

"Your works forcibly stimulate the judgment of all who look at them.
My study of them made me speak of adding goodness to things perfect in
themselves, and I have seen now that 'all is possible to him who
believes.' I had the greatest faith in God that He would bestow upon
you supernatural grace for the making of this Christ. When I came to
examine it, I found it so marvellous that it surpasses all my
expectations. Wherefore, emboldened by your miracles, I conceived a
great desire for that which I now see marvellously accomplished: I
mean that the design is in all parts perfect and consummate, and one
could not desire more, nor could desire attain to demanding so much. I
tell you that I am mighty pleased that the angel on the right hand is
by far the fairer, since Michael will place you, Michelangelo, upon
the right hand of our Lord at that last day. Meanwhile, I do not know
how else to serve you than by making orisons to this sweet Christ,
whom you have drawn so well and exquisitely, and praying you to hold
me yours to command as yours in all and for all."

The admiration and the good-will of the great lady transpire in these
somewhat incoherent and studied paragraphs. Their verbiage leaves much
to be desired in the way of logic and simplicity. It is pleasanter
perhaps to read a familiar note, sent probably by the hand of a
servant to Buonarroti's house in Rome.

"I beg you to let me have the crucifix a short while in my keeping,
even though it be unfinished. I want to show it to some gentlemen who
have come from the Most Reverend the Cardinal of Mantua. If you are
not working, will you not come to-day at your leisure and talk with
me?--Yours to command,

"The Marchioness of Pescara."

It seems that Michelangelo's exchange of letters and poems became at
last too urgent. We know it was his way (as in the case of Luigi del
Riccio) to carry on an almost daily correspondence for some while, and
then to drop it altogether when his mood changed. Vittoria, writing
from Viterbo, gives him a gentle and humorous hint that he is taking
up too much of her time:

"Magnificent Messer Michelangelo,--I did not reply earlier to your
letter, because it was, as one might say, an answer to my last: for I
thought that if you and I were to go on writing without intermission
according to my obligation and your courtesy, I should have to neglect
the Chapel of S. Catherine here, and be absent at the appointed hours
for company with my sisterhood, while you would have to leave the
Chapel of S. Paul, and be absent from morning through the day from
your sweet usual colloquy with painted forms, the which with their
natural accents do not speak to you less clearly than the living
persons round me speak to me. Thus we should both of us fail in our
duty, I to the brides, you to the vicar of Christ. For these reasons,
inasmuch as I am well assured of our steadfast friendship and firm
affection, bound by knots of Christian kindness, I do not think it
necessary to obtain the proof of your good-will in letters by writing
on my side, but rather to await with well-prepared mind some
substantial occasion for serving you. Meanwhile I address my prayers
to that Lord of whom you spoke to me with so fervent and humble a
heart when I left Rome, that when I return thither I may find you with
His image renewed and enlivened by true faith in your soul, in like
measure as you have painted it with perfect art in my Samaritan.
Believe me to remain always yours and your Urbino's."

This letter must have been written when Michelangelo was still working
on the frescoes of the Cappella Paolina, and therefore before 1549.
The check to his importunacy, given with genial tact by the
Marchioness, might be taken, by those who believe their _liaison_ to
have had a touch of passion in it, as an argument in favour of that
view. The great age which Buonarroti had now reached renders this,
however, improbable; while the general tenor of their correspondence
is that of admiration for a great artist on the lady's side, and of
attraction to a noble nature on the man's side, cemented by religious
sentiment and common interests in serious topics.


All students of Michelangelo's biography are well acquainted with the
Dialogues on Painting, composed by the Portuguese miniature artist,
Francis of Holland. Written in the quaint style of the sixteenth
century, which curiously blent actual circumstance and fact with the
author's speculation, these essays present a vivid picture of
Buonarroti's conferences with Vittoria Colonna and her friends. The
dialogues are divided into four parts, three of which profess to give
a detailed account of three several Sunday conversations in the
Convent of S. Silvestro on Monte Cavallo. After describing the objects
which brought him to Rome, Francis says: "Above all, Michelangelo
inspired me with such esteem, that when I met him in the palace of the
Pope or on the streets, I could not make my mind up to leave him until
the stars forced us to retire." Indeed, it would seem from his frank
admissions in another place that the Portuguese painter had become a
little too attentive to the famous old man, and that Buonarroti "did
all he could to shun his company, seeing that when they once came
together, they could not separate." It happened one Sunday that
Francis paid a visit to his friend Lattanzio Tolomei, who had gone
abroad, leaving a message that he would be found in the Church of S.
Silvestro, where he was hoping to hear a lecture by Brother Ambrose of
Siena on the Epistles of S. Paul, in company with the Marchioness.
Accordingly he repaired to this place, and was graciously received by
the noble lady. She courteously remarked that he would probably enjoy
a conversation with Michelangelo more than a sermon from Brother
Ambrose, and after an interval of compliments a servant was sent to
find him. It chanced that Buonarroti was walking with the man whom
Francis of Holland calls "his old friend and colour-grinder," Urbino,
in the direction of the Thermae. So the lackey, having the good chance
to meet him, brought him at once to the convent. The Marchioness made
him sit between her and Messer Tolomei, while Francis took up his
position at a little distance. The conversation then began, but
Vittoria Colonna had to use the tact for which she was celebrated
before she could engage the wary old man on a serious treatment of his
own art.

He opened his discourse by defending painters against the common
charge of being "eccentric in their habits, difficult to deal with,
and unbearable; whereas, on the contrary, they are really most
humane." Common people do not consider, he remarked, that really
zealous artists are bound to abstain from the idle trivialities and
current compliments of society, not because they are haughty or
intolerant by nature, but because their art imperiously claims the
whole of their energies. "When such a man shall have the same leisure
as you enjoy, then I see no objection to your putting him to death if
he does not observe your rules of etiquette and ceremony. You only
seek his company and praise him in order to obtain honour through him
for yourselves, nor do you really mind what sort of man he is, so long
as kings and emperors converse with him. I dare affirm that any artist
who tries to satisfy the better vulgar rather than men of his own
craft, one who has nothing singular, eccentric, or at least reputed to
be so, in his person, will never become a superior talent. For my
part, I am bound to confess that even his Holiness sometimes annoys
and wearies me by begging for too much of my company. I am most
anxious to serve him, but, when there is nothing important going
forward, I think I can do so better by studying at home than by
dancing attendance through a whole day on my legs in his
reception-rooms. He allows me to tell him so; and I may add that the
serious occupations of my life have won for me such liberty of action
that, in talking to the Pope, I often forget where I am, and place my
hat upon my head. He does not eat me up on that account, but treats me
with indulgence, knowing that it is precisely at such times that I am
working hard to serve him. As for solitary habits, the world is right
in condemning a man who, out of pure affectation or eccentricity,
shuts himself up alone, loses his friends, and sets society against
him. Those, however, who act in this way naturally, because their
profession obliges them to lead a recluse life, or because their
character rebels against feigned politenesses and conventional usage,
ought in common justice to be tolerated. What claim by right have you
on him? Why should you force him to take part in those vain pastimes,
which his love for a quiet life induces him to shun? Do you not know
that there are sciences which demand the whole of a man, without
leaving the least portion of his spirit free for your distractions?"
This apology for his own life, couched in a vindication of the
artistic temperament, breathes an accent of sincerity, and paints
Michelangelo as he really was, with his somewhat haughty sense of
personal dignity. What he says about his absence of mind in the
presence of great princes might be illustrated by a remark attributed
to Clement VII. "When Buonarroti comes to see me, I always take a seat
and bid him to be seated, feeling sure that he will do so without
leave or license."

The conversation passed by natural degrees to a consideration of the
fine arts in general. In the course of this discussion, Michelangelo
uttered several characteristic opinions, strongly maintaining the
superiority of the Italian to the Flemish and German schools, and
asserting his belief that, while all objects are worthy of imitation
by the artist, the real touch stone of excellence lies in his power to
represent the human form. His theory of the arts in their reciprocal
relations and affinities throws interesting light upon the qualities
of his own genius and his method in practice. "The science of design,
or of line-drawing, if you like to use this term, is the source and
very essence of painting, sculpture, architecture, and of every form
of representation, as well too as of all the sciences. He who has made
himself a master in this art possesses a great treasure. Sometimes,
when I meditate upon these topics, it seems to me that I can discover
but one art or science, which is design, and that all the works of the
human brain and hand are either design itself or a branch of that
art." This theme he develops at some length, showing how a complete
mastery of drawing is necessary not only to the plastic arts of
painting and sculpture, but also to the constructive and mechanical
arts of architecture, fortification, gun-foundry, and so forth,
applying the same principle to the minutest industries.

With regard to the personal endowments of the artist, he maintained
that "a lofty style, grave and decorous, was essential to great work.
Few artists understand this, and endeavour to appropriate these
qualities. Consequently we find many members of the confraternity who
are only artists in name. The world encourages this confusion of
ideas, since few are capable of distinguishing between a fellow who
has nothing but his colour-box and brushes to make him a painter, and
the really gifted natures who appear only at wide intervals." He
illustrates the position that noble qualities in the artist are
indispensable to nobility in the work of art, by a digression on
religious painting and sculpture. "In order to represent in some
degree the adored image of our Lord, it is not enough that a master
should be great and able. I maintain that he must also be a man of
good conduct and morals, if possible a saint, in order that the Holy
Ghost may rain down inspiration on his understanding. Ecclesiastical
and secular princes ought, therefore, to permit only the most
illustrious among the artists of their realm to paint the benign
sweetness of our Saviour, the purity of our Lady, and the virtues of
the saints. It often happens that ill-executed images distract the
minds of worshippers and ruin their devotion, unless it be firm and
fervent. Those, on the contrary, which are executed in the high style
I have described, excite the soul to contemplation and to tears, even
among the least devout, by inspiring reverence and fear through the
majesty of their aspect." This doctrine is indubitably sound. To our
minds, nevertheless, it rings a little hollow on the lips of the great
master who modelled the Christ of the Minerva and painted the Christ
and Madonna of the Last Judgment. Yet we must remember that, at the
exact period when these dialogues took place, Buonarroti, under the
influence of his friendship with Vittoria Colonna, was devoting his
best energies to the devout expression of the Passion of our Lord. It
is deeply to be regretted that, out of the numerous designs which
remain to us from this endeavour, all of them breathing the purest
piety, no monumental work except the Pieta at Florence emerged for

Many curious points, both of minute criticism and broad opinion, might
still be gleaned from the dialogues set down by Francis of Holland. It
must suffice here to resume what Michelangelo maintained about the
artist's method. One of the interlocutors begged to be informed
whether he thought that a master ought to aim at working slowly or
quickly. "I will tell you plainly what I feel about this matter. It is
both good and useful to be able to work with promptitude and address.
We must regard it as a special gift from God to be able to do that in
a few hours which other men can only perform in many days of labour.
Consequently, artists who paint rapidly, without falling in quality
below those who paint but slowly, deserve the highest commendation.
Should this rapidity of execution, however, cause a man to transgress
the limits of sound art, it would have been better to have proceeded
with more tardiness and study. A good artist ought never to allow the
impetuosity of his nature to overcome his sense of the main end of
art, perfection. Therefore we cannot call slowness of execution a
defect, nor yet the expenditure of much time and trouble, if this be
employed with the view of attaining greater perfection. The one
unpardonable fault is bad work. And here I would remind you of a thing
essential to our art, which you will certainly not ignore, and to
which I believe you attach the full importance it deserves. In every
kind of plastic work we ought to strive with all our might at making
what has cost time and labour look as though it had been produced with
facility and swiftness. It sometimes happens, but rarely, that a
portion of our work turns out excellent with little pains bestowed
upon it. Most frequently, however, it is the expenditure of care and
trouble which conceals our toil. Plutarch relates that a bad painter
showed Apelles a picture, saying: 'This is from my hand; I have just
made it in a moment.' The other replied: 'I should have recognised the
fact without your telling me; and I marvel that you do not make a
multitude of such things every day.'" Michelangelo is reported to have
made a similar remark to Vasari when the latter took him to inspect
some frescoes he had painted, observing that they had been dashed off

