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The Life of Michelangelo Buonarroti by John Addington Symonds

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_If men in any age with Nature vied
In beauteous workmanship, they had to yield
When to the fated end years brought their name_.

_You, re-illuming memories that died,
In spite of Time and Nature have revealed
For them and for yourself eternal fame_.

Vasari's official position at the ducal court of Florence brought him
into frequent and personal relations with Cosimo de' Medici. The Duke
had long been anxious to lure the most gifted of his subjects back to
Florence; but Michelangelo, though he remained a loyal servant to the
Medicean family, could not approve of Cosimo's despotic rule.
Moreover, he was now engaged by every tie of honour, interest, and
artistic ambition to superintend the fabric of S. Peter's. He showed
great tact, through delicate negotiations carried on for many years,
in avoiding the Duke's overtures without sacrificing his friendship.
Wishing to found his family in Florence and to fund the earnings of
his life there, he naturally assumed a courteous attitude. A letter
written by the Bishop Tornabuoni to Giovanni Francesco Lottini in Rome
shows that these overtures began as early as 1546. The prelate says
the Duke is so anxious to regain "Michelangelo, the divine sculptor,"
that he promises "to make him a member of the forty-eight senators,
and to give him any office he may ask for." The affair was dropped for
some years, but in 1552 Cosimo renewed his attempts, and now began to
employ Vasari and Cellini as ambassadors. Soon after finishing his
Perseus, Benvenuto begged for leave to go to Rome; and before
starting, he showed the Duke Michelangelo's friendly letter on the
bust of Bindo Altoviti. "He read it with much kindly interest, and
said to me: 'Benvenuto, if you write to him, and can persuade him to
return to Florence, I will make him a member of the Forty-eight.'
Accordingly I wrote a letter full of warmth, and offered in the Duke's
name a hundred times more than my commission carried; but not wanting
to make any mistake, I showed this to the Duke before I sealed it,
saying to his most illustrious Excellency: 'Prince, perhaps I have
made him too many promises.' He replied: 'Michel Agnolo deserves more
than you have promised, and I will bestow on him still greater
favours.' To this letter he sent no answer, and I could see that the
Duke was much offended with him."

While in Rome, Cellini went to visit Michelangelo, and renewed his
offers in the Duke's name. What passed in that interview is so
graphically told, introducing the rustic personality of Urbino on the
stage, and giving a hint of Michelangelo's reasons for not returning
in person to Florence, that the whole passage may be transcribed as
opening a little window on the details of our hero's domestic life:--

"Then I went to visit Michel Agnolo Buonarroti, and repeated what I
had written from Florence to him in the Duke's name. He replied that
he was engaged upon the fabric of S. Peter's, and that this would
prevent him from leaving Rome. I rejoined that, as he had decided on
the model of that building, he could leave its execution to his man
Urbino, who would carry out his orders to the letter. I added much
about future favours, in the form of a message from the Duke. Upon
this he looked me hard in the face, and said with a sarcastic smile:
'And you! to what extent are you satisfied with him?' Although I
replied that I was extremely contented and was very well treated by
his Excellency, he showed that he was acquainted with the greater part
of my annoyances, and gave as his final answer that it would be
difficult for him to leave Rome. To this I added that he could not do
better than to return to his own land, which was governed by a prince
renowned for justice, and the greatest lover of the arts and sciences
who ever saw the light of this world. As I have remarked above, he had
with him a servant of his who came from Urbino, and had lived many
years in his employment, rather as valet and housekeeper than anything
else; this indeed was obvious, because he had acquired no skill in the
arts. Consequently, while I was pressing Michel Agnolo with arguments
he could not answer, he turned round sharply to Urbino, as though to
ask him his opinion. The fellow began to bawl out in his rustic way:
'I will never leave my master Michel Agnolo's side till I shall have
flayed him or he shall have flayed me.' These stupid words forced me
to laugh, and without saying farewell, I lowered my shoulders and

This was in 1552. The Duke was loth to take a refusal, and for the
next eight years he continued to ply Michelangelo with invitations,
writing letters by his own hand, employing his agents in Rome and
Florence, and working through Vasari. The letters to Vasari during
this period are full of the subject. Michelangelo remains firm in his
intention to remain at Rome and not abandon S. Peter's. As years went
on, infirmities increased, and the solicitations of the Duke became
more and more irksome to the old man. His discomfort at last elicited
what may be called a real cry of pain in a letter to his nephew:--

"As regards my condition, I am ill with all the troubles which are
wont to afflict old men. The stone prevents me passing water. My loins
and back are so stiff that I often cannot climb upstairs. What makes
matters worse is that my mind is much worried with anxieties. If I
leave the conveniences I have here for my health, I can hardly live
three days. Yet I do not want to lose the favour of the Duke, nor
should I like to fail in my work at S. Peter's, nor in my duty to
myself. I pray God to help and counsel me; and if I were taken ill by
some dangerous fever, I would send for you at once."

Meanwhile, in spite of his resistance to the Duke's wishes,
Michelangelo did not lose the favour of the Medicean family. The
delicacy of behaviour by means of which he contrived to preserve and
strengthen it, is indeed one of the strongest evidences of his
sincerity, sagacity, and prudence. The Cardinal Giovanni, son of
Cosimo, travelled to Rome in March 1560, in order to be invested with
the purple by the Pope's hands. On this occasion Vasari, who rode in
the young prince's train, wrote despatches to Florence which contain
some interesting passages about Buonarroti. In one of them (March 29)
he says: "My friend Michelangelo is so old that I do not hope to
obtain much from him." Beside the reiterated overtures regarding a
return to Florence, the Church of the Florentines was now in progress,
and Cosimo also required Buonarroti's advice upon the decoration of
the Great Hall in the Palazzo della Signoria. In a second letter
(April 8) Vasari tells the Duke: "I reached Rome, and immediately
after the most reverend and illustrious Medici had made his entrance
and received the hat from our lord's hands, a ceremony which I wished
to see with a view to the frescoes in the Palace, I went to visit my
friend, the mighty Michelangelo. He had not expected me, and the
tenderness of his reception was such as old men show when lost sons
unexpectedly return to them. He fell upon my neck with a thousand
kisses, weeping for joy. He was so glad to see me, and I him, that I
have had no greater pleasure since I entered the service of your
Excellency, albeit I enjoy so many through your kindness. We talked
about the greatness and the wonders which our God in heaven has
wrought for you, and he lamented that he could not serve you with his
body, as he is ready to do with his talents at the least sign of your
will. He also expressed his sorrow at being unable to wait upon the
Cardinal, because he now can move about but little, and is grown so
old that he gets small rest, and is so low in health I fear he will
not last long, unless the goodness of God preserves him for the
building of S. Peter's." After some further particulars, Vasari adds
that he hopes "to spend Monday and Tuesday discussing the model of the
Great Hall with Michelangelo, as well as the composition of the
several frescoes. I have all that is necessary with me, and will do my
utmost, while remaining in his company, to extract useful information
and suggestions." We know from Vasari's Life of Michelangelo that the
plans for decorating the Palace were settled to his own and the Duke's
satisfaction during these colloquies at Rome.

Later on in the year, Cosimo came in person to Rome, attended by the
Duchess Eleonora. Michelangelo immediately waited on their Highnesses,
and was received with special marks of courtesy by the Duke, who bade
him to be seated at his side, and discoursed at length about his own
designs for Florence and certain discoveries he had made in the method
of working porphyry. These interviews, says Vasari, were repeated
several times during Cosimo's sojourn in Rome; and when the
Crown-Prince of Florence, Don Francesco, arrived, this young nobleman
showed his high respect for the great man by conversing with him cap
in hand.

The project of bringing Buonarroti back to Florence was finally
abandoned; but he had the satisfaction of feeling that, after the
lapse of more than seventy years, his long connection with the House
of Medici remained as firm and cordial as it had ever been. It was
also consolatory to know that the relations established between
himself and the reigning dynasty in Florence would prove of service to
Lionardo, upon whom he now had concentrated the whole of his strong
family affection.

In estimating Michelangelo as man, independent of his eminence as
artist, the most singular point which strikes us is this persistent
preoccupation with the ancient house he desired so earnestly to
rehabilitate. He treated Lionardo with the greatest brutality. Nothing
that this nephew did, or did not do, was right. Yet Lionardo was the
sole hope of the Buonarroti-Simoni stock. When he married and got
children, the old man purred with satisfaction over him, but only as a
breeder of the race; and he did all in his power to establish Lionardo
in a secure position.


Returning to the history of Michelangelo's domestic life, we have to
relate two sad events which happened to him at the end of 1555. On the
28th of September he wrote to Lionardo: "The bad news about Gismondo
afflicts me deeply. I am not without my own troubles of health, and
have many annoyances besides. In addition to all this, Urbino has been
ill in bed with me three months, and is so still, which causes me much
trouble and anxiety." Gismondo, who had been declining all the summer,
died upon the 13th of November. His brother in Rome was too much taken
up with the mortal sickness of his old friend and servant Urbino to
express great sorrow. "Your letter informs me of my brother Gismondo's
death, which is the cause to me of serious grief. We must have
patience; and inasmuch as he died sound of mind and with all the
sacraments of the Church, let God be praised. I am in great affliction
here. Urbino is still in bed, and very seriously ill. I do not know
what will come of it. I feel this trouble as though he were my own
son, because he has lived in my service twenty-five years, and has
been very faithful. Being old, I have no time to form another servant
to my purpose; and so I am sad exceedingly. If then, you know of some
devout person, I beg you to have prayers offered up to God for his

The next letter gives a short account of his death:--

"I inform you that yesterday, the 3rd of December, at four o'clock,
Francesco called Urbino passed from this life, to my very great
sorrow. He has left me sorely stricken and afflicted; nay, it would
have been sweeter to have died with him, such is the love I bore him.
Less than this love he did not deserve; for he had grown to be a
worthy man, full of faith and loyalty. So, then, I feel as though his
death had left me without life, and I cannot find heart's ease. I
should be glad to see you, therefore; only I cannot think how you can
leave Florence because of your wife."

To Vasari he wrote still more passionately upon this occasion:--

"I cannot write well; yet, in answer to your letter, I will say a few
words. You know that Urbino is dead. I owe the greatest thanks to God,
at the same time that my own loss is heavy and my sorrow infinite. The
grace He gave me is that, while Urbino kept me alive in life, his
death taught me to die without displeasure, rather with a deep and
real desire. I had him with me twenty-six years, and found him above
measure faithful and sincere. Now that I had made him rich, and
thought to keep him as the staff and rest of my old age, he has
vanished from my sight; nor have I hope left but that of seeing him
again in Paradise. God has given us good foundation for this hope in
the exceedingly happy ending of his life. Even more than dying, it
grieved him to leave me alive in this treacherous world, with so many
troubles; and yet the better part of me is gone with him, nor is there
left to me aught but infinite distress. I recommend myself to you, and
beg you, if it be not irksome, to make my excuses to Messer Benvenuto
(Cellini) for omitting to answer his letter. The trouble of soul I
suffer in thought about these things prevents me from writing.
Remember me to him, and take my best respects to yourself."

