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The Life of Michelangelo Buonarroti by John Addington Symonds

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"Sacred Majesty,--I know not which is greater, the favour, or the
astonishment it stirs in me, that your Majesty should have deigned to
write to a man of my sort, and still more to ask him for things of his
which are all unworthy of the name of your Majesty. But be they what
they may, I beg your Majesty to know that for a long while since I
have desired to serve you; but not having had an opportunity, owing to
your not being in Italy, I have been unable to do so. Now I am old,
and have been occupied these many months with the affairs of Pope
Paul. But if some space of time is still granted to me after these
engagements, I will do my utmost to fulfil the desire which, as I have
said above, has long inspired me: that is, to make for your Majesty
one work in marble, one in bronze, and one in painting. And if death
prevents my carrying out this wish, should it be possible to make
statues or pictures in the other world, I shall not fail to do so
there, where there is no more growing old. And I pray God that He
grant your Majesty a long and a happy life."

Francis died in 1547; and we do not know that any of Michelangelo's
works passed directly into his hands, with the exception of the Leda,
purchased through the agency of Luigi Alamanni, and the two Captives,
presented by Ruberto Strozzi.


The absorbing tasks imposed upon Buonarroti's energies by Paul III.,
which are mentioned in this epistle to the French king, were not
merely the frescoes of the Cappella Paolina, but also various
architectural and engineering schemes of some importance. It is clear,
I think, that at this period of his hale old age, Michelangelo
preferred to use what still survived in him of vigour and creative
genius for things requiring calculation, or the exercise of meditative
fancy. The time had gone by when he could wield the brush and chisel
with effective force. He was tired of expressing his sense of beauty
and the deep thoughts of his brain in sculptured marble or on frescoed
surfaces. He had exhausted the human form as a symbol of artistic
utterance. But the extraordinary richness of his vein enabled him
still to deal with abstract mathematical proportions in the art of
building, and with rhythms in the art of writing. His best work, both
as architect and poet, belongs to the period when he had lost power as
sculptor and painter. This fact is psychologically interesting. Up to
the age of seventy, he had been working in the plastic and the
concrete. The language he had learned, and used with overwhelming
mastery, was man: physical mankind, converted into spiritual vehicle
by art. His grasp upon this region failed him now. Perhaps there was
not the old sympathy with lovely shapes. Perhaps he knew that he had
played on every gamut of that lyre. Emerging from the sphere of the
sensuous, where ideas take plastic embodiment, he grappled in this
final stage of his career with harmonical ratios and direct verbal
expression, where ideas are disengaged from figurative form. The men
and women, loved by him so long, so wonderfully wrought into
imperishable shapes, "nurslings of immortality," recede. In their room
arise, above the horizon of his intellect, the cupola of S. Peter's
and a few imperishable poems, which will live as long as Italian
claims a place among the languages. There is no comparison to be
instituted between his actual achievements as a builder and a
versifier. The whole tenor of his life made him more competent to deal
with architecture than with literature. Nevertheless, it is
significant that the versatile genius of the man was henceforth
restricted to these two channels of expression, and that in both of
them his last twenty years of existence produced bloom and fruit of
unexpected rarity.

After writing this paragraph, and before I engage in the narrative of
what is certainly the final manifestation of Michelangelo's genius as
a creative artist, I ought perhaps to pause, and to give some account
of those survivals from his plastic impulse, which occupied the old
man's energies for several years. They were entirely the outcome of
religious feeling; and it is curious to notice that he never
approached so nearly to true Christian sentiment as in the fragmentary
designs which we may still abundantly collect from this late autumn of
his artist's life. There are countless drawings for some great picture
of the Crucifixion, which was never finished: exquisite in delicacy of
touch, sublime in conception, dignified in breadth and grand repose of
style. Condivi tells us that some of these were made for the
Marchioness of Pescara. But Michelangelo must have gone on producing
them long after her death. With these phantoms of stupendous works to
be, the Museums of Europe abound. We cannot bring them together, or
condense them into a single centralised conception. Their interest
consists in their divergence and variety, showing the continuous
poring of the master's mind upon a theme he could not definitely
grasp. For those who love his work, and are in sympathy with his
manner, these drawings, mostly in chalk, and very finely handled, have
a supreme interest. They show him, in one sense, at his highest and
his best, not only as a man of tender feeling, but also as a mighty
draughtsman. Their incompleteness testifies to something pathetic--the
humility of the imperious man before a theme he found to be beyond the
reach of human faculty.

The tone, the _Stimmung_, of these designs corresponds so exactly to
the sonnets of the same late period, that I feel impelled at this
point to make his poetry take up the tale. But, as I cannot bring the
cloud of witnesses of all those drawings into this small book, so am I
unwilling to load its pages with poems which may be found elsewhere.
Those who care to learn the heart of Michelangelo, when he felt near
to God and face to face with death, will easily find access to the

Concerning the Deposition from the Cross, which now stands behind the
high altar of the Florentine Duomo, Condivi writes as follows: "At the
present time he has in hand a work in marble, which he carries on for
his pleasure, as being one who, teeming with conceptions, must needs
give birth each day to some of them. It is a group of four figures
larger than life. A Christ taken from the cross, sustained in death by
his Mother, who is represented in an attitude of marvellous pathos,
leaning up against the corpse with breast, with arms, and lifted knee.
Nicodemus from above assists her, standing erect and firmly planted,
propping the dead Christ with a sturdy effort; while one of the
Maries, on the left side, though plunged in sorrow, does all she can
to assist the afflicted Mother, failing under the attempt to raise her
Son. It would be quite impossible to describe the beauty of style
displayed in this group, or the sublime emotions expressed in those
woe-stricken countenances. I am confident that the Pieta is one of his
rarest and most difficult masterpieces; particularly because the
figures are kept apart distinctly, nor does the drapery of the one
intermingle with that of the others."

This panegyric is by no means pitched too high. Justice has hardly
been done in recent times to the noble conception, the intense
feeling, and the broad manner of this Deposition. That may be due in
part to the dull twilight in which the group is plunged, depriving all
its lines of salience and relief. It is also true that in certain
respects the composition is fairly open to adverse criticism. The
torso of Christ overweighs the total scheme; and his legs are
unnaturally attenuated. The kneeling woman on the left side is
slender, and appears too small in proportion to the other figures;
though, if she stood erect, it is probable that her height would be

The best way to study Michelangelo's last work in marble is to take
the admirable photograph produced under artificial illumination by
Alinari. No sympathetic mind will fail to feel that we are in
immediate contact with the sculptor's very soul, at the close of his
life, when all his thoughts were weaned from earthly beauty, and he

Painting nor sculpture now can lull to rest
My soul, that turns to his great love on high,
Whose arms to clasp us on the cross were spread.

As a French critic has observed: "It is the most intimately personal
and the most pathetic of his works. The idea of penitence exhales from
it. The marble preaches the sufferings of the Passion; it makes us
listen to an act of bitter contrition and an act of sorrowing love."

Michelangelo is said to have designed the Pieta for his own monument.
In the person of Nicodemus, it is he who sustains his dead Lord in the
gloom of the sombre Duomo. His old sad face, surrounded by the heavy
cowl, looks down for ever with a tenderness beyond expression,
repeating mutely through the years how much of anguish and of blood
divine the redemption of man's soul hath cost.

The history of this great poem in marble, abandoned by its maker in
some mood of deep dejection, is not without interest. We are told that
the stone selected was a capital from one of the eight huge columns of
the Temple of Peace. Besides being hard and difficult to handle, the
material betrayed flaws in working. This circumstance annoyed the
master; also, as he informed Vasari, Urbino kept continually urging
him to finish it. One of his reasons for attacking the block had been
to keep himself in health by exercise. Accordingly he hewed away with
fury, and bit so deep into the marble that he injured one of the
Madonna's elbows. When this happened, it was his invariable practice
to abandon the piece he had begun upon, feeling that an incomplete
performance was preferable to a lame conclusion. In his old age he
suffered from sleeplessness; and it was his habit to rise from bed and
work upon the Pieta, wearing a thick paper cap, in which he placed a
lighted candle made of goat's tallow. This method of chiselling by the
light of one candle must have complicated the technical difficulties
of his labour. But what we may perhaps surmise to have been his final
motive for the rejection of the work, was a sense of his inability,
with diminished powers of execution, and a still more vivid sense of
the importance of the motive, to accomplish what the brain conceived.
The hand failed. The imagination of the subject grew more intimate and
energetic. Losing patience then at last, he took a hammer and began to
break the group up. Indeed, the right arm of the Mary shows a
fracture. The left arm of the Christ is mutilated in several places.
One of the nipples has been repaired, and the hand of the Madonna
resting on the breast above it is cracked across. It would have been
difficult to reduce the whole huge block to fragments; and when the
work of destruction had advanced so far, Michelangelo's servant
Antonio, the successor to Urbino, begged the remnants from his master.
Tiberio Calcagni was a good friend of Buonarroti's at this time. He
heard that Francesco Bandini, a Florentine settled in exile at Rome,
earnestly desired some relic of the master's work. Accordingly,
Calgagni, with Michelangelo's consent, bought the broken marble from
Antonio for 200 crowns, pieced it together, and began to mend it.
Fortunately, he does not seem to have elaborated the surface in any
important particular; for both the finished and unfinished parts bear
indubitable marks of Michelangelo's own handling. After the death of
Calcagni and Bandini, the Pieta remained for some time in the garden
of Antonio, Bandini's heir, at Montecavallo. It was transferred to
Florence, and placed among the marbles used in erecting the new
Medicean Chapel, until at last, in 1722, the Grand Duke Cosimo III.
finally set it up behind the altar of the Duomo.

Vasari adds that Michelangelo began another Pieta in marble on a much
smaller scale. It is possible that this may have been the unfinished
group of two figures (a dead Christ sustained by a bending man), of
which there is a cast in the Accademia at Florence. In some respects
the composition of this fragment bears a strong resemblance to the
puzzling Deposition from the Cross in our National Gallery. The
trailing languor of the dead Christ's limbs is almost identical in the
marble and the painting.

While speaking of these several Pietas, I must not forget the
medallion in high relief of the Madonna clasping her dead Son, which
adorns the Albergo dei Poveri at Genoa. It is ascribed to
Michelangelo, was early believed to be his, and is still accepted
without hesitation by competent judges. In spite of its strongly
marked Michelangelesque mannerism, both as regards feeling, facial
type, and design, I cannot regard the bas-relief, in its present
condition at least, as a genuine work, but rather as the production of
some imitator, or the _rifacimento_ of a restorer. A similar
impression may here be recorded regarding the noble portrait-bust in
marble of Pope Paul III. at Naples. This too has been attributed to
Michelangelo. But there is no external evidence to support the
tradition, while the internal evidence from style and technical
manipulation weighs strongly against it. The medallions introduced
upon the heavily embroidered cope are not in his style. The treatment
of the adolescent female form in particular indicates a different
temperament. Were the ascription made to Benvenuto Cellini, we might
have more easily accepted it. But Cellini would certainly have
enlarged upon so important a piece of sculpture in his Memoirs. If
then we are left to mere conjecture, it would be convenient to suggest
Guglielmo della Porta, who executed the Farnese monument in S.


While still a Cardinal, Paul III. began to rebuild the old palace of
the Farnesi on the Tiber shore. It closes one end of the great open
space called the Campo di Fiore, and stands opposite to the Villa
Farnesina, on the right bank of the river. Antonio da Sangallo was the
architect employed upon this work, which advanced slowly until
Alessandro Farnese's elevation to the Papacy. He then determined to
push the building forward, and to complete it on a scale of
magnificence befitting the supreme Pontiff. Sangallo had carried the
walls up to the second story. The third remained to be accomplished,
and the cornice had to be constructed. Paul was not satisfied with
Sangallo's design, and referred it to Michelangelo for criticism
--possibly in 1544. The result was a report, which we still
possess, in which Buonarroti, basing his opinion on principles derived
from Vitruvius, severely blames Sangallo's plan under six separate
heads. He does not leave a single merit, as regards either harmony of
proportion, or purity of style, or elegance of composition, or
practical convenience, or decorative beauty, or distribution of parts.
He calls the cornice barbarous, confused, bastard in style, discordant
with the rest of the building, and so ill suited to the palace as, if
carried out, to threaten the walls with destruction. This document has
considerable interest, partly as illustrating Michelangelo's views on
architecture in general, and displaying a pedantry of which he was
never elsewhere guilty, partly as explaining the bitter hostility
aroused against him in Sangallo and the whole tribe of that great
architect's adherents. We do not, unfortunately, possess the design
upon which the report was made. But, even granting that it must have
been defective, Michelangelo, who professed that architecture was not
his art, might, one thinks, have spared his rival such extremity of
adverse criticism. It exposed him to the taunts of rivals and
ill-wishers; justified them in calling him presumptuous, and gave them
a plausible excuse when they accused him of jealousy. What made it
worse was, that his own large building, the Laurentian Library,
glaringly exhibits all the defects he discovered in Sangallo's

I find it difficult to resist the impression that Michelangelo was
responsible, to a large extent, for the ill-will of those artists whom
Vasari calls "la setta Sangallesca." His life became embittered by
their animosity, and his industry as Papal architect continued to be
hampered for many years by their intrigues. But he alone was to blame
at the beginning, not so much for expressing an honest opinion, as for
doing so with insulting severity.

