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The Life of Michelangelo Buonarroti by John Addington Symonds

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of this transition, can neither be ascribed to the Barocco architects,
although he called them into being, nor yet can he be said to have
arrived at the Palladian solution. He held both types within himself
in embryo, arriving at a moment of profound and complicated difficulty
for the practical architect; without technical education, but gifted
with supreme genius, bringing the imperious instincts of a sublime
creative amateur into every task appointed him. We need not wonder if
a man of his calibre left the powerful impress of his personality upon
an art in chaos, luring lesser craftsmen into the Barocco mannerism,
while he provoked reaction in the stronger, who felt more
scientifically what was needed to secure firm standing-ground. Bernini
and the superb fountain of Trevi derive from Michelangelo on one side;
Vignola's cold classic profiles and Palladio's resuscitation of old
Rome in the Palazzo della Ragione at Vicenza emerge upon the other. It
remained Buonarroti's greatest-glory that, lessoned by experience and
inspired for high creation by the vastness of the undertaking, he
imagined a world's wonder in the cupola of S. Peter's.


Writing in the mid-stream of this architectural regurgitation, Vasari
explains what contemporaries thought about Michelangelo's innovations.
"He wished to build the new sacristy upon the same lines as the older
one by Brunelleschi, but at the same time to clothe the edifice with a
different style of decoration. Accordingly, he invented for the
interior a composite adornment, of the newest and most varied manner
which antique and modern masters joined together could have used. The
novelty of his style consisted in those lovely cornices, capitals,
basements, doors, niches, and sepulchres which transcended all that
earlier builders, working by measurements, distribution of parts, and
rule, had previously effected, following Vitruvius and the ancient
relics. Such men were afraid to supplement tradition with original
invention. The license he introduced gave great courage to those who
studied his method, and emboldened them to follow on his path. Since
that time, new freaks of fancy have been seen, resembling the style of
arabesque and grotesque more than was consistent with tradition. For
this emancipation of the art, all craftsmen owe him an infinite and
everduring debt of gratitude, since he at one blow broke down the
bands and chains which barred the path they trod in common."

If I am right in thus interpreting an unusually incoherent passage of
Vasari's criticism, no words could express more clearly the advent of
Barocco mannerism. But Vasari proceeds to explain his meaning with
still greater precision. Afterwards he made a plainer demonstration
of his intention in the library of S. Lorenzo, by the splendid
distribution of the windows, the arrangement of the upper chamber, and
the marvellous entrance-hall into that enclosed building.

"The grace and charm of art were never seen more perfectly displayed
in the whole and in the parts of any edifice than here. I may refer in
particular to the corbels, the recesses for statues, and the cornices.
The staircase, too, deserves attention for its convenience, with the
eccentric breakage of its flights of steps; the whole construction
being so altered from the common usage of other architects as to
excite astonishment in all who see it."

What emerges with distinctness from Vasari's account of Michelangelo's
work at S. Lorenzo is that a practical Italian architect, who had been
engaged on buildings of importance since this work was carried out,
believed it to have infused freedom and new vigour into architecture.
That freedom and new vigour we now know to have implied the Barocco


In estimating Michelangelo's work at S. Lorenzo, we must not forget
that at this period of his life he contemplated statuary, bronze
bas-relief, and painting, as essential adjuncts to architecture. The
scheme is, therefore, not so much constructive as decorative, and a
great many of its most offensive qualities may be ascribed to the fact
that the purposes for which it was designed have been omitted. We know
that the facade of S. Lorenzo was intended to abound in bronze and
marble carvings. Beside the Medicean tombs, the sacristy ought to have
contained a vast amount of sculpture, and its dome was actually
painted in fresco by Giovanni da Udine under Michelangelo's own eyes.
It appears that his imagination still obeyed those leading principles
which he applied in the rough sketch for the first sepulchre of
Julius. The vestibule and staircase of the library cannot therefore be
judged fairly now; for if they had been finished according to their
maker's plan, the faults of their construction would have been
compensated by multitudes of plastic shapes.

M. Charles Gamier, in _L'OEuvre et la Vie_, speaking with the
authority of a practical architect, says: "Michelangelo was not,
properly speaking, an architect. He made architecture, which is quite
a different thing; and most often it was the architecture of a painter
and sculptor, which points to colour, breadth, imagination, but also
to insufficient studies and incomplete education. The thought may be
great and strong, but the execution of it is always feeble and
naive.... He had not learned the language of the art. He has all the
qualities of imagination, invention, will, which form a great
composer; but he does not know the grammar, and can hardly write....
In seeking the great, he has too often found the tumid; seeking the
original, he has fallen upon the strange, and also on bad taste."

There is much that is true in this critique, severe though it may seem
to be. The fact is that Michelangelo aimed at picturesque effect in
his buildings; not, as previous architects had done, by a lavish use
of loosely decorative details, but by the piling up and massing
together of otherwise dry orders, cornices, pilasters, windows, all of
which, in his conception, were to serve as framework and pedestals for
statuary. He also strove to secure originality and to stimulate
astonishment by bizarre modulations of accepted classic forms, by
breaking the lines of architraves, combining angularities with curves,
adopting a violently accented rhythm and a tortured multiplicity of
parts, wherever this was possible.


In this new style, so much belauded by Vasari, the superficial design
is often rich and grandiose, making a strong pictorial appeal to the
imagination. Meanwhile, the organic laws of structure have been
sacrificed; and that chaste beauty which emerges from a perfectly
harmonious distribution of parts, embellished by surface decoration
only when the limbs and members of the building demand emphasis, may
be sought for everywhere in vain. The substratum is a box, a barn, an
inverted bottle; built up of rubble, brick, and concrete; clothed with
learned details, which have been borrowed from the pseudo-science of
the humanist. There is nothing here of divine Greek candour, of
dominant Roman vigour, of Gothic vitality, of fanciful invention
governed by a sincere sense of truth. Nothing remains of the shy
graces, the melodious simplicities, the pure seeking after musical
proportion, which marked the happier Italian effort of the early
Renaissance, through Brunelleschi and Alberti, Bramante, Giuliano da
Sangallo, and Peruzzi. Architecture, in the highest sense of that
word, has disappeared. A scenic scheme of panelling for empty walls
has superseded the conscientious striving to construct a living and
intelligible whole.

The fault inherent in Italian building after the close of the Lombard
period, reaches its climax here. That fault was connected with the
inability of the Italians to assimilate the true spirit of the Gothic
style, while they attempted its imitation in practice. The fabrication
of imposing and lovely facades at Orvieto, at Siena, at Cremona, and
at Crema, glorious screens which masked the poverty of the edifice,
and corresponded in no point to the organism of the structure, taught
them to overrate mere surface-beauty. Their wonderful creativeness in
all the arts which can be subordinated to architectural effect seduced
them further. Nothing, for instance, taken by itself alone, can be
more satisfactory than the facade of the Certosa at Pavia; but it is
not, like the front of Chartres or Rheims or Amiens, a natural
introduction to the inner sanctuary. At the end of the Gothic period
architecture had thus come to be conceived as the art of covering
shapeless structures with a wealth of arabesques in marble, fresco,
bronze, mosaic.

The revival of learning and a renewed interest in the antique withdrew
the Italians for a short period from this false position. With more or
less of merit, successive builders, including those I have above
mentioned, worked in a pure style: pure because it obeyed the laws of
its own music, because it was intelligible and self-consistent, aiming
at construction as the main end, subordinating decoration of richer
luxuriance or of sterner severity to the prime purpose of the total
scheme. But this style was too much the plaything of particular minds
to create a permanent tradition. It varied in the several provinces of
Italy, and mingled personal caprice with the effort to assume a
classic garb. Meanwhile the study of Vitruvius advanced, and that
pedantry which infected all the learned movements of the Renaissance
struck deep and venomous roots into the art of building.

Michelangelo arrived at the moment I am attempting to indicate. He
protested that architecture was not his trade. Over and over again he
repeated this to his Medicean patrons; but they compelled him to
build, and he applied himself with the predilections and
prepossessions of a plastic artist to the task. The result was a
retrogression from the point reached by his immediate predecessors to
the vicious system followed by the pseudo-Gothic architects in Italy.
That is to say, he treated the structure as an inert mass, to be made
as substantial as possible, and then to be covered with details
agreeable to the eye. At the beginning of his career he had a
defective sense of the harmonic ratios upon which a really musical
building may be constructed out of mere bricks and mortar--such, for
example, as the Church of S. Giustina at Padua. He was overweighted
with ill-assimilated erudition; and all the less desirable licenses of
Brunelleschi's school, especially in the abuse of square recesses, he
adopted without hesitation. It never seems to have occurred to him
that doors which were intended for ingress and egress, windows which
were meant to give light, and attics which had a value as the means of
illumination from above, could not with any propriety be applied to
the covering of blank dead spaces in the interiors of buildings.

The vestibule of the Laurentian Library illustrates his method of
procedure. It is a rectangular box of about a cube and two thirds, set
length-way up. The outside of the building, left unfinished, exhibits
a mere blank space of bricks. The interior might be compared to a
temple in the grotesque-classic style turned outside in: colossal
orders, meaningless consoles, heavy windows, square recesses, numerous
doors--the windows, doors, and attics having no right to be there,
since they lead to nothing, lend view to nothing, clamour for bronze
and sculpture to explain their existence as niches and receptacles for
statuary. It is nevertheless indubitably true that these incongruous
and misplaced elements, crowded together, leave a strong impression of
picturesque force upon the mind. From certain points and angles, the
effect of the whole, considered as a piece of deception and
insincerity, is magnificent. It would be even finer than it is, were
not the Florentine _pietra serena_ of the stonework so repellent in
its ashen dulness, the plaster so white, and the false architectural
system so painfully defrauded of the plastic forms for which it was
intended to subserve as setting.