How tenderly Michelangelo's thought dwelt upon Urbino appears from
this sonnet, addressed in 1556 to Monsignor Lodovico Beccadelli:--

_God's grace, the cross, our troubles multiplied,
Will make us meet in heaven, full well I know:
Yet ere we yield, our breath on earth below,
Why need a little solace be denied?
Though seas and mountains and rough ways divide
Our feet asunder, neither frost nor snow
Can make the soul her ancient love; or ego;
Nor chains nor bonds the wings of thought have tied.
Borne by these wings, with thee I dwell for aye,
And weep, and of my dead Urbino talk,
Who, were he living, now perchance would be--
For so 'twas planned--thy guest as well as I.
Warned by his death, another way I walk
To meet him where he waits to live with me._

By his will, dated November 24, 1555, Urbino, whose real name was
Francesco degli Amadori of Castel Durante, appointed his old friend
and master one of his executors and the chief guardian of his widow
and children. A certain Roso de Rosis and Pietro Filippo Vandini, both
of Castel Durante, are named in the trust; and they managed the
estate. Yet Michelangelo was evidently the principal authority. A
voluminous correspondence preserved in the Buonarroti Archives proves
this; for it consists of numerous letters addressed by Urbino's
executors and family from Castel Durante and elsewhere to the old
sculptor in Rome. Urbino had married a woman of fine character and
high intelligence, named Cornelia Colonnelli. Two of her letters are
printed by Gotti, and deserve to be studied for the power of their
style and the elevation of their sentiments. He has not made use,
however, of the other documents, all of which have some interest as
giving a pretty complete view of a private family and its vexations,
while they illustrate the conscientious fidelity with which
Michelangelo discharged his duties as trustee. Urbino had a brother,
also resident at Castel Durante, Raffaello's celebrated pupil in
fresco-painting, Il Fattorino. This man and Vandini, together with
Cornelia and her parents and her second husband, Giulio Brunelli, all
wrote letters to Rome about the welfare of the children and the
financial affairs of the estate. The coexecutor Roso de Rosis did not
write; it appears from one of Cornelia's despatches that he took no
active interest in the trust, while Brunelli even complains that he
withheld moneys which were legally due to the heirs. One of
Michelangelo's first duties was to take care that Cornelia got a
proper man for her second husband. Her parents were eager to see her
married, being themselves old, and not liking to leave a comparatively
young widow alone in the world with so many children to look after.
Their choice fell first upon a very undesirable person called
Santagnolo, a young man of dissolute habits, ruined constitution, bad
character, and no estate. She refused, with spirit, to sign the
marriage contract; and a few months later wrote again to inform her
guardian that a suitable match had been found in the person of Giulio
Brunelli of Gubbio, a young doctor of laws, then resident at Castel
Durante in the quality of podesta. Michelangelo's suspicions must have
been aroused by the unworthy conduct of her parents in the matter of
Santagnolo; for we infer that he at first refused to sanction this
second match. Cornelia and the parents wrote once more, assuring him
that Brunelli was an excellent man, and entreating him not to open his
ears to malignant gossip. On the 15th of June Brunelli himself appears
upon the scene, announcing his marriage with Cornelia, introducing
himself in terms of becoming modesty to Michelangelo, and assuring him
that Urbino's children have found a second father. He writes again
upon the 29th of July, this time to announce the fact that Il
Fattorino has spread about false rumours to the effect that Cornelia
and himself intend to leave Castel Durante and desert the children.
Their guardian must not credit such idle gossip, for they are both
sincerely attached to the children, and intend to do the best they can
for them. Family dissensions began to trouble their peace. In the
course of the next few months Brunelli discovers that he cannot act
with the Fattorino or with Vandini; Cornelia's dowry is not paid; Roso
refuses to refund money due to the heirs; Michelangelo alone can
decide what ought to be done for the estate and his wards. The
Fattorino writes that Vandini has renounced the trust, and that all
Brunelli's and his own entreaties cannot make him resume it. For
himself, he is resolved not to bear the burden alone. He has his own
shop to look after, and will not let himself be bothered. Unluckily,
none of Michelangelo's answers have been preserved. We possess only
one of his letters to Cornelia, which shows that she wished to place
her son and his godson, Michelangelo, under his care at Rome. He
replied that he did not feel himself in a position to accept the
responsibility. "It would not do to send Michelangelo, seeing that I
have nobody to manage the house and no female servants; the boy is
still of tender age, and things might happen which would cause me the
utmost annoyance. Moreover, the Duke of Florence has during the last
month been making me the greatest offers, and putting strong pressure
upon me to return home. I have begged for time to arrange my affairs
here and leave S. Peter's in good order. So I expect to remain in Rome
all the summer; and when I have settled my business, and yours with
the Monte della Fede, I shall probably remove to Florence this winter
and take up my abode there for good. I am old now, and have not the
time to return to Rome. I will travel by way of Urbino; and if you
like to give me Michelangelo, I will bring him to Florence, with more
love than the sons of my nephew Lionardo, and will teach him all the
things which I know that his father desired that he should learn."


The year 1556 was marked by an excursion which took Michelangelo into
the mountain district of Spoleto. Paul IV.'s anti-Spanish policy had
forced the Viceroy of Naples to make a formidable military
demonstration. Accordingly the Duke of Alva, at the head of a powerful
force, left Naples on the 1st of September and invaded the Campagna.
The Romans dreaded a second siege and sack; not without reason,
although the real intention of the expedition was to cow the fiery
Pope into submission. It is impossible, when we remember
Michelangelo's liability to panics, not to connect his autumn journey
with a wish to escape from trouble in Rome. On the 31st of October he
wrote to Lionardo that he had undertaken a pilgrimage to Loreto, but
feeling tired, had stopped to rest at Spoleto. While he was there, a
messenger arrived post-haste from Rome, commanding his immediate
return. He is now once more at home there, and as well as the
troublous circumstances of the times permit.

Later on he told Vasari: "I have recently enjoyed a great pleasure,
though purchased at the cost of great discomfort and expense, among
the mountains of Spoleto, on a visit to those hermits. Consequently, I
have come back less than half myself to Rome; for of a truth there is
no peace to be found except among the woods." This is the only passage
in the whole of Michelangelo's correspondence which betrays the least
feeling for wild nature. We cannot pretend, even here, to detect an
interest in landscape or a true appreciation of country life. Compared
with Rome and the Duke of Alva, those hermitages of the hills among
their chestnut groves seemed to him haunts of ancient peace. That is
all; but when dealing with a man so sternly insensible to the charm of
the external world, we have to be contented with a little.

In connection with this brief sojourn at Spoleto I will introduce two
letters written to Michelangelo by the Archbishop of Ragusa from his
See. The first is dated March 28, 1557. and was sent to Spoleto,
probably under the impression that Buonarroti had not yet returned to
Rome. After lamenting the unsettled state of public affairs, the
Archbishop adds: "Keep well in your bodily health; as for that of your
soul, I am sure you cannot be ill, knowing what prudence and piety
keep you in perpetual companionship." The second followed at the
interval of a year, April 6, 1558. and gave a pathetic picture of the
meek old prelate's discomfort in his Dalmatian bishopric. He calls
Ragusa "this exceedingly ill-cultivated vineyard of mine. Oftentimes
does the carnal man in me revolt and yearn for Italy, for relatives
and friends; but the spirit keeps desire in check, and compels it to
be satisfied with that which is the pleasure of our Lord." Though the
biographical importance of these extracts is but slight, I am glad,
while recording the outlines of Buonarroti's character, to cast a
side-light on his amiable qualities, and to show how highly valued he
was by persons of the purest life.


There was nothing peculiarly severe about the infirmities of
Michelangelo's old age. We first hear of the dysuria from which he
suffered, in 1548. He writes to Lionardo thanking him for pears: "I
duly received the little barrel of pears you sent me. There were
eighty-six. Thirty-three of them I sent to the Pope, who praised them
as fine, and who enjoyed them. I have lately been in great difficulty
from dysuria. However, I am better now. And thus I write to you,
chiefly lest some chatterbox should scribble a thousand lies to make
you jump." In the spring of 1549 he says that the doctors believe he
is suffering from calculus: "The pain is great, and prevents me from
sleeping. They propose that I should try the mineral waters of
Viterbo; but I cannot go before the beginning of May. For the rest, as
concerns my bodily condition, I am much the same as I was at thirty.
This mischief has crept upon me through the great hardships of my life
and heedlessness." A few days later he writes that a certain water he
is taking, whether mineral or medicine, has been making a beneficial
change. The following letters are very cheerful, and at length he is
able to write: "With regard to my disease, I am greatly improved in
health, and have hope, much to the surprise of many; for people
thought me a lost man, and so I believed. I have had a good doctor,
but I put more faith in prayers than I do in medicines." His physician
was a very famous man, Realdo Colombo. In the summer of the same year
he tells Lionardo that he has been drinking for the last two months
water from a fountain forty miles distant from Rome. "I have to lay in
a stock of it, and to drink nothing else, and also to use it in
cooking, and to observe rules of living to which I am not used."

Although the immediate danger from the calculus passed away,
Michelangelo grew feebler yearly. We have already seen how he wrote to
Lionardo while Cosimo de' Medici was urging him to come to Florence in
1557. Passages in his correspondence with Lionardo like the following
are frequent: "Writing is the greatest annoyance to my hand, my sight,
my brains. So works old age!" "I go on enduring old age as well as I
am able, with all the evils and discomforts it brings in its train;
and I recommend myself to Him who can assist me." It was natural,
after he had passed the ordinary term of life and was attacked with a
disease so serious as the stone, that his thoughts should take a
serious tone. Thus he writes to Lionardo: "This illness has made me
think of setting the affairs of my soul and body more in order than I
should have done. Accordingly, I have drawn up a rough sketch of a
will, which I will send you by the next courier if I am able, and you
can tell me what you think." The will provided that Gismondo and
Lionardo Buonarroti should be his joint-heirs, without the power of
dividing the property. This practically left Lionardo his sole heir
after Gismondo's life-tenancy of a moiety. It does not, however, seem
to have been executed, for Michelangelo died intestate. Probably, he
judged it simplest to allow Lionardo to become his heir-general by the
mere course of events. At the same time, he now displayed more than
his usual munificence in charity. Lionardo was frequently instructed
to seek out a poor and gentle family, who were living in decent
distress, _poveri vergognosi_, as the Italians called such persons.
Money was to be bestowed upon them with the utmost secrecy; and the
way which Michelangelo proposed, was to dower a daughter or to pay for
her entrance into a convent. It has been suggested that this method of
seeking to benefit the deserving poor denoted a morbid tendency in
Michelangelo's nature; but any one who is acquainted with Italian
customs in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance must be aware that
nothing was commoner than to dower poor girls or to establish them in
nunneries by way of charity. Urbino, for example, by his will bound
his executors to provide for the marriage of two honest girls with a
dowry of twenty florins apiece within the space of four years from his

The religious sonnets, which are certainly among the finest of
Michelangelo's compositions, belong to this period. Writing to Vasari
on the 10th of September 1554, he begins: "You will probably say that
I am old and mad to think of writing sonnets; yet since many persons
pretend that I am in my second childhood, I have thought it well to
act accordingly." Then follows this magnificent piece of verse, in
which the sincerest feelings of the pious heart are expressed with a
sublime dignity:--

_Now hath my life across a stormy sea,
Like a frail bark, reached that wide fort where all
Are bidden, ere the final reckoning fall
Of good and evil for eternity.
Now know I well how that fond phantasy
Which made my soul the worshipper and thrall
Of earthly art is vain; how criminal
Is that which all men seek unwillingly.
Those amorous thoughts which were so lightly dressed,
What are they when the double death is nigh?
The one I know for sure, the other dread.
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._

A second sonnet, enclosed in a letter to Vasari, runs as follows:--

_The fables of the world have filched away
The time I had for thinking upon God;
His grace lies buried 'neath oblivion's sod,
Whence springs an evil crop of sins alway._

_What makes another wise, leads me astray,
Slow to discern the bad path I have trod:
Hope fades, but still desire ascends that God
May free me from self-love, my sure decay.
Shorten half-way my road to heaven from earth!
Dear Lord, I cannot even half-way rise
Unless Thou help me on this pilgrimage.
Teach me to hate the world so little worth,
And, all the lovely things I clasp and prize,
That endless life, ere death, may be my wage._

While still in his seventieth year, Michelangelo had educated himself
to meditate upon the thought of death as a prophylactic against vain
distractions and the passion of love. "I may remind you that a man who
would fain return unto and enjoy his own self ought not to indulge so
much in merrymakings and festivities, but to think on death. This
thought is the only one which makes us know our proper selves, which
holds us together in the bond of our own nature, which prevents us
from being stolen away by kinsmen, friends, great men of genius,
ambition, avarice, and those other sins and vices which filch the man
from himself, keep him distraught and dispersed, without ever
permitting him to return unto himself and reunite his scattered parts.
Marvellous is the operation of this thought of death, which, albeit
death, by his nature, destroys all things, preserves and supports
those who think on death, and defends them from all human passions."
He supports this position by reciting a madrigal he had composed, to
show how the thought of death is the greatest foe to love:--

_Not death indeed, but the dread thought of death
Saveth and severeth
Me from the heartless fair who doth me slay:
And should, perchance, some day_
_The fire consuming blaze o'er measure bright,
I find for my sad plight
No help but from death's form fixed in my heart;
Since, where death reigneth, love must dwell apart._

In some way or another, then, Michelangelo used the thought of death
as the mystagogue of his spirit into the temple of eternal
things--[Greek: ta aidia], _die bleibenden Verhaeltnisse_--and as the
means of maintaining self-control and self-coherence amid the
ever-shifting illusions of human life. This explains why in his
love-sonnets he rarely speaks of carnal beauty except as the
manifestation of the divine idea, which will be clearer to the soul
after death than in the body.