That Michelangelo may have been right in his condemnation of
Sangallo's cornice is of course possible. Paul himself was
dissatisfied, and eventually threw that portion of the building open
to competition. Perino del Vaga, Sebastiano del Piombo, and the young
Giorgio Vasari are said to have furnished designs. Michelangelo did so
also; and his plan was not only accepted, but eventually carried out.
Nevertheless Sangallo, one of the most illustrious professional
architects then alive, could not but have felt deeply wounded by the
treatment he received. It was natural for his followers to exclaim
that Buonarroti had contrived to oust their aged master, and to get a
valuable commission into his own grasp, by the discourteous exercise
of his commanding prestige in the world of art.

In order to be just to Michelangelo, we must remember that he was
always singularly modest in regard to his own performances, and severe
in self-criticism. Neither in his letters nor in his poems does a
single word of self-complacency escape his pen. He sincerely felt
himself to be an unprofitable servant: that was part of his
constitutional depression. We know, too, that he allowed strong
temporary feelings to control his utterance. The cruel criticism of
Sangallo may therefore have been quite devoid of malice; and if it was
as well founded as the criticism of that builder's plan for S.
Peter's, then Michelangelo stands acquitted. Sangallo's model exists;
it is so large that you can walk inside it, and compare your own
impressions with the following judgment:--

"It cannot be denied that Bramante's talent as an architect was equal
to that of any one from the times of the ancients until now. He laid
the first plan of S. Peter, not confused, but clear and simple, full
of light and detached from surrounding buildings, so that it
interfered with no part of the palace. It was considered a very fine
design, and indeed any one can see now that it is so. All the
architects who departed from Bramante's scheme, as Sangallo has done,
have departed from the truth; and those who have unprejudiced eyes can
observe this in his model. Sangallo's ring of chapels takes light from
the interior as Bramante planned it; and not only this, but he has
provided no other means of lighting, and there are so many
hiding-places, above and below, all dark, which lend themselves to
innumerable knaveries, that the church would become a secret den for
harbouring bandits, false coiners, for debauching nuns, and doing all
sorts of rascality; and when it was shut up at night, twenty-five men
would be needed to search the building for rogues hidden there, and it
would be difficult enough to find them. There is, besides, another
inconvenience: the interior circle of buildings added to Bramante's
plan would necessitate the destruction of the Paoline Chapel, the
offices of the Piombo and the Ruota, and more besides. I do not think
that even the Sistine would escape."

After this Michelangelo adds that to remove the out-works and
foundations begun upon Sangallo's plan would not cost 100,000 crowns,
as the sect alleged, but only 16,000, The material would be infinitely
useful, the foundations important for the building, and the whole
fabric would profit in something like 200,000 crowns and 300 years of
time. "This is my dispassionate opinion; and I say this in truth, for
to gain a victory here would be my own incalculable loss."
Michelangelo means that, at the time when he wrote the letter in
question, it was still in doubt whether Sangallo's design should be
carried out or his own adopted; and, as usual, he looked forward with
dread to undertaking a colossal architectural task.


Returning to the Palazzo Farnese, it only remains to be said that
Michelangelo lived to complete the edifice. His genius was responsible
for the inharmonious window above the main entrance. According to
Vasari, he not only finished the exterior from the second story
upwards, but designed the whole of the central courtyard above the
first story, "making it the finest thing of its sort in Europe." The
interior, with the halls painted by Annibale Caracci, owed its
disposition into chambers and galleries to his invention. The cornice
has always been reckoned among his indubitable successes, combining as
it does salience and audacity with a grand heroic air of grace. It has
been criticised for disproportionate projection; and Michelangelo
seems to have felt uneasy on this score, since he caused a wooden
model of the right size to be made and placed upon the wall, in order
to judge of its effect.

Taken as a whole, the Palazzo Farnese remains the most splendid of the
noble Roman houses, surpassing all the rest in pomp and pride, though
falling short of Peruzzi's Palazzo Massimo in beauty.

The catastrophe of 1527, when Rome was taken by assault on the side of
the Borgo without effective resistance being possible, rendered the
fortification of the city absolutely necessary. Paul III determined to
secure a position of such vital importance to the Vatican by bastions.
Accordingly he convened a diet of notables, including his
architect-in-chief, Antonio da Sangallo. He also wished to profit by
Michelangelo's experience, remembering the stout resistance offered to
the Prince of Orange by his outworks at S. Miniato. Vasari tells an
anecdote regarding this meeting which illustrates the mutual bad
feeling of the two illustrious artists. "After much discussion, the
opinion of Buonarroti was requested. He had conceived views widely
differing on those of Sangallo and several others, and these he
expressed frankly. Whereupon Sangallo told him that sculpture and
painting were his trade, not fortification. He replied that about them
he knew but little, whereas the anxious thought he had given to city
defences, the time he had spent, and the experience he had practically
gained in constructing them, made him superior in that art to Sangallo
and all the masters of his family. He proceeded to point out before
all present numerous errors in the works. Heated words passed on both
sides, and the Pope had to reduce the men to silence. Before long he
brought a plan for the fortification of the whole Borgo, which opened
the eyes of those in power to the scheme which was finally adopted.
Owing to changes he suggested, the great gate of Santo Spirito,
designed by Sangallo and nearly finished, was left incomplete."

It is not clear what changes were introduced into Sangallo's scheme.
They certainly involved drawing the line of defence much closer to the
city than he intended. This approved itself to Pier Luigi Farnese,
then Duke of Castro, who presided over the meetings of the military
committee. It was customary in carrying out the works of fortification
to associate a practical engineer with the architect who provided
designs; and one of these men, Gian Francesco Montemellino, a trusted
servant of the Farnesi, strongly supported the alteration. That
Michelangelo agreed with Montemellino, and felt that they could work
together, appears from a letter addressed to the Castellano of S.
Angelo. It seems to have been written soon after the dispute recorded
by Vasari. In it he states, that although he differs in many respects
from the persons who had hitherto controlled the works, yet he thinks
it better not to abandon them altogether, but to correct them, alter
the superintendence, and put Montemellino at the head of the
direction. This would prevent the Pope from becoming disgusted with
such frequent changes. "If affairs took the course he indicated, he
was ready to offer his assistance, not in the capacity of colleague,
but as a servant to command in all things." Nothing is here said
openly about Sangallo, who remained architect-in-chief until his
death. Still the covert wish expressed that the superintendence might
be altered, shows a spirit of hostility against him; and a new plan
for the lines must soon have been adopted. A despatch written to the
Duke of Parma in September 1545 informs him that the old works were
being abandoned, with the exception of the grand Doric gateway of S.
Spirito. This is described at some length in another despatch of
January 1546. Later on, in 1557, we find Michelangelo working as
architect-in-chief with Jacopo Meleghino under his direction, but the
fortifications were eventually carried through by a more competent
engineer, one Jacopo Fusto Castriotto of Urbino.


Antonio da Sangallo died on October 3, 1546, at Terni, while engaged
in engineering works intended to drain the Lake Velino. Michelangelo
immediately succeeded to the offices and employments he had held at
Rome. Of these, the most important was the post of architect-in-chief
at S. Peter's. Paul III. conferred it upon him for life by a brief
dated January 1, 1547. He is there named "commissary, prefect,
surveyor of the works, and architect, with full authority to change
the model, form, and structure of the church at pleasure, and to
dismiss and remove the working-men and foremen employed upon the
same." The Pope intended to attach a special stipend to the onerous
charge, but Michelangelo declined this honorarium, declaring that he
meant to labour without recompense, for the love of God and the
reverence he felt for the Prince of the Apostles. Although he might
have had money for the asking, and sums were actually sent as presents
by his Papal master, he persisted in this resolution, working steadily
at S. Peter's without pay, until death gave him rest.

Michelangelo's career as servant to a Pope began with the design of
that tomb which led Julius II. to destroy the old S. Peter's. He was
now entering, after forty-two years, upon the last stage of his long
life. Before the end came, he gave final form to the main features of
the great basilica, raising the dome which dominates the Roman
landscape like a stationary cloud upon the sky-line. What had happened
to the edifice in the interval between 1505 and 1547 must be briefly
narrated, although it is not within the scope of this work to give a
complete history of the building.

Bramante's original design had been to construct the church in the
form of a Greek cross, with four large semi-circular apses. The four
angles made by the projecting arms of the cross were to be filled in
with a complex but well-ordered scheme of shrines and chapels, so that
externally the edifice would have presented the aspect of a square.
The central piers, at the point of junction between the arms of the
cross, supported a broad shallow dome, modelled upon that of the
Pantheon. Similar domes of lesser dimensions crowned the
out-buildings. He began by erecting the piers which were intended to
support the central dome; but working hastily and without due regard
to solid strength, Bramante made these piers too weak to sustain the
ponderous mass they had to carry. How he would have rectified this
error cannot be conjectured. Death cut his labours short in 1514, and
only a small portion of his work remains embedded at the present day
within the mightier masses raised beneath Buonarroti's cupola.

Leo X. commissioned Raffaello da Urbino to continue his kinsman's
work, and appointed Antonio da Sangallo to assist him in the month of
January 1517. Whether it was judged impossible to carry out Bramante's
project of the central dome, or for some other reason unknown to us,
Raffaello altered the plan so essentially as to design a basilica upon
the conventional ground-plan of such churches. He abandoned the Greek
cross, and adopted the Latin form by adding an elongated nave. The
central piers were left in their places; the three terminal apses of
the choir and transepts were strengthened, simplified, reduced to
commonplace. Bramante's ground-plan is lucid, luminous, and
exquisitely ordered in its intricacy. The true creation of a
builder-poet's brain, it illustrates Leo Battista Alberti's definition
of the charm of architecture, _tutta quella musica_, that melody and
music of a graceful edifice. We are able to understand what
Michelangelo meant when he remarked that all subsequent designers, by
departing from it, had gone wrong. Raffaello's plan, if carried out,
would have been monotonous and tame inside and out.

After the death of Raffaello in 1520, Baldassare Peruzzi was appointed
to be Sangallo's colleague. This genial architect, in whose style all
the graces were combined with dignity and strength, prepared a new
design at Leo's request. Vasari, referring to this period of Peruzzi's
life, says: "The Pope, thinking Bramante's scheme too large and not
likely to be in keeping, obtained a new model from Baldassare;
magnificent and truly full of fine invention, also so wisely
constructed that certain portions have been adopted by subsequent
builders." He reverted to Bramante's main conception of the Greek
cross, but altered the details in so many important points, both by
thickening the piers and walls, and also by complicating the internal
disposition of the chapels, that the effect would have been quite
different. The ground-plan, which is all I know of Peruzzi's project,
has always seemed to me by far the most beautiful and interesting of
those laid down for S. Peter's. It is richer, more imaginative and
suggestive, than Bramante's. The style of Bramante, in spite of its
serene simplicity, had something which might be described as shallow
clearness. In comparison with Peruzzi's style, it is what Gluck's
melody is to Mozart's. The course of public events prevented this
scheme from being carried out. First came the pontificate of Adrian
VI., so sluggish in art-industry; then the pontificate of Clement
VII., so disastrous for Italy and Rome. Many years elapsed before art
and literature recovered from the terror and the torpor of 1527.
Peruzzi indeed returned to his office at S. Peter's in 1535, but his
death followed in 1537, when Antonio da Sangallo remained master of
the situation.