We must be grateful to Francis of Holland for this picture of the
Sunday-morning interviews at S. Silvestro. The place was cool and
tranquil. The great lady received her guests with urbanity, and led
the conversation with highbred courtesy and tact. Fra Ambrogio, having
discoursed upon the spiritual doctrines of S. Paul's Epistles, was at
liberty to turn an attentive ear to purely aesthetical speculations.
The grave and elderly Lattanzio Tolomei added the weight of philosophy
and literary culture to the dialogue. Michelangelo, expanding in the
genial atmosphere, spoke frankly on the arts which he had mastered,
not dictating _ex cathedra_ rules, but maintaining a note of modesty
and common-sense and deference to the opinion of others. Francis
engaged on equal terms in the discussion. His veneration for
Buonarroti, and the eagerness with which he noted all the great man's
utterances, did not prevent him from delivering lectures at a somewhat
superfluous length. In short, we may fairly accept his account of
these famous conferences as a truthful transcript from the refined and
witty social gatherings of which Vittoria Colonna formed the centre.


This friendship with Vittoria Colonna forms a very charming episode in
the history of Michelangelo's career, and it was undoubtedly one of
the consolations of his declining years. Yet too great stress has
hitherto been laid on it by his biographers. Not content with
exaggerating its importance in his life, they have misinterpreted its
nature. The world seems unable to take interest in a man unless it can
contrive to discover a love-affair in his career. The singular thing
about Michelangelo is that, with the exception of Vittoria Colonna, no
woman is known to have influenced his heart or head in any way. In his
correspondence he never mentions women, unless they be aunts, cousins,
grand-nieces, or servants. About his mother he is silent. We have no
tradition regarding amours in youth or middle age; and only two words
dropped by Condivi lead us to conjecture that he was not wholly
insensible to the physical attractions of the female. Romancers and
legend-makers have, therefore, forced Vittoria Colonna to play the
role of Juliet in Michelangelo's life-drama. It has not occurred to
these critics that there is something essentially disagreeable in the
thought of an aged couple entertaining an amorous correspondence. I
use these words deliberately, because poems which breathe obvious
passion of no merely spiritual character have been assigned to the
number he composed for Vittoria Colonna. This, as we shall see, is
chiefly the fault of his first editor, who printed all the sonnets and
madrigals as though they were addressed to one woman or another. It is
also in part due to the impossibility of determining their exact date
in the majority of instances. Verses, then, which were designed for
several objects of his affection, male or female, have been
indiscriminately referred to Vittoria Colonna, whereas we can only
attribute a few poems with certainty to her series.

This mythus of Michelangelo's passion for the Marchioness of Pescara
has blossomed and brought forth fruit abundantly from a single and
pathetic passage in Condivi. "In particular, he greatly loved the
Marchioness of Pescara, of whose divine spirit he was enamoured, being
in return dearly beloved by her. He still preserves many of her
letters, breathing honourable and most tender affection, and such as
were wont to issue from a heart like hers. He also wrote to her a
great number of sonnets, full of wit and sweet longing. She frequently
removed from Viterbo and other places, whither she had gone for solace
or to pass the summer, and came to Rome with the sole object of seeing
Michelangelo. He for his part, loved her so, that I remember to have
heard him say that he regretted nothing except that when he went to
visit her upon the moment of her passage from this life, he did not
kiss her forehead or her face, as he did kiss her hand. Her death was
the cause that oftentimes he dwelt astonied, thinking of it, even as a
man bereft of sense."

Michelangelo himself, writing immediately after Vittoria's death,
speaks of her thus: "She felt the warmest affection for me, and I not
less for her. Death has robbed me of a great friend." It is curious
that he here uses the masculine gender: "un grande amico." He also
composed two sonnets, which were in all probability inspired by the
keen pain of this bereavement. To omit them here would be unjust to
the memory of their friendship:--

_When my rude hammer to the stubborn stone
Gives human shape, now that, now this, at will,
Following his hand who wields and guides it still,
It moves upon another's feet alone:_

The third illustrates in a singular manner that custom of
sixteenth-century literature which Shakespeare followed in his
sonnets, of weaving poetical images out of thoughts borrowed from law
and business. It is also remarkable in this respect, that Michelangelo
has here employed precisely the same conceit for Vittoria Colonna
which he found serviceable when at an earlier date he wished to
deplore the death of the Florentine, Cecchino dei Bracci. For both of
them he says that Heaven bestowed upon the beloved object all its
beauties, instead of scattering these broad-cast over the human race,
which, had it done so, would have entailed the bankruptcy and death of

_So that high heaven should have not to distrain
From several that vast beauty ne'er yet shown,
To one exalted dame alone
The total sum was lent in her pure self:--
Heaven had made sorry gain,
Recovering from the crowd its scattered pelf.
Now in a puff of breath,
Nay, in one second, God
Hath ta'en her back through death,
Back from the senseless folk and from our eyes.
Yet earth's oblivious sod,
Albeit her body dies,
Will bury not her live words fair and holy.
Ah, cruel mercy! Here thou showest solely
How, had heaven lent us ugly what she took,
And death the debt reclaimed, all men were broke_.

Without disputing the fact that a very sincere emotion underlay these
verses, it must be submitted that, in the words of Samuel Johnson
about "Lycidas," "he who thus grieves will excite no sympathy; he who
thus praises will confer no honour." This conviction will be enforced
when we reflect that the thought upon which the madrigal above
translated has been woven (1547) had been already used for Cecchino
dei Bracci in 1544. It is clear that, in dealing with Michelangelo's
poetical compositions, we have to accept a mass of conventional
utterances, penetrated with a few firmly grasped Platonical ideas. It
is only after long familiarity with his work that a man may venture to
distinguish between the accents of the heart and the head-notes in the
case of so great a master using an art he practised mainly as an
amateur. I shall have to return to these considerations when I discuss
the value of his poetry taken as a whole.

The union of Michelangelo and Vittoria was beautiful and noble, based
upon the sympathy of ardent and high-feeling natures. Nevertheless we
must remember that when Michelangelo lost his old servant Urbino, his
letters and the sonnet written upon that occasion express an even
deeper passion of grief.

Love is an all-embracing word, and may well be used to describe this
exalted attachment, as also to qualify the great sculptor's affection
for a faithful servant or for a charming friend. We ought not,
however, to distort the truth of biography or to corrupt criticism,
from a personal wish to make more out of his feeling than fact and
probability warrant. This is what has been done by all who approached
the study of Michelangelo's life and writings. Of late years, the
determination to see Vittoria Colonna through every line written by
him which bears the impress of strong emotion, and to suppress other
aspects of his sensibility, has been so deliberate, that I am forced
to embark upon a discussion which might otherwise have not been
brought so prominently forward. For the understanding of his
character, and for a proper estimate of his poetry, it has become
indispensable to do so.


Michelangelo's best friend in Rome was a young nobleman called Tommaso
Cavalieri. Speaking of his numerous allies and acquaintances, Vasari
writes: "Immeasurably more than all the rest, he loved Tommaso dei
Cavalieri, a Roman gentleman, for whom, as he was young and devoted to
the arts, Michelangelo made many stupendous drawings of superb heads
in black and red chalk, wishing him to learn the method of design.
Moreover, he drew for him a Ganymede carried up to heaven by Jove's
eagle, a Tityos with the vulture feeding on his heart, the fall of
Phaeton with the sun's chariot into the river Po, and a Bacchanal of
children; all of them things of the rarest quality, and drawings the
like of which were never seen. Michelangelo made a cartoon portrait of
Messer Tommaso, life-size, which was the only portrait that he ever
drew, since he detested to imitate the living person, unless it was
one of incomparable beauty." Several of Michelangelo's sonnets are
addressed to Tommaso Cavalieri. Benedetto Varchi, in his commentary,
introduces two of them with these words: "The first I shall present is
one addressed to M. Tommaso Cavalieri, a young Roman of very noble
birth, in whom I recognised, while I was sojourning at Rome, not only
incomparable physical beauty, but so much elegance of manners, such
excellent intelligence, and such graceful behaviour, that he well
deserved, and still deserves, to win the more love the better he is
known." Then Varchi recites the sonnet:--

Why should I seek to ease intense desire
With still more tears and windy words of grief,
When heaven, or late or soon, sends no relief
To souls whom love hath robed around with fire?

Why need my aching heart to death aspire,
When all must die? Nay, death beyond belief
Unto these eyes would be both sweet and brief,
Since in my sum of woes all joys expire!

Therefore, because I cannot shun the blow
I rather seek, say who must rule my breast,
Gliding between her gladness and her woe?

If only chains and bands can make me blest,
No marvel if alone and bare I go,
An armed KNIGHT'S captive and slave confessed.

"The other shall be what follows, written perhaps for the same person,
and worthy, in my opinion, not only of the ripest sage, but also of a
poet not unexercised in writing verse:--

With your fair eyes a charming light I see,
For which my own blind eyes would peer in vain;
Stayed by your feet, the burden I sustain
Which my lame feet find all too strong for me;

Wingless upon your pinions forth I fly;
Heavenward your sprit stirreth me to strain;
E'en as you will, I blush and blanch again,
Freeze in the sun, burn 'neath a frosty sky.

Your will includes and is the lord of mine;
Life to my thoughts within your heart is given;
My words begin to breathe upon your breath:
Like to the-moon am I, that cannot shine
Alone; for, lo! our eyes see naught in heaven
Save what the living sun illumineth."

The frank and hearty feeling for a youth of singular distinction which
is expressed in these sonnets, gave no offence to society during the
period of the earlier Renaissance; but after the Tridentine Council
social feeling altered upon this and similar topics. While morals
remained what they had been, language and manners grew more nice and
hypocritical. It happened thus that grievous wrong was done to the
text of Michelangelo's poems, with the best intentions, by their first
editor. Grotesque misconceptions, fostered by the same mistaken zeal,
are still widely prevalent.

When Michelangelo the younger arranged his grand-uncle's poems for the
press, he was perplexed by the first of the sonnets quoted by Varchi.
The last line, which runs in the Italian thus--

Resto prigion d'un Cavalier armato,

has an obvious play of words upon Cavalieri's surname. This he altered

Resto prigion d'un cor di virtu armato.