We have here no masterpiece of sound constructive science, but a freak
of inventive fancy using studied details for the production of a
pictorial effect. The details employed to compose this curious
illusion are painfully dry and sterile; partly owing to the scholastic
enthusiasm for Vitruvius, partly to the decline of mediaeval delight
in naturalistic decoration, but, what seems to me still more apparent,
through Michelangelo's own passionate preoccupation with the human
figure. He could not tolerate any type of art which did not concede a
predominant position to the form of man. Accordingly, his work in
architecture at this period seems waiting for plastic illustration,
demanding sculpture and fresco for its illumination and justification.

It is easy, one would think, to make an appeal to the eye by means of
colossal orders, bold cornices, enormous consoles, deeply indented
niches. How much more easy to construct a box, and then say, "Come,
let us cover its inside with an incongruous and inappropriate but
imposing parade of learning," than to lift some light and genial thing
of beauty aloft into the air, as did the modest builder of the
staircase to the hall at Christ Church, Oxford! The eye of the vulgar
is entranced, the eye of the artist bewildered. That the imagination
which inspired that decorative scheme was powerful, original, and
noble, will not be denied; but this does not save us from the
desolating conviction that the scheme itself is a specious and
pretentious mask, devised to hide a hideous waste of bricks and

Michelangelo's imagination, displayed in this distressing piece of
work, was indeed so masterful that, as Vasari says, a new delightful
style in architecture seemed to be revealed by it. A new way of
clothing surfaces, falsifying facades, and dealing picturesquely with
the lifeless element of Vitruvian tradition had been demonstrated by
the genius of one who was a mighty amateur in building. In other
words, the _Barocco_ manner had begun; the path was opened to prank,
caprice, and license. It required the finer tact and taste of a
Palladio to rectify the false line here initiated, and to bring the
world back to a sense of seriousness in its effort to deal
constructively and rationally with the pseudo-classic mannerism.

The qualities of wilfulness and amateurishness and seeking after
picturesque effect, upon which I am now insisting, spoiled
Michelangelo's work as architect, until he was forced by circumstance,
and after long practical experience, to confront a problem of pure
mathematical construction. In the cupola of S. Peter's he rose to the
stern requirements of his task. There we find no evasion of the
builder's duty by mere surface-decoration, no subordination of the
edifice to plastic or pictorial uses. Such side-issues were excluded
by the very nature of the theme. An immortal poem resulted, an aerial
lyric of melodious curves and solemn harmonies, a thought combining
grace and audacity translated into stone uplifted to the skies. After
being cabined in the vestibule to the Laurentian Library, our soul
escapes with gladness to those airy spaces of the dome, that great
cloud on the verge of the Campagna, and feels thankful that we can
take our leave of Michelangelo as architect elsewhere.


While seeking to characterise what proved pernicious to contemporaries
in Michelangelo's work as architect, I have been led to concentrate
attention upon the Library at S. Lorenzo. This was logical; for, as we
have seen, Vasari regarded that building as the supreme manifestation
of his manner. Vasari never saw the cupola of S. Peter's in all its
glory, and it may be doubted whether he was capable of learning much
from it.

The sacristy demands separate consideration. It was an earlier work,
produced under more favourable conditions of place and space, and is
in every way a purer specimen of the master's style. As Vasari
observed, the Laurentian Library indicated a large advance upon the
sacristy in the development of Michelangelo's new manner.

At this point it may not unprofitably be remarked, that none of the
problems offered for solution at S. Lorenzo were in the strictest
sense of that word architectural. The facade presented a problem of
pure panelling. The ground-plan of the sacristy was fixed in
correspondence with Brunelleschi's; and here again the problem
resolved itself chiefly into panelling. A builder of genius, working
on the library, might indeed have displayed his science and his taste
by some beautiful invention adapted to the awkward locality; as
Baldassare Peruzzi, in the Palazzo Massimo at Rome, converted the
defects of the site into graces by the exquisite turn he gave to the
curved portion of the edifice. Still, when the scheme was settled,
even the library became more a matter of panelling and internal
fittings than of structural design. Nowhere at S. Lorenzo can we
affirm that Michelangelo enjoyed, the opportunity of showing what he
could achieve in the production of a building independent in itself
and planned throughout with a free hand. Had he been a born architect,
he would probably have insisted upon constructing the Medicean
mausoleum after his own conception instead of repeating Brunelleschi's
ground-plan, and he would almost certainly have discovered a more
genial solution for the difficulties of the library. But he protested
firmly against being considered an architect by inclination or by
education. Therefore he accepted the most obvious conditions of each
task, and devoted himself to schemes of surface decoration.

The interior of the sacristy is planned with a noble sense of unity.
For the purpose of illuminating a gallery of statues, the lighting may
be praised without reserve; and there is no doubt whatever that
Michelangelo intended every tabernacle to be filled with figures, and
all the whitewashed spaces of the walls to be encrusted with
bas-reliefs in stucco or painted in fresco. The recesses or niches,
taking the form of windows, are graduated in three degrees of depth to
suit three scales of sculptural importance. The sepulchres of the
Dukes had to emerge into prominence; the statues subordinate to these
main masses occupied shallower recesses; the shallowest of all,
reserved for minor statuary, are adorned above with garlands, which
suggest the flatness of the figures to be introduced. Architecturally
speaking, the building is complete; but it sadly wants the plastic
decoration for which it was designed, together with many finishing
touches of importance. It is clear, for instance, that the square
pedestals above the double pilasters flanking each of the two Dukes
were meant to carry statuettes or candelabra, which would have
connected the marble panelling with the cornices and stucchi and
frescoed semicircles of the upper region. Our eyes are everywhere
defrauded of the effect calculated by Michelangelo when he planned
this chapel. Yet the total impression remains harmonious. Proportion
has been observed in all the parts, especially in the relation of the
larger to the smaller orders, and in the balance of the doors and
windows. Merely decorative carvings are used with parsimony, and
designed in a pure style, although they exhibit originality of
invention. The alternation of white marble surfaces and mouldings with
_pietra serena_ pilasters, cornices, and arches, defines the
structural design, and gives a grave but agreeable sense of variety.
Finally, the recess behind the altar adds lightness and space to what
would otherwise have been a box. What I have already observed when
speaking of the vestibule to the library must be repeated here: the
whole scheme is that of an exterior turned outside in, and its
justification lies in the fact that it demanded statuary and colour
for its completion. Still the bold projecting cornices, the deeper and
shallower niches resembling windows, have the merit of securing broken
lights and shadows under the strong vertical illumination, all of
which are eminently picturesque. No doubt remains now that tradition
is accurate in identifying the helmeted Duke with Lorenzo de' Medici,
and the more graceful seated hero opposite with Giuliano. The
recumbent figures on the void sepulchres beneath them are with equal
truth designated as Night and Day, Morning and Evening. But
Michelangelo condescended to no realistic portraiture in the statues
of the Dukes, and he also meant undoubtedly to treat the phases of
time which rule man's daily life upon the planet as symbols for
far-reaching thoughts connected with our destiny. These monumental
figures are not men, not women, but vague and potent allegories of our
mortal fate. They remain as he left them, except that parts of
Giuliano's statue, especially the hands, seem to have been worked over
by an assistant. The same is true of the Madonna, which will ever be
regarded, in her imperfectly finished state, as one of the finest of
his sculptural conceptions. To Montelupo belongs the execution of S.
Damiano, and to Montorsoli that of S. Cosimo. Vasari says that Tribolo
was commissioned by Michelangelo to carve statues of Earth weeping for
the loss of Giuliano, and Heaven rejoicing over his spirit. The death
of Pope Clement, however, put a stop to these subordinate works,
which, had they been accomplished, might perhaps have shown us how
Buonarroti intended to fill the empty niches on each side of the

When Michelangelo left Florence for good at the end of 1534, his
statues had not been placed; but we have reason to think that the
Dukes and the four allegorical figures were erected in his lifetime.
There is something singular in the maladjustment of the recumbent men
and women to the curves of the sarcophagi, and in the contrast between
the roughness of their bases and the smooth polish of the chests they
rest on. These discrepancies do not, however, offend the eye, and they
may even have been deliberately adopted from a keen sense of what the
Greeks called _asymmetreia_ as an adjunct to effect. It is more
difficult to understand what he proposed to do with the Madonna and
her two attendant saints. Placed as they now are upon a simple ledge,
they strike one as being too near the eye, and out of harmony with the
architectural tone of the building. It is also noticeable that the
saints are more than a head taller than the Dukes, while the Madonna
overtops the saints by more than another head. We are here in a region
of pure conjecture; and if I hazard an opinion, it is only thrown out
as a possible solution of a now impenetrable problem. I think, then,
that Michelangelo may have meant to pose these three figures where
they are, facing the altar; to raise the Madonna upon a slightly
projecting bracket above the level of SS. Damiano and Cosimo, and to
paint the wall behind them with a fresco of the Crucifixion. That he
had no intention of panelling that empty space with marble may be
taken for granted, considering the high finish which has been given to
every part of this description of work in the chapel. Treated as I
have suggested, the statue of the Madonna, with the patron saints of
the House of Medici, overshadowed by a picture of Christ's sacrifice,
would have confronted the mystery of the Mass during every celebration
at the altar. There are many designs for the Crucifixion, made by
Michelangelo in later life, so lofty as almost to suggest a group of
figures in the foreground, cutting the middle distance.