Sangallo had the good sense to preserve many of Peruzzi's constructive
features, especially in the apses of the choir and transepts; but he
added a vast vestibule, which gave the church a length equal to that
of Raffaello's plan. Externally, he designed a lofty central cupola
and two flanking spires, curiously combining the Gothic spirit with
Classical elements of style. In order to fill in the huge spaces of
this edifice, he superimposed tiers of orders one above the other.
Church, cupola, and spires are built up by a succession of Vitruvian
temples, ascending from the ground into the air. The total impression
produced by the mass, as we behold it now in the great wooden model at
S. Peter's, is one of bewildering complexity. Of architectural repose
it possesses little, except what belongs to a very original and vast
conception on a colossal scale. The extent of the structure is
frittered by its multiplicity of parts. Internally, as Michelangelo
pointed out, the church would have been dark, inconvenient, and
dangerous to public morals.


Whatever we may think of Michelangelo's failings as an architect,
there is no doubt that at this period of his life he aimed at
something broad and heroic in style. He sought to attain grandeur by
greatness in the masses and by economy of the constituent parts. His
method of securing amplitude was exactly opposite to that of Sangallo,
who relied upon the multiplication rather than the simplification of
details. A kind of organic unity was what Michelangelo desired. For
this reason, he employed in the construction of S. Peter's those
stupendous orders which out-soar the columns of Baalbec, and those
grandiose curves which make the cupola majestic. A letter written to
the Cardinal Ridolfo Pio of Carpi contains this explanation of his
principles. The last two sentences are highly significant:--

"Most Reverend Monsignor,--If a plan has divers parts, those which are
of one type in respect to quality and quantity have to be decorated in
the same way and the same fashion. The like is true of their
counterparts. But when the plan changes form entirely, it is not only
allowable, but necessary, to change the decorative appurtenances, as
also with their counterparts. The intermediate parts are always free,
left to their own bent. The nose, which stands in the middle of the
forehead, is not bound to correspond with either of the eyes; but one
hand must balance the other, and one eye be like its fellow. Therefore
it may be assumed as certain that the members of an architectural
structure follow the laws exemplified in the human body. He who has
not been or is not a good master of the nude, and especially of
anatomy, cannot understand the principles of architecture."

It followed that Michelangelo's first object, when he became Papal
architect-in-chief, was to introduce order into the anarchy of
previous plans, and to return, so far as this was now possible, to
Bramante's simpler scheme. He adopted the Greek cross, and substituted
a stately portico for the long vestibule invented by Sangallo. It was
not, however, in his nature, nor did the changed taste of the times
permit him to reproduce Bramante's manner. So far as S. Peter's bears
the mark of Michelangelo at all, it represents his own peculiar
genius. "The Pope," says Vasari, "approved his model, which reduced
the cathedral to smaller dimensions, but also to a more essential
greatness. He discovered that four principal piers, erected by
Bramante and left standing by Antonio da Sangallo, which had to bear
the weight of the tribune, were feeble. These he fortified in part,
constructing two winding staircases at the side, with gently sloping
steps, up which beasts of burden ascend with building material, and
one can ride on horseback to the level above the arches. He carried
the first cornice, made of travertine, round the arches: a wonderful
piece of work, full of grace, and very different from the others; nor
could anything be better done in its kind. He began the two great
apses of the transept; and whereas Bramante Raffaello, and Peruzzi had
designed eight tabernacles toward the Campo Santo, which arrangement
Sangallo adhered to, he reduced them to three, with three chapels
inside. Suffice it to say that he began at once to work with diligence
and accuracy at all points where the edifice required alteration; to
the end that its main features might be fixed, and that no one might
be able to change what he had planned." Vasari adds that this was the
provision of a wise and prudent mind. So it was; but it did not
prevent Michelangelo's successors from defeating his intentions in
almost every detail, except the general effect of the cupola. This
will appear in the sequel.

Antonio da Sangallo had controlled the building of S. Peter's for
nearly thirty years before Michelangelo succeeded to his office.
During that long space of time he formed a body of architects and
workmen who were attached to his person and interested in the
execution of his plans. There is good reason to believe that in
Sangallo's days, as earlier in Bramante's, much money of the Church
had been misappropriated by a gang of fraudulent and mutually
indulgent craftsmen. It was not to be expected that these people
should tamely submit to the intruder who put their master's cherished
model on the shelf, and set about, in his high-handed way, to
refashion the whole building from the bottom to the top. During
Sangallo's lifetime no love had been lost between him and Buonarroti,
and after his death it is probable that the latter dealt severely with
the creatures of his predecessor. The Pope had given him unlimited
powers of appointing and dismissing subordinates, controlling
operations, and regulating expenditure. He was a man who abhorred jobs
and corruption. A letter written near the close of his life, when he
was dealing only with persons nominated by himself, proves this. He
addressed the Superintendents of the Fabric of S. Peter's as follows:
"You know that I told Balduccio not to send his lime unless it were
good. He has sent bad quality, and does not seem to think he will be
forced to take it back; which proves that he is in collusion with the
person who accepted it. This gives great encouragement to the men I
have dismissed for similar transactions. One who accepts bad goods
needed for the fabric, when I have forbidden them, is doing nothing
else but making friends of people whom I have turned into enemies
against myself. I believe there will be a new conspiracy. Promises,
fees, presents, corrupt justice. Therefore I beg you from this time
forward, by the authority I hold from the Pope, not to accept anything
which is not suitable, even though it comes to you from heaven. I must
not be made to appear, what I am not, partial in my dealings." This
fiery despatch, indicating not only Michelangelo's probity, but also
his attention to minute details at the advanced age of eighty-six,
makes it evident that he must have been a stern overseer in the first
years of his office, terrible to the "sect of Sangallo," who were
bent, on their part, to discredit him.

The sect began to plot and form conspiracies, feeling the violent old
man's bit and bridle on their mouths, and seeing the firm seat he took
upon the saddle. For some reason, which is not apparent, they had the
Superintendents of the Fabric (a committee, including cardinals,
appointed by the Pope) on their side. Probably these officials,
accustomed to Sangallo and the previous course of things, disliked to
be stirred up and sent about their business by the masterful
new-comer. Michelangelo's support lay, as we shall see, in the four
Popes who followed Paul III. They, with the doubtful exception of
Marcellus II., accepted him on trust as a thoroughly honest servant,
and the only artist capable of conducting the great work to its
conclusion. In the last resort, when he was driven to bay, he offered
to resign, and was invariably coaxed back by the final arbiter. The
disinterested spirit in which he fulfilled his duties, accepting no
pay while he gave his time and energy to their performance, stood him
in good stead. Nothing speaks better for his perfect probity than that
his enemies were unable to bring the slightest charge of peculation or
of partiality against him. Michelangelo's conduct of affairs at S.
Peter's reflects a splendid light upon the tenor of his life, and
confutes those detractors who have accused him of avarice.

The duel between Michelangelo and the sect opened in 1547. A letter
written by a friend in Florence on the 14th of May proves that his
antagonists had then good hopes of crushing him. Giovan Francesco Ughi
begins by saying that he has been silent because he had nothing
special to report. "But now Jacopo del Conte has come here with the
wife of Nanni di Baccio Bigio, alleging that he has brought her
because Nanni is so occupied at S. Peter's. Among other things, he
says that Nanni means to make a model for the building which will
knock yours to nothing. He declares that what you are about is mad and
babyish. He means to fling it all down, since he has quite as much
credit with the Pope as you have. You throw oceans of money away and
work by night, so that nobody may see what you are doing. You follow
in the footsteps of a Spaniard, having no knowledge of your own about
the art of building, and he less than nothing. Nanni stays there in
your despite: you did everything to get him removed; but the Pope
keeps him, being convinced that nothing good can be done without him."
After this Ughi goes on to relate how Michelangelo's enemies are
spreading all kinds of reports against his honour and good fame,
criticising the cornice of the Palazzo Farnese, and hoping that its
weight will drag the walls down. At the end he adds, that although he
knows one ought not to write about such matters, yet the man's
"insolence and blackguardly shamelessness of speech" compel him to put
his friend on his guard against such calumnies.

After the receipt of this letter, Michelangelo sent it to one of the
Superintendents of the Fabric, on whose sympathy he could reckon, with
the following indorsement in his own handwriting: "Messer Bartolommeo
(Ferrantino), please read this letter, and take thought who the two
rascals are who, lying thus about what I did at the Palazzo Farnese,
are now lying in the matter of the information they are laying before
the deputies of S. Peter's. It comes upon me in return for the
kindness I have shown them. But what else can one expect from a couple
of the basest scoundrelly villains?"

Nanni di Baccio Bigio had, as it seems, good friends at court in Rome.
He was an open enemy of Michelangelo, who, nevertheless, found it
difficult to shake him off. In the history of S. Peter's the man's
name will frequently occur.

Three years elapsed. Paul III. died, and Michelangelo wrote to his
nephew Lionardo on the occasion: "It is true that I have suffered
great sorrow, and not less loss, by the Pope's death. I received
benefits from his Holiness, and hoped for more and better. God willed
it so, and we must have patience. His passage from this life was
beautiful, in full possession of his faculties up to the last word.
God have mercy on his soul." The Cardinal Giovan Maria Ciocchi, of
Monte San Savino, was elected to succeed Paul, and took the title of
Julius III. This change of masters was duly noted by Michelangelo in a
letter to his "dearest friend," Giovan Francesco Fattucci at Florence.
It breathes so pleasant and comradely a spirit, that I will translate
more than bears immediately on the present topic: "Dear friend,
although we have not exchanged letters for many months past, still our
long and excellent friendship has not been forgotten. I wish you well,
as I have always done, and love you with all my heart, for your own
sake, and for the numberless pleasant things in life you have afforded
me. As regards old age, which weighs upon us both alike, I should be
glad to know how yours affects you; mine, I must say, does not make me
very happy. I beg you, then, to write me something about this. You
know, doubtless, that we have a new Pope, and who he is. All Rome is
delighted, God be thanked; and everybody expects the greatest good
from his reign, especially for the poor, his generosity being so

Michelangelo had good reason to rejoice over this event, for Julius
III. felt a real attachment to his person, and thoroughly appreciated
both his character and his genius. Nevertheless, the enemies he had in
Rome now made a strong effort to dislodge Buonarroti from his official
position at S. Peter's. It was probably about this time that the
Superintendents of the Fabric drew up a memorial expressive of their
grievances against him. We possess a document in Latin setting forth a
statement of accounts in rough. "From the year 1540, when expenditures
began to be made regularly and in order, from the very commencement as
it were, up to the year 1547, when Michelangelo, at his own will and
pleasure, undertook partly to build and partly to destroy, 162,624
ducats were expended. Since the latter date on to the present, during
which time the deputies have served like the pipe at the organ,
knowing nothing, nor what, nor how moneys were spent, but only at the
orders of the said Michelangelo, such being the will of Paul III. of
blessed memory, and also of the reigning Pontiff, 136,881 ducats have
been paid out, as can be seen from our books. With regard to the
edifice, what it is going to be, the deputies can make no statement,
all things being hidden from them, as though they were outsiders. They
have only been able to protest at several times, and do now again
protest, for the easement of their conscience, that they do not like
the ways used by Michelangelo, especially in what he keeps on pulling
down. The demolition has been, and to-day is so great, that all who
witness it are moved to an extremity of pity. Nevertheless, if his
Holiness be satisfied, we, his deputies, shall have no reason to
complain." It is clear that Michelangelo was carrying on with a high
hand at S. Peter's. Although the date of this document is uncertain, I
think it may be taken in connection with a general meeting called by
Julius III., the incidents of which are recorded by Vasari.
Michelangelo must have demonstrated his integrity, for he came out of
the affair victorious, and obtained from the Pope a brief confirming
him in his office of architect-in-chief, with even fuller powers than
had been granted by Paul III.


Vasari at this epoch becomes one of our most reliable authorities
regarding the life of Michelangelo. He corresponded and conversed with
him continuously, and enjoyed the master's confidence. We may
therefore accept the following narrative as accurate: "It was some
little while before the beginning of 1551, when Vasari, on his return
from Florence to Rome, found that the sect of Sangallo were plotting
against Michelangelo; they induced the Pope to hold a meeting in S.
Peter's, where all the overseers and workmen connected with the
building should attend, and his Holiness should be persuaded by false
insinuations that Michelangelo had spoiled the fabric. He had already
walled in the apse of the King where the three chapels are, and
carried out the three upper windows. But it was not known what he
meant to do with the vault. They then, misled by their shallow
judgment, made Cardinal Salviati the elder, and Marcello Cervini, who
was afterwards Pope, believe that S. Peter's would be badly lighted.
When all were assembled, the Pope told Michelangelo that the deputies
were of opinion the apse would have but little light. He answered: 'I
should like to hear these deputies speak.' The Cardinal Marcello
rejoined: 'Here we are.' Michelangelo then remarked: 'My lord, above
these three windows there will be other three in the vault, which is
to be built of travertine.' 'You never told us anything about this,'
said the Cardinal. Michelangelo responded: 'I am not, nor do I mean to
be obliged to tell your lordship or anybody what I ought or wish to
do. It is your business to provide money, and to see that it is not
stolen. As regards the plans of the building, you have to leave those
to me.' Then he turned to the Pope and said: 'Holy Father, behold what
gains are mine! Unless the hardships I endure prove beneficial to my
soul, I am losing time and labour.' The Pope, who loved him, laid his
hands upon his shoulders and exclaimed: 'You are gaining both for soul
and body, have no fear!' Michelangelo's spirited self-defence
increased the Pope's love, and he ordered him to repair next day with
Vasari to the Vigna Giulia, where they held long discourses upon art."
It is here that Vasari relates how Julius III. was in the habit of
seating Michelangelo by his side while they talked together.