The reason was that, if it stood unaltered, "the ignorance of men
would have occasion to murmur." "Varchi," he adds, "did wrong in
printing it according to the text." "Remember well," he observes,
"that this sonnet, as well as the preceding number and some others,
are concerned, as is manifest, with a masculine love of the Platonic
species." Michelangelo the younger's anxiety for his granduncle's
memory induced him thus to corrupt the text of his poems. The same
anxiety has led their latest editor to explain away the obvious sense
of certain words. Signor Guasti approves of the first editor's pious
fraud, on the ground that morality has higher claims than art; but he
adds that the expedient was not necessary: "for these sonnets do not
refer to masculine love, nor yet do any others. In the first (xxxi.)
the lady is compared to an armed knight, because she carries the
weapons of her sex and beauty; and while I think on it, an example
occurs to my mind from Messer Cino in support of the argument. As
regards the second (lxii.), those who read these pages of mine will
possibly remember that Michelangelo, writing of the dead Vittoria
Colonna, called her _amico;_ and on reflection, this sounds better
than _amica,_ in the place where it occurs. Moreover, there are not
wanting in these poems instances of the term signore, or lord, applied
to the beloved lady; which is one of the many periphrastical
expressions used by the Romance poets to indicate their mistress." It
is true that Cino compares his lady in one sonnet to a knight who has
carried off the prize of beauty in the lists of love and grace by her
elegant dancing. But he never calls a lady by the name of _cavaliere._
It is also indubitable that the Tuscans occasionally addressed the
female or male object of their adoration under the title of _signore,_
lord of my heart and soul. But such instances weigh nothing against
the direct testimony of a contemporary like Varchi, into whose hands
Michelangelo's poems came at the time of their composition, and who
was well acquainted with the circumstances of their composition. There
is, moreover, a fact of singular importance bearing on this question,
to which Signor Guasti has not attached the value it deserves. In a
letter belonging to the year 1549, Michelangelo thanks Luca Martini
for a copy of Varchi's commentary on his sonnet, and begs him to
express his affectionate regards and hearty thanks to that eminent
scholar for the honour paid him. In a second letter addressed to G.F.
Fattucci, under date October 1549, he conveys "the thanks of Messer
Tomao de' Cavalieri to Varchi for a certain little book of his which
has been printed, and in which he speaks very honourably of himself,
and not less so of me." In neither of these letters does Michelangelo
take exception to Varchi's interpretation of Sonnet xxxi. Indeed, the
second proves that both he and Cavalieri were much pleased with it.
Michelangelo even proceeds to inform Fattucci that Cavalieri "has
given me a sonnet which I made for him in those same years, begging me
to send it on as a proof and witness that he really is the man
intended. This I will enclose in my present letter." Furthermore, we
possess an insolent letter of Pietro Aretino, which makes us imagine
that the "ignorance of the vulgar" had already begun to "murmur."
After complaining bitterly that Michelangelo refused to send him any
of his drawings, he goes on to remark that it would be better for the
artist if he did so, "inasmuch as such an act of courtesy would quiet
the insidious rumours which assert that only Gerards and Thomases can
dispose of them." We have seen from Vasari that Michelangelo executed
some famous designs for Tommaso Cavalieri. The same authority asserts
that he presented "Gherardo Perini, a Florentine gentleman, and his
very dear friend," with three splendid drawings in black chalk.
Tommaso Cavalieri and Gherardo Perini, were, therefore, the "Gerards
and Thomases" alluded to by Aretino.

Michelangelo the younger's and Cesare Guasti's method of defending
Buonarroti from a malevolence which was only too well justified by the
vicious manners of the time, seems to me so really injurious to his
character, that I feel bound to carry this investigation further.
First of all, we ought to bear in mind what Buonarroti admitted
concerning his own temperament. "You must know that I am, of all men
who were ever born, the most inclined to love persons. Whenever I
behold some one who possesses any talent or displays any dexterity of
mind, who can do or say something more appropriately than the rest of
the world, I am compelled to fall in love with him; and then I give
myself up to him so entirely that I am no longer my own property, but
wholly his." He mentions this as a reason for not going to dine with
Luigi del Riccio in company with Donate Giannotti and Antonio Petrejo.
"If I were to do so, as all of you are adorned with talents and
agreeable graces, each of you would take from me a portion of myself,
and so would the dancer, and so would the lute-player, if men with
distinguished gifts in those arts were present. Each person would
filch away a part of me, and instead of being refreshed and restored
to health and gladness, as you said, I should be utterly bewildered
and distraught, in such wise that for many days to come I should not
know in what world I was moving." This passage serves to explain the
extreme sensitiveness of the great artist to personal charm, grace,
accomplishments, and throws light upon the self-abandonment with which
he sometimes yielded to the attractions of delightful people.

We possess a series of Michelangelo's letters addressed to or
concerned with Tommaso Cavalieri, the tone of which is certainly
extravagant. His biographer, Aurelio Gotti, moved by the same anxiety
as Michelangelo the younger and Guasti, adopted the extraordinary
theory that they were really directed to Vittoria Colonna, and were
meant to be shown to her by the common friend of both, Cavalieri.
"There is an epistle to this young man," he says, "so studied in its
phrases, so devoid of all naturalness, that we cannot extract any
rational sense from it without supposing that Cavalieri was himself a
friend of the Marchioness, and that Michelangelo, while writing to
him, intended rather to address his words to the Colonna." Of this
letter, which bears the date of January 1, 1533, three drafts exist,
proving the great pains taken by Michelangelo in its composition.

"Without due consideration, Messer Tomao, my very dear lord, I was
moved to write to your lordship, not by way of answer to any letter
received from you, but being myself the first to make advances, as
though I felt bound to cross a little stream with dry feet, or a ford
made manifest by paucity of water. But now that I have left the shore,
instead of the trifling river I expected, the ocean with its towering
waves appears before me, so that, if it were possible, in order to
avoid drowning, I would gladly retrace my steps to the dry land whence
I started. Still, as I am here, I will e'en make of my heart a rock,
and proceed farther; and if I shall not display the art of sailing on
the sea of your powerful genius, that genius itself will excuse me,
nor will be disdainful of my inferiority in parts, nor desire from me
that which I do not possess, inasmuch as he who is unique in all
things can have peers in none. Therefore your lordship, the light of
our century without paragon upon this world, is unable to be satisfied
with the productions of other men, having no match or equal to
yourself. And if, peradventure, something of mine, such as I hope and
promise to perform, give pleasure to your mind, I shall esteem it more
fortunate than excellent; and should I be ever sure of pleasing your
lordship, as is said, in any particular, I will devote the present
time and all my future to your service; indeed, it will grieve me much
that I cannot regain the past, in order to devote a longer space to
you than the future only will allow, seeing I am now too old. I have
no more to say. Read the heart, and not the letter, because 'the pen
toils after man's good-will in vain.'

"I have to make excuses for expressing in my first letter a marvellous
astonishment at your rare genius; and thus I do so, having recognised
the error I was in; for it is much the same to wonder at God's working
miracles as to wonder at Rome producing divine men. Of this the
universe confirms us in our faith."

It is clear that Michelangelo alludes in this letter to the designs
which he is known to have made for Cavalieri, and the last paragraph
has no point except as an elaborate compliment addressed to a Roman
gentleman. It would be quite out of place if applied to Vittoria
Colonna. Gotti finds the language strained and unnatural. We cannot
deny that it differs greatly from the simple diction of the writer's
ordinary correspondence. But Michelangelo did sometimes seek to
heighten his style, when he felt that the occasion demanded a special
effort; and then he had recourse to the laboured images in vogue at
that period, employing them with something of the ceremonious
cumbrousness displayed in his poetry. The letters to Pietro Aretino,
Niccolo Martelli, Vittoria Colonna, Francis I., Luca Martini, and
Giorgio Vasari might be quoted as examples.

As a postscript to this letter, in the two drafts which were finally
rejected, the following enigmatical sentence is added:--"It would be
permissible to give the name of the things a man presents, to him who
receives them; but proper sense of what is fitting prevents it being
done in this letter."

Probably Michelangelo meant that he should have liked to call
Cavalieri his friend, since he had already given him friendship. The
next letter, July 28, 1533, begins thus:--"My dear Lord,--Had I not
believed that I had made you certain of the very great, nay,
measureless love I bear you, it would not have seemed strange to me
nor have roused astonishment to observe the great uneasiness you show
in your last letter, lest, through my not having written, I should
have forgotten you. Still it is nothing new or marvellous when so many
other things go counter, that this also should be topsy-turvy. For
what your lordship says to me, I could say to yourself: nevertheless,
you do this perhaps to try me, or to light a new and stronger flame,
if that indeed were possible: but be it as it wills: I know well that,
at this hour, I could as easily forget your name as the food by which
I live; nay, it were easier to forget the food, which only nourishes
my body miserably, than your name, which nourishes both body and soul,
filling the one and the other with such sweetness that neither
weariness nor fear of death is felt by me while memory preserves you
to my mind. Think, if the eyes could also enjoy their portion, in what
condition I should find myself."

This second letter has also been extremely laboured; for we have three
other turns given in its drafts to the image of food and memory. That
these two documents were really addressed to Cavalieri, without any
thought of Vittoria Colonna, is proved by three letters sent to
Michelangelo by the young man in question. One is dated August 2,
1533, another September 2, and the third bears no date. The two which
I have mentioned first belong to the summer of 1533; the third seems
to be the earliest. It was clearly written on some occasion when both
men were in Rome together, and at the very beginning of their
friendship. I will translate them in their order. The first undated
letter was sent to Michelangelo in Rome, in answer to some writing of
the illustrious sculptor which we do not possess:--

"I have received from you a letter, which is the more acceptable
because it was so wholly unexpected. I say unexpected, because I hold
myself unworthy of such condescension in a man of your eminence. With
regard to what Pierantonio spoke to you in my praise, and those things
of mine which you have seen, and which you say have aroused in you no
small affection for me, I answer that they were insufficient to impel
a man of such transcendent genius, without a second, not to speak of a
peer, upon this earth, to address a youth who was born but yesterday,
and therefore is as ignorant as it is possible to be. At the same time
I cannot call you a liar. I rather think then, nay, am certain, that
the love you bear me is due to this, that you being a man most
excellent in art, nay, art itself, are forced to love those who follow
it and love it, among whom am I; and in this, according to my
capacity, I yield to few. I promise you truly that you shall receive
from me for your kindness affection equal, and perhaps greater, in
exchange; for I never loved a man more than I do you, nor desired a
friendship more than I do yours. About this, though my judgment may
fail in other things, it is unerring; and you shall see the proof,
except only that fortune is adverse to me in that now, when I might
enjoy you, I am far from well. I hope, however, if she does not begin
to trouble me again, that within a few days I shall be cured, and
shall come to pay you my respects in person. Meanwhile I shall spend
at least two hours a day in studying two of your drawings, which
Pierantonio brought me: the more I look at them, the more they delight
me; and I shall soothe my complaint by cherishing the hope which
Pierantonio gave me, of letting me see other things of yours. In order
not to be troublesome, I will write no more. Only I beg you remember,
on occasion, to make use of me; and recommend myself in perpetuity to
you.--Your most affectionate servant.

"Thomao Cavaliere."