When his life was drawing toward its close, Michelangelo's friends
were not unnaturally anxious about his condition. Though he had a
fairly good servant in Antonio del Franzese, and was surrounded by
well-wishers like Tommaso Cavalieri, Daniele da Volterra, and Tiberio
Calcagni, yet he led a very solitary life, and they felt he ought to
be protected. Vasari tells us that he communicated privately with
Averardo Serristori, the Duke's ambassador in Rome, recommending that
some proper housekeeper should be appointed, and that due control
should be instituted over the persons who frequented his house. It was
very desirable, in case of a sudden accident, that his drawings and
works of art should not be dispersed, but that what belonged to S.
Peter's, to the Laurentian Library, and to the Sacristy should be duly
assigned. Lionardo Buonarroti must have received similar advice from
Rome, for a furious letter is extant, in which Michelangelo, impatient
to the last of interference, literally rages at him:--

"I gather from your letter that you lend credence to certain envious
and scoundrelly persons, who, since they cannot manage me or rob me,
write you a lot of lies. They are a set of sharpers, and you are so
silly as to believe what they say about my affairs, as though I were a
baby. Get rid of them, the scandalous, envious, ill-lived rascals. As
for my suffering the mismanagement you write about, I tell you that I
could not be better off, or more faithfully served and attended to in
all things. As for my being robbed, to which I think you allude, I
assure you that I have people in my house whom I can trust and repose
on. Therefore, look to your own life, and do not think about my
affairs, because I know how to take care of myself if it is needful,
and am not a baby. Keep well."

This is the last letter to Lionardo. It is singular that
Michelangelo's correspondence with his father, with Luigi del Riccio,
with Tommaso dei Cavalieri, and with his nephew, all of whom he
sincerely loved, should close upon a note of petulance and wrath. The
fact is no doubt accidental. But it is strange.


We have frequently had occasion to notice the extreme pain caused to
Michelangelo's friends by his unreasonable irritability and readiness
to credit injurious reports about them. These defects of temper
justified to some extent his reputation for savagery, and they must be
reckoned among the most salient features of his personality. I shall
therefore add three other instances of the same kind which fell under
my observation while studying the inedited documents of the Buonarroti
Archives. Giovanni Francesco Fattucci was, as we well know, his most
intimate friend and trusted counsellor during long and difficult
years, when the negotiations with the heirs of Pope Julius were being
carried on; yet there exists one letter of unaffected sorrow from this
excellent man, under date October 14, 1545, which shows that for some
unaccountable reason Michelangelo had suddenly chosen to mistrust him.
Fattucci begins by declaring that he is wholly guiltless of things
which his friend too credulously believed upon the strength of gossip.
He expresses the deepest grief at this unjust and suspicious
treatment. The letter shows him to have been more hurt than resentful.
Another document signed by Francesco Sangallo (the son of his old
friend Giuliano), bearing no date, but obviously written when they
were both in Florence, and therefore before the year 1535, carries the
same burden of complaint. The details are sufficiently picturesque to
warrant the translation of a passage. After expressing astonishment at
Michelangelo's habit of avoiding his society, he proceeds: "And now,
this morning, not thinking that I should annoy you, I came up and
spoke to you, and you received me with a very surly countenance. That
evening, too, when I met you on the threshold with Granacci, and you
left me by the shop of Pietro Osaio, and the other forenoon at S.
Spirito, and to-day, it struck me as extremely strange, especially in
the presence of Piloto and so many others. I cannot help thinking that
you must have some grudge against me; but I marvel that you do not
open out your mind to me, because it may be something which is wholly
false." The letter winds up with an earnest protest that he has always
been a true and faithful friend. He begs to be allowed to come and
clear the matter up in conversation, adding that he would rather lose
the good-will of the whole world than Michelangelo's.

The third letter is somewhat different in tone, and not so personally
interesting. Still it illustrates the nervousness and apprehension
under which Michelangelo's acquaintances continually lived. The
painter commonly known as Rosso Fiorentino was on a visit to Rome,
where he studied the Sistine frescoes. They do not appear to have
altogether pleased him, and he uttered his opinion somewhat too freely
in public. Now he pens a long elaborate epistle, full of adulation, to
purge himself of having depreciated Michelangelo's works. People said
that "when I reached Rome, and entered the chapel painted by your
hand, I exclaimed that I was not going to adopt that manner." One of
Buonarroti's pupils had been particularly offended. Rosso protests
that he rather likes the man for his loyalty; but he wishes to remove
any impression which Michelangelo may have received of his own
irreverence or want of admiration. The one thing he is most solicitous
about is not to lose the great man's good-will.

It must be added, at the close of this investigation, that however hot
and hasty Michelangelo may have been, and however readily he lent his
ear to rumours, he contrived to renew the broken threads of friendship
with the persons he had hurt by his irritability.



During the winter of 1563-64 Michelangelo's friends in Rome became
extremely anxious about his health, and kept Lionardo Buonarroti from
time to time informed of his proceedings. After New Year it was clear
that he could not long maintain his former ways of life. Though within
a few months of ninety, he persisted in going abroad in all weathers,
and refused to surround himself with the comforts befitting a man of
his eminence and venerable age. On the 14th of February he seems to
have had a kind of seizure. Tiberio Calcagni, writing that day to
Lionardo, gives expression to his grave anxiety: "Walking through Rome
to-day, I heard from many persons that Messer Michelangelo was ill.
Accordingly I went at once to visit him, and although it was raining I
found him out of doors on foot. When I saw him, I said that I did not
think it right and seemly for him to be going about in such weather
'What do you want?' he answered; 'I am ill, and cannot find rest
anywhere.' The uncertainty of his speech, together with the look and
colour of his face, made me feel extremely uneasy about his life. The
end may not be just now, but I fear greatly that it cannot be far
off." Michelangelo did not leave the house again, but spent the next
four days partly reclining in an arm-chair, partly in bed. Upon the
15th following, Diomede Leoni wrote to Lionardo, enclosing a letter by
the hand of Daniele da Volterra, which Michelangelo had signed. The
old man felt his end approaching, and wished to see his nephew. "You
will learn from the enclosure how ill he is, and that he wants you to
come to Rome. He was taken ill yesterday. I therefore exhort you to
come at once, but do so with sufficient prudence. The roads are bad
now, and you are not used to travel by post. This being so, you would
run some risk if you came post-haste. Taking your own time upon the
way, you may feel at ease when you remember that Messer Tommaso dei
Cavalieri, Messer Daniele, and I are here to render every possible
assistance in your absence. Beside us, Antonio, the old and faithful
servant of your uncle, will be helpful in any service that may be
expected from him." Diomede reiterates his advice that Lionardo should
run no risks by travelling too fast. "If the illness portends
mischief, which God forbid, you could not with the utmost haste arrive
in time.... I left him just now, a little after 8 P.M., in full
possession of his faculties and quiet in his mind, but oppressed with
a continued sleepiness. This has annoyed him so much that, between
three and four this afternoon, he tried to go out riding, as his wont
is every evening in good weather. The coldness of the weather and the
weakness of his head and legs prevented him; so he returned to the
fire-side, and settled down into an easy chair, which he greatly
prefers to the bed." No improvement gave a ray of hope to
Michelangelo's friends, and two days later, on the 17th, Tiberio
Calcagni took up the correspondence with Lionardo: "This is to beg you
to hasten your coming as much as possible, even though the weather be
unfavourable. It is certain now that our dear Messer Michelangelo must
leave us for good and all, and he ought to have the consolation of
seeing you." Next day, on the 18th, Diomede Leoni wrote again: "He
died without making a will, but in the attitude of a perfect
Christian, this evening, about the Ave Maria. I was present, together
with Messer Tommaso dei Cavalieri and Messer Daniele da Volterra, and
we put everything in such order that you may rest with a tranquil
mind. Yesterday Michelangelo sent for our friend Messer Daniele, and
besought him to take up his abode in the house until such time as you
arrive, and this he will do."

It was at a little before five o'clock on the afternoon of February
18, 1564, that Michelangelo breathed his last. The physicians who
attended him to the end were Federigo Donati, and Gherardo
Fidelissimi, of Pistoja. It is reported by Vasari that, during his
last moments, "he made his will in three sentences, committing his
soul into the hands of God, his body to the earth, and his substance
to his nearest relatives; enjoining upon these last, when their hour
came, to think upon the sufferings of Jesus Christ."

On the following day, February 19, Averardo Serristori, the Florentine
envoy in Rome, sent a despatch to the Duke, informing him of
Michelangelo's decease: "This morning, according to an arrangement I
had made, the Governor sent to take an inventory of all the articles
found in his house. These were few, and very few drawings. However,
what was there they duly registered. The most important object was a
box sealed with several seals, which the Governor ordered to be opened
in the presence of Messer Tommaso dei Cavalieri and Maestro Daniele da
Volterra, who had been sent for by Michelangelo before his death. Some
seven or eight thousand crowns were found in it, which have now been
deposited with the Ubaldini bankers. This was the command issued by
the Governor, and those whom it concerns will have to go there to get
the money. The people of the house will be examined as to whether
anything has been carried away from it. This is not supposed to have
been the case. As far as drawings are concerned, they say that he
burned what he had by him before he died. What there is shall be
handed over to his nephew when he comes, and this your Excellency can
inform him."

The objects of art discovered in Michelangelo's house were a
blocked-out statue of S. Peter, an unfinished Christ with another
figure, and a statuette of Christ with the cross, resembling the
Cristo Risorto of S. Maria Sopra Minerva. Ten original drawings were
also catalogued, one of which (a Pieta) belonged to Tommaso dei
Cavalieri; another (an Epiphany) was given to the notary, while the
rest came into the possession of Lionardo Buonarroti. The cash-box,
which had been sealed by Tommaso dei Cavalieri and Diomede Leoni, was
handed over to the Ubaldini, and from them it passed to Lionardo
Buonarroti at the end of February.