Julius then maintained the cause of Michelangelo against the deputies.
It was during his pontificate that a piece of engineering work
committed to Buonarroti's charge by Paul III. fell into the hands of
Nanni di Baccio Bigio. The old bridge of Santa Maria had long shown
signs of giving way, and materials had been collected for rebuilding
it. Nanni's friends managed to transfer the execution of this work to
him from Michelangelo. The man laid bad foundations, and Buonarroti
riding over the new bridge one day with Vasari, cried out: "George,
the bridge is quivering beneath us; let us spur on, before it gives
way with us upon it." Eventually, the bridge did fall to pieces, at
the time of a great inundation. Its ruins have long been known as the
Ponte Rotto.

On the death of Julius III. in 1555, Cardinal Cervini was made Pope,
with the title of Marcellus II. This event revived the hopes of the
sect, who once more began to machinate against Michelangelo. The Duke
of Tuscany at this time was exceedingly anxious that he should take up
his final abode at Florence; and Buonarroti, feeling he had now no
strong support in Rome, seems to have entertained these proposals with
alacrity. The death of Marcellus after a few weeks, and the election
of Paul IV., who besought the great architect not to desert S.
Peter's, made him change his mind. Several letters written to Vasari
and the Grand Duke in this and the next two years show that his heart
was set on finishing S. Peter's, however much he wished to please his
friends and longed to end his days in peace at home. "I was set to
work upon S. Peter's against my will, and I have served now eight
years gratis, and with the utmost injury and discomfort to myself. Now
that the fabric has been pushed forward and there is money to spend,
and I am just upon the point of vaulting in the cupola, my departure
from Rome would be the ruin of the edifice, and for me a great
disgrace throughout all Christendom, and to my soul a grievous sin.
Pray ask his lordship to give me leave of absence till S. Peter's has
reached a point at which it cannot be altered in its main features.
Should I leave Rome earlier, I should be the cause of a great ruin, a
great disgrace, and a great sin." To the Duke he writes in 1557 that
his special reasons for not wishing to abandon S. Peter's were, first,
that the work would fall into the hands of thieves and rogues;
secondly, that it might probably be suspended altogether; thirdly,
that he owned property in Rome to the amount of several thousand
crowns, which, if he left without permission, would be lost; fourthly,
that he was suffering from several ailments. He also observed that the
work had just reached its most critical stage (i.e., the erection of
the cupola), and that to desert it at the present moment would be a
great disgrace.

The vaulting of the cupola had now indeed become the main
preoccupation of Michelangelo's life. Early in 1557 a serious illness
threatened his health, and several friends, including the Cardinal of
Carpi, Donato Giannotti, Tommaso Cavalieri, Francesco Bandini, and
Lottino, persuaded him that he ought to construct a large model, so
that the execution of this most important feature of the edifice might
not be impeded in the event of his death. It appears certain that up
to this date no models of his on anything like a large intelligible
scale had been provided for S. Peter's; and the only extant model
attributable to Michelangelo's own period is that of the cupola. This
may help to account for the fact that, while the cupola was finished
much as he intended, the rest of his scheme suffered a thorough and
injurious remodelling.

He wrote to his nephew Lionardo on the 13th of February 1557 about the
impossibility of meeting the Grand Duke's wishes and leaving Rome. "I
told his Lordship that I was obliged to attend to S. Peter's until I
could leave the work there at such a point that my plans would not be
subsequently altered. This point has not been reached; and in
addition, I am now obliged to construct a large wooden model for the
cupola and lantern, in order that I may secure its being finished as
it was meant to be. The whole of Rome, and especially the Cardinal of
Carpi, puts great pressure on me to do this. Accordingly, I reckon
that I shall have to remain here not less than a year; and so much
time I beg the Duke to allow me for the love of Christ and S. Peter,
so that I may not come home to Florence with a pricking conscience,
but a mind easy about Rome." The model took about a year to make. It
was executed by a French master named Jean.

All this while Michelangelo's enemies, headed by Nanni di Baccio
Bigio, continued to calumniate and backbite. In the end they poisoned
the mind of his old friend the Cardinal of Carpi. We gather this from
a haughty letter written on the 13th of February 1560: "Messer
Francesco Bandini informed me yesterday that your most illustrious and
reverend lordship told him that the building of S. Peter's could not
possibly go on worse than it is doing. This has grieved me deeply,
partly because you have not been informed of the truth, and also
because I, as my duty is, desire more than all men living that it
should proceed well. Unless I am much deceived, I think I can assure
you that it could not possibly go on better than it now is doing. It
may, however, happen that my own interests and old age expose me to
self-deception, and consequently expose the fabric of S. Peter's to
harm or injury against my will. I therefore intend to ask permission
on the first occasion from his Holiness to resign my office. Or
rather, to save time, I wish to request your most illustrious and
reverend lordship by these present to relieve me of the annoyance to
which I have been subject seventeen years, at the orders of the Popes,
working without remuneration. It is easy enough to see what has been
accomplished by my industry during this period. I conclude by
repeating my request that you will accept my resignation. You could
not confer on me a more distinguished favour."

Giovanni Angelo Medici, of an obscure Milanese family, had succeeded
to Paul IV. in 1559. Pius IV. felt a true admiration for Michelangelo.
He confirmed the aged artist in his office by a brief which granted
him the fullest authority in life, and strictly forbade any departure
from his designs for S. Peter's after death. Notwithstanding this
powerful support, Nanni di Baccio Bigio kept trying to eject him from
his post. He wrote to the Grand Duke in 1562, arguing that Buonarroti
was in his dotage, and begging Cosimo to use his influence to obtain
the place for himself. In reply the Grand Duke told Nanni that he
could not think of doing such a thing during Michelangelo's lifetime,
but that after his death he would render what aid was in his power. An
incident happened in 1563 which enabled Nanni to give his enemy some
real annoyance. Michelangelo was now so old that he felt obliged to
leave the personal superintendence of the operations at S. Peter's to
a clerk of the works. The man employed at this time was a certain
Cesare da Castel Durante, who was murdered in August under the
following circumstances, communicated by Tiberio Calcagni to Lionardo
Buonarroti on the 14th of that month: "I have only further to speak
about the death of Cesare, clerk of the works, who was found by the
cook of the Bishop of Forli with his wife. The man gave Cesare
thirteen stabs with his poignard, and four to his wife. The old man
(i.e., Michelangelo) is in much distress, seeing that he wished to
give the post to that Pier Luigi, and has been unable to do so owing
to the refusal of the deputies." This Pier Luigi, surnamed Gaeta, had
been working since November 1561 as subordinate to Cesare; and we have
a letter from Michelangelo to the deputies recommending him very
warmly in that capacity. He was also the house-servant and personal
attendant of the old master, running errands for him and transacting
ordinary business, like Pietro Urbano and Stefano in former years. The
deputies would not consent to nominate Pier Luigi as clerk of the
works. They judged him to be too young, and were, moreover, persuaded
that Michelangelo's men injured the work at S. Peter's. Accordingly
they appointed Nanni di Baccio Bigio, and sent in a report, inspired
by him, which severely blamed Buonarroti. Pius IV., after the receipt
of this report, had an interview with Michelangelo, which ended in his
sending his own relative, Gabrio Serbelloni, to inspect the works at
S. Peter's. It was decided that Nanni had been calumniating the great
old man. Accordingly he was dismissed with indignity. Immediately
after the death of Michelangelo, however, Nanni renewed his
applications to the Grand Duke. He claimed nothing less than the post
of architect-in-chief. His petition was sent to Florence under cover
of a despatch from the Duke's envoy, Averardo Serristori. The
ambassador related the events of Michelangelo's death, and supported
Nanni as "a worthy man, your vassal and true servant."


Down to the last days of his life, Michelangelo was thus worried with
the jealousies excited by his superintendence of the building at S.
Peter's; and when he passed to the majority, he had not secured his
heart's desire, to wit, that the fabric should be forced to retain the
form he had designed for it. This was his own fault. Popes might issue
briefs to the effect that his plans should be followed; but when it
was discovered that, during his lifetime, he kept the builders in
ignorance of his intentions, and that he left no working models fit
for use, except in the case of the cupola, a free course was opened
for every kind of innovation. So it came to pass that subsequent
architects changed the essential features of his design by adding what
might be called a nave, or, in other words, by substituting the Latin
for the Greek cross in the ground-plan. He intended to front the mass
of the edifice with a majestic colonnade, giving externally to one
limb of the Greek cross a rectangular salience corresponding to its
three semicircular apses. From this decastyle colonnade projected a
tetrastyle portico, which introduced the people ascending from a
flight of steps to a gigantic portal. The portal opened on the church,
and all the glory of the dome was visible when they approached the
sanctuary. Externally, according to his conception, the cupola
dominated and crowned the edifice when viewed from a moderate or a
greater distance. The cupola was the integral and vital feature of the
structure. By producing one limb of the cross into a nave, destroying
the colonnade and portico, and erecting a huge facade of _barocco_
design, his followers threw the interior effect of the cupola into a
subordinate position, and externally crushed it out of view, except at
a great distance. In like manner they dealt with every particular of
his plan. As an old writer has remarked: "The cross which Michelangelo
made Greek is now Latin; and if it be thus with the essential form,
judge ye of the details!" It was not exactly their fault, but rather
that of the master, who chose to work by drawings and small clay
models, from which no accurate conception of his thought could be
derived by lesser craftsmen.

We cannot, therefore, regard S. Peter's in its present state as the
creation of Buonarroti's genius. As a building, it is open to
criticism at every point. In spite of its richness and overwhelming
size, no architect of merit gives it approbation. It is vast without
being really great, magnificent without touching the heart, proudly
but not harmoniously ordered. The one redeeming feature in the
structure is the cupola; and that is the one thing which Michelangelo
bequeathed to the intelligence of his successors. The curve which it
describes finds no phrase of language to express its grace. It is
neither ellipse nor parabola nor section of the circle, but an
inspiration of creative fancy. It outsoars in vital force, in elegance
of form, the dome of the Pantheon and the dome of Brunelleschi, upon
which it was actually modelled. As a French architect, adverse to
Michelangelo, has remarked: "This portion is simple, noble, grand. It
is an unparalleled idea, and the author of this marvellous cupola had
the right to be proud of the thought which controlled his pencil when
he traced it." An English critic, no less adverse to the Italian
style, is forced to admit that architecture "has seldom produced a
more magnificent object" than the cupola, "if its bad connection with
the building is overlooked." He also adds that, internally, "the
sublime concave" of this immense dome is the one redeeming feature of
S. Peter's.

Michelangelo's reputation, not only as an imaginative builder, but
also as a practical engineer in architecture, depends in a very large
measure upon the cupola of S. Peter's. It is, therefore, of great
importance to ascertain exactly how far the dome in its present form
belongs to his conception. Fortunately for his reputation, we still
possess the wooden model constructed under his inspection by a man
called Giovanni Franzese. It shows that subsequent architects,
especially Giacomo della Porta, upon whom the task fell of raising the
vaults and lantern from the point where Michelangelo left the
building, that is, from the summit of the drum, departed in no
essential particular from his design. Della Porta omitted one feature,
however, of Michelangelo's plan, which would have added greatly to the
dignity and elegance of the exterior. The model shows that the
entablature of the drum broke into projections above each of the
buttresses. Upon these projections or consoles Buonarroti intended to
place statues of saints. He also connected their pedestals with the
spring of the vault by a series of inverted curves sweeping upwards
along the height of the shallow attic. The omission of these details
not only weakened the support given to the arches of the dome, but it
also lent a stilted effect to the cupola by abruptly separating the
perpendicular lines of the drum and attic from the segment of the
vaulting. This is an error which could even now be repaired, if any
enterprising Pope undertook to complete the plan of the model. It may,
indeed, be questioned whether the omission was not due to the
difficulty of getting so many colossal statues adequately finished at
a period when the fabric still remained imperfect in more essential

Vasari, who lived in close intimacy with Michelangelo, and undoubtedly
was familiar with the model, gives a confused but very minute
description of the building. It is clear from this that the dome was
designed with two shells, both of which were to be made of carefully
selected bricks, the space between them being applied to the purpose
of an interior staircase. The dormer windows in the outer sheath not
only broke the surface of the vault, but also served to light this
passage to the lantern. Vasari's description squares with the model,
now preserved in a chamber of the Vatican basilica, and also with the
present fabric.