The next letters were addressed to Michelangelo in Florence:--"Unique,
my Lord,--I have received from you a letter, very acceptable, from
which I gather that you are not a little saddened at my having written
to you about forgetting. I answer that I did not write this for either
of the following reasons: to wit, because you have not sent me
anything, or in order to fan the flame of your affection. I only wrote
to jest with you, as certainly I think I may do. Therefore, do not be
saddened, for I am quite sure you will not be able to forget me.
Regarding what you write to me about that young Nerli, he is much my
friend, and having to leave Rome, he came to ask whether I needed
anything from Florence. I said no, and he begged me to allow him to go
in my name to pay you my respects, merely on account of his own desire
to speak with you. I have nothing more to write, except that I beg you
to return quickly. When you come you will deliver me from prison,
because I wish to avoid bad companions; and having this desire, I
cannot converse with any one but you. I recommend myself to you a
thousand times.--Yours more than his own,

"Thomao Cavaliere.
"Rome, _August 2, 1533_."

It appears from the third letter, also sent to Florence, that during
the course of the month Michelangelo had despatched some of the
drawings he made expressly for his friend:--"Unique, my Lord,--Some
days ago I received a letter from you, which was very welcome, both
because I learned from it that you were well, and also because I can
now be sure that you will soon return. I was very sorry not to be able
to answer at once. However, it consoles me to think that, when you
know the cause, you will hold me excused. On the day your letter
reached me, I was attacked with vomiting and such high fever that I
was on the point of death; and certainly I should have died, if it
(i.e., the letter) had not somewhat revived me. Since then, thank God,
I have been always well. Messer Bartolommeo (Angelini) has now brought
me a sonnet sent by you, which has made me feel it my duty to write.
Some three days since I received my Phaethon, which is exceedingly
well done. The Pope, the Cardinal de' Medici, and every one, have seen
it; I do not know what made them want to do so. The Cardinal expressed
a wish to inspect all your drawings, and they pleased him so much that
he said he should like to have the Tityos and Ganymede done in
crystal. I could not manage to prevent him from using the Tityos, and
it is now being executed by Maestro Giovanni. Hard I struggled to save
the Ganymede. The other day I went, as you requested, to Fra
Sebastiano. He sends a thousand messages, but only to pray you to come
back.--Your affectionate,

"Thomao Cavaliere.
"Rome, _September 6_."

All the drawings mentioned by Vasari as having been made for Cavalieri
are alluded to here, except the Bacchanal of Children. Of the Phaethon
we have two splendid examples in existence, one at Windsor, the other
in the collection of M. Emile Galichon. They differ considerably in
details, but have the same almost mathematical exactitude of pyramidal
composition. That belonging to M. Galichon must have been made in
Rome, for it has this rough scrawl in Michelangelo's hand at the
bottom, "Tomao, se questo scizzo non vi piace, ditelo a Urbino." He
then promises to make another. Perhaps Cavalieri sent word back that
he did not like something in the sketch--possibly the women writhing
into trees--and that to this circumstance we owe the Windsor drawing,
which is purer in style. There is a fine Tityos with the vulture at
Windsor, so exquisitely finished and perfectly preserved that one can
scarcely believe it passed through the hands of Maestro Giovanni.
Windsor, too, possesses a very delicate Ganymede, which seems intended
for an intaglio. The subject is repeated in an unfinished pen-design
at the Uffizi, incorrectly attributed to Michelangelo, and is
represented by several old engravings. The Infant Bacchanals again
exist at Windsor, and fragmentary jottings upon the margin of other
sketches intended for the same theme survive.


A correspondence between Bartolommeo Angelini in Rome and Michelangelo
in Florence during the summers of 1532 and 1533 throws some light upon
the latter's movements, and also upon his friendship for Tommaso
Cavalieri. The first letter of this series, written on the 21st of
August 1532, shows that Michelangelo was then expected in Rome. "Fra
Sebastiano says that you wish to dismount at your own house. Knowing
then that there is nothing but the walls, I hunted up a small amount
of furniture, which I have had sent thither, in order that you may be
able to sleep and sit down and enjoy some other conveniences. For
eating, you will be able to provide yourself to your own liking in the
neighbourhood." From the next letter (September 18, 1532) it appears
that Michelangelo was then in Rome. There ensues a gap in the
correspondence, which is not resumed until July 12, 1533. It now
appears that Buonarroti had recently left Rome at the close of another
of his visits. Angelini immediately begins to speak of Tommaso
Cavalieri. "I gave that soul you wrote of to M. Tommao, who sends you
his very best regards, and begs me to communicate any letters I may
receive from you to him. Your house is watched continually every
night, and I often go to visit it by day. The hens and master cock are
in fine feather, and the cats complain greatly over your absence,
albeit they have plenty to eat." Angelini never writes now without
mentioning Cavalieri. Since this name does not occur in the
correspondence before the date of July 12, 1533, it is possible that
Michelangelo made the acquaintance during his residence at Rome in the
preceding winter. His letters to Angelini must have conveyed frequent
expressions of anxiety concerning Cavalieri's affection; for the
replies invariably contain some reassuring words (July 26): "Yours
makes me understand how great is the love you bear him; and in truth,
so far as I have seen, he does not love you less than you love him."
Again (August 11, 1533): "I gave your letter to M. Thomao, who sends
you his kindest remembrances, and shows the very strongest desire for
your return, saying that when he is with you, then he is really happy,
because he possesses all that he wishes for upon this world. So then,
it seems to me that, while you are fretting to return, he is burning
with desire for you to do so. Why do you not begin in earnest to make
plans for leaving Florence? It would give peace to yourself and all of
us, if you were here. I have seen your soul, which is in good health
and under good guardianship. The body waits for your arrival."

This mysterious reference to the soul, which Angelini gave, at
Buonarroti's request, to young Cavalieri, and which he now describes
as prospering, throws some light upon the passionate phrases of the
following mutilated letter, addressed to Angelini by Michelangelo upon
the 11th of October. The writer, alluding to Messer Tommao, says that,
having given him his heart, he can hardly go on living in his absence:
"And so, if I yearn day and night without intermission to be in Rome,
it is only in order to return again to life, which I cannot enjoy
without the soul." This conceit is carried on for some time, and the
letter winds up with the following sentence: "My dear Bartolommeo,
although you may think that I am joking with you, this is not the
case. I am talking sober sense, for I have grown twenty years older
and twenty pounds lighter since I have been here." This epistle, as we
shall see in due course, was acknowledged. All Michelangelo's
intimates in Rome became acquainted with the details of this
friendship. Writing to Sebastiano from Florence in this year, he says:
"I beg you, if you see Messer T. Cavalieri, to recommend me to him
infinitely; and when you write, tell me something about him to keep
him in my memory; for if I were to lose him from my mind, I believe
that I should fall down dead straightway." In Sebastiano's letters
there is one allusion to Cavalieri, who had come to visit him in the
company of Bartolommeo Angelini, when he was ill.

It is not necessary to follow all the references to Tommaso Cavalieri
contained in Angelini's letters. They amount to little more than kind
messages and warm wishes for Michelangelo's return. Soon, however,
Michelangelo began to send poems, which Angelini acknowledges
(September 6): "I have received the very welcome letter you wrote me,
together with your graceful and beautiful sonnet, of which I kept a
copy, and then sent it on to M. Thomao. He was delighted to possess
it, being thereby assured that God has deigned to bestow upon him the
friendship of a man endowed with so many noble gifts as you are."
Again he writes (October 18): "Yours of the 12th is to hand, together
with M. Thomao's letter and the most beautiful sonnets. I have kept
copies, and sent them on to him for whom they were intended, because I
know with what affection he regards all things that pertain to you. He
promised to send an answer which shall be enclosed in this I now am
writing. He is counting not the days merely, but the hours, till you
return." In another letter, without date, Angelini says, "I gave your
messages to M. Thomao, who replied that your presence would be dearer
to him than your writing, and that if it seems to you a thousand
years, to him it seems ten thousand, till you come. I received your
gallant (galante) and beautiful sonnet; and though you said nothing
about it, I saw at once for whom it was intended, and gave it to him.
Like everything of yours, it delighted him. The tenor of the sonnet
shows that love keeps you perpetually restless. I do not think this
ought to be the effect of love, and so I send you one of my poor
performances to prove the contrary opinion." We may perhaps assume
that this sonnet was the famous No. xxxi., from the last line of which
every one could perceive that Michelangelo meant it for Tommaso


It is significant that, while Michelangelo's affection for the young
Roman was thus acquiring force, another friendship, which must have
once been very dear to him, sprang up and then declined, but not
apparently through his own fault or coldness. We hear of Febo di
Poggio in the following autumn for the first and last time. Before
proceeding to speak of him, I will wind up what has to be said about
Tommaso Cavalieri. Not long after the date of the last letter quoted
above, Michelangelo returned to Rome, and settled there for the rest
of his life. He continued to the end of his days in close friendship
with Cavalieri, who helped to nurse him during his last illness, who
took charge of his effects after his death, and who carried on the
architectural work he had begun at the Capitol.

Their friendship seems to have been uninterrupted by any disagreement,
except on one occasion when Michelangelo gave way to his suspicious
irritability, quite at the close of his long life. This drew forth
from Cavalieri the following manly and touching letter:--

"Very magnificent, my Lord,--I have noticed during several days past
that you have some grievance--what, I do not know--against me.
Yesterday I became certain of it when I went to your house. As I
cannot imagine the cause, I have thought it best to write this, in
order that, if you like, you may inform me. I am more than positive
that I never offended you. But you lend easy credence to those whom
perhaps you ought least to trust; and some one has possibly told you
some lie, for fear I should one day reveal the many knaveries done
under your name, the which do you little honour; and if you desire to
know about them, you shall. Only I cannot, nor, if I could, should I
wish to force myself--but I tell you frankly that if you do not want
me for a friend, you can do as you like, but you cannot compel me not
to be a friend to you. I shall always try to do you service; and only
yesterday I came to show you a letter written by the Duke of Florence,
and to lighten your burdens, as I have ever done until now. Be sure
you have no better friend than me; but on this I will not dwell.
Still, if you think otherwise, I hope that in a short time you will
explain matters; and I know that you know I have always been your
friend without the least interest of my own. Now I will say no more,
lest I should seem to be excusing myself for something which does not
exist, and which I am utterly unable to imagine. I pray and conjure
you, by the love you bear to God, that you tell me what you have
against me, in order that I may disabuse you. Not having more to
write, I remain your servant,

"Thomao De' Cavalieri.
"From my house, November 15, 1561."

It is clear from this letter, and from the relations which subsisted
between Michelangelo and Cavalieri up to the day of his death, that
the latter was a gentleman of good repute and honour, whose affection
did credit to his friend. I am unable to see that anything but an
injury to both is done by explaining away the obvious meaning of the
letters and the sonnets I have quoted. The supposition that
Michelangelo intended the Cavalieri letters to reach Vittoria Colonna
through that friend's hands does not, indeed, deserve the complete
refutation which I have given it. I am glad, however, to be able to
adduce the opinion of a caustic Florentine scholar upon this topic,
which agrees with my own, and which was formed without access to the
original documents which I have been enabled to make use of. Fanfani
says: "I have searched, but in vain, for documentary proofs of the
passion which Michelangelo is supposed to have felt for Vittoria
Colonna, and which she returned with ardour according to the assertion
of some critics. My own belief, concurring with that of better judges
than myself, is that we have here to deal with one of the many
baseless stories told about him. Omitting the difficulties presented
by his advanced age, it is wholly contrary to all we know about the
Marchioness, and not a little damaging to her reputation for
austerity, to suppose that this admirable matron, who, after the death
of her husband, gave herself up to God, and abjured the commerce of
the world, should, later in life, have carried on an intrigue, as the
saying is, upon the sly, particularly when a third person is imposed
on our credulity, acting the part of go-between and cloak in the
transaction, as certain biographers of the great artist, and certain
commentators of his poetry, are pleased to assert, with how much
common-sense and what seriousness I will not ask."