Lionardo travelled by post to Rome, but did not arrive until three
days after his uncle's death. He began at once to take measures for
the transport of Michelangelo's remains to Florence, according to the
wish of the old man, frequently expressed and solemnly repeated two
days before his death. The corpse had been deposited in the Church of
the SS. Apostoli, where the funeral was celebrated with becoming pomp
by all the Florentines in Rome, and by artists of every degree. The
Romans had come to regard Buonarroti as one of themselves, and, when
the report went abroad that he had expressed a wish to be buried in
Florence, they refused to believe it, and began to project a decent
monument to his memory in the Church of the SS. Apostoli. In order to
secure his object, Lionardo was obliged to steal the body away, and to
despatch it under the guise of mercantile goods to the custom-house of
Florence. Vasari wrote to him from that city upon the 10th of March,
informing him that the packing-case had duly arrived, and had been
left under seals until his, Lionardo's, arrival at the custom-house.

About this time two plans were set on foot for erecting monuments to
Michelangelo's memory. The scheme started by the Romans immediately
after his death took its course, and the result is that tomb at the
SS. Apostoli, which undoubtedly was meant to be a statue-portrait of
the man. Vasari received from Lionardo Buonarroti commission to erect
the tomb in S. Croce. The correspondence of the latter, both with
Vasari and with Jacopo del Duca, who superintended the Roman monument,
turns for some time upon these tombs. It is much to Vasari's credit
that he wanted to place the Pieta which Michelangelo had broken, above
the S. Croce sepulchre. He writes upon the subject in these words:
"When I reflect that Michelangelo asserted, as is well known also to
Daniele, Messer Tommaso dei Cavalieri, and many other of his friends,
that he was making the Pieta of five figures, which he broke, to serve
for his own tomb, I think that his heir ought to inquire how it came
into the possession of Bandini. Besides, there is an old man in the
group who represents the person of the sculptor. I entreat you,
therefore, to take measures for regaining this Pieta, and I will make
use of it in my design. Pierantonio Bandini is very courteous, and
will probably consent. In this way you will gain several points. You
will assign to your uncle's sepulchre the group he planned to place
there, and you will be able to hand over the statues in Via Mozza to
his Excellency, receiving in return enough money to complete the
monument." Of the marbles in the Via Mozza at Florence, where
Michelangelo's workshop stood, I have seen no catalogue, but they
certainly comprised the Victory, probably also the Adonis and the
Apollino. There had been some thought of adapting the Victory to the
tomb in S. Croce. Vasari, however, doubted whether this group could be
applied in any forcible sense allegorically to Buonarroti as man or as

Eventually, as we know, the very mediocre monument designed by Vasari,
which still exists at S. Croce, was erected at Lionardo Buonarroti's
expense, the Duke supplying a sufficiency of marble.


It ought here to be mentioned that, in the spring of 1563, Cosimo
founded an Academy of Fine Arts, under the title of "Arte del
Disegno." It embraced all the painters, architects, and sculptors of
Florence in a kind of guild, with privileges, grades, honours, and
officers. The Duke condescended to be the first president of this
academy. Next to him, Michelangelo was elected unanimously by all the
members as their uncontested principal and leader, "inasmuch as this
city, and peradventure the whole world, hath not a master more
excellent in the three arts." The first great work upon which the Duke
hoped to employ the guild was the completion of the sacristy at S.
Lorenzo. Vasari's letter to Michelangelo shows that up to this date
none of the statues had been erected in their proper places, and that
it was intended to add a great number of figures, as well as to adorn
blank spaces in the walls with frescoes. All the best artists of the
time, including Gian Bologna, Cellini, Bronzino, Tribolo, Montelupo,
Ammanati, offered their willing assistance, "forasmuch as there is not
one of us but hath learned in this sacristy, or rather in this our
school, whatever excellence he possesses in the arts of design." We
know already only too well that the scheme was never carried out,
probably in part because Michelangelo's rapidly declining strength
prevented him from furnishing these eager artists with the necessary
working drawings. Cosimo's anxiety to gain possession of any sketches
left in Rome after Buonarroti's death may be ascribed to this project
for completing the works begun at S. Lorenzo.

Well then, upon the news of Michelangelo's death, the academicians
were summoned by their lieutenant, Don Vincenzo Borghini, to
deliberate upon the best way of paying him honour, and celebrating his
obsequies with befitting pomp. It was decided that all the leading
artists should contribute something, each in his own line, to the
erection of a splendid catafalque, and a sub-committee of four men was
elected to superintend its execution. These were Angelo Bronzino and
Vasari, Benvenuto Cellini and Ammanati, friends of the deceased, and
men of highest mark in the two fields of painting and sculpture. The
church selected for the ceremony was S. Lorenzo; the orator appointed
was Benedetto Varchi. Borghini, in his capacity of lieutenant or
official representative, obtained the Duke's assent to the plan, which
was subsequently carried out, as we shall see in due course.

Notwithstanding what Vasari wrote to Lionardo about his uncle's coffin
having been left at the Dogana, it seems that it was removed upon the
very day of its arrival, March II, to the Oratory of the Assunta,
underneath the church of S. Pietro Maggiore. On the following day the
painters, sculptors, and architects of the newly founded academy met
together at this place, intending to transfer the body secretly to S.
Croce. They only brought a single pall of velvet, embroidered with
gold, and a crucifix, to place upon the bier. When night fell, the
elder men lighted torches, while the younger crowded together, vying
one with another for the privilege of carrying the coffin. Meantime
the Florentines, suspecting that something unusual was going forward
at S. Pietro, gathered round, and soon the news spread through the
city that Michelangelo was being borne to S. Croce. A vast concourse
of people in this way came unexpectedly together, following the
artists through the streets, and doing pathetic honour to the memory
of the illustrious dead. The spacious church of S. Croce was crowded
in all its length and breadth, so that the pall-bearers had
considerable difficulty in reaching the sacristy with their precious
burden. In that place Don Vincenzo Borghini, who was lieutenant of the
academy, ordered that the coffin should be opened. "He thought he
should be doing what was pleasing to many of those present; and, as he
afterwards admitted, he was personally anxious to behold in death one
whom he had never seen in life, or at any rate so long ago as to have
quite forgotten the occasion. All of us who stood by expected to find
the corpse already defaced by the outrage of the sepulchre, inasmuch
as twenty-five days had elapsed since Michelangelo's death, and
twenty-one since his consignment to the coffin; but, to our great
surprise, the dead man lay before us perfect in all his parts, and
without the evil odours of the grave; indeed, one might have thought
that he was resting in a sweet and very tranquil slumber. Not only did
the features of his countenance bear exactly the same aspect as in
life, except for some inevitable pallor, but none of his limbs were
injured, or repulsive to the sight. The head and cheeks, to the touch,
felt just as though he had breathed his last but a few hours since."
As soon as the eagerness of the multitude calmed down a little, the
bier was carried into the church again, and the coffin was deposited
in a proper place behind the altar of the Cavalcanti.

When the academicians decreed a catafalque for Michelangelo's solemn
obsequies in S. Lorenzo, they did not aim so much at worldly splendour
or gorgeous trappings as at an impressive monument, combining the
several arts which he had practised in his lifetime. Being made of
stucco, woodwork, plaster, and such perishable materials, it was
unfortunately destined to decay. But Florence had always been liberal,
nay, lavish, of her genius in triumphs, masques, magnificent street
architecture, evoked to celebrate some ephemeral event. A worthier
occasion would not occur again; and we have every reason to believe
that the superb structure, which was finally exposed to view upon the
14th of July, displayed all that was left at Florence of the grand
style in the arts of modelling and painting. They were decadent
indeed; during the eighty-nine years of Buonarroti's life upon earth
they had expanded, flourished, and flowered with infinite variety in
rapid evolution. He lived to watch their decline; yet the sunset of
that long day was still splendid to the eyes and senses.

The four deputies appointed by the academy held frequent sittings
before the plan was fixed, and the several parts had been assigned to
individual craftsmen. Ill health prevented Cellini from attending, but
he sent a letter to the lieutenant, which throws some interesting
light upon the project in its earlier stages. A minute description of
the monument was published soon after the event. Another may be read
in the pages of Vasari. Varchi committed his oration to the press, and
two other panegyrical discourses were issued, under the names of
Leonardo Salviati and Giovan Maria Tarsia. Poems composed on the
occasion were collected into one volume, and distributed by the
Florentine firm of Sermatelli. To load these pages with the details of
allegorical statues and pictures which have long passed out of
existence, and to cite passages from funeral speeches, seems to me
useless. It is enough to have directed the inquisitive to sources
where their curiosity may be gratified.


It would be impossible to take leave of Michelangelo without some
general survey of his character and qualities. With this object in
view I do not think I can do better than to follow what Condivi says
at the close of his biography, omitting those passages which have been
already used in the body of this book, and supplementing his summary
with illustrative anecdotes from Vasari. Both of these men knew him
intimately during the last years of his life; and if it is desirable
to learn how a man strikes his contemporaries, we obtain from them a
lively and veracious, though perhaps a slightly flattered, picture of
the great master whom they studied with love and admiration from
somewhat different points of view. This will introduce a critical
examination of the analysis to which the psychology; of Michelangelo
has recently been subjected.

Condivi opens his peroration with the following paragraphs:--

"Now, to conclude this gossiping discourse of mine, I say that it is
my opinion that in painting and sculpture nature bestowed all her
riches with a full hand upon Michelangelo. I do not fear reproach or
contradiction when I repeat that his statues are, as it were,
inimitable. Nor do I think that I have suffered myself to exceed the
bounds of truth while making this assertion. In the first place, he is
the only artist who has handled both brush and mallet with equal
excellence. Then we have no relics left of antique paintings to
compare with his; and though many classical works in statuary survive,
to whom among the ancients does he yield the palm in sculpture? In the
judgment of experts and practical artists, he certainly yields to
none; and were, we to consult the vulgar, who admire antiquity without
criticism, through a kind of jealousy toward the talents and the
industry of their own times, even here we shall find none who say the
contrary; to such a height has this great man soared above the scope
of envy. Raffaello of Urbino, though he chose to strive in rivalry
with Michelangelo, was wont to say that he thanked God for having been
born in his days, since he learned from him a manner very different
from that which his father, who was a painter, and his master,
Perugino, taught him. Then, too, what proof of his singular excellence
could be wished for, more convincing and more valid, than the
eagerness with which the sovereigns of the world contended for him?
Beside four pontiffs, Julius, Leo, Clement, and Paul, the Grand Turk,
father of the present Sultan, sent certain Franciscans with letters
begging him to come and reside at his court. By orders on the bank of
the Gondi at Florence, he provided that whatever sums were asked for
should be disbursed to pay the expenses of his journey; and when he
should have reached Cossa, a town near Ragusa, one of the greatest
nobles of the realm was told off to conduct him in most honourable
fashion to Constantinople. Francis of Valois, King of France, tried to
get him by many devices, giving instructions that, whenever he chose
to travel, 3000 crowns should be told out to him in Rome. The Signory
of Venice sent Bruciolo to Rome with an invitation to their city,
offering a pension of 600 crowns if he would settle there. They
attached no conditions to this offer, only desiring that he should
honour the republic with his presence, and stipulating that whatever
he might do in their service should be paid as though he were not in
receipt of a fixed income. These are not ordinary occurrences, or such
as happen every day, but strange and out of common usage; nor are they
wont to befall any but men of singular and transcendent ability, as
was Homer, for whom many cities strove in rivalry, each desirous of
acquiring him and making him its own.