It would not have been necessary to dwell at greater length upon the
vaulting here but for difficulties which still surround the criticism
of this salient feature of S. Peter's. Gotti published two plans of
the cupola, which were made for him, he says, from accurate
measurements of the model taken by Cavaliere Cesare Castelli,
Lieut.-Col. of Engineers. The section drawing shows three shells
instead of two, the innermost or lowest being flattened out like the
vault of the Pantheon. Professor Josef Durm, in his essay upon the
Domes of Florence and S. Peter's, gives a minute description of the
model for the latter, and prints a carefully executed copperplate
engraving of its section. It is clear from this work that at some time
or other a third semi-spherical vault, corresponding to that of the
Pantheon, had been contemplated. This would have been structurally of
no value, and would have masked the two upper shells, which at present
crown the edifice. The model shows that the dome itself was from the
first intended to be composed of two solid vaults of masonry, in the
space between which ran the staircase leading to the lantern. The
lower and flatter shell, which appears also in the model, had no
connection with the substantial portions of the edifice. It was an
addition, perhaps an afterthought, designed possibly to serve as a
ground for surface-decoration, or to provide an alternative scheme for
the completion of the dome. Had Michelangelo really planned this
innermost sheath, we could not credit him with the soaring sweep
upwards of the mighty dome, its height and lightness, luminosity and
space. The roof that met the eye internally would have been
considerably lower and tamer, superfluous in the construction of the
church, and bearing no right relation to the external curves of the
vaulting. There would, moreover, have been a long dark funnel leading
to the lantern. Heath Wilson would then have been justified in certain
critical conclusions which may here be stated in his own words.
"According to Michelangelo's idea, the cupola was formed of three
vaults over each other. Apparently the inner one was intended to
repeat the curves of the Pantheon, whilst the outer one was destined
to give height and majesty to the building externally. The central
vault, more pyramidal in form, was constructed to bear the weight of
the lantern, and approached in form the dome of the Cathedral at
Florence by Brunelleschi. Judging by the model, he meant the outer
dome to be of wood, thus anticipating the construction of Sir
Christopher Wren." Farther on, he adds that the architects who carried
out the work "omitted entirely the inner lower vault, evidently to
give height internally, and made the external cupola of brick as well
as the internal; and, to prevent it expanding, had recourse to
encircling chains of iron, which bind it at the weakest parts of the
curve." These chains, it may be mentioned parenthetically, were
strengthened by Poleni, after the lapse of some years, when the second
of the two shells showed some signs of cracking.

From Dr. Durm's minute description of the cupola, there seems to be no
doubt about the existence of this third vault in Michelangelo's wooden
model. He says that the two outer shells are carved out of one piece
of wood, while the third or innermost is made of another piece, which
has been inserted. The sunk or hollow compartments, which form the
laquear of this depressed vault, differ considerably in shape and
arrangement from those which were adopted when it was finally
rejected. The question now remains, whether the semi-spherical shell
was abandoned during Michelangelo's lifetime and with his approval.
There is good reason to believe that this may have been the case:
first, because the tambour, which he executed, differs from the model
in the arching of its windows; secondly, because Fontana and other
early writers on the cupola insist strongly on the fact that
Michelangelo's own plans were strictly followed, although they never
allude to the third or innermost vault. It is almost incredible that
if Della Porta departed in so vital a point from Michelangelo's
design, no notice should have been taken of the fact. On the other
hand, the tradition that Della Porta improved the curve of the cupola
by making the spring upward from the attic more abrupt, is due
probably to the discrepancy between the internal aspects of the model
and the dome itself. The actual truth is that the cupola in its curve
and its dimensions corresponds accurately to the proportions of the
double outer vaulting of the model.

Taking, then, Vasari's statement in conjunction with the silence of
Fontana, Poleni, and other early writers, and duly observing the care
with which the proportions of the dome have been preserved, I think we
may safely conclude that Michelangelo himself abandoned the third or
semi-spherical vault, and that the cupola, as it exists, ought to be
ascribed entirely to his conception. It is, in fact, the only portion
of the basilica which remains as he designed it.



There is great difficulty in dealing chronologically with the last
twenty years of Michelangelo's life. This is due in some measure to
the multiplicity of his engagements, but more to the tardy rate at
which his work, now almost wholly architectural, advanced. I therefore
judged it best to carry the history of his doings at S. Peter's down
to the latest date; and I shall take the same course now with regard
to the lesser schemes which occupied his mind between 1545 and 1564,
reserving for the last the treatment of his private life during this

A society of gentlemen and artists, to which Buonarroti belonged,
conceived the plan of erecting buildings of suitable size and grandeur
on the Campidoglio. This hill had always been dear to the Romans, as
the central point of urban life since the foundation of their city,
through the days of the Republic and the Empire, down to the latest
Middle Ages. But it was distinguished only by its ancient name and
fame. No splendid edifices and majestic squares reminded the spectator
that here once stood the shrine of Jupiter Capitolinus, to which
conquering generals rode in triumph with the spoils and captives of
the habitable world behind their laurelled chariots. Paul III.
approved of the design, and Michelangelo, who had received the
citizenship of Rome on March 20, 1546, undertook to provide a scheme
for its accomplishment. We are justified in believing that the
disposition of the parts which now compose the Capitol is due to his
conception: the long steep flight of steps leading up from the Piazza
Araceli; the irregular open square, flanked on the left hand by the
Museum of Sculpture, on the right by the Palazzo dei Conservatori, and
closed at its farther end by the Palazzo del Senatore. He also placed
the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus on its noble
pedestal, and suggested the introduction of other antique specimens of
sculpture into various portions of the architectural plan. The
splendid double staircase leading to the entrance hall of the Palazzo
del Senatore, and part of the Palazzo dei Conservatori, were completed
during Michelangelo's lifetime. When Vasari wrote in 1568, the dead
sculptor's friend, Tommaso dei Cavalieri, was proceeding with the
work. There is every reason, therefore, to assume that the latter
building, at any rate, fairly corresponds to his intention. Vignola
and Giacomo della Porta, both of them excellent architects, carried
out the scheme, which must have been nearly finished in the
pontificate of Innocent X. (1644-1655).

Like the cupola of S. Peter's, the Campidoglio has always been
regarded as one of Michelangelo's most meritorious performances in
architecture. His severe critic, M. Charles Garnier, says of the
Capitol: "The general composition of the edifice is certainly worthy
of Buonarroti's powerful conception. The balustrade which crowns the
facade is indeed bad and vulgar; the great pilasters are very poor in
invention, and the windows of the first story are extremely mediocre
in style. Nevertheless, there is a great simplicity of lines in these
palaces; and the porticoes of the ground-floor might be selected for
the beauty of their leading motive. The opposition of the great
pilasters to the little columns is an idea at once felicitous and
original. The whole has a fine effect; and though I hold the
proportions of the ground-floor too low in relation to the first
story, I consider this facade of the Capitol not only one of
Michelangelo's best works, but also one of the best specimens of the
building of that period. Deduction must, of course, be made for
heaviness and improprieties of taste, which are not rare."

Next to these designs for the Capitol, the most important
architectural work of Michelangelo's old age was the plan he made of a
new church to be erected by the Florentines in Rome to the honour of
their patron, S. Giovanni. We find him writing to his nephew on the
15th of July 1559: "The Florentines are minded to erect a great
edifice--that is to say, their church; and all of them with one accord
put pressure on me to attend to this. I have answered that I am living
here by the Duke's permission for the fabric of S. Peter's, and that
unless he gives me leave, they can get nothing from me." The consul
and counsellors of the Florentine nation in Rome wrote upon this to
the Duke, who entered with enthusiasm into their scheme, not only
sending a favourable reply, but also communicating personally upon the
subject with Buonarroti. Three of Michelangelo's letters on the
subject to the Duke have been preserved. After giving a short history
of the project, and alluding to the fact that Leo X. began the church,
he says that the Florentines had appointed a building committee of
five men, at whose request he made several designs. One of these they
selected, and according to his own opinion it was the best. "This I
will have copied and drawn out more clearly than I have been able to
do it, on account of old age, and will send it to your Most
Illustrious Lordship." The drawings were executed and carried to
Florence by the hand of Tiberio Calcagni. Vasari, who has given a long
account of this design, says that Calcagni not only drew the plans,
but that he also completed a clay model of the whole church within the
space of two days, from which the Florentines caused a larger wooden
model to be constructed. Michelangelo must have been satisfied with
his conception, for he told the building-committee that "if they
carried it out, neither the Romans nor the Greeks ever erected so fine
an edifice in any of their temples. Words the like of which neither
before nor afterwards issued from his lips; for he was exceedingly
modest." Vasari, who had good opportunities for studying the model,
pronounced it to be "superior in beauty, richness and variety of
invention to any temple which was ever seen." The building was begun,
and 5000 crowns were spent upon it. Then money or will failed. The
model and drawings perished. Nothing remains for certain to show what
Michelangelo's intentions were. The present church of S. Giovanni dei
Fiorentini in Strada Giulia is the work of Giacomo della Porta, with a
facade by Alessandro Galilei.

Of Tiberio Calcagni, the young Florentine sculptor and architect, who
acted like a kind of secretary or clerk to Michelangelo, something may
here be said. The correspondence of this artist with Lionardo
Buonarroti shows him to have been what Vasari calls him, "of gentle
manners and discreet behaviour." He felt both veneration and
attachment for the aged master, and was one of the small group of
intimate friends who cheered his last years. We have seen that
Michelangelo consigned the shattered Pieta to his care; and Vasari
tells us that he also wished him to complete the bust of Brutus, which
had been begun, at Donato Giannotti's request, for the Cardinal
Ridolfi. This bust is said to have been modelled from an ancient
cornelian in the possession of a certain Giuliano Ceserino.
Michelangelo not only blocked the marble out, but brought it nearly to
completion, working the surface with very fine-toothed chisels. The
sweetness of Tiberio Calcagni's nature is proved by the fact that he
would not set his own hand to this masterpiece of sculpture. As in the
case of the Pieta, he left Buonarroti's work untouched, where mere
repairs were not required. Accordingly we still can trace the
fine-toothed marks of the chisel alluded to by Vasari, hatched and
cross-hatched with right and left handed strokes in the style peculiar
to Michelangelo. The Brutus remains one of the finest specimens of his
creative genius. It must have been conceived and executed in the
plenitude of his vigour, probably at the time when Florence fell
beneath the yoke of Alessandro de' Medici, or rather when his murderer
Lorenzino gained the name of Brutus from the exiles (1539). Though
Vasari may be right in saying that a Roman intaglio suggested the
stamp of face and feature, yet we must regard this Brutus as an ideal
portrait, intended to express the artist's conception of resolution
and uncompromising energy in a patriot eager to sacrifice personal
feelings and to dare the utmost for his country's welfare. Nothing can
exceed the spirit with which a violent temperament, habitually
repressed, but capable of leaping forth like sudden lightning, has
been rendered. We must be grateful to Calcagni for leaving it in its
suggestively unfinished state.


During these same years Michelangelo carried on a correspondence with
Ammanati and Vasari about the completion of the Laurentian Library.
His letters illustrate what I have more than once observed regarding
his unpractical method of commencing great works, without more than
the roughest sketches, intelligible to himself alone, and useless to
an ordinary craftsman. The Florentine artists employed upon the fabric
wanted very much to know how he meant to introduce the grand staircase
into the vestibule. Michelangelo had forgotten all about it. "With
regard to the staircase of the library, about which so much has been
said to me, you may believe that if I could remember how I had
arranged it, I should not need to be begged and prayed for
information. There comes into my mind, as in a dream, the image of a
certain staircase; but I do not think this can be the one I then
designed, for it seems so stupid. However, I will describe it." Later
on he sends a little clay model of a staircase, just enough to
indicate his general conception, but not to determine details. He
suggests that the work would look better if carried out in walnut. We
have every reason to suppose that the present stone flight of steps is
far from being representative of his idea.