At the close of Michelangelo's life the sacristy was still unfinished.
It contained the objects I have described--the marble panelling, the
altar with its candelabra, the statues of the Dukes and their
attendant figures, the Madonna and two Medicean patron saints--in
fact, all that we find there now, with the addition of Giovanni da
Udine's frescoes in the cupola, the relics of which have since been
buried under cold Florentine whitewash.

All the views I have advanced in the foregoing paragraphs as to the
point at which Michelangelo abandoned this chapel, and his probable
designs for its completion, are in the last resort based upon an
important document penned at the instance of the Duke of Florence by
Vasari to Buonarroti, not long before the old man's death in Rome.
This epistle has so weighty a bearing upon the matter in hand that I
shall here translate it. Careful study of its fluent periods will
convince an unprejudiced mind that the sacristy, as we now see it, is
even less representative of its maker's design than it was when Vasari
wrote. The frescoes of Giovanni da Udine are gone. It will also show
that the original project involved a wealth of figurative decoration,
statuary, painting, stucco, which never arrived at realisation.


Vasari, writing in the spring of 1562, informs Michelangelo concerning
the Academy of Design founded by Duke Cosimo de' Medici, and of the
Duke's earnest desire that he should return to Florence in order that
the sacristy at S. Lorenzo may be finished. "Your reasons for not
coming are accepted as sufficient. He is therefore considering
--forasmuch as the place is being used now for religious services by day
and night, according to the intention of Pope Clement--he is
considering, I say, a plan for erecting the statues which are missing in
the niches above the sepulchres and the tabernacles above the doors. The
Duke then wishes that all the eminent sculptors of this academy, in
competition man with man, should each of them make one statue, and that
the painters in like manner should exercise their art upon the chapel.
Designs are to be prepared for the arches according to your own project,
including works of painting and of stucco; the other ornaments and the
pavement are to be provided; in short, he intends that the new
academicians shall complete the whole imperfect scheme, in order that
the world may see that, while so many men of genius still exist among
us, the noblest work which was ever yet conceived on earth has not been
left unfinished. He has commissioned me to write to you and unfold his
views, begging you at the same time to favour him by communicating to
himself or to me what your intentions were, or those of the late Pope
Clement, with regard to the name and title of the chapel; moreover, to
inform us what designs you made for the four tabernacles on each side of
the Dukes Lorenzo and Giuliano; also what you projected for the eight
statues above the doors and in the tabernacles of the corners; and,
finally, what your idea was of the paintings to adorn the flat walls and
the semicircular spaces of the chapel. He is particularly anxious that
you should be assured of his determination to alter nothing you have
already done or planned, but, on the contrary, to carry out the whole
work according to your own conception. The academicians too are
unanimous in their hearty desire to abide by this decision. I am
furthermore instructed to tell you, that if you possess sketches,
working cartoons, or drawings made for this purpose, the same would be
of the greatest service in the execution of his project; and he promises
to be a good and faithful administrator, so that honour may ensue. In
case you do not feel inclined to do all this, through the burden of old
age or for any other reason, he begs you at least to communicate with
some one who shall write upon the subject; seeing that he would be
greatly grieved, as indeed would the whole of our academy, to have no
ray of light from your own mind, and possibly to add things to your
masterpiece which were not according to your designs and wishes. We all
of us look forward to being comforted by you, if not with actual work,
at least with words. His Excellency founds this hope upon your former
willingness to complete the edifice by allotting statues to Tribolo,
Montelupo, and the Friar (Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli). The last named of
these masters is here, eagerly desirous to have the opportunity of doing
you honour. So are Francesco Sangallo, Giovanni Bologna, Benvenuto
Cellini, Ammanato, Rossi and Vincenzio Danti of Perugia, not to mention
other sculptors of note. The painters, headed by Bronzino, include many
talented young men, skilled in design, and colourists, quite capable of
establishing an honourable reputation. Of myself I need not speak. You
know well that in devotion, attachment, love, and loyalty (and let me
say this with prejudice to no one) I surpass the rest of your admirers
by far. Therefore, I entreat you, of your goodness, to console his
Excellency, and all these men of parts, and our city, as well as to show
this particular favour to myself, who have been selected by the Duke to
write to you, under the impression that, being your familiar and loving
friend, I might obtain from you some assistance of sterling utility for
the undertaking. His Excellency is prepared to spend both substance and
labour on the task, in order to honour you. Pray then, albeit age is
irksome, endeavour to aid him by unfolding your views; for, in doing so,
you will confer benefits on countless persons, and will be the cause of
raising all these men of parts to higher excellence, each one of whom
has learned what he already knows in the sacristy, or rather let me say
our school."

This eloquent despatch informs us very clearly that the walls of the
sacristy, above the tall Corinthian order which, encloses the part
devoted to sculpture, were intended to be covered with stucco and
fresco paintings, completing the polychromatic decoration begun by
Giovanni da Udine in the cupola. Twelve statues had been designed for
the niches in the marble panelling; and one word used by Vasari,
_facciate_, leaves the impression that the blank walls round and
opposite the altar were also to be adorned with pictures. We remain
uncertain how Michelangelo originally meant to dispose of the colossal
Madonna with SS. Damian and Cosimo.

Unhappily, nothing came of the Duke's project. Michelangelo was either
unable or unwilling--probably unable--to furnish the necessary plans
and drawings. In the eighth chapter of this book I have discussed the
hesitations with regard to the interior of the sacristy which are
revealed by some of his extant designs for it. We also know that he
was not in the habit of preparing accurate working cartoons for the
whole of a large scheme, but that he proceeded from point to point,
trusting to slight sketches and personal supervision of the work.
Thus, when Vasari wrote to him from Rome about the staircase of the
library, he expressed a perfect readiness to help, but could only
remember its construction in a kind of dream. We may safely assume,
then, that he had not sufficient material to communicate; plans
definite enough in general scope and detailed incident to give a true
conception of his whole idea were lacking.


Passing to aesthetical considerations, I am forced to resume here what
I published many years ago about the Sacristy of S. Lorenzo, as it now
exists. Repeated visits to that shrine have only renewed former
impressions, which will not bear to be reproduced in other language,
and would lose some of their freshness by the stylistic effort. No
other course remains then but to quote from my own writings, indorsing
them with such weight as my signature may have acquired since they
were first given to the world.

"The sacristy may be looked on either as the masterpiece of a sculptor
who required fit setting for his statues, or of an architect who
designed statues to enhance the structure he had planned. Both arts
are used with equal ease, nor has the genius of Michelangelo dealt
more masterfully with the human frame than with the forms of Roman
architecture in this chapel. He seems to have paid no heed to classic
precedent, and to have taken no pains to adapt the parts to the
structural purpose of the building. It was enough for him to create a
wholly novel framework for the modern miracle of sculpture it
enshrines, attending to such rules of composition as determine light
and shade, and seeking by the relief of mouldings and pilasters to
enhance the terrible and massive forms that brood above the Medicean
tombs. The result is a product of picturesque and plastic art as true
to the Michelangelesque spirit as the Temple of the Wingless Victory
to that of Pheidias. But where Michelangelo achieved a triumph of
boldness, lesser natures were betrayed into bizarrerie; and this
chapel of the Medici, in spite of its grandiose simplicity, proved a
stumbling-block to subsequent architects by encouraging them to
despise propriety and violate the laws of structure.

"We may assume then that the colossal statues of Giuliano and Lorenzo
were studied with a view to their light and shadow as much as to their
form; and this is a fact to be remembered by those who visit the
chapel where Buonarroti laboured both as architect and sculptor. Of
the two Medici, it is not fanciful to say that the Duke of Urbino is
the most immovable of spectral shapes eternalised in marble; while the
Duke of Nemours, more graceful and elegant, seems intended to present
a contrast to this terrible thought-burdened form. The allegorical
figures, stretched on segments of ellipses beneath the pedestals of
the two Dukes, indicate phases of darkness and of light, of death and
life. They are two women and two men; tradition names them Night and
Day, Twilight and Dawning. Thus in the statues themselves and in their
attendant genii we have a series of abstractions, symbolising the
sleep and waking of existence, action and thought, the gloom of death,
the lustre of life, and the intermediate states of sadness and of hope
that form the borderland of both. Life is a dream between two
slumbers; sleep is death's twin-brother; night is the shadow of death;
death is the gate of life:--such is the mysterious mythology wrought
by the sculptor of the modern world in marble. All these figures, by
the intensity of their expression, the vagueness of their symbolism,
force us to think and question. What, for example, occupies Lorenzo's
brain? Bending forward, leaning his chin upon his wrist, placing the
other hand upon his knee, on what does he for ever ponder?