"The reigning Pope, Julius III., holds him in no less esteem than the
princes I have mentioned. This sovereign, distinguished for rare taste
and judgment, loves and promotes all arts and sciences, but is most
particularly devoted to painting, sculpture, and architecture, as may
be clearly seen in the buildings which his Holiness has erected in the
Vatican and the Belvedere, and is now raising at his Villa Giulia (a
monument worthy of a lofty and generous nature, as indeed his own is),
where he has gathered together so many ancient and modern statues,
such a variety of the finest pictures, precious columns, works in
stucco, wall-painting, and every kind of decoration, of the which I
must reserve a more extended account for some future occasion, since
it deserves a particular study, and has not yet reached completion.
This Pope has not used the services of Michelangelo for any active
work, out of regard for his advanced age. He is fully alive to his
greatness, and appreciates it, but refrains from adding burdens beyond
those which Michelangelo himself desires; and this regard, in my
opinion, confers more honour on him than any of the great
under-takings which former pontiffs exacted from his genius. It is
true that his Holiness almost always consults him on works of painting
or of architecture he may have in progress, and very often sends the
artists to confer with him at his own house. I regret, and his
Holiness also regrets, that a certain natural shyness, or shall I say
respect or reverence, which some folk call pride, prevents him from
having recourse to the benevolence, goodness, and liberality of such a
pontiff, and one so much his friend. For the Pope, as I first heard
from the Most Rev. Monsignor of Forli, his Master of the Chamber, has
often observed that, were this possible, he, would gladly give some of
his own years and his own blood to add to Michelangelo's life, to the
end that the world should not so soon be robbed of such a man. And
this, when I had access to his Holiness, I heard with my own ears from
his mouth. Moreover, if he happens to survive him, as seems reasonable
in the course of nature, he has a mind to embalm him and keep him ever
near to his own person, so that his body in death shall be as
everlasting as his works. This he said to Michelangelo himself at the
commencement of his reign, in the presence of many persons. I know not
what could be more honourable to Michelangelo than such words, or a
greater proof of the high account in which he is held by his Holiness.

"So then Michelangelo, while he was yet a youth, devoted himself not
only to sculpture and painting, but also to all those other arts which
to them are allied or subservient, and this he did with such absorbing
energy that for a time he almost entirely cut himself off from human
society, conversing with but very few intimate friends. On this
account some folk thought him proud, others eccentric and capricious,
although he was tainted with none of these defects; but, as hath
happened to many men of great abilities, the love of study and the
perpetual practice of his art rendered him solitary, being so taken up
with the pleasure and delight of these things that society not only
afforded him no solace, but even caused him annoyance by diverting him
from meditation, being (as the great Scipio used to say) never less
alone than when he was alone. Nevertheless, he very willingly embraced
the friendship of those whose learned and cultivated conversation
could be of profit to his mind, and in whom some beams of genius shone
forth: as, for example, the most reverend and illustrious Monsignor
Pole, for his rare virtues and singular goodness; and likewise the
most reverend, my patron, Cardinal Crispo, in whom he discovered,
beside his many excellent qualities, a distinguished gift of acute
judgment; he was also warmly attached to the Cardinal of S. Croce, a
man of the utmost gravity and wisdom, whom I have often heard him name
in the highest terms; and to the most reverend Maffei, whose goodness
and learning he has always praised: indeed, he loves and honours all
the dependants of the house of Farnese, owing to the lively memory he
cherishes of Pope Paul, whom he invariably mentions with the deepest
reverence as a good and holy old man; and in like manner the most
reverend Patriarch of Jerusalem, sometime Bishop of Cesena, has lived
for some time in close intimacy with him, finding peculiar pleasure in
so open and generous a nature. He was also on most friendly terms with
my very reverend patron the Cardinal Ridolfi, of blessed memory, that
refuge of all men of parts and talent. There are several others whom I
omit for fear of being prolix, as Monsignor Claudio Tolomei, Messer
Lorenzo Ridolfi, Messer Donato Giannotti, Messer Lionardo Malespini,
Lottino, Messer Tommaso dei Cavalieri, and other honoured gentlemen.
Of late years he has become deeply attached to Annibale Caro, of whom
he told me that it grieves him not to have come to know him earlier,
seeing that he finds him much to his taste."

"In like manner as he enjoyed the converse of learned men, so also did
he take pleasure in the study of eminent writers, whether of prose or
verse. Among these he particularly admired Dante, whose marvellous
poems he hath almost all by heart. Nevertheless, the same might
perhaps be said about his love for Petrarch. These poets he not only
delighted in studying, but he also was wont to compose from time to
time upon his own account. There are certain sonnets among those he
wrote which give a very good notion of his great inventive power and
judgment. Some of them have furnished Varchi with the subject of
Discourses. It must be remembered, however, that he practised poetry
for his amusement, and not as a profession, always depreciating his
own talent, and appealing to his ignorance in these matters. Just in
the same way he has perused the Holy Scriptures with great care and
industry, studying not merely the Old Testament, but also the New,
together with their commentators, as, for example, the writings of
Savonarola, for whom he always retained a deep affection, since the
accents of the preacher's living voice rang in his memory.

"He has given away many of his works, the which, if he had chosen to
sell them, would have brought him vast sums of money. A single
instance of this generosity will suffice--namely, the two statues
which he presented to his dearest friend, Messer Ruberto Strozzi. Nor
was it only of his handiwork that he has been liberal. He opened his
purse readily to poor men of talent in literature or art, as I can
testify, having myself been the recipient of his bounty. He never
showed an envious spirit toward the labours of other masters in the
crafts he practised, and this was due rather to the goodness of his
nature than to any sense of his own superiority. Indeed, he always
praised all men of excellence without exception, even Raffaello of
Urbino, between whom and himself there was of old time some rivalry in
painting. I have only heard him say that Raffaello did not derive his
mastery in that art so much from nature as from prolonged study. Nor
is it true, as many persons assert to his discredit, that he has been
unwilling to impart instruction. On the contrary, he did so readily,
as I know by personal experience, for to me he unlocked all the
secrets of the arts he had acquired. Ill-luck, however, willed that he
should meet either with subjects ill adapted to such studies, or else
with men of little perseverance, who, when they had been working a few
months under his direction, began to think themselves past-masters.
Moreover, although he was willing to teach, he did not like it to be
known that he did so, caring more to do good than to seem to do it. I
may add that he always attempted to communicate the arts to men of
gentle birth, as did the ancients, and not to plebeians."


To this passage about Michelangelo's pupils we may add the following
observation by Vasari: "He loved his workmen, and conversed with them
on friendly terms. Among these I will mention Jacopo Sansovino, Rosso,
Pontormo, Daniele da Volterra, and Giorgio Vasari. To the last of
these men he showed unbounded kindness, and caused him to study
architecture, with the view of employing his services in that art. He
exchanged thoughts readily with him, and discoursed upon artistic
topics. Those are in the wrong who assert that he refused to
communicate his stores of knowledge. He always did so to his personal
friends, and to all who sought his advice. It ought, however, to be
mentioned that he was not lucky in the craftsmen who lived with him,
since chance brought him into contact with people unfitted to profit
by his example. Pietro Urbano of Pistoja was a man of talent but no
industry. Antonio Mini had the will but not the brains, and hard wax
takes a bad impression. Ascanio dalla Ripa Transone (_i.e._, Condivi)
took great pains, but brought nothing to perfection either in finished
work or in design. He laboured many years upon a picture for which
Michelangelo supplied the drawing. At last the expectations based upon
this effort vanished into smoke. I remember that Michelangelo felt
pity for his trouble, and helped him with his own hand. Nothing,
however, came of it. He often told me that if he had found a proper
subject he should have liked, old as he was, to have recommended
anatomy, and to have written on it for the use of his workmen.
However, he distrusted his own powers of expressing what he wanted in
writing, albeit his letters show that he could easily put forth his
thoughts in a few brief words."

About Michelangelo's kindness to his pupils and servants there is no
doubt. We have only to remember his treatment of Pietro Urbano and
Antonio Mini, Urbino and Condivi, Tiberio Calcagni and Antonio del
Franzese. A curious letter from Michelangelo to Andrea Quarantesi,
which I have quoted in another connection, shows that people were
eager to get their sons placed under his charge. The inedited
correspondence in the Buonarroti Archives abounds in instances
illustrating the reputation he had gained for goodness. We have two
grateful letters from a certain Pietro Bettino in Castel Durante
speaking very warmly of Michelangelo's attention to his son Cesare.
Two to the same effect from Amilcare Anguissola in Cremona acknowledge
services rendered to his daughter Sofonisba, who was studying design
in Rome. Pietro Urbano wrote twenty letters between the years 1517 and
1525, addressing him in terms like "carissimo quanto padre." After
recovering from his illness at Pistoja, he expresses the hope that he
will soon be back again at Florence (September 18, 1519): "Dearest to
me like the most revered of fathers, I send you salutations,
announcing that I am a little better, but not yet wholly cured of that
flux; still I hope before many days are over to find myself at
Florence." A certain Silvio Falcone, who had been in his service, and
who had probably been sent away because of some misconduct, addressed
a letter from Rome to him in Florence, which shows both penitence and
warm affection. "I am and shall always be a good servant to you in
every place where I may be. Do not remember my stupidity in those past
concerns, which I know that, being a prudent man, you will not impute
to malice. If you were to do so, this would cause me the greatest
sorrow; for I desire nothing but to remain in your good grace, and if
I had only this in the world, it would suffice me." He begs to be
remembered to Pietro Urbano, and requests his pardon if he has
offended him. Another set of letters, composed in the same tone by a
man who signs himself Silvio di Giovanni da Cepparello, was written by
a sculptor honourably mentioned in Vasari's Life of Andrea da Fiesole
for his work at S. Lorenzo, in Genoa, and elsewhere. They show how
highly the fame of having been in Michelangelo's employ was valued. He
says that he is now working for Andrea Doria, Prince of Melfi, at
Genoa. Still he should like to return, if this were possible, to his
old master's service: "For if I lost all I had in the world, and found
myself with you, I should think myself the first of men." A year later
Silvio was still at work for Prince Doria and the Fieschi, but he
again begs earnestly to be taken back by Michelangelo. "I feel what
obligations I am under for all the kindness received from you in past
times. When I remember the love you bore me while I was in your
service, I do not know how I could repay it; and I tell you that only
through having been in your service, wherever I may happen now to be,
honour and courtesy are paid me; and that is wholly due to your
excellent renown, and not to any merit of my own."

The only letter from Ascanio Condivi extant in the Buonarroti Archives
may here be translated in full, since its tone does honour both to
master and servant:--

"Unique lord and my most to be observed patron,--I have already
written you two letters, but almost think you cannot have received
them, since I have heard no news of you. This I write merely to beg
that you will remember to command me, and to make use not of me alone,
but of all my household, since we are all your servants. Indeed, my
most honoured and revered master, I entreat you deign to dispose of me
and do with me as one is wont to do with the least of servants. You
have the right to do so, since I owe more to you than to my own
father, and I will prove my desire to repay your kindness by my deeds.
I will now end this letter, in order not to be irksome, recommending
myself humbly, and praying you to let me have the comfort of knowing
that you are well: for a greater I could not receive. Farewell."