He was now too old to do more than furnish drawings when asked to
design some monument. Accordingly, when Pius IV. resolved to erect a
tomb in Milan Cathedral to the memory of his brother, Giangiacomo de'
Medici, Marquis of Marignano, commonly called Il Medeghino, he
requested Michelangelo to supply the bronze-sculptor Leone Leoni of
Menaggio with a design. This must have been insufficient for the
sculptor's purpose--a mere hand-sketch not drawn to scale. The
monument, though imposing in general effect, is very defective in its
details and proportions. The architectural scheme has not been
comprehended by the sculptor, who enriched it with a great variety of
figures, excellently wrought in bronze, and faintly suggesting
Michelangelo's manner.

The grotesque _barocco_ style of the Porta Pia, strong in its total
outline, but whimsical and weak in decorative detail, may probably be
ascribed to the same cause. It was sketched out by Michelangelo during
the pontificate of Pius IV., and can hardly have been erected under
his personal supervision. Vasari says: "He made three sketches,
extravagant in style and most beautiful, of which the Pope selected
the least costly; this was executed much to his credit, as may now be
seen." To what extent he was responsible for the other
sixteenth-century gates of Rome, including the Porta del Popolo, which
is commonly ascribed to him, cannot be determined; though Vasari
asserts that Michelangelo supplied the Pope with "many other models"
for the restoration of the gates. Indeed it may be said of all his
later work that we are dealing with uncertain material, the original
idea emanating perhaps from Buonarroti's mind, but the execution
having devolved upon journeymen.

Pius IV. charged Michelangelo with another great undertaking, which
was the restoration of the Baths of Diocletian in the form of a
Christian church. Criticism is reduced to silence upon his work in
this place, because S. Maria degli Angeli underwent a complete
remodelling by the architect Vanvitelli in 1749. This man altered the
ground-plan from the Latin to the Greek type, and adopted the
decorative style in vogue at the beginning of the eighteenth century.
All that appears certain is that Michelangelo had very considerable
remains of the Roman building to make use of. We may also perhaps
credit tradition, when it tells us that the vast Carthusian cloister
belongs to him, and that the three great cypress-trees were planted by
his hand.

Henri the Second's death occurred in 1559; and his widow, Catherine
de' Medici, resolved to erect an equestrian statue to his memory. She
bethought her of the aged sculptor, who had been bred in the palace of
her great-grandfather, who had served two Pontiffs of her family, and
who had placed the mournful image of her father on the tomb at San
Lorenzo. Accordingly she wrote a letter on the 14th of November in
that year, informing Michelangelo of her intention, and begging him to
supply at least a design upon which the best masters in the realm of
France might work. The statue was destined for the courtyard of the
royal chateau at Blois, and was to be in bronze. Ruberto degli
Strozzi, the Queen's cousin, happened about this time to visit Rome.
Michelangelo having agreed to furnish a sketch, it was decided between
them that the execution should be assigned to Daniele da Volterra.
After nearly a year's interval, Catherine wrote again, informing
Michelangelo that she had deposited a sum of 6000 golden crowns at the
bank of Gianbattista Gondi for the work, adding: "Consequently, since
on my side nothing remains to be done, I entreat you by the affection
you have always shown to my family, to our Florence, and lastly to
art, that you will use all diligence and assiduity, so far as your
years permit, in pushing forward this noble work, and making it a
living likeness of my lord, as well as worthy of your own unrivalled
genius. It is true that this will add nothing to the fame you now
enjoy; yet it will at least augment your reputation for most
acceptable and affectionate devotion toward myself and my ancestors,
and prolong through centuries the memory of my lawful and sole love;
for the which I shall be eager and liberal to reward you." It is
probable that by this time (October 30, 1560) Michelangelo had
forwarded his sketch to France, for the Queen criticised some details
relating to the portrait of her husband. She may have remembered with
what idealistic freedom the statues of the Dukes of Nemours and Urbino
had been treated in the Medicean Sacristy. Anyhow, she sent a picture,
and made her agent, Baccio del Bene, write a postscript to her letter,
ordering Michelangelo to model the King's head without curls, and to
adopt the rich modern style for his armour and the trappings of his
charger. She particularly insisted upon the likeness being carefully
brought out.

Michelangelo died before the equestrian statue of Henri II. was
finished. Cellini, in his Memoirs, relates that Daniele da Volterra
worked slowly, and caused much annoyance to the Queen-mother of
France. In 1562 her agent, Baccio del Bene, came to Florence on
financial business with the Duke. He then proposed that Cellini should
return to Paris and undertake the ornamental details of the tomb. The
Duke would not consent, and Catherine de' Medici did not choose to
quarrel with her cousin about an artist. So this arrangement, which
might have secured the completion of the statue on a splendid scale,
fell through. When Daniele died in 1566, only the horse was cast; and
this part served finally for Biard's statue of Louis XIII.


The sculptor Leone Leoni, who was employed upon the statue of
Giangiacomo de' Medici in Milan, wrote frequently to Michelangelo,
showing by his letters that a warm friendship subsisted between them,
which was also shared by Tommaso Cavalieri. In the year 1560,
according to Vasari, Leoni modelled a profile portrait of the great
master, which he afterwards cast in medal form. This is almost the
most interesting, and it is probably the most genuine contemporary
record which we possess regarding Michelangelo's appearance in the
body. I may therefore take it as my basis for inquiring into the
relative value of the many portraits said to have been modelled,
painted, or sketched from the hero in his lifetime. So far as I am
hitherto aware, no claim has been put in for the authenticity of any
likeness, except Bonasoni's engraving, anterior to the date we have
arrived at. While making this statement, I pass over the prostrate old
man in the Victory, and the Nicodemus of the Florentine Pieta, both of
which, with more or less reason, have been accepted as efforts after

After making due allowance for Vasari's too notorious inaccuracies,
deliberate misstatements, and random jumpings at conclusions, we have
the right to accept him here as a first-rate authority. He was living
at this time in close intimacy with Buonarroti, enjoyed his
confidence, plumed himself upon their friendship, and had no reason to
distort truth, which must have been accessible to one in his position.
He says, then: "At this time the Cavaliere Leoni made a very lively
portrait of Michelangelo upon a medal, and to meet his wishes,
modelled on the reverse a blind man led by a dog, with this legend
It pleased Michelangelo so much that he gave him a wax model of a
Hercules throttling Antaeus, by his own hand, together with some
drawings. Of Michelangelo there exist no other portraits, except two
in painting--one by Bugiardini, the other by Jacopo del Conte; and one
in bronze, in full relief, made by Daniele da Volterra: these, and
Leoni's medal, from which (in the plural) many copies have been made,
and a great number of them have been seen by me in several parts of
Italy and abroad."

Leoni's medal, on the obverse, shows the old artist's head in profile,
with strong lines of drapery rising to the neck and gathering around
the shoulders. It carries this legend: MICHELANGELUS BUONARROTUS, FLO.
R.A.E.T.S. ANN. 88, and is signed LEO. Leoni then assumed that
Michelangelo was eighty-eight years of age when he cast the die. But
if this was done in 1560, the age he had then attained was
eighty-five. We possess a letter from Leoni in Milan to Buonarroti in
Rome, dated March 14, 1561. In it he says: "I am sending to your
lordship, by the favour of Lord Carlo Visconti, a great man in this
city, and beloved by his Holiness, four medals of your portrait: two
in silver, and two in bronze. I should have done so earlier but for my
occupation with the monument (of Medeghino), and for the certainty I
feel that you will excuse my tardiness, if not a sin of ingratitude in
me. The one enclosed within the little box has been worked up to the
finest polish. I beg you to accept and keep this for the love of me.
With the other three you will do as you think best. I say this because
ambition has prompted me to send copies into Spain and Flanders, as I
have also done to Rome and other places. I call it ambition, forasmuch
as I have gained an overplus of benefits by acquiring the good-will of
your lordship, whom I esteem so highly. Have I not received in little
less than three months two letters written to me by you, divine man;
and couched not in terms fit for a servant of good heart and will, but
for one beloved as a son? I pray you to go on loving me, and when
occasion serves, to favour me; and to Signer Tomao dei Cavalieri say
that I shall never be unmindful of him."

It is clear, then, I think, that Leoni's model was made at Rome in
1560, cast at Milan, and sent early in the spring of 1561 to
Michelangelo. The wide distribution of the medals, two of which exist
still in silver, while several in bronze may be found in different
collections, is accounted for by what Leoni says about his having
given them away to various parts of Europe. We are bound to suppose
that AET. 88 in the legend on the obverse is due to a misconception
concerning Michelangelo's age. Old men are often ignorant or careless
about the exact tale of years they have performed.

There is reason to believe that Leoni's original model of the profile,
the likeness he shaped from life, and which he afterwards used for the
medallion, is extant and in excellent preservation. Mr. C. Drury E.
Fortnum (to whose monographs upon Michelangelo's portraits, kindly
communicated by himself, I am deeply indebted at this portion of my
work), tells us how he came into possession of an exquisite cameo, in
flesh-coloured wax upon a black oval ground. This fragile work of art
is framed in gilt metal and glazed, carrying upon its back an Italian
inscription, which may be translated: "Portrait of Michelangelo
Buonarroti, taken from the life, by Leone Aretino, his friend."
Comparing the relief in wax with the medal, we cannot doubt that both
represent the same man; and only cavillers will raise the question
whether both were fashioned by one hand. Such discrepancies as occur
between them are just what we should expect in the work of a craftsman
who sought first to obtain an accurate likeness of his subject, and
then treated the same subject on the lines of numismatic art. The wax
shows a lean and subtly moulded face--the face of a delicate old man,
wiry and worn with years of deep experience. The hair on head and
beard is singularly natural; one feels it to be characteristic of the
person. Transferring this portrait to bronze necessitated a general
broadening of the masses, with a coarsening of outline to obtain bold
relief. Something of the purest truth has been sacrificed to plastic
effect by thickening the shrunken throat; and this induced a
corresponding enlargement of the occiput for balance. Writing with
photographs of these two models before me, I feel convinced that in
the wax we have a portrait from the life of the aged Buonarroti as
Leoni knew him, and in the bronze a handling of that portrait as the
craftsman felt his art of metal-work required its execution. There was
a grand manner of medallion-portraiture in Italy, deriving from the
times of Pisanello; and Leoni's bronze is worthy of that excellent
tradition. He preserved the salient features of Buonarroti in old age.
But having to send down to posterity a monumental record of the man,
he added, insensibly or wilfully, both bulk and mass to the head he
had so keenly studied. What confirms me in the opinion that Mr.
Fornum's cameo is the most veracious portrait we possess of
Michelangelo in old age, is that its fragility of structure, the
tenuity of life vigorous but infinitely refined, reappears in the weak
drawing made by Francesco d'Olanda of Buonarroti in hat and mantle.
This is a comparatively poor and dreamy sketch. Yet it has an air of
veracity; and what the Flemish painter seized in the divine man he so
much admired, was a certain slender grace and dignity of
person--exactly the quality which Mr. Fortnum's cameo possesses.

Before leaving this interesting subject, I ought to add that the blind
man on the reverse of Leoni's medal is clearly a rough and ready
sketch of Michelangelo, not treated like a portrait, but with
indications sufficient to connect the figure with the highly wrought
profile on the obverse.

Returning now to the passage cited from Vasari, we find that he
reckons only two authentic portraits in painting of Michelangelo, one
by Bugiardini, the other by Jacopo del Conte. He has neglected to
mention two which are undoubtedly attempts to reproduce the features
of the master by scholars he had formed. Probably Vasari overlooked
them, because they did not exist as easel-pictures, but were
introduced into great compositions as subordinate adjuncts. One of
them is the head painted by Daniele da Volterra in his picture of the
Assumption at the church of the Trinita de' Monti in Rome. It belongs
to an apostle, draped in red, stretching arms aloft, close to a
column, on the right hand of the painting as we look at it. This must
be reckoned among the genuine likenesses of the great man by one who
lived with him and knew him intimately. The other is a portrait placed
by Marcello Venusti in the left-hand corner of his copy of the Last
Judgment, executed, under Michelangelo's direction, for the Cardinal
Farnese. It has value for the same reasons as those which make us
dwell upon Daniele da Volterra's picture. Moreover, it connects itself
with a series of easel-paintings. One of these, ascribed to Venusti,
is preserved in the Museo Buonarroti at Florence; another at the
Capitol in Rome. Several repetitions of this type exist: they look
like studies taken by the pupil from his master, and reproduced to
order when death closed the scene, making friends wish for mementoes
of the genius who had passed away. The critique of such works will
always remain obscure.