"The sight, as Rogers said well, 'fascinates and is intolerable.'
Michelangelo has shot the beaver of the helmet forward on his
forehead, and bowed his head, so as to clothe the face in darkness.
But behind the gloom there lurks no fleshless skull, as Rogers
fancied. The whole frame of the powerful man is instinct with some
imperious thought. Has he outlived his life and fallen upon
everlasting contemplation? Is he brooding, injured and indignant, over
his own doom and the extinction of his race? Is he condemned to
witness in immortal immobility the woes of Italy he helped to cause?
Or has the sculptor symbolised in him the burden of that personality
we carry with us in this life, and bear for ever when we wake into
another world? Beneath this incarnation of oppressive thought there
lie, full length and naked, the figures of Dawn and Twilight, Morn and
Evening. So at least they are commonly called, and these names are not
inappropriate; for the breaking of the day and the approach of night
are metaphors for many transient conditions of the soul. It is only as
allegories in a large sense, comprehending both the physical and
intellectual order, and capable of various interpretation, that any of
these statues can be understood. Even the Dukes do not pretend to be
portraits, and hence in part perhaps the uncertainty that has gathered
round them. Very tranquil and noble is Twilight: a giant in repose, he
meditates, leaning upon his elbow, looking down. But Dawn starts from
her couch, as though some painful summons had reached her, sunk in
dreamless sleep, and called her forth to suffer. Her waking to
consciousness is like that of one who has been drowned, and who finds
the return to life agony. Before her eyes, seen even through the mists
of slumber, are the ruin and the shame of Italy. Opposite lies Night,
so sorrowful, so utterly absorbed in darkness and the shade of death,
that to shake off that everlasting lethargy seems impossible. Yet she
is not dead. If we raise our voices, she too will stretch her limbs,
and, like her sister, shudder into sensibility with sighs. Only we
must not wake her; for he who fashioned her has told us that her sleep
of stone is great good fortune. Both of these women are large and
brawny, unlike the Fates of Pheidias, in their muscular maturity. The
burden of Michelangelo's thought was too tremendous to be borne by
virginal and graceful beings. He had to make women no less capable of
suffering, no less world-wearied, than his country.

"Standing before these statues, we do not cry, How beautiful! We
murmur, How terrible, how grand! Yet, after long gazing, we find them
gifted with beauty beyond grace. In each of them there is a
palpitating thought, torn from the artist's soul and crystallised in
marble. It has been said that architecture is petrified music. In the
Sacristy of S. Lorenzo we feel impelled to remember phrases of
Beethoven. Each of these statues becomes for us a passion, fit for
musical expression, but turned like Niobe to stone. They have the
intellectual vagueness, the emotional certainty, that belong to the
motives of a symphony. In their allegories, left without a key,
sculpture has passed beyond her old domain of placid concrete form.
The anguish of intolerable emotion, the quickening of the
consciousness to a sense of suffering, the acceptance of the
inevitable, the strife of the soul with destiny, the burden and the
passion of mankind:--that is what they contain in their cold
chisel-tortured marble. It is open to critics of the school of Lessing
to object that here is the suicide of sculpture. It is easy to remark
that those strained postures and writhen limbs may have perverted the
taste of lesser craftsmen. Yet if Michelangelo was called to carve
Medicean statues after the sack of Rome and the fall of Florence--if
he was obliged in sober sadness to make sculpture a fit language for
his sorrow-laden heart--how could he have wrought more truthfully than
this? To imitate him without sharing his emotion or comprehending his
thoughts, as the soulless artists of the decadence attempted, was
without all doubt a grievous error. Surely also we may regret, not
without reason, that in the evil days upon which he had fallen, the
fair antique _Heiterkeit_ and _Allgemeinheit_ were beyond his reach."

That this regret is not wholly sentimental may be proved, I think, by
an exchange of verses, which we owe to Vasari's literary sagacity. He
tells us that when the statue of the Night was opened to the public
view, it drew forth the following quatrain from an author unknown to
himself by name:--

_The Night thou seest here, posed gracefully
In act of slumber, was by an Angel wrought
Out of this stone; sleeping, with life she's fraught:
Wake her, incredulous wight; she'll speak to thee._

Michelangelo would have none of these academical conceits and
compliments. He replied in four verses, which show well enough what
thoughts were in his brain when he composed the nightmare-burdened,
heavy-sleeping women:

_Dear is my sleep, but more to be mere stone,
So long as ruin and dishonour reign:
To hear naught, to feel naught, is my great gain;
Then wake me not; speak in an undertone._



After the death of Clement VII., Michelangelo never returned to reside
for any length of time at Florence. The rest of his life was spent in
Rome, and he fell almost immediately under the kind but somewhat
arbitrary patronage of Alessandro Farnese, who succeeded to the Papal
chair in October 1534, with the title of Paul III.

One of the last acts of Clement's life had been to superintend the
second contract with the heirs of Julius, by which Michelangelo
undertook to finish the tomb upon a reduced scale within the space of
three years. He was allowed to come to Rome and work there during four
months annually. Paul, however, asserted his authority by upsetting
these arrangements and virtually cancelling the contract.

"In the meanwhile," writes Condivi, "Pope Clement died, and Paul III.
sent for him, and requested him to enter his service. Michelangelo saw
at once that he would be interrupted in his work upon the Tomb of
Julius. So he told Paul that he was not his own master, being bound to
the Duke of Urbino until the monument was finished. The Pope grew
angry, and exclaimed: 'It is thirty years that I have cherished this
desire, and now that I am Pope, may I not indulge it? Where is the
contract? I mean to tear it up.' Michelangelo, finding himself reduced
to these straits, almost resolved to leave Rome and take refuge in the
Genoese, at an abbey held by the Bishop of Aleria, who had been a
creature of Julius, and was much attached to him. He hoped that the
neighbourhood of the Carrara quarries, and the facility of
transporting marbles by sea, would help him to complete his
engagements. He also thought of settling at Urbino, which he had
previously selected as a tranquil retreat, and where he expected to be
well received for the sake of Pope Julius. Some months earlier, he
even sent a man of his to buy a house and land there. Still he dreaded
the greatness of the Pontiff, as indeed he had good cause to do; and
for this reason he abandoned the idea of quitting Rome, hoping to
pacify his Holiness with fair words.

"The Pope, however, stuck to his opinion; and one day he visited
Michelangelo at his house, attended by eight or ten Cardinals. He
first of all inspected the cartoon prepared in Clement's reign for the
great work of the Sistine; then the statues for the tomb, and
everything in detail. The most reverend Cardinal of Mantua, standing
before the statue of Moses, cried out: 'That piece alone is sufficient
to do honour to the monument of Julius.' Pope Paul, having gone
through the whole workshop, renewed his request that Michelangelo
should enter his service; and when the latter still resisted, he
clinched the matter by saying: 'I will provide that the Duke of Urbino
shall be satisfied with three statues from your hand, and the
remaining three shall be assigned to some other sculptor.'
Accordingly, he settled on the terms of a new contract with the agents
of the Duke, which were confirmed by his Excellency, who did not care
to displeasure the Pope. Michelangelo, albeit he was now relieved from
the obligation of paying for the three statues, preferred to take this
cost upon himself, and deposited 1580 ducats for the purpose. And so
the Tragedy of the Tomb came at last to an end. This may now be seen
at S. Pietro ad Vincula; and though, truth to tell, it is but a
mutilated and botched-up remnant of Michelangelo's original design,
the monument is still the finest to be found in Rome, and perhaps
elsewhere in the world, if only for the three statues finished by the
hand of the great master."


In this account, Condivi, has condensed the events of seven years. The
third and last contract with the heirs of Julius was not ratified
until the autumn of 1542, nor was the tomb erected much before the
year 1550. We shall see that the tragedy still cost its hero many
anxious days during this period.

Paul III., having obtained his object, issued a brief, whereby he
appointed Michelangelo chief architect, sculptor, and painter at the
Vatican. The instrument is dated September 1, 1535, and the terms with
which it describes the master's eminence in the three arts are highly
flattering. Allusion is directly made to the fresco of the Last
Judgment, which may therefore have been begun about this date.
Michelangelo was enrolled as member of the Pontifical household, with
a permanent pension of 1200 golden crowns, to be raised in part on the
revenues accruing from a ferry across the Po at Piacenza. He did not,
however, obtain possession of this ferry until 1537, and the benefice
proved so unremunerative that it was exchanged for a little post in
the Chancery at Rimini.

When Michelangelo began to work again in the Sistine Chapel, the wall
above the altar was adorned with three great sacred subjects by the
hand of Pietro Perugino. In the central fresco of the Assumption
Perugino introduced a portrait of Sixtus IV. kneeling in adoration
before the ascending Madonna. The side panels were devoted to the
Nativity and the finding of Moses. In what condition Michelangelo
found these frescoes before the painting of the Last Judgment we do
not know. Vasari says that he caused the wall to be rebuilt with
well-baked carefully selected bricks, and sloped inwards so that the
top projected half a cubit from the bottom. This was intended to
secure the picture from dust. Vasari also relates that Sebastiano del
Piombo, acting on his own responsibility, prepared this wall with a
ground for oil-colours, hoping to be employed by Michelangelo, but
that the latter had it removed, preferring the orthodox method of
fresco-painting. The story, as it stands, is not very probable; yet we
may perhaps conjecture that, before deciding on the system to be
adopted for his great work, Buonarroti thought fit to make experiments
in several surfaces. The painters of that period, as is proved by
Sebastiano's practice, by Lionardo da Vinci's unfortunate innovations
at Florence, and by the experiments of Raffaello's pupils in the hall
of Constantine, not unfrequently invented methods for mural decoration
which should afford the glow and richness of oil-colouring.
Michelangelo may even have proposed at one time to intrust a large
portion of his fresco to Sebastiano's executive skill, and afterwards
have found the same difficulties in collaboration which reduced him to
the necessity of painting the Sistine vault in solitude.

Be that as it may, when the doors of the chapel once closed behind the
master, we hear nothing whatsoever about his doings till they opened
again on Christmas Day in 1541. The reticence of Michelangelo
regarding his own works is one of the most trying things about him. It
is true indeed that his correspondence between 1534 and 1541 almost
entirely fails; still, had it been abundant, we should probably have
possessed but dry and laconic references to matters connected with the
business of his art.