It cannot be denied that Michelangelo sometimes treated his pupils and
servants with the same irritability, suspicion, and waywardness of
temper as he showed to his relatives and friends. It is only necessary
to recall his indignation against Lapo and Lodovico at Bologna,
Stefano at Florence, Sandro at Serravalle, all his female drudges, and
the anonymous boy whom his father sent from Rome. That he was a man
"gey ill to live with" seems indisputable. This may in part account
for the fact that, unlike other great Italian masters, he formed no
school. The _frescanti_ who came from Florence to assist him in the
Sistine Chapel were dismissed with abruptness, perhaps even with
brutality. Montelupo and Montorsoli, among sculptors, Marcello Venusti
and Pontormo, Daniele da Volterra and Sebastiano del Piombo, among
painters, felt his direct influence. But they did not stand in the
same relation to him as Raffaello's pupils to their master. The work
of Giulio Romano, Giovanni da Udine, Francesco Penni, Perino del Vaga,
Primaticcio, at Rome, at Mantua, and elsewhere, is a genial
continuation of Raffaello's spirit and manner after his decease.
Nothing of the sort can be maintained about the statues and the
paintings which display a study of the style of Michelangelo. And this
holds good in like manner of his imitators in architecture. For worse
rather than for better, he powerfully and permanently affected Italian
art; but he did not create a body of intelligent craftsmen, capable of
carrying on his inspiration, as Giulio Romano expanded the Loggie of
the Vatican into the Palazzo del Te. I have already expressed my
opinions regarding the specific quality of the Michelangelo tradition
in a passage which I may perhaps be here permitted to resume:--

"Michelangelo formed no school in the strict sense of the word; yet
his influence was not the less felt on that account, nor less powerful
than Raffaello's. During his manhood a few painters endeavoured to add
the charm of oil-colouring to his designs, and long before his death
the seduction of his mighty mannerism began to exercise a fatal charm
for all the schools of Italy. Painters incapable of fathoming his
intention, unsympathetic to his rare type of intellect, and gifted
with less than a tithe of his native force, set themselves to
reproduce whatever may be justly censured in his works. To heighten
and enlarge their style was reckoned a chief duty of aspiring
craftsmen, and it was thought that recipes for attaining to this final
perfection of the modern arts might be extracted without trouble from
Michelangelo's masterpieces. Unluckily, in proportion as his fame
increased, his peculiarities became with the advance of age more
manneristic and defined, so that his imitators fixed precisely upon
that which sober critics now regard as a deduction from his greatness.
They failed to perceive that he owed his grandeur to his personality,
and that the audacities which fascinated them became mere whimsical
extravagances when severed from his _terribilita_ and sombre
simplicity of impassioned thought. His power and his spirit were alike
unique and incommunicable, while the admiration of his youthful
worshippers betrayed them into imitating the externals of a style that
was rapidly losing spontaneity. Therefore they fancied they were
treading in his footsteps and using the grand manner when they covered
church-roofs and canvases with sprawling figures in distorted
attitudes. Instead of studying nature, they studied Michelangelo's
cartoons, exaggerating by their unintelligent discipleship his
willfulness and arbitrary choice of form.

"Vasari's and Cellini's criticisms of a master they both honestly
revered may suffice to illustrate the false method adopted by these
mimics of Michelangelo's ideal. To charge him with faults proceeding
from the weakness and blindness of the Decadence--the faults of men
too blind to read his art aright, too weak to stand on their own feet
without him--would be either stupid or malicious. If at the close of
the sixteenth century the mannerists sought to startle and entrance
the world by empty exhibitions of muscular anatomy misunderstood, and
by a braggadocio display of meaningless effects--crowding their
compositions with studies from the nude, and painting agitated groups
without a discernible cause for agitation--the crime surely lay with
the patrons who liked such decoration, and with the journeymen who
provided it. Michelangelo himself always made his manner serve his
thought. We may fail to appreciate his manner and may be incapable of
comprehending his thought, but only insincere or conceited critics
will venture to gauge the latter by what they feel to be displeasing
in the former. What seems lawless in him follows the law of a profound
and peculiar genius, with which, whether we like it or not, we must
reckon. His imitators were devoid of thought, and too indifferent to
question whether there was any law to be obeyed. Like the jackass in
the fable, they assumed the dead lion's skin, and brayed beneath it,
thinking they could roar."


Continuing these scattered observations upon Michelangelo's character
and habits, we may collect what Vasari records about his social
intercourse with brother-artists. Being himself of a saturnine humour,
he took great delight in the society of persons little better than
buffoons. Writing the Life of Jacopo surnamed L'Indaco, a Florentine
painter of some merit, Vasari observes: "He lived on very familiar
terms of intimacy with Michelangelo; for that great artist, great
above all who ever were, when he wished to refresh his mind, fatigued
by studies and incessant labours of the body and the intellect, found
no one more to his liking and more congenial to his humour than was
Indaco." Nothing is recorded concerning their friendship, except that
Buonarroti frequently invited Indaco to meals; and one day, growing
tired of the man's incessant chatter, sent him out to buy figs, and
then locked the house-door, so that he could not enter when he had
discharged his errand. A boon-companion of the same type was
Menighella, whom Vasari describes as "a mediocre and stupid painter of
Valdarno, but extremely amusing." He used to frequent Michelangelo's
house, "and he, who could with difficulty be induced to work for
kings, would lay aside all other occupations in order to make drawings
for this fellow." What Menighella wanted was some simple design or
other of S. Rocco, S. Antonio, or S. Francesco, to be coloured for one
of his peasant patrons. Vasari says that Michelangelo modelled a very
beautiful Christ for this humble friend, from which Menighella made a
cast, and repeated it in papier-mache, selling these crucifixes
through the country-side. What would not the world give for one of
them, even though Michelangelo is said to have burst his sides with
laughing at the man's stupidity! Another familiar of the same sort was
a certain stone-cutter called Domenico Fancelli, and nicknamed
Topolino. From a letter addressed to him by Buonarroti in 1523 it
appears that he was regarded as a "very dear friend." According to
Vasari, Topolino thought himself an able sculptor, but was in reality
extremely feeble. He blocked out a marble Mercury, and begged the
great master to pronounce a candid opinion on its merits. "You are a
madman, Topolino," replied Michelangelo, "to attempt this art of
statuary. Do you not see that your Mercury is too short by more than a
third of a cubit from the knees to the feet? You have made him a
dwarf, and spoiled the whole figure." "Oh, that is nothing! If there
is no other fault, I can easily put that to rights. Leave the matter
to me." Michelangelo laughed at the man's simplicity, and went upon
his way. Then Topolino took a piece of marble, and cut off the legs of
his Mercury below the knees. Next he fashioned a pair of buskins of
the right height, and joined these on to the truncated limbs in such
wise that the tops of the boots concealed the lines of juncture. When
Buonarroti saw the finished statue, he remarked that fools were gifted
with the instinct for rectifying errors by expedients which a wise man
would not have hit upon.

Another of Michelangelo's buffoon friends was a Florentine celebrity,
Piloto, the goldsmith. We know that he took this man with him when he
went to Venice in 1530; but Vasari tells no characteristic stories
concerning their friendship. It may be remarked that Il Lasca
describes Piloto as a "most entertaining and facetious fellow,"
assigning him the principal part in one of his indecent novels. The
painter Giuliano Bugiardini ought to be added to the same list. Messer
Ottaviano de' Medici begged him to make a portrait of Michelangelo,
who gave him a sitting without hesitation, being extremely partial to
the man's company. At the end of two hours Giuliano exclaimed:
"Michelangelo, if you want to see yourself, stand up; I have caught
the likeness." Michelangelo did as he was bidden, and when he had
examined the portrait, he laughed and said: "What the devil have you
been about? You have painted me with one of my eyes up in the temple."
Giuliano stood some time comparing the drawing with his model's face,
and then remarked: "I do not think so; but take your seat again, and I
shall be able to judge better when I have you in the proper pose."
Michelangelo, who knew well where the fault lay, and how little
judgment belonged to his friend Bugiardini, resumed his seat,
grinning. After some time of careful contemplation, Giuliano rose to
his feet and cried: "It seems to me that I have drawn it right, and
that the life compels me to do so." "So then," replied Buonarroti,
"the defect is nature's, and see you spare neither the brush nor art."

Both Sebastiano del Piombo and Giorgio Vasari were appreciated by
Michelangelo for their lively parts and genial humour. The latter has
told an anecdote which illustrates the old man's eccentricity. He was
wont to wear a cardboard hat at night, into which he stuck a candle,
and then worked by its light upon his statue of the Pieta. Vasari
observing this habit, wished to do him a kindness by sending him 40
lbs. of candles made of goat's fat, knowing that they gutter less than
ordinary dips of tallow. His servant carried them politely to the
house two hours after nightfall, and presented them to Michelangelo.
He refused, and said he did not want them. The man answered, "Sir,
they have almost broken my arms carrying them all this long way from
the bridge, nor will I take them home again. There is a heap of mud
opposite your door, thick and firm enough to hold them upright. Here
then will I set them all up, and light them." When Michelangelo heard
this, he gave way: "Lay them down; I do not mean you to play pranks at
my house-door." Varsari tells another anecdote about the Pieta. Pope
Julius III. sent him late one evening to Michelangelo's house for some
drawing. The old man came down with a lantern, and hearing what was
wanted, told Urbino to look for the cartoon. Meanwhile, Vasari turned
his attention to one of the legs of Christ, which Michelangelo had
been trying to alter. In order to prevent his seeing, Michelangelo let
the lamp fall, and they remained in darkness. He then called for a
light, and stepped forth from the enclosure of planks behind which he
worked. As he did so, he remarked, "I am so old that Death oftentimes
plucks me by the cape to go with him, and one day this body of mine
will fall like the lantern, and the light of life will be put out." Of
death he used to say, that "if life gives us pleasure, we ought not to
expect displeasure from death, seeing as it is made by the hand of the
same master."

Among stories relating to craftsmen, these are perhaps worth gleaning.
While he was working on the termini for the tomb of Julius, he gave
directions to a certain stone-cutter: "Remove such and such parts here
to-day, smooth out in this place, and polish up in that." In the
course of time, without being aware of it, the man found that he had
produced a statue, and stared astonished at his own performance.
Michelangelo asked, "What do you think of it?" "I think it very good,"
he answered, "and I owe you a deep debt of gratitude." "Why do you say
that?" "Because you have caused me to discover in myself a talent
which I did not know that I possessed."--A certain citizen, who wanted
a mortar, went to a sculptor and asked him to make one. The fellow,
suspecting some practical joke, pointed out Buonarroti's house, and
said that if he wanted mortars, a man lived there whose trade it was
to make them. The customer accordingly addressed himself to
Michelangelo, who, in his turn suspecting a trick, asked who had sent
him. When he knew the sculptor's name, he promised to carve the
mortar, on the condition that it should be paid for at the sculptor's
valuation. This was settled, and the mortar turned out a miracle of
arabesques and masks and grotesque inventions, wonderfully wrought and
polished. In due course of time the mortar was taken to the envious
and suspicious sculptor, who stood dumbfounded before it, and told the
customer that there was nothing left but to carry this masterpiece of
carving back to him who fashioned it, and order a plain article for
himself.--At Modena he inspected the terra-cotta groups by Antonio
Begarelli, enthusiastically crying out, "If this clay could become
marble, woe to antique statuary."--A Florentine citizen once saw him
gazing at Donatello's statue of S. Mark upon the outer wall of
Orsanmichele. On being asked what he thought of it, Michelangelo
replied, "I never saw a figure which so thoroughly represents a man of
probity; if S. Mark was really like that, we have every reason to
believe everything which he has said." To the S. George in the same
place he is reported to have given the word of command, "March!"--Some
one showed him a set of medals by Alessandro Cesari, upon which he
exclaimed, "The death hour of art has struck; nothing more perfect can
be seen than these."--Before Titian's portrait of Duke Alfonso di
Ferrara he observed that he had not thought art could perform so much,
adding that Titian alone deserved the name of painter.--He was wont to
call Cronaca's church of S. Francesco al Monte "his lovely peasant
girl," and Ghiberti's doors in the Florentine Baptistery "the Gates of
Paradise."--Somebody showed him a boy's drawings, and excused their
imperfection by pleading that he had only just begun to study: "That
is obvious," he answered. A similar reply is said to have been made to
Vasari, when he excused his own frescoes in the Cancelleria at Rome by
saying they had been painted in a few days.--An artist showed him a
Pieta which he had finished: "Yes, it is indeed a _pieta_ (pitiful
object) to see."--Ugo da Carpi signed one of his pictures with a
legend declaring he had not used a brush on it: "It would have been
better had he done so."--Sebastiano del Piombo was ordered to paint a
friar in a chapel at S. Pietro a Montorio. Michelangelo observed, "He
will spoil the chapel." Asked why, he answered, "When the friars have
spoiled the world, which is so large, it surely is an easy thing for
them to spoil such a tiny chapel."--A sculptor put together a number
of figures imitated from the antique, and thought he had surpassed his
models. Michelangelo remarked, "One who walks after another man, never
goes in front of him; and one who is not able to do well by his own
wit, will not be able to profit by the works of others."--A painter
produced some notably poor picture, in which only an ox was vigorously
drawn: "Every artist draws his own portrait best," said
Michelangelo.--He went to see a statue which was in the sculptor's
studio, waiting to be exposed before the public. The man bustled about
altering the lights, in order to show his work off to the best
advantage: "Do not take this trouble; what really matters will be the
light of the piazza;" meaning that the people in the long-run decide
what is good or bad in art.--Accused of want of spirit in his rivalry
with Nanni di Baccio Bigio, he retorted, "Men who fight with folk of
little worth win nothing."--A priest who was a friend of his said, "It
is a pity that you never married, for you might have had many
children, and would have left them all the profit and honour of your
labours." Michelangelo answered, "I have only too much of a wife in
this art of mine. She has always kept me struggling on. My children
will be the works I leave behind me. Even though they are worth
naught, yet I shall live awhile in them. Woe to Lorenzo Ghiberti if he
had not made the gates of S. Giovanni! His children and grandchildren
have sold and squandered the substance that he left. The gates are
still in their places."