The history of Luigi del Riccio's affection for a lad of Florence
called Cecchino dei Bracci, since this is interwoven with
Michelangelo's own biography and the criticism of his poems, may be
adduced in support of the argument I am developing. Cecchino was a
youth of singular promise and personal charm. His relative, the
Florentine merchant, Luigi del Riccio, one of Buonarroti's most
intimate friends and advisers, became devotedly attached to the boy.
Michelangelo, after his return to Rome in 1534, shared this friend
Luigi's admiration for Cecchino; and the close intimacy into which the
two elder men were drawn, at a somewhat later period of Buonarroti's
life, seems to have been cemented by their common interest in poetry
and their common feeling for a charming personality. We have a letter
of uncertain date, in which Michelangelo tells Del Riccio that he has
sent him a madrigal, begging him, if he thinks fit, to commit the
verses "to the fire--that is, to what consumes me." Then he asks him
to resolve a certain problem which has occurred to his mind during the
night, "for while I was saluting _our idol_ in a dream, it seemed to
me that he laughed, and in the same instant threatened me; and not
knowing which of these two moods I have to abide by, I beg you to find
out from him; and on Sunday, when we meet again, you will inform me."
Cecchino, who is probably alluded to in this letter, died at Rome on
the 8th of January 1542, and was buried in the Church of Araceli.
Luigi felt the blow acutely. Upon the 12th of January he wrote to his
friend Donate Giannotti, then at Vicenza, in the following words:--

"Alas, my friend Donato! Our Cecchino is dead. All Rome weeps.
Michelangelo is making for me the design of a decent sepulture in
marble; and I pray you to write me the epitaph, and to send it to me
with a consolatory letter, if time permits, for my grief has
distraught me. Patience! I live with a thousand and a thousand deaths
each hour. O God! How has Fortune changed her aspect!" Giannotti
replied, enclosing three fine sonnets, the second of which,

_Messer Luigi mio, di noi che fia
Che sian restati senza il nostro sole?_

seems to have taken Michelangelo's fancy. Many good pens in Italy
poured forth laments on this occasion. We have verses written by
Giovanni Aldobrandini, Carlo Gondi, Fra Paolo del Rosso, and Anton
Francesco Grazzini, called Il Lasca. Not the least touching is Luigi's
own threnody, which starts upon this note:--

_Idol mio, che la tua leggiadra spoglia
Mi lasciasti anzi tempo._

Michelangelo, seeking to indulge his own grief and to soothe that of
his friend Luigi, composed no fewer than forty-two epigrams of four
lines each, in which he celebrated the beauty and rare personal
sweetness of Cecchino in laboured philosophical conceits. They rank
but low among his poems, having too much of scholastic trifling and
too little of the accent of strong feeling in them. Certainly these
pieces did not deserve the pains which Michelangelo the younger
bestowed, when he altered the text of a selection from them so as to
adapt their Platonic compliments to some female. Far superior is a
sonnet written to Del Riccio upon the death of the youth, showing how
recent had been Michelangelo's acquaintance with Cecchino, and
containing an unfulfilled promise to carve his portrait:--

_Scarce had I seen for the first time his eyes,
Which to your living eyes were life and light,
When, closed at last in death's injurious night,
He opened them on God in Paradise.
I know it, and I weep--too late made wise:
Yet was the fault not mine; for death's fell spite
Robbed my desire of that supreme delight
Which in your better memory never dies.
Therefore, Luigi, if the task be mine
To make unique Cecchino smile in stone
For ever, now that earth hath made him dim,
If the beloved within the lover shine,
Since art without him cannot work alone,
You must I carve to tell the world of him._

The strange blending of artificial conceits with spontaneous feeling
in these poetical effusions, the deep interest taken in a mere lad
like Cecchino by so many eminent personages, and the frank publicity
given to a friendship based apparently upon the beauty of its object,
strike us now as almost unintelligible. Yet we have the history of
Shakespeare's Sonnets, and the letters addressed by Languet to young
Sidney, in evidence that fashion at the end of the sixteenth century
differed widely from that which prevails at the close of the


Some further light may here be thrown upon Michelangelo's intimacy
with young men by two fragments extracted independently from the
Buonarroti Archives by Milanesi and Guasti. In the collection of the
letters we find the following sorrowful epistle, written in December
1533, upon the eve of Michelangelo's departure from Florence. It is
addressed to a certain Febo:--

"Febo,--Albeit you bear the greatest hatred toward my person--I know
not why--I scarcely believe, because of the love I cherish for you,
but probably through the words of others, to which you ought to give
no credence, having proved me--yet I cannot do otherwise than write to
you this letter. I am leaving Florence to-morrow, and am going to
Pescia to meet the Cardinal di Cesis and Messer Baldassare. I shall
journey with them to Pisa, and thence to Rome, and I shall never
return again to Florence. I wish you to understand that, so long as I
live, wherever I may be, I shall always remain at your service with
loyalty and love, in a measure unequalled by any other friend whom you
may have upon this world.

"I pray God to open your eyes from some other quarter, in order that
you may come to comprehend that he who desires your good more than his
own welfare, is able to love, not to hate like an enemy."

Milanesi prints no more of the manuscript in his edition of the
Letters. But Guasti, conscientiously collecting fragments of
Michelangelo's verses, gives six lines, which he found at the foot of
the epistle:--

_Vo' sol del mie morir contento veggio:
La terra piange, e'l ciel per me si muove;
E vo' men pieta stringe ov' io sto peggio._
_O sol che scaldi il mondo in ogni dove,
O Febo, o luce eterna de' mortali,
Perche a me sol ti scuri e non altrove?

* * * * *

Naught comforts you, I see, unless I die:
Earth weeps, the heavens for me are moved to woe;
You feel of grief the less, the more grieve I.
O sun that warms the world where'er you go,
O Febo, light eterne for mortal eyes!
Why dark to me alone, elsewhere not so?_

These verses seem to have been written as part of a long Capitolo
which Michelangelo himself, the elder, used indifferently in
addressing Febo and his abstract "donna." Who Febo was, we do not
know. But the sincere accent of the letter and the lyric cry of the
rough lines leave us to imagine that he was some one for whom
Michelangelo felt very tenderly in Florence.

Milanesi prints this letter to Febo with the following title, "_A Febo
(di Poggio)_." This proves that he at any rate knew it had been
answered by some one signing "Febo di Poggio." The autograph, in an
illiterate hand and badly spelt, is preserved among the Buonarroti
Archives, and bears date January 14, 1534. Febo excuses himself for
not having been able to call on Michelangelo the night before he left
Florence, and professes to have come the next day and found him
already gone. He adds that he is in want of money, both to buy clothes
and to go to see the games upon the Monte. He prays for a gratuity,
and winds up: "Vostro da figliuolo (yours like a son), Febo di
Poggio." I will add a full translation here:--

"Magnificent M. Michelangelo, to be honoured as a father,--I came back
yesterday from Pisa, whither I had gone to see my father. Immediately
upon my arrival, that friend of yours at the bank put a letter from
you into my hands, which I received with the greatest pleasure, having
heard of your well-being. God be praised, I may say the same about
myself. Afterwards I learned what you say about my being angry with
you. You know well I could not be angry with you, since I regard you
in the place of a father. Besides, your conduct toward me has not been
of the sort to cause in me any such effect. That evening when you left
Florence, in the morning I could not get away from M. Vincenzo, though
I had the greatest desire to speak with you. Next morning I came to
your house, and you were already gone, and great was my disappointment
at your leaving Florence without my seeing you.

"I am here in Florence; and when you left, you told me that if I
wanted anything, I might ask it of that friend of yours; and now that
M. Vincenzo is away, I am in want of money, both to clothe myself, and
also to go to the Monte, to see those people fighting, for M. Vincenzo
is there. Accordingly, I went to visit that friend at the bank, and he
told me that he had no commission whatsoever from you; but that a
messenger was starting to-night for Rome, and that an answer could
come back within five days. So then, if you give him orders, he will
not fail, I beseech you, then, to provide and assist me with any sum
you think fit, and do not fail to answer.

"I will not write more, except that with all my heart and power I
recommend myself to you, praying God to keep you from harm.--Yours in
the place of a son,

"Febo Di Poggio.
"Florence, _January 4, 154_."


In all the compositions I have quoted as illustrative of
Michelangelo's relations with young men, there is a singular humility
which gives umbrage to his editors. The one epistle to Gherardo
Perini, cited above, contains the following phrases: "I do not feel
myself of force enough to correspond to your kind letter;" "Your most
faithful and poor friend."

Yet there was nothing extraordinary in Cavalieri, Cecchino, Febo, or
Perini, except their singularity of youth and grace, good parts and
beauty. The vulgar are offended when an illustrious man pays homage to
these qualities, forgetful of Shakespeare's self-abasement before Mr.
W.H. and of Languet's prostration at the feet of Sidney. In the case
of Michelangelo, we may find a solution of this problem, I think, in
one of his sonnets. He says, writing a poem belonging very probably to
the series which inspires Michelangelo the younger with alarm:--

_As one who will re-seek her home of light,
Thy form immortal to this prison-house
Descended, like an angel-piteous,
To heal all hearts and make the whole world bright,
'Tis this that thralls my soul in love's delight,
Not thy clear face of beauty glorious;
For he who harbours virtue still will choose
To love what neither years nor death can blight.
So fares it ever with things high and rare
Wrought in the sweat of nature; heaven above
Showers on their birth the blessings of her prime:
Nor hath God deigned to show Himself elsewhere
More clearly than in human forms sublime,
Which, since they image Him, alone I love._

It was not, then, to this or that young man, to this or that woman,
that Michelangelo paid homage, but to the eternal beauty revealed in
the mortal image of divinity before his eyes. The attitude of the
mind, the quality of passion, implied in these poems, and conveyed
more clumsily through the prose of the letters, may be difficult to
comprehend. But until we have arrived at seizing them we shall fail to
understand the psychology of natures like Michelangelo. No language of
admiration is too strong, no self-humiliation too complete, for a soul
which has recognised deity made manifest in one of its main
attributes, beauty. In the sight of a philosopher, a poet, and an
artist, what are kings, popes, people of importance, compared with a
really perfect piece of God's handiwork?