He must have been fully occupied on the Last Judgment during 1536 and
1537. Paul III. was still in correspondence with the Duke of Urbino,
who showed himself not only willing to meet the Pope's wishes with
regard to the Tomb of Julius, but also very well disposed toward the
sculptor. In July 1537, Hieronimo Staccoli wrote to the Duke of
Camerino about a silver salt-cellar which Michelangelo had designed at
his request. This prince, Guidobaldo della Rovere, when he afterwards
succeeded to the Duchy of Urbino, sent a really warm-hearted despatch
to his "dearest Messer Michelangelo." He begins by saying that, though
he still cherishes the strongest wish to see the monument of his uncle
completed, he does not like to interrupt the fresco in the Sistine
Chapel, upon which his Holiness has set his heart. He thoroughly
trusts in Michelangelo's loyalty, and is assured that his desire to
finish the tomb, for the honour of his former patron's memory, is keen
and sincere. Therefore, he hopes that when the picture of the Last
Judgment is terminated, the work will be resumed and carried to a
prosperous conclusion. In the meantime, let Buonarroti attend to his
health, and not put everything again to peril by overstraining his

Signer Gotti quotes a Papal brief, issued on the 18th of September
1537, in which the history of the Tomb of Julius up to date is set
forth, and Michelangelo's obligations toward the princes of Urbino are
recited. It then proceeds to declare that Clement VII. ordered him to
paint the great wall of the Sistine, and that Paul desires this work
to be carried forward with all possible despatch. He therefore lets it
be publicly known that Michelangelo has not failed to perform his
engagements in the matter of the tomb through any fault or action of
his own, but by the express command of his Holiness. Finally, he
discharges him and his heirs from all liabilities, pecuniary or other,
to which he may appear exposed by the unfulfilled contracts.


While thus engaged upon his fresco, Michelangelo received a letter,
dated Venice, September 15, 1537, from that rogue of genius, Pietro
Aretino. It opens in the strain of hyperbolical compliment and florid
rhetoric which Aretino affected when he chose to flatter. The man,
however, was an admirable stylist, the inventor of a new epistolary
manner. Like a volcano, his mind blazed with wit, and buried sound
sense beneath the scoriae and ashes it belched forth. Gifted with a
natural feeling for rhetorical contrast, he knew the effect of some
simple and impressive sentence, placed like a gem of value in the
midst of gimcrack conceits. Thus: "I should not venture to address
you, had not my name, accepted by the ears of every prince in Europe,
outworn much of its native indignity. And it is but meet that that I
should approach you with this reverence; for the world has many kings,
and one only Michelangelo.

"Strange miracle, that Nature, who cannot place aught so high but that
you explore it with your art, should be impotent to stamp upon her
works that majesty which she contains within herself, the immense
power of your style and your chisel! Wherefore, when we gaze on you,
we regret no longer that we may not meet with Pheidias, Apelles, or
Vitruvius, whose spirits were the shadow of your spirit." He piles the
panegyric up to its climax, by adding it is fortunate for those great
artists of antiquity that their masterpieces cannot be compared with
Michelangelo's, since, "being arraigned before the tribunal of our
eyes, we should perforce proclaim you unique as sculptor, unique as
painter, and as architect unique." After the blare of this exordium,
Aretino settles down to the real business of his letter, and
communicates his own views regarding the Last Judgment, which he hears
that the supreme master of all arts is engaged in depicting. "Who
would not quake with terror while dipping his brush into the dreadful
theme? I behold Anti-christ in the midst of thronging multitudes, with
an aspect such as only you could limn. I behold affright upon the
forehead of the living; I see the signs of the extinction of the sun,
the moon, the stars; I see the breath of life exhaling from the
elements; I see Nature abandoned and apart, reduced to barrenness,
crouching in her decrepitude; I see Time sapless and trembling, for
his end has come, and he is seated on an arid throne; and while I hear
the trumpets of the angels with their thunder shake the hearts of all,
I see both Life and Death convulsed with horrible confusion, the one
striving to resuscitate the dead, the other using all his might to
slay the living; I see Hope and Despair guiding the squadrons of the
good and the cohorts of the wicked; I see the theatre of clouds,
blazing with rays that issue from the purest fires of heaven, upon
which among his hosts Christ sits, ringed round with splendours and
with terrors; I see the radiance of his face, coruscating flames of
light both glad and awful, filling the blest with joy, the damned with
fear intolerable. Then I behold the satellites of the abyss, who with
horrid gestures, to the glory of the saints and martyrs, deride Caesar
and the Alexanders; for it is one thing to have trampled on the world,
but more to have conquered self. I see Fame, with her crowns and palms
trodden under foot, cast out among the wheels of her own chariots. And
to conclude all, I see the dread sentence issue from the mouth of the
Son of God. I see it in the form of two darts, the one of salvation,
the other of damnation; and as they hustle down, I hear the fury of
its onset shock the elemental frame of things, and, with the roar of
thunderings and voices, smash the universal scheme to fragments. I see
the vault of ether merged in gloom, illuminated only by the lights of
Paradise and the furnaces of hell. My thoughts, excited by this vision
of the day of Doom, whisper: 'If we quake in terror before the
handiwork of Buonarroti, how shall we shake and shrink affrighted when
He who shall judge passes sentence on our souls?'"

This description of the Last Day, in which it is more than doubtful
whether a man like Aretino had any sincere faith, possesses
considerable literary interest. In the first place, it is curious as
coming from one who lived on terms of closest intimacy with painters,
and who certainly appreciated art; for this reason, that nothing less
pictorial than the images evoked could be invented. Then, again, in
the first half of the sixteenth century it anticipated the rhetoric of
the _barocco_ period--the eloquence of seventeenth-century divines,
Dutch poets, Jesuit pulpiteers. Aretino's originality consisted in his
precocious divination of a whole new age of taste and style, which was
destined to supersede the purer graces of the Renaissance.

The letter ends with an assurance that if anything could persuade him
to break a resolution he had formed, and to revisit Rome, it would be
his great anxiety to view the Last Judgment of the Sistine Chapel with
his own eyes. Michelangelo sent an answer which may be cited as an
example of his peculiar irony. Under the form of elaborate compliment
it conceals the scorn he must have conceived for Aretino and his
insolent advice. Yet he knew how dangerous the man could be, and felt
obliged to humour him.

"Magnificent Messer Pietro, my lord and brother,--The receipt of your
letter gave me both joy and sorrow. I rejoiced exceedingly, since it
came from you, who are without peer in all the world for talent. Yet
at the same time I grieved, inasmuch as, having finished a large part
of the fresco, I cannot realise your conception, which is so complete,
that if the Day of Judgment had come, and you had been present and
seen it with your eyes, your words could not have described it better.
Now, touching an answer to my letter, I reply that I not only desire
it, but I entreat you to write one, seeing that kings and emperors
esteem it the highest favour to be mentioned by your pen. Meanwhile,
if I have anything that you would like, I offer it with all my heart.
In conclusion, do not break your resolve of never revisiting Rome on
account of the picture I am painting, for this would be too much."

Aretino's real object was to wheedle some priceless sketch or drawing
out of the great master. This appears from a second letter written by
him on the 20th of January 1538. "Does not my devotion deserve that I
should receive from you, the prince of sculpture and of painting, one
of those cartoons which you fling into the fire, to the end that
during life I may enjoy it, and in death carry it with me to the
tomb?" After all, we must give Aretino credit for genuine feelings of
admiration toward illustrious artists like Titian, Sansovino, and
Michelangelo. Writing many years after the date of these letters, when
he has seen an engraving of the Last Judgment, he uses terms,
extravagant indeed, but apparently sincere, about its grandeur of
design. Then he repeats his request for a drawing. "Why will you not
repay my devotion to your divine qualities by the gift of some scrap
of a drawing, the least valuable in your eyes? I should certainly
esteem two strokes of the chalk upon a piece of paper more than all
the cups and chains which all the kings and princes gave me." It seems
that Michelangelo continued to correspond with him, and that Benvenuto
Cellini took part in their exchange of letters. But no drawings were
sent; and in course of time the ruffian got the better of the virtuoso
in Aretino's rapacious nature. Without ceasing to fawn and flatter
Michelangelo, he sought occasion to damage his reputation. Thus we
find him writing in January 1546 to the engraver Enea Vico, bestowing
high praise upon a copper-plate which a certain Bazzacco had made from
the Last Judgment, but criticising the picture as "licentious and
likely to cause scandal with the Lutherans, by reason of its immodest
exposure of the nakedness of persons of both sexes in heaven and
hell." It is not clear what Aretino expected from Enea Vico. A
reference to the Duke of Florence seems to indicate that he wished to
arouse suspicions among great and influential persons regarding the
religious and moral quality of Michelangelo's work.

This malevolent temper burst out at last in one of the most remarkable
letters we possess of his. It was obviously intended to hurt and
insult Michelangelo as much as lay within his power of innuendo and
direct abuse. The invective offers so many points of interest with
regard to both men, that I shall not hesitate to translate it here in

"Sir, when I inspected the complete sketch of the whole of your Last
Judgment, I arrived at recognising the eminent graciousness of
Raffaello in its agreeable beauty of invention.