What has become of the portrait of Del Conte mentioned by Vasari
cannot now be ascertained. We have no external evidence to guide us.

On the other hand, certain peculiarities about the portrait in the
Uffizi, especially the exaggeration of one eye, lend some colouring to
the belief that we here possess the picture ascribed by Vasari to

Michelangelo's type of face was well accentuated, and all the more or
less contemporary portraits of him reproduce it. Time is wasted in the
effort to assign to little men their special part in the creation of a
prevalent tradition. It seems to me, therefore, the function of sane
criticism not to be particular about the easel-pictures ascribed to
Venusti, Del Conte, and Bugiardini.

The case is different with a superb engraving by Giulio Bonasoni, a
profile in a circle, dated 1546, and giving Buonarroti's age as
seventy-two. This shows the man in fuller vigour than the portraits we
have hitherto been dealing with. From other prints which bear the
signature of Bonasoni, we see that he was interested in faithfully
reproducing Michelangelo's work. What the relations between the two
men were remains uncertain, but Bonasoni may have had opportunities of
studying the master's person. At any rate, as a product of the burin,
this profile is comparable for fidelity and veracity with Leoni's
model, and is executed in the same medallion spirit.

So far, then, as I have yet pursued the analysis of Michelangelo's
portraits, I take Bonasoni's engraving to be decisive for
Michelangelo's appearance at the age of seventy; Leoni's model as of
equal or of greater value at the age of eighty; Venusti's and Da
Volterra's paintings as of some importance for this later period;
while I leave the attribution of minor easel-pictures to Del Conte or
to Bugiardini open.

It remains to speak of that "full relief in bronze made by Daniele da
Volterra," which Vasari mentions among the four genuine portraits of
Buonarroti. From the context we should gather that this head was
executed during the lifetime of Michelangelo, and the conclusion is
supported by the fact that only a few pages later on Vasari mentions
two other busts modelled after his death. Describing the catafalque
erected to his honour in S. Lorenzo, he says that the pyramid which
crowned the structure exhibited within two ovals (one turned toward
the chief door, and the other toward the high altar) "the head of
Michelangelo in relief, taken from nature, and very excellently
carried out by Santi Buglioni." The words _ritratta dal naturale_ do
not, I think, necessarily imply that it was modelled from the life.
Owing to the circumstances under which Michelangelo's obsequies were
prepared, there was not time to finish it in bronze of stone; it may
therefore have been one of those Florentine terra-cotta effigies which
artists elaborated from a cast taken after death. That there existed
such a cast is proved by what we know about the monument designed by
Vasari in S. Croce. "One of the statues was assigned to Battista
Lorenzi, an able sculptor, together with the head of Michelangelo." We
learn from another source that this bust in marble "was taken from the
mask cast after his death."

The custom of taking plaster casts from the faces of the illustrious
dead, in order to perpetuate their features, was so universal in
Italy, that it could hardly have been omitted in the case of
Michelangelo. The question now arises whether the bronze head ascribed
by Vasari to Daniele da Volterra was executed during Michelangelo's
lifetime or after his decease, and whether we possess it. There are
eight heads of this species known to students of Michelangelo, which
correspond so nicely in their measurements and general features as to
force the conclusion that they were all derived from an original
moulded by one masterly hand. Three of these heads are unmounted,
namely, those at Milan, Oxford, and M. Piot's house in Paris. One,
that of the Capitoline Museum, is fixed upon a bust of _bigio morato_
marble. The remaining four examples are executed throughout in bronze
as busts, agreeing in the main as to the head, but differing in minor
details of drapery. They exist respectively in the Museo Buonarroti,
the Accademia, and the Bargello at Florence, and in the private
collection of M. Cottier of Paris. It is clear, then, that we are
dealing with bronze heads cast from a common mould, worked up
afterwards according to the fancy of the artist. That this original
head was the portrait ascribed to Daniele da Volterra will be conceded
by all who care to trace the history of the bust; but whether he
modelled it after Michelangelo's death cannot be decided. Professional
critics are of the opinion that a mask was followed by the master; and
this may have been the case. Michelangelo died upon the 17th of
February 1564. His face was probably cast in the usual course of
things, and copies may have been distributed among his friends in Rome
and Florence. Lionardo Buonarroti showed at once a great anxiety to
obtain his uncle's bust from Daniele da Volterra. Possibly he ordered
it while resident in Rome, engaged in winding up Michelangelo's
affairs. At any rate, Daniele wrote on June 11 to this effect: "As
regards the portraits in metal, I have already completed a model in
wax, and the work is going on as fast as circumstances permit; you may
rely upon its being completed with due despatch and all the care I can
bestow upon it." Nearly four months had elapsed since Michelangelo's
decease, and this was quite enough time for the wax model to be made.
The work of casting was begun, but Daniele's health at this time
became so wretched that he found it impossible to work steadily at any
of his undertakings. He sank slowly, and expired in the early spring
of 1566.

What happened to the bronze heads in the interval between June 1564
and April 1566 may be partly understood from Diomede Leoni's
correspondence. This man, a native of San Quirico, was Daniele's
scholar, and an intimate friend of the Buonarroti family. On the 9th
of September 1564 he wrote to Lionardo: "Your two heads of that
sainted man are coming to a good result, and I am sure you will be
satisfied with them." It appears, then, that Lionardo had ordered two
copies from Daniele. On the 21st of April 1565 Diomede writes again:
"I delivered your messages to Messer Daniele, who replies that you are
always in his mind, as also the two heads of your lamented uncle. They
will soon be cast, as also will my copy, which I mean to keep by me
for my honour." The casting must have taken place in the summer of
1565, for Diomede writes upon the 6th of October: "I will remind him
(Daniele) of your two heads; and he will find mine well finished,
which will make him wish to have yours chased without further delay."
The three heads had then been cast; Diomede was polishing his up with
the file; Daniele had not yet begun to do this for Lionardo's. We hear
nothing more until the death of Daniele da Volterra. After this event
occurred, Lionardo Buonarroti received a letter from Jacopo del Duca,
a Sicilian bronze-caster of high merit, who had enjoyed Michelangelo's
confidence and friendship. He was at present employed upon the
metal-work for Buonarroti's monument in the Church of the SS. Apostoli
in Rome, and on the 18th of April he sent important information
respecting the two heads left by Daniele. "Messer Danielo had cast
them, but they are in such a state as to require working over afresh
with chisels and files. I am not sure, then, whether they will suit
your purpose; but that is your affair. I, for my part, should have
liked you to have the portrait from the hand of the lamented master
himself, and not from any other. Your lordship must decide: appeal to
some one who can inform you better than I do. I know that I am
speaking from the love I bear you; and perhaps, if Danielo had been
alive, he would have had them brought to proper finish. As for those
men of his, I do not know what they will do." On the same day, a
certain Michele Alberti wrote as follows: "Messer Jacopo, your gossip,
has told me that your lordship wished to know in what condition are
the heads of the late lamented Michelangelo. I inform you that they
are cast, and will be chased within the space of a month, or rather
more. So your lordship will be able to have them; and you may rest
assured that you will be well and quickly served." Alberti, we may
conjecture, was one of Daniele's men alluded to by Jacopo del Duca. It
is probable that just at this time they were making several _replicas_
from their deceased master's model, in order to dispose of them at an
advantage while Michelangelo's memory was still fresh. Lionardo grew
more and more impatient. He appealed again to Diomede Leoni, who
replied from San Quirico upon the 4th of June: "The two heads were in
existence when I left Rome, but not finished up. I imagine you have
given orders to have them delivered over to yourself. As for the work
of chasing them, if you can wait till my return, we might intrust them
to a man who succeeded very well with my own copy." Three years later,
on September 17, 1569, Diomede wrote once again about his copy of Da
Volterra's model: "I enjoy the continual contemplation of his effigy
in bronze, which is now perfectly finished and set up in my garden,
where you will see it, if good fortune favours me with a visit from

The net result of this correspondence seems to be that certainly three
bronze heads, and probably more, remained unfinished in Daniele da
Volterra's workshop after his death, and that these were gradually
cleaned and polished by different craftsmen, according to the pleasure
of their purchasers. The strong resemblance of the eight bronze heads
at present known to us, in combination with their different states of
surface-finish, correspond entirely to this conclusion. Mr. Fortnum,
in his classification, describes four as being not chased, one as
"rudely and broadly chased," three as "more or less chased."

Of these variants upon the model common to them all, we can only trace
one with relative certainty. It is the bust at present in the Bargello
Palace, whither it came from the Grand Ducal villa of Poggio
Imperiale. By the marriage of the heiress of the ducal house of Della
Rovere with a Duke of Tuscany, this work of art passed, with other art
treasures, notably with a statuette of Michelangelo's Moses, into the
possession of the Medici. A letter written in 1570 to the Duke of
Urbino by Buonarroti's house-servant, Antonio del Franzese of Castel
Durante, throws light upon the matter. He begins by saying that he is
glad to hear the Duke will accept the little Moses, though the object
is too slight in value to deserve his notice. Then he adds: "The head
of which your Excellency spoke in the very kind letter addressed to me
at your command is the true likeness of Michelangelo Buonarroti, my
old master; and it is of bronze, designed by himself. I keep it here
in Rome, and now present it to your Excellency." Antonio then, in all
probability, obtained one of the Daniele da Volterra bronzes; for it
is wholly incredible that what he writes about its having been made by
Michelangelo should be the truth. Had Michelangelo really modelled his
own portrait and cast it in bronze, we must have heard of this from
other sources. Moreover, the Medicean bust of Michelangelo which is
now placed in the Bargello, and which we believe to have come from
Urbino, belongs indubitably to the series of portraits made from
Daniele da Volterra's model.

To sum up this question of Michelangelo's authentic portraits: I
repeat that Bonasoni's engraving represents him at the age of seventy;
Leoni's wax model and medallions at eighty; the eight bronze heads,
derived from Daniele's model, at the epoch of his death. In painting,
Marco Venusti and Daniele da Volterra helped to establish a
traditional type by two episodical likenesses, the one worked into
Venusti's copy of the Last Judgment (at Naples), the other into
Volterra's original picture of the Assumption (at Trinita de' Monti,
Rome). For the rest, the easel-pictures, which abound, can hardly now
be distributed, by any sane method of criticism, between Bugiardini,
Jacopo del Conte, and Venusti. They must be taken _en masse_, as
contributions to the study of his personality; and, as I have already
said, the oil-painting of the Uffizi may perhaps be ascribed with some
show of probability to Bugiardini.


Michelangelo's correspondence with his nephew Lionardo gives us ample
details concerning his private life and interests in old age. It turns
mainly upon the following topics: investment of money in land near
Florence, the purchase of a mansion in the city, Lionardo's marriage,
his own illnesses, the Duke's invitation, and the project of making a
will, which was never carried out. Much as Michelangelo loved his
nephew, he took frequent occasions of snubbing him. For instance, news
reached Rome that the landed property of a certain Francesco Corboli
was going to be sold. Michelangelo sent to Lionardo requesting him to
make inquiries; and because the latter showed some alacrity in doing
so, his uncle wrote him the following querulous epistle: "You have
been very hasty in sending me information regarding the estates of the
Corboli. I did not think you were yet in Florence. Are you afraid lest
I should change my mind, as some one may perhaps have put it into your
head? I tell you that I want to go slowly in this affair, because the
money I must pay has been gained here with toil and trouble
unintelligible to one who was born clothed and shod as you were. About
your coming post-haste to Rome, I do not know that you came in such a
hurry when I was a pauper and lacked bread. Enough for you to throw
away the money that you did not earn. The fear of losing what you
might inherit on my death impelled you. You say it was your duty to
come, by reason of the love you bear me. The love of a woodworm! If
you really loved me, you would have written now: 'Michelangelo, spend
those 3000 ducats there upon yourself, for you have given us enough
already: your life is dearer to us than your money.' You have all of
you lived forty years upon me, and I have never had from you so much
as one good word. 'Tis true that last year I scolded and rebuked you
so that for very shame you sent me a load of trebbiano. I almost wish
you hadn't! I do not write this because I am unwilling to buy. Indeed
I have a mind to do so, in order to obtain an income for myself, now
that I cannot work more. But I want to buy at leisure, so as not to
purchase some annoyance. Therefore do not hurry."