_From thy fair face I learn, O my loved lord,
That which no mortal tongue can rightly say;
The soul imprisoned in her house of clay,
Holpen by thee, to God hath often soared.
And though the vulgar, vain, malignant horde
Attribute what their grosser wills obey,
Yet shall this fervent homage that I pay,
This love, this faith, pure joys for us afford.
Lo, all the lovely things we find on earth,
Resemble for the soul that rightly sees
That source of bliss divine which gave us birth:
Nor have we first-fruits or remembrances
Of heaven elsewhere. Thus, loving loyally,
I rise to God, and make death sweet by thee._

We know that, in some way or other, perhaps during those early years
at Florence among the members of the Platonic Academy, Michelangelo
absorbed the doctrines of the _Phoedrus_ and _Symposium_. His poems
abound in references to the contrast between Uranian and Pandemic,
celestial and vulgar, Eros. We have even one sonnet in which he
distinctly states the Greek opinion that the love of women is unworthy
of a soul bent upon high thoughts and virile actions. It reads like a
verse transcript from the main argument of the _Symposium_:--

_Love is not always harsh and deadly sin,
When love for boundless beauty makes us pine;
The heart, by love left soft and infantine,
Will let the shafts of God's grace enter in.
Love wings and wakes the soul, stirs her to win
Her flight aloft, nor e'er to earth decline;
'Tis the first step that leads her to the shrine
Of Him who slakes the thirst that burns within._

_The love of that whereof I speak ascends:
Woman is different far; the love of her
But ill befits a heart manly and wise.
The one love soars, the other earthward tends;
The soul lights this, while that the senses stir;
And still lust's arrow at base quarry flies._

The same exalted Platonism finds obscure but impassioned expression in
this fragment of a sonnet (No. lxxix.):----

_For Love's fierce wound, and for the shafts that harm,
True medicine 'twould have been to pierce my heart;
But my soul's Lord owns only one strong charm,
Which makes life grow where grows life's mortal smart.
My Lord dealt death, when with his-powerful arm
He bent Love's bow. Winged with that shaft, from Love
An angel flew, cried, "Love, nay Burn! Who dies,
Hath but Love's plumes whereby to soar above!
Lo, I am He who from thine earliest years
Toward, heaven-born Beauty raised thy faltering eyes.
Beauty alone lifts live man to heaven's spheres."_

Feeling like this, Michelangelo would have been justly indignant with
officious relatives and critics, who turned his _amici_ into _animi_,
redirected his Cavalieri letters to the address of Vittoria Colonna,
discovered Florence in Febo di Poggio, and ascribed all his emotional
poems to some woman.

There is no doubt that both the actions and the writings of
contemporaries justified a considerable amount of scepticism regarding
the purity of Platonic affections. The words and lives of many
illustrious persons gave colour to what Segni stated in his History of
Florence, and what Savonarola found it necessary to urge upon the
people from his pulpit.

But we have every reason to feel certain that, in a malicious age,
surrounded by jealous rivals, with the fierce light of his
transcendent glory beating round his throne, Buonarroti suffered from
no scandalous reports, and maintained an untarnished character for
sobriety of conduct and purity of morals.

The general opinion regarding him may be gathered from Scipione
Ammirati's History (under the year 1564). This annalist records the
fact that "Buonarotti having lived for ninety years, there was never
found through all that length of time, and with all that liberty to
sin, any one who could with right and justice impute to him a stain or
any ugliness of manners."

How he appeared to one who lived and worked with him for a long period
of intimacy, could not be better set forth than in the warm and
ingenuous words of Condivi: "He has loved the beauty of the human body
with particular devotion, as is natural with one who knows that beauty
so completely; and has loved it in such wise that certain carnally
minded men, who do not comprehend the love of beauty, except it be
lascivious and indecorous, have been led thereby to think and to speak
evil of him: just as though Alcibiades, that comeliest young man, had
not been loved in all purity by Socrates, from whose side, when they
reposed together, he was wont to say that he arose not otherwise than
from the side of his own father. Oftentimes have I heard Michelangelo
discoursing and expounding on the theme of love, and have afterwards
gathered from those who were present upon these occasions that he
spoke precisely as Plato wrote, and as we may read in Plato's works
upon this subject. I, for myself, do not know what Plato says; but I
know full well that, having so long and so intimately conversed with
Michelangelo, I never once heard issue from that mouth words that were
not of the truest honesty, and such as had virtue to extinguish in the
heart of youth any disordered and uncurbed desire which might assail
it. I am sure, too, that no vile thoughts were born in him, by this
token, that he loved not only the beauty of human beings, but in
general all fair things, as a beautiful horse, a beautiful dog, a
beautiful piece of country, a beautiful plant, a beautiful mountain, a
beautiful wood, and every site or thing in its kind fair and rare,
admiring them with marvellous affection. This was his way; to choose
what is beautiful from nature, as bees collect the honey from flowers,
and use it for their purpose in their workings: which indeed was
always the method of those masters who have acquired any fame in
painting. That old Greek artist, when he wanted to depict a Venus, was
not satisfied with the sight of one maiden only. On the contrary, he
sought to study many; and culling from each the particular in which
she was most perfect, to make use of these details in his Venus. Of a
truth, he who imagines to arrive at any excellence without following
this system (which is the source of a true theory in the arts), shoots
very wide indeed of his mark."

Condivi perhaps exaggerated the influence of lovely nature, horses,
dogs, flowers, hills, woods, &c., on Michelangelo's genius. His work,
as we know, is singularly deficient in motives drawn from any province
but human beauty; and his poems and letters contain hardly a trace of
sympathy with the external world. Yet, in the main contention, Condivi
told the truth. Michelangelo's poems and letters, and the whole series
of his works in fresco and marble, suggest no single detail which is
sensuous, seductive, enfeebling to the moral principles. Their tone
may be passionate; it is indeed often red-hot with a passion like that
of Lucretius and Beethoven; but the genius of the man transports the
mind to spiritual altitudes, where the lust of the eye and the
longings of the flesh are left behind us in a lower region. Only a
soul attuned to the same chord of intellectual rapture can breathe in
that fiery atmosphere and feel the vibrations of its electricity.


I have used Michelangelo's poems freely throughout this work as
documents illustrative of his opinions and sentiments, and also in
their bearing on the events of his life. I have made them reveal the
man in his personal relations to Pope Julius II., to Vittoria Colonna,
to Tommaso dei Cavalieri, to Luigi del Riccio, to Febo di Poggio. I
have let them tell their own tale, when sorrow came upon him in the
death of his father and Urbino, and when old age shook his lofty
spirit with the thought of approaching death. I have appealed to them
for lighter incidents: matters of courtesy, the completion of the
Sistine vault, the statue of Night at S. Lorenzo, the subjection of
Florence to the Medici, his heart-felt admiration for Dante's genius.
Examples of his poetic work, so far as these can be applied to the
explanation of his psychology, his theory of art, his sympathies, his
feeling under several moods of passion, will consequently be found
scattered up and down by volumes. Translation, indeed, is difficult to
the writer, and unsatisfactory to the reader. But I have been at pains
to direct an honest student to the original sources, so that he may,
if he wishes, compare my versions with the text. Therefore I do not
think it necessary to load this chapter with voluminous citations.
Still, there remains something to be said about Michelangelo as poet,
and about the place he occupies as poet in Italian literature.

The value of Michelangelo's poetry is rather psychological than purely
literary. He never claimed to be more than an amateur, writing to
amuse himself. His style is obscure, crabbed, ungrammatical.
Expression only finds a smooth and flowing outlet when the man's
nature is profoundly stirred by some powerful emotion, as in the
sonnets to Cavalieri, or the sonnets on the deaths of Vittoria Colonna
and Urbino, or the sonnets on the thought of his own death. For the
most part, it is clear that he found great difficulty in mastering his
thoughts and images. This we discover from the innumerable variants of
the same madrigal or sonnet which he made, and his habit of returning
to them at intervals long after their composition. A good fourth of
the Codex Vaticanus consists of repetitions and _rifacimenti_. He was
also wont to submit what he wrote to the judgment of his friends,
requesting them to alter and improve. He often had recourse to Luigi
del Riccio's assistance in such matters. I may here adduce an inedited
letter from two friends in Rome, Giovanni Francesco Bini and Giovanni
Francesco Stella, who returned a poem they had handled in this manner:
"We have done our best to alter some things in your sonnet, but not to
set it all to rights, since there was not much wanting. Now that it is
changed or put in order, according as the kindness of your nature
wished, the result will be more due to your own judgment than to ours,
since you have the true conception of the subject in your mind. We
shall be greatly pleased if you find yourself as well served as we
earnestly desire that you should command us." It was the custom of
amateur poets to have recourse to literary craftsmen before they
ventured to circulate their compositions. An amusing instance of this
will be found in Professor Biagi's monograph upon Tullia d'Aragona,
all of whose verses passed through the crucible of Benedetto Varchi's

The thoughts and images out of which Michelangelo's poetry is woven
are characteristically abstract and arid. He borrows no illustrations
from external nature. The beauty of the world and all that lives in it
might have been non-existent so far as he was concerned. Nor do his
octave stanzas in praise of rural life form an exception to this
statement; for these are imitated from Poliziano, so far as they
attempt pictures of the country, and their chief poetical feature is
the masque of vices belonging to human nature in the city. His
stock-in-trade consists of a few Platonic notions and a few Petrarchan
antitheses. In the very large number of compositions which are devoted
to love, this one idea predominates: that physical beauty is a direct
beam sent from the eternal source of all reality, in order to elevate
the lover's soul and lead him on the upward path toward heaven. Carnal
passion he regards with the aversion of an ascetic. It is impossible
to say for certain to whom these mystical love-poems were addressed.
Whether a man or a woman is in the case (for both were probably the
objects of his aesthetical admiration), the tone of feeling, the
language, and the philosophy do not vary. He uses the same imagery,
the same conceits, the same abstract ideas for both sexes, and adapts
the leading motive which he had invented for a person of one sex to a
person of the other when it suits his purpose. In our absolute
incapacity to fix any amative connection upon Michelangelo, or to link
his name with that of any contemporary beauty, we arrive at the
conclusion, strange as this may be, that the greater part of his
love-poetry is a scholastic exercise upon emotions transmuted into
metaphysical and mystical conceptions. Only two pieces in the long
series break this monotony by a touch of realism. They are divided by
a period of more than thirty years. The first seems to date from an
early epoch of his life:--

_What joy hath yon glad wreath of flowers that is
Around her golden hair so deftly twined,
Each blossom pressing forward from behind,
As though to be the first her brows to kiss!
The livelong day her dress hath perfect bliss,
That now reveals her breast, now seems to bind:
And that fair woven net of gold refined
Rests on her cheek and throat in happiness!
Yet still more blissful seems to me the band,
Gilt at the tips, so sweetly doth it ring,
And clasp the bosom that it serves to lace:
Yea, and the belt, to such as understand,
Bound round her waist, saith: Here I'd ever cling!
What would my arms do in that girdle's place?_

The second can be ascribed with probability to the year 1534 or 1535.
It is written upon the back of a rather singular letter addressed to
him by a certain Pierantonio, when both men were in Rome together:--

_Kind to the world, but to itself unkind,
A worm is born, that, dying noiselessly,
Despoils itself to clothe fair limbs, and be
In its true worth alone by death divined.
Would I might die for my dear lord to find
Raiment in my outworn mortality;
That, changing like the snake, I might be free
To cast the slough wherein I dwell confined!
Nay, were it mine, that shaggy fleece that stays,
Woven and wrought into a vestment fair,
Around yon breast so beauteous in such bliss!
All through the day thou'd have me! Would I were
The shoes that bear that burden! when the ways
Were wet with rain, thy feet I then should kiss!_

I have already alluded to the fact that we can trace two widely
different styles of writing in Michelangelo's poetry. Some of his
sonnets, like the two just quoted, and those we can refer with
certainty to the Cavalieri series, together with occasional
compositions upon the deaths of Cecchino and Urbino, seem to come
straight from the heart, and their manuscripts offer few variants to
the editor. Others, of a different quality, where he is dealing with
Platonic subtleties or Petrarchan conceits, have been twisted into so
many forms, and tortured by such frequent re-handlings, that it is
difficult now to settle a final text. The Codex Vaticanus is
peculiarly rich in examples of these compositions. Madrigal lvii. and
Sonnet lx., for example, recur with wearisome reiteration. These
laboured and scholastic exercises, unlike the more spontaneous
utterances of his feelings, are worked up into different forms, and
the same conceits are not seldom used for various persons and on
divers occasions.