"Meanwhile, as a baptized Christian, I blush before the license, so
forbidden to man's intellect, which you have used in expressing ideas
connected with the highest aims and final ends to which our faith
aspires. So, then, that Michelangelo stupendous in his fame, that
Michelangelo renowned for prudence, that Michelangelo whom all admire,
has chosen to display to the whole world an impiety of irreligion only
equalled by the perfection of his painting! Is it possible that you,
who, since you are divine, do not condescend to consort with human
beings, have done this in the greatest temple built to God, upon the
highest altar raised to Christ, in the most sacred chapel upon earth,
where the mighty hinges of the Church, the venerable priests of our
religion, the Vicar of Christ, with solemn ceremonies and holy
prayers, confess, contemplate, and adore his body, his blood, and his

"If it were not infamous to introduce the comparison, I would plume
myself upon my virtue when I wrote _La Nanna_. I would demonstrate the
superiority of my reserve to your indiscretion, seeing that I, while
handling themes lascivious and immodest, use language comely and
decorous, speak in terms beyond reproach and inoffensive to chaste
ears. You, on the contrary, presenting so awful a subject, exhibit
saints and angels, these without earthly decency, and those without
celestial honours.

"The pagans, when they modelled a Diana, gave her clothes; when they
made a naked Venus, hid the parts which are not shown with the hand of
modesty. And here there comes a Christian, who, because he rates art
higher than the faith, deems it a royal spectacle to portray martyrs
and virgins in improper attitudes, to show men dragged down by their
shame, before which things houses of ill-fame would shut the eyes in
order not to see them. Your art would be at home in some voluptuous
bagnio, certainly not in the highest chapel of the world. Less
criminal were it if you were an infidel, than, being a believer, thus
to sap the faith of others. Up to the present time the splendour of
such audacious marvels hath not gone unpunished; for their very
superexcellence is the death of your good name. Restore them to repute
by turning the indecent parts of the damned to flames, and those of
the blessed to sunbeams; or imitate the modesty of Florence, who hides
your David's shame beneath some gilded leaves. And yet that statue is
exposed upon a public square, not in a consecrated chapel.

"As I wish that God may pardon you, I do not write this out of any
resentment for the things I begged of you. In truth, if you had sent
me what you promised, you would only have been doing what you ought to
have desired most eagerly to do in your own interest; for this act of
courtesy would silence the envious tongues which say that only certain
Gerards and Thomases dispose of them.

"Well, if the treasure bequeathed you by Pope Julius, in order that
you might deposit his ashes in an urn of your own carving, was not
enough to make you keep your plighted word, what can I expect from
you? It is not your ingratitude, your avarice, great painter, but the
grace and merit of the Supreme Shepherd, which decide his fame. God
wills that Julius should live renowned for ever in a simple tomb,
inurned in his own merits, and not in some proud monument dependent on
your genius. Meantime, your failure to discharge your obligations is
reckoned to you as an act of thieving.

"Our souls need the tranquil emotions of piety more than the lively
impressions of plastic art. May God, then, inspire his Holiness Paul
with the same thoughts as he instilled into Gregory of blessed memory,
who rather chose to despoil Rome of the proud statues of the Pagan
deities than to let their magnificence deprive the humbler images of
the saints of the devotion of the people.

"Lastly, when you set about composing your picture of the universe and
hell and heaven, if you had steeped your heart with those suggestions
of glory, of honour, and of terror proper to the theme which I
sketched out and offered to you in the letter I wrote you and the
whole world reads, I venture to assert that not only would nature and
all kind influences cease to regret the illustrious talents they
endowed you with, and which to-day render you, by virtue of your art,
an image of the marvellous: but Providence, who sees all things, would
herself continue to watch over such a masterpiece, so long as order
lasts in her government of the hemispheres.

"Your servant,
"The Aretine.

"Now that I have blown off some of the rage I feel against you for the
cruelty you used to my devotion, and have taught you to see that,
while you may be divine, I am not made of water, I bid you tear up
this letter, for I have done the like, and do not forget that I am one
to whose epistles kings and emperors reply.

"To the great Michelangelo Buonarroti in Rome."

The malignancy of this letter is only equalled by its stylistic
ingenuity. Aretino used every means he could devise to wound and
irritate a sensitive nature. The allusion to Raffaello, the comparison
of his own pornographic dialogues with the Last Judgment in the
Sistine, the covert hint that folk gossiped about Michelangelo's
relations to young men, his sneers at the great man's exclusiveness,
his cruel insinuations with regard to the Tomb of Julius, his devout
hope that Paul will destroy the fresco, and the impudent eulogy of his
precious letter on the Last Day, were all nicely calculated to annoy.
Whether the missive was duly received by Buonarroti we do not know.
Gaye asserts that it appears to have been sent through the post. He
discovered it in the Archives of the Strozzi Palace.

The virtuous Pietro Aretino was not the only one to be scandalised by
the nudities of the Last Judgment; and indeed it must be allowed that
when Michelangelo treated such a subject in such a manner, he was
pushing the principle of art for art's sake to its extremity. One of
the most popular stories told about this work shows that it early
began to create a scandal. When it was three fourths finished, Pope
Paul went to see the fresco, attended by Messer Biagio da Cesena, his
Master of the Ceremonies. On being asked his opinion of the painting,
Messer Biagio replied that he thought it highly improper to expose so
many naked figures in a sacred picture, and that it was more fit for a
place of debauchery than for the Pope's chapel. Michelangelo, nettled
by this, drew the prelate's portrait to the life, and placed him in
hell with horns on his head and a serpent twisted round his loins.
Messer Biagio, finding himself in this plight, and being no doubt
laughed at by his friends, complained to the Pope, who answered that
he could do nothing to help him. "Had the painter sent you to
Purgatory, I would have used my best efforts to get you released; but
I exercise no influence in hell; _ubi nulla est redemptio_." Before
Michelangelo's death, his follower, Daniele da Volterra, was employed
to provide draperies for the most obnoxious figures, and won thereby
the name of _Il Braghettone_, or the breeches-maker. Paul IV. gave the
painter this commission, having previously consulted Buonarroti on the
subject. The latter is said to have replied to the Pope's messenger:
"Tell his Holiness that this is a small matter, and can easily be set
straight. Let him look to setting the world in order: to reform a
picture costs no great trouble." Later on, during the Pontificate of
Pio V., a master named Girolamo da Fano continued the process begun by
Daniele da Volterra. As a necessary consequence of this tribute to
modesty, the scheme of Michelangelo's colouring and the balance of his
masses have been irretrievably damaged.


Vasari says that not very long before the Last Judgment was finished,
Michelangelo fell from the scaffolding, and seriously hurt his leg.
The pain he suffered and his melancholy made him shut himself up at
home, where he refused to be treated by a doctor. There was a
Florentine physician in Rome, however, of capricious humour, who
admired the arts, and felt a real affection for Buonarroti. This man
contrived to creep into the house by some privy entrance, and roamed
about it till he found the master. He then insisted upon remaining
there on watch and guard until he had effected a complete cure. The
name of this excellent friend, famous for his skill and science in
those days, was Baccio Rontini.

After his recovery Michelangelo returned to work, and finished the
Last Judgment in a few months. It was exposed to the public on
Christmas Day in 1541.

Time, negligence, and outrage, the dust of centuries, the burned
papers of successive conclaves, the smoke of altar-candles, the
hammers and the hangings of upholsterers, the brush of the
breeches-maker and restorer, have so dealt with the Last Judgment that
it is almost impossible to do it justice now. What Michelangelo
intended by his scheme of colour is entirely lost. Not only did
Daniele da Volterra, an execrable colourist, dab vividly tinted
patches upon the modulated harmonies of flesh-tones painted by the
master; but the whole surface has sunk into a bluish fog, deepening to
something like lamp-black around the altar. Nevertheless, in its
composition the fresco may still be studied; and after due inspection,
aided by photographic reproductions of each portion, we are not unable
to understand the enthusiasm which so nobly and profoundly planned a
work of art aroused among contemporaries.

It has sometimes been asserted that this enormous painting, the
largest and most comprehensive in the world, is a tempest of
contending forms, a hurly-burly of floating, falling, soaring, and
descending figures. Nothing can be more opposed to the truth.
Michelangelo was sixty-six years of age when he laid his brush down at
the end of the gigantic task. He had long outlived the spontaneity of
youthful ardour. His experience through half a century in the planning
of monuments, the painting of the Sistine vault, the designing of
facades and sacristies and libraries, had developed the architectonic
sense which was always powerful in his conceptive faculty.
Consequently, we are not surprised to find that, intricate and
confused as the scheme may appear to an unpractised eye, it is in
reality a design of mathematical severity, divided into four bands or
planes of grouping. The wall, since it occupies one entire end of a
long high building, is naturally less broad than lofty. The pictorial
divisions are therefore horizontal in the main, though so combined and
varied as to produce the effect of multiplied curves, balancing and
antiphonally inverting their lines of sinuosity. The pendentive upon
which the prophet Jonah sits, descends and breaks the surface at the
top, leaving a semicircular compartment on each side of its corbel.
Michelangelo filled these upper spaces with two groups of wrestling
angels, the one bearing a huge cross, the other a column, in the air.
The cross and whipping-post are the chief emblems of Christ's Passion.
The crown of thorns is also there, the sponge, the ladder, and the
nails. It is with no merciful intent that these signs of our Lord's
suffering are thus exhibited. Demonic angels, tumbling on clouds like
Leviathans, hurl them to and fro in brutal wrath above the crowd of
souls, as though to demonstrate the justice of damnation. In spite of
a God's pain and shameful death, mankind has gone on sinning. The
Judge is what the crimes of the world and Italy have made him.
Immediately below the corbel, and well detached from the squadrons of
attendant saints, Christ rises from His throne. His face is turned in
the direction of the damned, His right hand is lifted as though loaded
with thunderbolts for their annihilation. He is a ponderous young
athlete; rather say a mass of hypertrophied muscles, with the features
of a vulgarised Apollo. The Virgin sits in a crouching attitude at His
right side, slightly averting her head, as though in painful
expectation of the coming sentence. The saints and martyrs who
surround Christ and His Mother, while forming one of the chief planes
in the composition, are arranged in four unequal groups of subtle and
surprising intricacy. All bear the emblems of their cruel deaths, and
shake them in the sight of Christ as though appealing to His
judgment-seat. It has been charitably suggested that they intend to
supplicate for mercy. I cannot, however, resist the impression that
they are really demanding rigid justice. S. Bartholomew flourishes his
flaying-knife and dripping skin with a glare of menace. S. Catherine
struggles to raise her broken wheel. S. Sebastian frowns down on hell
with a sheaf of arrows quivering in his stalwart arm. The saws, the
carding-combs, the crosses, and the grid-irons, all subserve the same
purpose of reminding Christ that, if He does not damn the wicked,
confessors will have died with Him in vain. It is singular that, while
Michelangelo depicted so many attitudes of expectation, eagerness,
anxiety, and astonishment in the blest, he has given to none of them
the expression of gratitude, or love, or sympathy, or shrinking awe.
Men and women, old and young alike, are human beings of Herculean
build. Paradise, according to Buonarroti's conception, was not meant
for what is graceful, lovely, original, and tender. The hosts of
heaven are adult and over-developed gymnasts. Yet, while we record
these impressions, it would be unfair to neglect the spiritual beauty
of some souls embracing after long separation in the grave, with
folding arms, and clasping hands, and clinging lips. While painting
these, Michelangelo thought peradventure of his father and his