Lionardo was careless about his handwriting, and this annoyed the old
man terribly.

"Do not write to me again. Each time I get one of your letters, a
fever takes me with the trouble I have in reading it. I do not know
where you learned to write. I think that if you were writing to the
greatest donkey in the world you would do it with more care. Therefore
do not add to the annoyances I have, for I have already quite enough
of them."

He returns to the subject over and over again, and once declares that
he has flung a letter of Lionardo's into the fire unread, and so is
incapable of answering it. This did not prevent a brisk interchange of
friendly communications between the uncle and nephew.

Lionardo was now living in the Buonarroti house in Via Ghibellina.
Michelangelo thought it advisable that he should remove into a more
commodious mansion, and one not subject to inundations of the
basement. He desired, however, not to go beyond the quarter of S.
Croce, where the family had been for centuries established. The matter
became urgent, for Lionardo wished to marry, and could not marry until
he was provided with a residence. Eventually, after rejecting many
plans and proffers of houses, they decided to enlarge and improve the
original Buonarroti mansion in Via Ghibellina. This house continued to
be their town-mansion until the year 1852, when it passed by
testamentary devise to the city of Florence. It is now the Museo

Lionardo was at this time thirty, and was the sole hope of the family,
since Michelangelo and his two surviving brothers had no expectation
of offspring. His uncle kept reminding the young man that, if he did
not marry and get children, the whole property of the Buonarroti would
go to the Hospital or to S. Martino. This made his marriage
imperative; and Michelangelo's letters between March 5, 1547, and May
16, 1553, when the desired event took place, are full of the subject.
He gives his nephew excellent advice as to the choice of a wife. She
ought to be ten years younger than himself, of noble birth, but not of
a very rich or powerful family; Lionardo must not expect her to be too
handsome, since he is no miracle of manly beauty; the great thing is
to obtain a good, useful, and obedient helpmate, who will not try to
get the upper hand in the house, and who will be grateful for an
honourable settlement in life. The following passages may be selected,
as specimens of Michelangelo's advice: "You ought not to look for a
dower, but only to consider whether the girl is well brought up,
healthy, of good character and noble blood. You are not yourself of
such parts and person as to be worthy of the first beauty of
Florence." "You have need of a wife who would stay with you, and whom
you could command, and who would not want to live in grand style or to
gad about every day to marriages and banquets. Where a court is, it is
easy to become a woman of loose life; especially for one who has no

Numerous young ladies were introduced by friends or matrimonial
agents. Six years, however, elapsed before the suitable person
presented herself in the shape of Cassandra, daughter of Donato
Ridolfi. Meanwhile, in 1548, Michelangelo lost the elder of his
surviving brothers. Giovan Simone died upon the 9th of January; and
though he had given but little satisfaction in his lifetime, his death
was felt acutely by the venerable artist. "I received news in your
last of Giovan Simone's death. It has caused me the greatest sorrow;
for though I am old, I had yet hoped to see him before he died, and
before I died. God has willed it so. Patience! I should be glad to
hear circumstantially what kind of end he made, and whether he
confessed and communicated with all the sacraments of the Church. If
he did so, and I am informed of it, I shall suffer less." A few days
after the date of this letter, Michelangelo writes again, blaming
Lionardo pretty severely for negligence in giving particulars of his
uncle's death and affairs. Later on, it seems that he was satisfied
regarding Giovan Simone's manner of departure from this world. A
grudge remained against Lionardo because he had omitted to inform him
about the property. "I heard the details from other persons before you
sent them, which angered me exceedingly."


The year 1549 is marked by an exchange of civilities between
Michelangelo and Benedetto Varchi. The learned man of letters and
minute historiographer of Florence probably enjoyed our great
sculptor's society in former years: recently they had been brought
into closer relations at Rome. Varchi, who was interested in critical
and academical problems, started the question whether sculpture or
painting could justly claim a priority in the plastic arts. He
conceived the very modern idea of collecting opinions from practical
craftsmen, instituting, in fact, what would now be called a
"Symposium" upon the subject. A good number of the answers to his
query have been preserved, and among them is a letter from
Michelangelo. It contains the following passage, which proves in how
deep a sense Buonarroti was by temperament and predilection a
sculptor: "My opinion is that all painting is the better the nearer it
approaches to relief, and relief is the worse in proportion as it
inclines to painting. And so I have been wont to think that sculpture
is the lamp of painting, and that the difference between them might be
likened to the difference between the sun and moon. Now that I have
read your essay, in which you maintain that, philosophically speaking,
things which fulfil the same purpose are essentially the same, I have
altered my view. Therefore I say that, if greater judgment and
difficulty, impediment and labour, in the handling of material do not
constitute higher nobility, then painting and sculpture form one art.
This being granted, it follows that no painter should underrate
sculpture, and no sculptor should make light of painting. By sculpture
I understand an art which operates by taking away superfluous
material; by painting, one that attains its result by laying on. It is
enough that both emanate from the same human intelligence, and
consequently sculpture and painting ought to live in amity together,
without these lengthy disputations. More time is wasted in talking
about the problem than would go to the making of figures in both
species. The man who wrote that painting was superior to sculpture, if
he understood the other things he says no better, might be called a
writer below the level of my maid-servant. There are infinite points
not yet expressed which might be brought out regarding these arts;
but, as I have said, they want too much time; and of time I have but
little, being not only old, but almost numbered with the dead.
Therefore, I pray you to have me excused. I recommend myself to you,
and thank you to the best of my ability for the too great honour you
have done me, which is more than I deserve."

Varchi printed this letter in a volume which he published at Florence
in 1549, and reissued through another firm in 1590. It contained the
treatise alluded to above, and also a commentary upon one of
Michelangelo's sonnets, "Non ha l'ottimo artista alcun concetto." The
book was duly sent to Michelangelo by the favour of a noble Florentine
gentleman, Luca Martini. He responded to the present in a letter which
deserves here to be recited. It is an eminent example of the urbanity
observed by him in the interchange of these and similar courtesies:--

"I have received your letter, together with a little book containing a
commentary on a sonnet of mine. The sonnet does indeed proceed from
me, but the commentary comes from heaven. In truth it is a marvellous
production; and I say this not on my own judgment only, but on that of
able men, especially of Messer Donato Giannotti, who is never tired of
reading it. He begs to be remembered to you. About the sonnet, I know
very well what that is worth. Yet be it what it may, I cannot refrain
from piquing myself a little on having been the cause of so beautiful
and learned a commentary. The author of it, by his words and praises,
shows clearly that he thinks me to be other than I am; so I beg you to
express me to him in terms corresponding to so much love, affection,
and courtesy. I entreat you to do this, because I feel myself
inadequate, and one who has gained golden opinions ought not to tempt
fortune; it is better to keep silence than to fall from that height. I
am old, and death has robbed me of the thoughts of my youth. He who
knows not what old age is, let him wait till it arrives: he cannot
know beforehand. Remember me, as I said, to Varchi, with deep
affection for his fine qualities, and as his servant wherever I may

Three other letters belonging to the same year show how deeply
Michelangelo was touched and gratified by the distinguished honour
Varchi paid him. In an earlier chapter of this book I have already
pointed out how this correspondence bears upon the question of his
friendship with Tommaso dei Cavalieri, and also upon an untenable
hypothesis advanced by recent Florentine students of his biography.
The incident is notable in other ways because Buonarroti was now
adopted as a poet by the Florentine Academy. With a width of sympathy
rare in such bodies, they condoned the ruggedness of his style and the
uncouthness of his versification in their admiration for the high
quality of his meditative inspiration. To the triple crown of
sculptor, painter, architect, he now added the laurels of the bard;
and this public recognition of his genius as a writer gave him
well-merited pleasure in his declining years.

While gathering up these scattered fragments of Buonarroti's later
life, I may here introduce a letter addressed to Benvenuto Cellini,
which illustrates his glad acceptance of all good work in

"My Benvenuto,--I have known you all these years as the greatest
goldsmith of whom the world ever heard, and now I am to know you for a
sculptor of the same quality. Messer Bindo Altoviti took me to see his
portrait bust in bronze, and told me it was by your hand. I admired it
much, but was sorry to see that it has been placed in a bad light. If
it had a proper illumination, it would show itself to be the fine work
it is."


Lionardo Buonarroti was at last married to Cassandra, the daughter of
Donato Ridolfi, upon the 16th of May 1553. One of the dearest wishes
which had occupied his uncle's mind so long, came thus to its
accomplishment. His letters are full of kindly thoughts for the young
couple, and of prudent advice to the husband, who had not arranged all
matters connected with the settlements to his own satisfaction.
Michelangelo congratulated Lionardo heartily upon his happiness, and
told him that he was minded to send the bride a handsome present, in
token of his esteem. "I have not been able to do so yet, because
Urbino was away. Now that he has returned, I shall give expression to
my sentiments. They tell me that a fine pearl necklace of some value
would be very proper. I have sent a goldsmith, Urbino's friend, in
search of such an ornament, and hope to find it; but say nothing to
her, and if you would like me to choose another article, please let me
know." This letter winds up with a strange admonition: "Look to
living, reflect and weigh things well; for the number of widows in the
world is always larger than that of the widowers." Ultimately he
decided upon two rings, one a diamond, the other a ruby. He tells
Lionardo to have the stones valued in case he has been cheated,
because he does not understand such things; and is glad to hear in due
course that the jewels are genuine. After the proper interval,
Cassandra expected her confinement, and Michelangelo corresponded with
his nephew as to the child's name in case it was a boy. "I shall be
very pleased if the name of Buonarroto does not die out of our family,
it having lasted three hundred years with us." The child was born upon
the 16th of May 1544, turned out a boy, and received the name of
Buonarroto. Though Lionardo had seven other children, including
Michelangelo the younger (born November 4, 1568), this Buonarroto
alone continued the male line of the family. The old man in Rome
remarked resignedly during his later years, when he heard the news of
a baby born and dead, that "I am not surprised; there was never in our
family more than one at a time to keep it going."

Buonarroto was christened with some pomp, and Vasari wrote to
Michelangelo describing the festivities. In the year 1554, Cosimo de'
Medici had thrown his net round Siena. The Marquis of Marignano
reduced the city first to extremities by famine, and finally to
enslavement by capitulation. These facts account for the tone of
Michelangelo's answer to Vasari's letter: "Yours has given me the
greatest pleasure, because it assures me that you remember the poor
old man; and more perhaps because you were present at the triumph you
narrate, of seeing another Buonarroto reborn. I thank you heartily for
the information. But I must say that I am displeased with so much pomp
and show. Man ought not to laugh when the whole world weeps. So I
think that Lionardo has not displayed great judgment, particularly in
celebrating a nativity with all that joy and gladness which ought to
be reserved for the decease of one who has lived well." There is what
may be called an Elizabethan note--something like the lyrical
interbreathings of our dramatists--in this blending of jubilation and
sorrow, discontent and satisfaction, birth and death thoughts.

We have seen that Vasari worked for a short time as pupil under
Michelangelo, and that during the pontificate of Paul III. they were
brought into frequent contact at Rome. With years their friendship
deepened into intimacy, and after the date 1550 their correspondence
forms one of our most important sources of information. Michelangelo's
letters begin upon the 1st of August in that year. Vasari was then
living and working for the Duke at Florence; but he had designed a
chapel for S. Pietro a Montorio in Rome, where Julius III. wished to
erect tombs to the memory of his ancestors; and the work had been
allotted to Bartolommeo Ammanati under Michelangelo's direction.

This business, otherwise of no importance in his biography,
necessitated the writing of despatches, one of which is interesting,
since it acknowledges the receipt of Vasari's celebrated book:--

"Referring to your three letters which I have received, my pen refuses
to reply to such high compliments. I should indeed be happy if I were
in some degree what you make me out to be, but I should not care for
this except that then you would have a servant worth something.
However, I am not surprised that you, who resuscitate the dead, should
prolong the life of the living, or that you should steal the half-dead
from death for an endless period."

It seems that on this occasion he also sent Vasari the sonnet composed
upon his Lives of the Painters. Though it cannot be called one of his
poetical masterpieces, the personal interest attaching to the verses
justifies their introduction here:--

_With pencil and with palette hitherto
You made your art high Nature's paragon;
Nay more, from Nature her own prize you won,
Making what she made fair more fair to view_.

_Now that your learned hand with labour new
Of pen and ink a worthier work hath done,
What erst you lacked, what still remained her own,
The power of giving life, is gained for you_.

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