One of the great difficulties under which a critic labours in
discussing these personal poems is that their chronology cannot be
ascertained in the majority of instances. Another is that we are
continually hampered by the false traditions invented by Michelangelo
the younger. Books like Lannan Rolland's "Michel-Ange et Vittoria
Colonna" have no value whatsoever, because they are based upon that
unlucky grand-nephew's deliberately corrupted text. Even Wadsworth's
translations, fine as they are, have lost a large portion of their
interest since the publication of the autographs by Cesare Guasti in
1863. It is certain that the younger Michelangelo meant well to his
illustrious ancestor. He was anxious to give his rugged compositions
the elegance and suavity of academical versification. He wished also
to defend his character from the imputation of immorality. Therefore
he rearranged the order of stanzas in the longer poems, pieced
fragments together, changed whole lines, ideas, images, amplified and
mutilated, altered phrases which seemed to him suspicious. Only one
who has examined the manuscripts of the Buonarroti Archives knows what
pains he bestowed upon this ungrateful and disastrous task. But the
net result of his meddlesome benevolence is that now for nearly three
centuries the greatest genius of the Italian Renaissance has worn a
mask concealing the real nature of his emotion, and that a false
legend concerning his relations to Vittoria Colonna has become
inextricably interwoven with the story of his life.

The extraordinary importance attached by Michelangelo in old age to
the passions of his youth is almost sufficient to justify those
psychological investigators who regard him as the subject of a nervous
disorder. It does not seem to be accounted for by anything known to us
regarding his stern and solitary life, his aloofness from the vulgar,
and his self-dedication to study. In addition to the splendid
devotional sonnets addressed to Vasari, which will appear in their
proper place, I may corroborate these remarks by the translation of a
set of three madrigals bearing on the topic.

_Ah me, ah me! how have I been betrayed
By my swift-flitting years, and by the glass,
Which yet tells truth to those who firmly gaze!
Thus happens it when one too long delays,
As I have done, nor feels time fleet and, fade:--
One morn he finds himself grown old, alas!
To gird my loins, repent, my path repass,
Sound counsel take, I cannot, now death's near;
Foe to myself, each tear,
Each sigh, is idly to the light wind sent,
For there's no loss to equal time ill-spent.

Ah me, ah me! I wander telling o'er
Past years, and yet in all I cannot view
One day that might be rightly reckoned mine.
Delusive hopes and vain desires entwine
My soul that loves, weeps, burns, and sighs full sore.
Too well I know and prove that this is true,
Since of man's passions none to me are new.
Far from the truth my steps have gone astray,
In peril now I stay,
For, lo! the brief span of my life is o'er.
Yet, were it lengthened, I should love once more.

Ah me! I wander tired, and know not whither:
I fear to sight my goal, the years gone by
Point it too plain; nor will closed eyes avail.
Now Time hath changed and gnawed this mortal veil,
Death and the soul in conflict strive together
About my future fate that looms so nigh.
Unless my judgment greatly goes awry,
Which God in mercy grant, I can but see
Eternal penalty
Waiting my wasted will, my misused mind,
And know not, Lord, where health and hope to find._

After reading these lamentations, it is well to remember that
Michelangelo at times indulged a sense of humour. As examples of his
lighter vein, we might allude to the sonnet on the Sistine and the
capitolo in answer to Francesco Berni, written in the name of Fra
Sebastiano. Sometimes his satire becomes malignant, as in the sonnet
against the people of Pistoja, which breathes the spirit of Dantesque
invective. Sometimes the fierceness of it is turned against himself,
as in the capitolo upon old age and its infirmities. The grotesqueness
of this lurid descant on senility and death is marked by something
rather Teutonic than Italian, a "Danse Macabre" intensity of loathing;
and it winds up with the bitter reflections, peculiar to him in his
latest years, upon the vanity of art. "My much-prized art, on which I
relied and which brought me fame, has now reduced me to this. I am
poor and old, the slave of others. To the dogs I must go, unless I die

A proper conclusion to this chapter may be borrowed from the
peroration of Varchi's discourse upon the philosophical love-poetry of
Michelangelo. This time he chooses for his text the second of those
sonnets (No. lii.) which caused the poet's grand-nephew so much
perplexity, inducing him to alter the word _amici_ in the last line
into _animi_. It runs as follows:--

_I saw no mortal beauty with these eyes
When perfect peace in thy fair eyes I found;
But far within, where all is holy ground,
My soul felt Love, her comrade of the skies:
For she was born with God in Paradise;
Else should we still to transient love be bound;
But, finding these so false, we pass beyond
Unto the Love of loves that never dies.
Nay, things that die cannot assuage the thirst
Of souls undying; nor Eternity
Serves Time, where all must fade that flourisheth
_Sense is not love, but lawlessness accurst:
This kills the soul; while our love lifts on high
Our friends on earth--higher in heaven through death._

"From this sonnet," says Varchi, "I think that any man possessed of
judgment will be able to discern to what extent this angel, or rather
archangel, in addition to his three first and most noble professions
of architecture, sculpture, and painting, wherein without dispute he
not only eclipses all the moderns, but even surpasses the ancients,
proves himself also excellent, nay singular, in poetry, and in the
true art of loving; the which art is neither less fair nor less
difficult, albeit it be more necessary and more profitable than the
other four. Whereof no one ought to wonder: for this reason; that,
over and above what is manifest to everybody, namely that nature,
desirous of exhibiting her utmost power, chose to fashion a complete
man, and (as the Latins say) one furnished in all proper parts; he, in
addition to the gifts of nature, of such sort and so liberally
scattered, added such study and a diligence so great that, even had he
been by birth most rugged, he might through these means have become
consummate in all virtue: and supposing he were born, I do not say in
Florence and of a very noble family, in the time too of Lorenzo the
Magnificent, who recognised, willed, knew, and had the power to
elevate so vast a genius; but in Scythia, of any stock or stem you
like, under some commonplace barbarian chief, a fellow not disdainful
merely, but furiously hostile to all intellectual ability; still, in
all circumstances, under any star, he would have been Michelangelo,
that is to say, the unique painter, the singular sculptor, the most
perfect architect, the most excellent poet, and a lover of the most
divinest. For the which reasons I (it is now many years ago), holding
his name not only in admiration, but also in veneration, before I knew
that he was architect already, made a sonnet; with which (although it
be as much below the supreme greatness of his worth as it is unworthy
of your most refined and chastened ears) I mean to close this present
conference; reserving the discussion on the arts (in obedience to our
Consul's orders) for another lecture.

_Illustrious sculptor, 'twas enough and more,
Not with the chisel-and bruised bronze alone,
But also with brush, colour, pencil, tone,
To rival, nay, surpass that fame of yore.
But now, transcending what those laurels bore
Of pride and beauty for our age and zone.
You climb of poetry the third high throne,
Singing love's strife and-peace, love's sweet and sore.
O wise, and dear to God, old man well born,
Who in so many, so fair ways, make fair
This world, how shall your dues be dully paid?
Doomed by eternal charters to adorn
Nature and art, yourself their mirror are,
None, first before, nor second after, made."_

In the above translation of Varchi's peroration I have endeavoured to
sustain those long-winded periods of which he was so perfect and
professed a master. We must remember that he actually read this
dissertation before the Florentine Academy on the second Sunday in
Lent, in the year 1546, when Michelangelo was still alive and hearty.
He afterwards sent it to the press; and the studied trumpet-tones of
eulogy, conferring upon Michelangelo the quintuple crown of
pre-eminence in painting, sculpture, architecture, poetry, and loving,
sounded from Venice down to Naples. The style of the oration may
strike us as _rococo_ now, but the accent of praise and appreciation
is surely genuine. Varchi's enthusiastic comment on the sonnets xxx,
xxxi, and lii, published to men of letters, taste, and learning in
Florence and all Italy, is the strongest vindication of their
innocence against editors and scholars who in various ways have
attempted to disfigure or to misconstrue them.



The correspondence which I used in the eleventh chapter, while
describing Michelangelo's difficulties regarding the final contract
with the Duke of Urbino, proves that he had not begun to paint the
frescoes of the Cappella Paolina in October 1542. They were carried on
with interruptions during the next seven years. These pictures, the
last on which his talents were employed, are two large subjects: the
Conversion of S. Paul, and the Martyrdom of S. Peter. They have
suffered from smoke and other injuries of time even more than the
frescoes of the Sistine, and can now be scarcely appreciated owing to
discoloration. Nevertheless, at no period, even when fresh from the
master's hand, can they have been typical of his style. It is true
that contemporaries were not of this opinion. Condivi calls both of
them "stupendous not only in the general exposition of the histories
but also in the details of each figure." It is also true that the
technical finish of these large compositions shows a perfect mastery
of painting, and that the great designer has not lost his power of
dealing at will with the human body. But the frigidity of old age had
fallen on his feeling and imagination. The faces of his saints and
angels here are more inexpressive than those of the Last Judgment. The
type of form has become still more rigidly schematic. All those
figures in violent attitudes have been invented in the artist's brain
without reference to nature; and the activity of movement which he
means to suggest, is frozen, petrified, suspended. The suppleness, the
elasticity, the sympathy with which Michelangelo handled the nude,
when he began to paint in the Sistine Chapel, have disappeared. We
cannot refrain from regretting that seven years of his energetic old
age should have been devoted to work so obviously indicative of
decaying faculties.

The Cappella Paolina ran a risk of destruction by fire during the
course of his operations there. Michelangelo wrote to Del Riccio in
1545, reminding him that part of the roof had been consumed, and that
it would be necessary to cover it in roughly at once, since the rain
was damaging the frescoes and weakening the walls. When they were
finished, Paul III. appointed an official guardian with a fixed
salary, whose sole business it should be "to clean the frescoes well
and keep them in a state of cleanliness, free from dust and other
impurities, as also from the smoke of candles lighted in both chapels
during divine service." This man had charge of the Sistine as well as
the Pauline Chapel; but his office does not seem to have been
continued after the death of the Farnese. The first guardian nominated
was Buonarroti's favourite servant Urbino.

Vasari, after describing these frescoes in some detail, but without
his customary enthusiasm, goes on to observe: "Michelangelo attended
only, as I have elsewhere said, to the perfection of art. There are no
landscapes, nor trees, nor houses; nor again do we find in his work
that variety of movement and prettiness which may be noticed in the
pictures of other men. He always neglected such decoration, being
unwilling to lower his lofty genius to these details." This is indeed
true of the arid desert of the Pauline frescoes. Then he adds: "They
were his last productions in painting. He was seventy-five years old
when he carried them to completion; and, as he informed me, he did so
with great effort and fatigue--painting, after a certain age, and
especially fresco-painting, not being in truth fit work for old men."