The two planes which I have attempted to describe occupy the upper and
the larger portion of the composition. The third in order is made up
of three masses. In the middle floats a band of Titanic cherubs,
blowing their long trumpets over earth and sea to wake the dead.
Dramatically, nothing can be finer than the strained energy and
superhuman force of these superb creatures. Their attitudes compel our
imagination to hear the crashing thunders of the trump of doom. To the
left of the spectator are souls ascending to be judged, some floating
through vague ether, enwrapped with grave-clothes, others assisted by
descending saints and angels, who reach a hand, a rosary, to help the
still gross spirit in its flight. To the right are the condemned,
sinking downwards to their place of torment, spurned by seraphs,
cuffed by angelic grooms, dragged by demons, hurling, howling, huddled
in a mass of horror. It is just here, and still yet farther down, that
Michelangelo put forth all his power as a master of expression. While
the blessed display nothing which is truly proper to their state of
holiness and everlasting peace, the damned appear in every realistic
aspect of most stringent agony and terror. The colossal forms of flesh
with which the multitudes of saved and damned are equally endowed,
befit that extremity of physical and mental anguish more than they
suit the serenity of bliss eternal. There is a wretch, twined round
with fiends, gazing straight before him as he sinks; one half of his
face is buried in his hand, the other fixed in a stony spasm of
despair, foreshadowing perpetuity of hell. Nothing could express with
sublimity of a higher order the sense of irremediable loss, eternal
pain, a future endless without hope, than the rigid dignity of this
not ignoble sinner's dread. Just below is the place to which the
doomed are sinking. Michelangelo reverted to Dante for the symbolism
chosen to portray hell. Charon, the demon, with eyes of burning coal,
compels a crowd of spirits in his ferryboat. They land and are
received by devils, who drag them before Minos, judge of the infernal
regions. He towers at the extreme right end of the fresco, indicating
that the nether regions yawn infinitely deep, beyond our ken; just as
the angels above Christ suggest a region of light and glory, extending
upward through illimitable space. The scene of judgment on which
attention is concentrated forms but an episode in the universal,
sempiternal scheme of things. Balancing hell, on the left hand of the
spectator, is brute earth, the grave, the forming and the swallowing
clay, out of which souls, not yet acquitted or condemned, emerge with
difficulty, in varied forms of skeletons or corpses, slowly thawing
into life eternal.

Vasari, in his description of the Last Judgment, seized upon what
after all endures as the most salient aspect of this puzzling work, at
once so fascinating and so repellent. "It is obvious," he says, "that
the peerless painter did not aim at anything but the portrayal of the
human body in perfect proportions and most varied attitudes, together
with the passions and affections of the soul. That was enough for him,
and here he has no equal. He wanted to exhibit the grand style:
consummate draughtsmanship in the nude, mastery over all problems of
design. He concentrated his power upon the human form, attending to
that alone, and neglecting all subsidiary things, as charm of colour,
capricious inventions, delicate devices and novelties of fancy."
Vasari might have added that Michelangelo also neglected what ought to
have been a main object of his art: convincing eloquence, the
solemnity proper to his theme, spirituality of earthly grossness quit.
As a collection of athletic nudes in all conceivable postures of rest
and action, of foreshortening, of suggested movement, the Last
Judgment remains a stupendous miracle. Nor has the aged master lost
his cunning for the portrayal of divinely simple faces, superb limbs,
masculine beauty, in the ideal persons of young men. The picture, when
we dwell long enough upon its details, emerges into prominence,
moreover, as indubitably awe-inspiring, terrifying, dreadful in its
poignant expression of wrath, retaliation, thirst for vengeance,
cruelty, and helpless horror. But the supreme point even of Doomsday,
of the Dies Irae, has not been seized. We do not hear the still small
voice of pathos and of human hope which thrills through Thomas a
Celano's hymn:--

_Quaerens me sedisti lassus,
Redemisti crucem passus:
Tantus labor non sit cassus._

The note is one of sustained menace and terror, and the total scheme
of congregated forms might be compared to a sense-deafening solo on a
trombone. While saying this, we must remember that it was the constant
impulse of Michelangelo to seize one moment only, and what he deemed
the most decisive moment, in the theme he had to develop. Having
selected the instant of time at which Christ, half risen from his
Judgment-seat of cloud, raises an omnific hand to curse, the master
caused each fibre of his complex composition to thrill with the
tremendous passion of that coming sentence. The long series of designs
for Crucifixions, Depositions from the Cross, and Pietas which we
possess, all of them belonging to a period of his life not much later
than 1541, prove that his nature was quite as sensitive to pathos as
to terror; only, it was not in him to attempt a combination of terror
and pathos.

"He aimed at the portrayal of the human body. He wanted to exhibit the
grand style." So says Vasari, and Vasari is partly right. But we must
not fall into the paradox, so perversely maintained by Ruskin in his
lecture on Tintoretto and Michelangelo, that the latter was a cold and
heartless artist, caring chiefly for the display of technical skill
and anatomical science. Partial and painful as we may find the meaning
of the Last Judgment, that meaning has been only too powerfully and
personally felt. The denunciations of the prophets, the woes of the
Apocalypse, the invectives of Savonarola, the tragedies of Italian
history, the sense of present and indwelling sin, storm through and
through it. Technically, the masterpiece bears signs of fatigue and
discontent, in spite of its extraordinary vigour of conception and
execution. The man was old and tired, thwarted in his wishes and
oppressed with troubles. His very science had become more formal, his
types more arid and schematic, than they used to be. The thrilling
life, the divine afflatus, of the Sistine vault have passed out of the
Last Judgment. Wholly admirable, unrivalled, and unequalled by any
other human work upon a similar scale as this fresco may be in its
command over the varied resources of the human body, it does not
strike our mind as the production of a master glorying in carnal pride
and mental insolence, but rather as that of one discomfited and
terrified, upon the point of losing heart.

Henri Beyle, jotting down his impressions in the Sistine Chapel, was
reminded of the Grand Army's flight after the burning of Moscow.
"When, in our disastrous retreat from Russia, it chanced that we were
suddenly awakened in the middle of the dark night by an obstinate
cannonading, which at each moment seemed to gain in nearness, then all
the forces of a man's nature gathered close around his heart; he felt
himself in the presence of fate, and having no attention left for
things of vulgar interest, he made himself ready to dispute his life
with destiny. The sight of Michelangelo's picture has brought back to
my consciousness that almost forgotten sensation." This is a piece of
just and sympathetic criticism, and upon its note I am fain to close.


It is probable that the fame of the Last Judgment spread rapidly
abroad through Italy, and that many visits to Rome were made for the
purpose of inspecting it. Complimentary sonnets must also have been
addressed to the painter. I take it that Niccolo Martelli sent some
poems on the subject from Florence, for Michelangelo replied upon the
20th of January 1542 in the following letter of singular modesty and
urbane kindness:--

"I received from Messer Vincenzo Perini your letter with two sonnets
and a madrigal. The letter and the sonnet addressed to me are so
marvellously fine, that if a man should find in them anything to
castigate, it would be impossible to castigate him as thoroughly as
they are castigated. It is true they praise me so much, that had I
Paradise in my bosom, less of praise would suffice. I perceive that
you suppose me to be just what God wishes that I were. I am a poor man
and of little merit, who plod along in the art which God gave me, to
lengthen out my life as far as possible. Such as I am, I remain your
servant and that of all the house of Martelli. I thank you for your
letter and the poems, but not as much as duty bids, for I cannot soar
to such heights of courtesy."

When the Last Judgment was finished, Michelangelo not unreasonably
hoped that he might resume his work upon the Tomb of Julius. But this
was not to be. Antonio da San Gallo had just completed the Chapel of
the Holy Sacrament in the Vatican, which is known as the Cappella
Paolina, and the Pope resolved that its frescoes should be painted by
Buonarroti. The Duke of Urbino, yielding to his wishes, wrote to
Michelangelo upon the 6th of March 1542, saying that he should be
quite satisfied if the three statues by his hand, including the Moses,
were assigned to the tomb, the execution of the rest being left to
competent workmen under his direction.