This would be an appropriate place to estimate Michelangelo's
professional gains in detail, to describe the properties he acquired
in lands and houses, and to give an account of his total fortune. We
are, however, not in the position to do this accurately. We only know
the prices paid for a few of his minor works. He received, for
instance, thirty ducats for the Sleeping Cupid, and 450 ducats for the
Pieta of S. Peter's. He contracted with Cardinal Piccolomini to
furnish fifteen statues for 500 ducats. In all of these cases the
costs of marble, workmen, workshop, fell on him. He contracted with
Florence to execute the David in two years, at a salary of six golden
florins per month, together with a further sum when the work was
finished. It appears that 400 florins in all (including salary) were
finally adjudged to him. In these cases all incidental expenses had
been paid by his employers. He contracted with the Operai del Duomo to
make twelve statues in as many years, receiving two florins a month,
and as much as the Operai thought fit to pay him when the whole was
done. Here too he was relieved from incidental expenses. For the
statue of Christ at S. Maria sopra Minerva he was paid 200 crowns.

These are a few of the most trustworthy items we possess, and they are
rendered very worthless by the impossibility of reducing ducats,
florins, and crowns to current values. With regard to the bronze
statue of Julius II. at Bologna, Michelangelo tells us that he
received in advance 1000 ducats, and when he ended his work there
remained only 4-1/2 ducats to the good. In this case, as in most of
his great operations, he entered at the commencement into a contract
with his patron, sending in an estimate of what he thought it would be
worth his while to do the work for. The Italian is "pigliare a
cottimo;" and in all of his dealings with successive Popes
Michelangelo evidently preferred this method. It must have sometimes
enabled the artist to make large profits; but the nature of the
contract prevents his biographer from forming even a vague estimate of
their amount. According to Condivi, he received 3000 ducats for the
Sistine vault, working at his own costs. According to his own
statement, several hundred ducats were owing at the end of the affair.
It seems certain that Julius II. died in Michelangelo's debt, and that
the various contracts for his tomb were a source of loss rather than
of gain.

Such large undertakings as the sacristy and library of S. Lorenzo were
probably agreed for on the contract system. But although there exist
plenty of memoranda recording Michelangelo's disbursements at various
times for various portions of these works, we can strike no balance
showing an approximate calculation of his profits. What renders the
matter still more perplexing is, that very few of Michelangelo's
contracts were fulfilled according to the original intention of the
parties. For one reason or another they had to be altered and
accommodated to circumstances.

It is clear that, later on in life, he received money for drawings,
for architectural work, and for models, the execution of which he
bound himself to superintend. Cardinal Grimani wrote saying he would
pay the artist's own price for a design he had requested. Vasari
observes that the sketches he gave away were worth thousands of
crowns. We know that he was offered a handsome salary for the
superintendence of S. Peter's, which he magnanimously and piously
declined to touch. But what we cannot arrive at is even a rough
valuation of the sums he earned in these branches of employment.

Again, we know that he was promised a yearly salary from Clement VII.,
and one more handsome from Paul III. But the former was paid
irregularly, and half of the latter depended on the profits of a
ferry, which eventually failed him altogether. In each of these cases,
then, the same circumstances of vagueness and uncertainty throw doubt
on all investigation, and render a conjectural estimate impossible.
Moreover, there remain no documents to prove what he may have gained,
directly or indirectly, from succeeding Pontiffs. That he felt the
loss of Paul III., as a generous patron, is proved by a letter written
on the occasion of his death; and Vasari hints that the Pope had been
munificent in largesses bestowed upon him. But of these occasional
presents and emoluments we have no accurate information; and we are
unable to state what he derived from Pius IV., who was certainly one
of his best friends and greatest admirers.

At his death in Rome he left cash amounting to something under 9000
crowns. But, since he died intestate, we have no will to guide us as
to the extent and nature of his whole estate. Nor, so far as I am
aware, has the return of his property, which Lionardo Buonarroti may
possibly have furnished to the state of Florence, been yet brought to

That he inherited some landed property at Settignano from his father
is certain; and he added several plots of ground to the paternal
acres. He also is said to have bought a farm in Valdichiana
(doubtful), and other pieces of land in Tuscany. He owned a house at
Rome, a house and workshop in the Via Mozza at Florence, and he
purchased the Casa Buonarroti in Via Ghibellina. But we have no means
of determining the total value of these real assets.

In these circumstances I feel unable to offer any probable opinion
regarding the amount of Michelangelo's professional earnings, or the
exact way in which they were acquired. That he died possessed of a
considerable fortune, and that he was able during his lifetime to
assist his family with large donations, cannot be disputed. But how he
came to command so much money does not appear. His frugality,
bordering upon penuriousness, impressed contemporaries. This,
considering the length of his life, may account for not contemptible


We have seen that Michelangelo's contemporaries found fault with
several supposed frailties of his nature. These may be briefly
catalogued under the following heads: A passionate violence of temper
(_terribilita_), expressing itself in hasty acts and words; extreme
suspiciousness and irritability; solitary habits, amounting to
misanthropy or churlishness; eccentricity and melancholy bordering on
madness; personal timidity and avarice; a want of generosity in
imparting knowledge, and an undue partiality for handsome persons of
his own sex. His biographers, Condivi and Vasari, thought these
charges worthy of serious refutation, which proves that they were
current. They had no difficulty in showing that his alleged
misanthropy, melancholy, and madness were only signs of a studious
nature absorbed in profound meditations. They easily refuted the
charges of avarice and want of generosity in helping on young artists.
But there remained a great deal in the popular conception which could
not be dismissed, and which has recently been corroborated by the
publication of his correspondence. The opinion that Michelangelo was a
man of peculiar, and in some respects not altogether healthy nervous
temperament, will force itself upon all those who have fairly weighed
the evidence of the letters in connection with the events of his life.
It has been developed in a somewhat exaggerated form, of late years,
by several psychologists of the new school (Parlagreco and Lombroso in
Italy, Nisbet in England), who attempt to prove that Michelangelo was
the subject of neurotic disorder. The most important and serious essay
in this direction is a little book of great interest and almost
hypercritical acumen published recently at Naples. Signor Parlagreco
lays great stress upon Michelangelo's insensibility to women, his
"strange and contradictory feeling about feminine beauty." He seeks to
show, what is indeed, I think, capable of demonstration, that the
man's intense devotion to art and study, his solitary habits and
constitutional melancholy, caused him to absorb the ordinary instincts
and passions of a young man into his aesthetic temperament; and that
when, in later life, he began to devote his attention to poetry, he
treated love from the point of view of mystical philosophy. In support
of this argument Parlagreco naturally insists upon the famous
friendship with Vittoria Colonna, and quotes the Platonising poems
commonly attributed to this emotion. He has omitted to mention, what
certainly bears upon the point of Michelangelo's frigidity, that only
one out of the five Buonarroti brothers, sons of Lodovico, married.
Nor does he take into account the fact that Raffaello da Urbino, who
was no less devoted and industrious in art and study, retained the
liveliest sensibility to female charms. In other words, the critic
appears to neglect that common-sense solution of the problem, which is
found in a cold and physically sterile constitution as opposed to one
of greater warmth and sensuous activity.

Parlagreco attributes much value to what he calls the religious
terrors and remorse of Michelangelo's old age; says that "his fancy
became haunted with doubts and fears; every day discovering fresh sins
in the past, inveighing against the very art which made him famous
among men, and seeking to propitiate Paradise for his soul by acts of
charity to dowerless maidens." The sonnets to Vasari and some others
are quoted in support of this view. But the question remains, whether
it is not exaggerated to regard pious aspirations, and a sense of
human life's inadequacy at its close, as the signs of nervous malady.
The following passage sums up Parlagreco's theory in a succession of
pregnant sentences. "An accurate study, based upon his correspondence
in connection with the events of the artist's life and the history of
his works, has enabled me to detect in his character a persistent
oscillation. Continual contradictions between great and generous ideas
upon the one side, and puerile ideas upon the other; between the will
and the word, thought and action; an excessive irritability and the
highest degree of susceptibility; constant love for others, great
activity in doing good, sudden sympathies, great outbursts of
enthusiasm, great fears; at times an unconsciousness with respect to
his own actions; a marvellous modesty in the field of art, an
unreasonable vanity regarding external appearances:--these are the
diverse manifestations of psychical energy in Buonarroti's life; all
which makes me believe that the mighty artist was affected by a degree
of neuropathy bordering closely upon hysterical disease." He proceeds
to support this general view by several considerations, among which
the most remarkable are Michelangelo's asseverations to friends: "You
will say that I am old and mad to make sonnets, but if people assert
that I am on the verge of dotage, I have wished to act up to my
character:" "You will say that I am old and mad; but I answer that
there is no better way of keeping sane and free from anxiety, than by
being mad:" "As regards the madness they ascribe to me, it does harm
to nobody but myself:" "I enjoyed last evening, because it drew me out
of my melancholy and mad humour."

Reviewing Parlagreco's argument in general, I think it may be justly
remarked that if the qualities rehearsed above constitute hysterical
neuropathy, then every testy, sensitive, impulsive, and benevolent
person is neuropathically hysterical. In particular we may demur to
the terms "puerile ideas," "unreasonable vanity regarding external
appearances." It would be difficult to discover puerility in any of
Buonarroti's utterances; and his only vanity was a certain pride in
the supposed descent of his house from that of Canossa. The frequent
allusions to melancholy and madness do not constitute a confession of
these qualities. They express Michelangelo's irritation at being
always twitted with unsociability and eccentricity. In the
conversations recorded by Francesco d'Olanda he quietly and
philosophically exculpates men of the artistic temperament from such
charges, which were undoubtedly brought against him, and which the
recluse manner of his life to some extent accounted for.