The first of two acute illnesses, which showed that Michelangelo's
constitution was beginning to give way, happened in the summer of
1544. On this occasion Luigi del Riccio took him into his own
apartments at the Casa Strozzi; and here he nursed him with such
personal devotion that the old man afterwards regarded Del Riccio as
the saviour of his life. We learn this from the following pathetic

_It happens that the sweet unfathomed sea
Of seeming courtesy sometimes doth hide
Offence to life and honour. This descried,
I hold less dear the health restored to me.
He who lends wings of hope, while secretly
He spreads a traitorous snare by the wayside,
Hath dulled the flame of love, and mortified
Friendship where friendship burns most fervently.
Keep then, my dear Luigi, clear and fare,
That ancient love to which my life I owe,
That neither wind nor storm its calm may mar.
For wrath and pain our gratitude obscure;
And if the truest truth of love I know,
One pang outweighs a thousand pleasures far._

Ruberto Strozzi, who was then in France, wrote anxiously inquiring
after his health. In reply, Michelangelo sent Strozzi a singular
message by Luigi del Riccio, to the effect that "if the king of France
restored Florence to liberty, he was ready to make his statue on
horseback out of bronze at his own cost, and set it up in the Piazza."
This throws some light upon a passage in a letter addressed
subsequently to Lionardo Buonarroti, when the tyrannous law, termed
"La Polverina," enacted against malcontents by the Duke Cosimo de'
Medici, was disturbing the minds of Florentine citizens. Michelangelo
then wrote as follows: "I am glad that you gave me news of the edict;
because, if I have been careful up to this date in my conversation
with exiles, I shall take more precautions for the future. As to my
having been laid up with an illness in the house of the Strozzi, I do
not hold that I was in their house, but in the apartment of Messer
Luigi del Riccio, who was my intimate friend; and after the death of
Bartolommeo Angelini, I found no one better able to transact my
affairs, or more faithfully, than he did. When he died, I ceased to
frequent the house, as all Rome can bear me witness; as they can also
with regard to the general tenor of my life, inasmuch as I am always
alone, go little around, and talk to no one, least of all to
Florentines. When I am saluted on the open street, I cannot do less
than respond with fair words and pass upon my way. Had I knowledge of
the exiles, who they are, I would not reply to them in any manner. As
I have said, I shall henceforward protect myself with diligence, the
more that I have so much else to think about that I find it difficult
to live."

This letter of 1548, taken in connection with the circumstances of
Michelangelo's illness in 1544, his exchange of messages with Ruberto
degli Strozzi, his gift of the two Captives to that gentleman, and his
presence in the house of the Strozzi during his recovery, shows the
delicacy of the political situation at Florence under Cosimo's rule.
Slight indications of a reactionary spirit in the aged artist exposed
his family to peril. Living in Rome, Michelangelo risked nothing with
the Florentine government. But "La Polverina" attacked the heirs of
exiles in their property and persons. It was therefore of importance
to establish his non-complicity in revolutionary intrigues. Luckily
for himself and his nephew, he could make out a good case and defend
his conduct. Though Buonarroti's sympathies and sentiments inclined
him to prefer a republic in his native city, and though he threw his
weight into that scale at the crisis of the siege, he did not forget
his early obligations to the House of Medici. Clement VII. accepted
his allegiance when the siege was over, and set him immediately to
work at the tasks he wished him to perform. What is more, the Pope
took pains and trouble to settle the differences between him and the
Duke of Urbino. The man had been no conspirator. The architect and
sculptor was coveted by every pope and prince in Italy. Still there
remained a discord between his political instincts, however prudently
and privately indulged, and his sense of personal loyalty to the
family at whose board he sat in youth, and to whom he owed his
advancement in life. Accordingly, we shall find that, though the Duke
of Tuscany made advances to win him back to Florence, Michelangelo
always preferred to live and die on neutral ground in Rome. Like the
wise man that he was, he seems to have felt through these troublous
times that his own duty, the service laid on him by God and nature,
was to keep his force and mental faculties for art; obliging old
patrons in all kindly offices, suppressing republican aspirations--in
one word, "sticking to his last," and steering clear of shoals on
which the main raft of his life might founder.

From this digression, which was needful to explain his attitude toward
Florence and part of his psychology, I return to the incidents of
Michelangelo's illness at Rome in 1544. Lionardo, having news of his
uncle's danger, came post-haste to Rome. This was his simple duty, as
a loving relative. But the old man, rendered suspicious by previous
transactions with his family, did not take the action in its proper
light. We have a letter, indorsed by Lionardo in Rome as received upon
the 11th of July, to this effect: "Lionardo, I have been ill; and you,
at the instance of Ser Giovan Francesco (probably Fattucci), have come
to make me dead, and to see what I have left. Is there not enough of
mine at Florence to content you? You cannot deny that you are the
image of your father, who turned me out of my own house in Florence.
Know that I have made a will of such tenor that you need not trouble
your head about what I possess at Rome. Go then with God, and do not
present yourself before me; and do not write to me again, and act like
the priest in the fable."

The correspondence between uncle and nephew during the next months
proves that this furious letter wrought no diminution of mutual regard
and affection. Before the end of the year he must have recovered, for
we find him writing to Del Riccio: "I am well again now, and hope to
live yet some years, seeing that God has placed my health under the
care of Maestro Baccio Rontini and the trebbian wine of the Ulivieri."
This letter is referred to January 1545, and on the 9th of that month
he dictated a letter to his friend Del Riccio, in which he tells
Lionardo Buonarroti: "I do not feel well, and cannot write.
Nevertheless I have recovered from my illness, and suffer no pain
now." We have reason to think that Michelangelo fell gravely ill again
toward the close of 1545. News came to Florence that he was dying; and
Lionardo, not intimidated by his experience on the last occasion, set
out to visit him. His _ricordo_ of the journey was as follows: "I note
how on the 15th of January 1545 (Flor. style, _i.e._ 1546) I went to
Rome by post to see Michelangelo, who was ill, and returned to-day,
the 26th."

It is not quite easy to separate the records of these two acute
illnesses of Michelangelo, falling between the summer of 1544 and the
early spring of 1546. Still, there is no doubt that they signalised
his passage from robust old age into a period of physical decline.
Much of life survived in the hero yet; he had still to mould S.
Peter's after his own mind, and to invent the cupola. Intellectually
he suffered no diminution, but he became subject to a chronic disease
of the bladder, and adopted habits suited to decaying faculty.


We have seen that Michelangelo regarded Luigi del Riccio as his most
trusty friend and adviser. The letters which he wrote to him during
these years turn mainly upon business or poetical compositions. Some,
however, throw light upon the private life of both men, and on the
nature of their intimacy. I will select a few for special comment
here. The following has no date; but it is interesting, because we may
connect the feeling expressed in it with one of Michelangelo's
familiar sonnets. "Dear Messer Luigi, since I know you are as great a
master of ceremonies as I am unfit for that trade, I beg you to help
me in a little matter. Monsignor di Todi (Federigo Cesi, afterwards
Cardinal of S. Pancrazio) has made me a present, which Urbino will
describe to you. I think you are a friend of his lordship: will you
then thank him in my name, when you find a suitable occasion, and do
so with those compliments which come easily to you, and to me are very
hard? Make me too your debtor for some tartlet."

The sonnet is No. ix of Signor Guasti's edition. I have translated it

_The sugar, candles, and the saddled mule,
Together with your cask of malvoisie,
So far exceed all my necessity
That Michael and not I my debt must rule.
In such a glassy calm the breezes fool
My sinking sails, so that amid the sea
My bark hath missed her way, and seems to be
A wisp of straw whirled on a weltering pool.
To yield thee gift for gift and grace for grace,
For food and drink and carriage to and fro,
For all my need in every time and place,
O my dear lord, matched with the much I owe,
All that I am were no real recompense:
Paying a debt is not munificence._

In the chapter upon Michelangelo's poetry I dwelt at length upon Luigi
del Riccio's passionate affection for his cousin, Cecchino dei Bracci.
This youth died at the age of sixteen, on January 8, 1545.
Michelangelo undertook to design "the modest sepulchre of marble"
erected to his memory by Del Riccio in the church of Araceli. He also
began to write sonnets, madrigals, and epitaphs, which were sent from
day to day. One of his letters gives an explanation of the eighth
epitaph: "Our dead friend speaks and says: if the heavens robbed all
beauty from all other men on earth to make me only, as indeed they
made me, beautiful; and if by the divine decree I must return at
doomsday to the shape I bore in life, it follows that I cannot give
back the beauty robbed from others and bestowed on me, but that I must
remain for ever more beautiful than the rest, and they be ugly. This
is just the opposite of the conceit you expressed to me yesterday; the
one is a fable, the other is the truth."

Some time in 1545 Luigi went to Lyons on a visit to Ruberto Strozzi
and Giuliano de' Medici. This seems to have happened toward the end of
the year; for we possess a letter indorsed by him, "sent to Lyons, and
returned upon the 22nd of December." This document contains several
interesting details. "All your friends are extremely grieved to hear
about your illness, the more so that we cannot help you; especially
Messer Donato (Giannotti) and myself. However, we hope that it may
turn out to be no serious affair, God willing. In another letter I
told you that, if you stayed away long, I meant to come to see you.
This I repeat; for now that I have lost the Piacenza ferry, and cannot
live at Rome without income, I would rather spend the little that I
have in hostelries, than crawl about here, cramped up like a penniless
cripple. So, if nothing happens, I have a mind to go to S. James of
Compostella after Easter; and if you have not returned, I should like
to travel through any place where I shall hear that you are staying.
Urbino has spoken to Messer Aurelio, and will speak again. From what
he tells me, I think that you will get the site you wanted for the
tomb of Cecchino. It is nearly finished, and will turn out handsome."

Michelangelo's project of going upon pilgrimage to Galicia shows that
his health was then good. But we know that he soon afterwards had
another serious illness; and the scheme was abandoned.

This long and close friendship with Luigi comes to a sudden
termination in one of those stormy outbursts of petulant rage which
form a special feature of Michelangelo's psychology. Some angry words
passed between them about an engraving, possibly of the Last Judgment,
which Buonarroti wanted to destroy, while Del Riccio refused to
obliterate the plate:--

"Messer Luigi,--You seem to think I shall reply according to your
wishes, when the case is quite the contrary. You give me what I have
refused, and refuse me what I begged. And it is not ignorance which
makes you send it me through Ercole, when you are ashamed to give it
me yourself. One who saved my life has certainly the power to
disgrace me; but I do not know which is the heavier to bear, disgrace
or death. Therefore I beg and entreat you, by the true friendship
which exists between us, to spoil that print (_stampa_), and to burn
the copies that are already printed off. And if you choose to buy and
sell me, do not so to others. If you hack me into a thousand pieces, I
will do the same, not indeed to yourself, but to what belongs to you.

"Michelangelo Buonarroti.

"Not painter, nor sculptor, nor architect, but what you will, but not
a drunkard, as you said at your house."

Unfortunately, this is the last of the Del Riccio's letters. It is
very probable that the irascible artist speedily recovered his usual
tone, and returned to amity with his old friend. But Del Riccio
departed this life toward the close of this year, 1546.

Before resuming the narrative of Michelangelo's art-work at this
period, I must refer to the correspondence which passed between him
and King Francis I. The King wrote an epistle in the spring of 1546,
requesting some fine monument from the illustrious master's hand.
Michelangelo replied upon the 26th of April, in language of simple and
respectful dignity, fine, as coming from an aged artist to a monarch
on the eve of death:--

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