It may be well here to resume the main points of the indictment
brought against Michelangelo's sanity by the neo-psychologists. In the
first place, he admired male more than female beauty, and preferred
the society of men to that of women. But this peculiarity, in an age
and climate which gave larger licence to immoderate passions, exposed
him to no serious malignancy of rumour. Such predilections were not
uncommon in Italy. They caused scandal when they degenerated into
vice, and rarely failed in that case to obscure the good fame of
persons subject to them. Yet Michelangelo, surrounded by jealous
rivals, was only very lightly touched by the breath of calumny in his
lifetime. Aretino's malicious insinuation and Condivi's cautious
vindication do not suffice to sully his memory with any dark
suspicion. He lived with an almost culpable penuriousness in what
concerned his personal expenditure. But he was generous towards his
family, bountiful to his dependants, and liberal in charity. He
suffered from constitutional depression, preferred solitude to crowds,
and could not brook the interference of fashionable idlers with his
studious leisure. But, as he sensibly urged in self-defence, these
eccentricities, so frequent with men of genius, ought to have been
ascribed to the severe demands made upon an artist's faculties by the
problems with which he was continually engaged; the planning of a
Pope's mausoleum, the distribution of a score of histories and several
hundreds of human figures on a chapel-vaulting, the raising of S.
Peter's cupola in air: none of which tasks can be either lightly
undertaken or carried out with ease. At worst, Michelangelo's
melancholy might be ascribed to that _morbus eruditorum_ of which
Burton speaks. It never assumed the form of hypochondria,
hallucination, misogyny, or misanthropy. He was irritable, suspicious,
and frequently unjust both to his friends and relatives on slight
occasions. But his relatives gave him good reason to be fretful by
their greediness, ingratitude, and stupidity; and when he lost his
temper he recovered it with singular ease. It is also noticeable that
these paroxysms of crossness on which so much stress has been laid,
came upon him mostly when he was old, worn out with perpetual mental
and physical fatigue, and troubled by a painful disease of the
bladder. There is nothing in their nature, frequency, or violence to
justify the hypothesis of more than a hyper-sensitive nervous
temperament; and without a temperament of this sort how could an
artist of Michelangelo's calibre and intensity perform his life-work?
In old age he dwelt upon the thought of death, meditated in a
repentant spirit on the errors of his younger years, indulged a pious
spirit, and clung to the cross of Christ. But when a man has passed
the period allotted for the average of his race, ought not these
preoccupations to be reckoned to him rather as appropriate and
meritorious? We must not forget that he was born and lived as a
believing Christian, in an age of immorality indeed, but one which had
not yet been penetrated with scientific conceptions and materialism.
There is nothing hysterical or unduly ascetic in the religion of his
closing years. It did not prevent him from taking the keenest interest
in his family, devoting his mind to business and the purchase of
property, carrying on the Herculean labour of building the
mother-church of Latin Christendom. He was subject, all through his
career, to sudden panics, and suffered from a constitutional dread of
assassination. We can only explain his flight from Rome, his escape
from Florence, the anxiety he expressed about his own and his family's
relations to the Medici, by supposing that his nerves were sensitive
upon this point. But, considering the times in which he lived, the
nature of the men around him, the despotic temper of the Medicean
princes, was there anything morbid in this timidity? A student of
Cellini's Memoirs, of Florentine history, and of the dark stories in
which the private annals of the age abound, will be forced to admit
that imaginative men of acute nervous susceptibility, who loved a
quiet life and wished to keep their mental forces unimpaired for art
and thought, were justified in feeling an habitual sense of uneasiness
in Italy of the Renaissance period. Michelangelo's timidity, real as
it was, did not prevent him from being bold upon occasion, speaking
the truth to popes and princes, and making his personality respected.
He was even accused of being too "terrible," too little of a courtier
and time-server.

When the whole subject of Michelangelo's temperament has been calmly
investigated, the truth seems to be that he did not possess a nervous
temperament so evenly balanced as some phlegmatic men of average
ability can boast of. But who could expect the creator of the Sistine,
the sculptor of the Medicean tombs, the architect of the cupola, the
writer of the sonnets, to be an absolutely normal individual? To
identify genius with insanity is a pernicious paradox. To recognise
that it cannot exist without some inequalities of nervous energy, some
perturbations of nervous function, is reasonable. In other words, it
is an axiom of physiology that the abnormal development of any organ
or any faculty is balanced by some deficiency or abnormality elsewhere
in the individual. This is only another way of saying that the man of
genius is not a mediocre and ordinary personality: in other words, it
is a truism, the statement of which appears superfluous. Rather ought
we, in Michelangelo's case, to dwell upon the remarkable sobriety of
his life, his sustained industry under very trying circumstances, his
prolonged intellectual activity into extreme old age, the toughness of
his constitution, and the elasticity of that nerve-fibre which
continued to be sound and sane under the enormous and varied pressure
put upon it over a period of seventy-five laborious years.

If we dared attempt a synthesis or reconstitution of this unique man's
personality, upon the data furnished by his poems, letters, and
occasional utterances, all of which have been set forth in their
proper places in this work, I think we must construct him as a being
gifted, above all his other qualities and talents, with a burning
sense of abstract beauty and an eager desire to express this through
several forms of art--design, sculpture, fresco-painting,
architecture, poetry. The second point forced in upon our mind is that
the same man vibrated acutely to the political agitation of his
troubled age, to mental influences of various kinds, and finally to a
persistent nervous susceptibility, which made him exquisitely
sensitive to human charm. This quality rendered him irritable in his
dealings with his fellow-men, like an instrument of music, finely
strung, and jangled on a slight occasion. In the third place we
discover that, while accepting the mental influences and submitting to
the personal attractions I have indicated, he strove, by indulging
solitary tastes, to maintain his central energies intact for
art--joining in no rebellious conspiracies against the powers that be,
bending his neck in silence to the storm, avoiding pastimes and social
diversions which might have called into activity the latent
sensuousness of his nature. For the same reason, partly by
predilection, and partly by a deliberate wish to curb his irritable
tendencies, he lived as much alone as possible, and poorly. At the
close of his career, when he condescended to unburden his mind in
verse and friendly dialogue, it is clear that he had formed the habit
of recurring to religion for tranquillity, and of combating dominant
desire by dwelling on the thought of inevitable death. Platonic
speculations upon the eternal value of beauty displayed in mortal
creatures helped him always in his warfare with the flesh and roving
inclination. Self-control seems to have been the main object of his
conscious striving, not for its own sake, but as the condition
necessary to his highest spiritual activity. Self-coherence,
self-concentration, not for any mean or self-indulgent end, but for
the best attainment of his intellectual ideal, was what he sought for
by the seclusion and the renunciations of a lifetime.

The total result of this singular attitude toward human life, which
cannot be rightly described as either ascetic or mystical, but seems
rather to have been based upon some self-preservative instinct,
bidding him sacrifice lower and keener impulses to what he regarded as
the higher and finer purpose of his being, is a certain clash and
conflict of emotions, a certain sense of failure to attain the end
proposed, which excuses, though I do not think it justifies, the
psychologists, when they classify him among morbid subjects. Had he
yielded at any period of his career to the ordinary customs of his
easy-going age, he would have presented no problem to the scientific
mind. After consuming the fuel of the passions, he might have subsided
into common calm, or have blunted the edge of inspiration, or have
finished in some phase of madness or ascetical repentance. Such are
the common categories of extinct volcanic temperaments. But the
essential point about Michelangelo is that he never burned out, and
never lost his manly independence, in spite of numerous nervous
disadvantages. That makes him the unparalleled personality he is, as
now revealed to us by the impartial study of the documents at our


It is the plain duty of criticism in this age to search and probe the
characters of world-important individuals under as many aspects as
possible, neglecting no analytical methods, shrinking from no tests,
omitting no slight details or faint shadows that may help to round a
picture. Yet, after all our labour, we are bound to confess that the
man himself eludes our insight. "The abysmal deeps of personality"
have never yet been sounded by mere human plummets. The most that
microscope and scalpel can perform is to lay bare tissue and direct
attention to peculiarities of structure. In the long-run we find that
the current opinion formed by successive generations remains true in
its grand outlines. That large collective portrait of the hero, slowly
emerging from sympathies and censures, from judgments and panegyrics,
seems dim indeed and visionary, when compared with some sharply
indented description by a brilliant literary craftsman. It has the
vagueness of a photograph produced by superimposing many negatives of
the same face one upon the other. It lacks the pungent piquancy of an
etching. Yet this is what we must abide by; for this is spiritually
and generically veracious.

At the end, then, a sound critic returns to think of Michelangelo, not
as Parlagreco and Lombroso show him, nor even as the minute
examination of letters and of poems proves him to have been, but as
tradition and the total tenor of his life display him to our
admiration. Incalculable, incomprehensible, incommensurable: yes, all
souls, the least and greatest, attack them as we will, are that. But
definite in solitary sublimity, like a supreme mountain seen from a
vast distance, soaring over shadowy hills and misty plains into the
clear ether of immortal fame.

Viewed thus, he lives for ever as the type and symbol of a man,
much-suffering, continually labouring, gifted with keen but rarely
indulged passions, whose energies from boyhood to extreme old age were
dedicated with unswerving purpose to the service of one master,
plastic art. On his death-bed he may have felt, like Browning, in that
sweetest of his poems, "other heights in other lives, God willing."
But, for this earthly pilgrimage, he was contented to leave the
ensample of a noble nature made perfect and completed in itself by
addiction to one commanding impulse. We cannot cite another hero of
the modern world who more fully and with greater intensity realised
the main end of human life, which is self-effectuation,
self-realisation, self-manifestation in one of the many lines of
labour to which men may be called and chosen. Had we more of such
individualities, the symphony of civilisation would be infinitely
glorious; for nothing is more certain than that God and the world
cannot be better served than by each specific self pushing forward to
its own perfection, sacrificing the superfluous or hindering elements
in its structure, regardless of side issues and collateral

Michelangelo, then, as Carlyle might have put it, is the Hero as
Artist. When we have admitted this, all dregs and sediments of the
analytical alembic sink to the bottom, leaving a clear crystalline
elixir of the spirit. About the quality of his genius opinions may,
will, and ought to differ. It is so pronounced, so peculiar, so
repulsive to one man, so attractive to another, that, like his own
dread statue of Lorenzo de' Medici, "it fascinates and is
intolerable." There are few, I take it, who can feel at home with him
in all the length and breadth and dark depths of the regions that he
traversed. The world of thoughts and forms in which he lived
habitually is too arid, like an extinct planet, tenanted by mighty
elemental beings with little human left to them but visionary
Titan-shapes, too vast and void for common minds to dwell in
pleasurably. The sweetness that emerges from his strength, the beauty
which blooms rarely, strangely, in unhomely wise, upon the awful crowd
of his conceptions, are only to be apprehended by some innate sympathy
or by long incubation of the brooding intellect. It is probable,
therefore, that the deathless artist through long centuries of glory
will abide as solitary as the simple old man did in his poor house at
Rome. But no one, not the dullest, not the weakest, not the laziest
and lustfullest, not the most indifferent to ideas or the most
tolerant of platitudes and paradoxes, can pass him by without being
arrested, quickened, stung, purged, stirred to uneasy self-examination
by so strange a personality expressed in prophecies of art so pungent.

Each supreme artist whom God hath sent into the world with inspiration
and a particle of the imperishable fire, is a law to himself, an
universe, a revelation of the divine life under one of its innumerable
attributes. We cannot therefore classify Michelangelo with any of his
peers throughout the long procession of the ages. Of each and all of
them it must be said in Ariosto's words, "Nature made him, and then
broke the mould." Yet, if we seek Michelangelo's affinities, we find
them in Lucretius and Beethoven, not in Sophocles and Mozart. He
belongs to the genus of deep, violent, colossal, passionately striving
natures; not, like Raffaello, to the smooth, serene, broad,
exquisitely finished, calmly perfect tribe. To God be the praise, who
bestows upon the human race artists thus differing in type and
personal quality, each one of whom incarnates some specific portion of
the spirit of past ages, perpetuating the traditions of man's soul,
interpreting century to century by everlasting hieroglyphics, mute
witnesses to history and splendid illustrations of her pages.

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