In effect, we possess documents proving that the tomb was consigned to
several masters during this year, 1542. The first is a contract dated
February 27, whereby Raffaello da Montelupo undertakes to finish three
statues, two of these being the Active Life and the Contemplative. The
second is a contract dated May 16, in which Michelangelo assigns the
architectural and ornamental portion of the monument conjointly to
Giovanni de' Marchesi and Francesco d' Amadore, called Urbino,
providing that differences which may arise between them shall be
referred to Donato Giannotti. There is a third contract, under date
June 1, about the same work intrusted to the same two craftsmen,
prescribing details with more exactitude. It turned out that the
apprehension of disagreement between the masters about the division of
their labour was not unfounded, for Michelangelo wrote twice in July
to his friend Luigi del Riccio, complaining bitterly of their
dissensions, and saying that he has lost two months in these trifles.
He adds that one of them is covetous, the other mad, and he fears
their quarrel may end in wounds or murder. The matter disturbs his
mind greatly, chiefly on account of Urbino, because he has brought him
up, and also because of the time wasted over "their ignorance and
bestial stupidity." The dispute was finally settled by the
intervention of three master-masons (acting severally for
Michelangelo, Urbino, and Giovanni), who valued the respective
portions of the work.

I must interrupt this narrative of the tomb to explain who some of the
persons just mentioned were, and how they came to be connected with
Buonarroti. Donato Giannotti was the famous writer upon political and
literary topics, who, after playing a conspicuous part in the
revolution of Florence against the Medici, now lived in exile at Rome.
His dialogues on Dante, and Francesco d'Olanda's account of the
meetings at S. Silvestro, prove that he formed a member of that little
circle which included Michelangelo and Vittoria Colonna. Luigi del
Riccio was a Florentine merchant, settled in the banking-house of the
Strozzi at Rome. For many years he acted as Michelangelo's man of
business; but their friendship was close and warm in many other ways.
They were drawn together by a common love of poetry, and by the charm
of a rarely gifted youth called Cecchino dei Bracci. Urbino was the
great sculptor's servant and man of all work, the last and best of
that series, which included Stefano Miniatore, Pietro Urbino, Antonio
Mini. Michelangelo made Urbino's fortune, mourned his death, and
undertook the guardianship of his children, as will appear in due
course. All through his life the great sculptor was dependent upon
some trusted servant, to whom he became personally attached, and who
did not always repay his kindness with gratitude. After Urbino's
death, Ascanio Condivi filled a similar post, and to this circumstance
we owe the most precious of our contemporary biographies.

Our most important document with regard to the Tomb of Julius is an
elaborate petition addressed by Michelangelo to Paul III. upon the
20th of July. It begins by referring to the contract of April 18,
1532, and proceeds to state that the Pope's new commission for the
Cappella Paolina has interfered once more with the fulfilment of the
sculptor's engagements. Then it recites the terms suggested by the
Duke of Urbino in his letter of March 6, 1542, according to which
three of the statues of the tomb may be assigned to capable craftsmen,
while the other three, including the Moses, will have to be finished
by Michelangelo himself. Raffaello da Montelupo has already undertaken
the Madonna and Child, a Prophet, and a Sibyl. Giovanni de' Marchese
and Francesco da Urbino are at work upon the architecture. It remains
for Michelangelo to furnish the Moses and two Captives, all three of
which are nearly completed. The Captives, however, were designed for a
much larger monument, and will not suit the present scheme.
Accordingly, he has blocked out two other figures, representing the
Active and Contemplative Life. But even these he is unable to finish,
since the painting of the chapel absorbs his time and energy. He
therefore prays the Pope to use his influence with the Duke of Urbino,
so that he may be henceforward wholly and absolutely freed from all
obligations in the matter of the tomb. The Moses he can deliver in a
state of perfection, but he wishes to assign the Active and
Contemplative Life to Raffaello or to any other sculptor who may be
preferred by the Duke. Finally, he is prepared to deposit a sum of
1200 crowns for the total costs, and to guarantee that the work shall
be efficiently executed in all its details.

It is curious that in this petition and elsewhere no mention is made
of what might be considered the most important portion of the
tomb--namely, the portrait statue of Julius.

The document was presented to Messer Piero Giovanni Aliotti, Bishop of
Forli, and keeper of the wardrobe to Pope Paul. Accordingly, the final
contract regarding the tomb was drawn up and signed upon the 20th of
August. I need not recapitulate its terms, for I have already printed
a summary of them in a former chapter of this work. Suffice it to say
that Michelangelo was at last released from all active responsibility
with regard to the tomb, and that the vast design of his early manhood
now dwindled down to the Moses. To Raffaello da Montelupo was left the
completion of the remaining five statues.

This lamentable termination to the cherished scheme of his lifetime
must have preyed upon Michelangelo's spirits. The letters in which he
alludes to it, after the contract had been signed, breathe a spirit of
more than usual fretfulness. Moreover, the Duke of Urbino now delayed
to send his ratification, by which alone the deed could become valid.
In October, writing to Del Riccio, Michelangelo complains that Messer
Aliotti is urging him to begin painting in the chapel; but the plaster
is not yet fit to work on. Meanwhile, although he has deposited 1400
crowns, "which would have kept him working for seven years, and would
have enabled him to finish two tombs," the Duke's ratification does
not come. "It is easy enough to see what that means without writing it
in words! Enough; for the loyalty of thirty-six years, and for having
given myself of my own free will to others, I deserve no better.
Painting and sculpture, labour and good faith, have been my ruin, and
I go continually from bad to worse. Better would it have been for me
if I had set myself to making matches in my youth! I should not be in
such distress of mind.... I will not remain under this burden, nor be
vilified every day for a swindler by those who have robbed my life and
honour. Only death or the Pope can extricate me." It appears that at
this time the Duke of Urbino's agents were accusing him of having lent
out moneys which he had received on account for the execution of the
monument. Then follows, in the same month of October, that stormy
letter to some prelate, which is one of the most weighty
autobiographical documents from the hand of Michelangelo in our

"Monsignore,--Your lordship sends to tell me that I must begin to
paint, and have no anxiety. I answer that one paints with the brain
and not with the hands; and he who has not his brains at his command
produces work that shames him. Therefore, until my business is
settled, I can do nothing good. The ratification of the last contract
does not come. On the strength of the other, made before Clement, I am
daily stoned as though I had crucified Christ.... My whole youth and
manhood have been lost, tied down to this tomb.... I see multitudes
with incomes of 2000 or 3000 crowns lying in bed, while I with all my
immense labour toil to grow poor.... I am not a thief and usurer, but
a citizen of Florence, noble, the son of an honest man, and do not
come from Cagli." (These and similar outbursts of indignant passion
scattered up and down the epistle, show to what extent the sculptor's
irritable nature had been exasperated by calumnious reports. As he
openly declares, he is being driven mad by pin-pricks. Then follows
the detailed history of his dealings with Julius, which, as I have
already made copious use of it, may here be given in outline.) "In the
first year of his pontificate, Julius commissioned me to make his
tomb, and I stayed eight months at Carrara quarrying marbles and
sending them to the Piazza of S. Peter's, where I had my lodgings
behind S. Caterina. Afterwards the Pope decided not to build his tomb
during his lifetime, and set me down to painting. Then he kept me two
years at Bologna casting his statue in bronze, which has been
destroyed. After that I returned to Rome and stayed with him until his
death, always keeping my house open without post or pension, living on
the money for the tomb, since I had no other income. After the death
of Julius, Aginensis wanted me to go on with it, but on a larger
scale. So I brought the marbles to the Macello dei Corvi, and got that
part of the mural scheme finished which is now walled in at S. Pietro
in Vincoli, and made the figures which I have at home still.
Meanwhile, Leo, not wishing me to work at the tomb, pretended that he
wanted to complete the facade of S. Lorenzo at Florence, and begged me
of the Cardinal.

"To continue my history of the tomb of Julius, I say that when he
changed his mind about building it in his lifetime, some shiploads of
marble came to the Ripa, which I had ordered a short while before from
Carrara, and as I could not get money from the Pope to pay the
freightage, I had to borrow 150 or 200 ducats from Baldassare
Balducci--that is, from the bank of Jacopo Gallo. At the same time
workmen came from Florence, some of whom are still alive; and I
furnished the house which Julius gave me behind S. Caterina with beds
and other furniture for the men, and what was wanted for the work of
the tomb. All this being done without money, I was greatly
embarrassed. Accordingly, I urged the Pope with all my power to go
forward with the business, and he had me turned away by a groom one
morning when I came to speak upon the matter." (Here intervenes the
story of the flight to Florence, which has been worked up in the
course of Chapter IV.) "Later on, while I was at Florence, Julius sent
three briefs to the Signory. At last the latter sent for me and said:
'We do not want to go to war with Pope Julius because of you. You must
return; and if you do so, we will write you letters of such authority
that if he does you harm, he will be doing it to this Signory.'
Accordingly, I took the letters, and went back to the Pope, and what
followed would be long to tell!

"All the dissensions between Pope Julius and me arose from the envy of
Bramante and Raffaello da Urbino; and this was the cause of my not
finishing the tomb in his lifetime. They wanted to ruin me. Raffaello
had indeed good reason, for all he had of art, he had from me."

Twice again in October Michelangelo wrote to Luigi del Riccio about
the ratification of his contract. "I cannot live, far less paint." "I
am resolved to stop at home and finish the three figures, as I agreed
to do. This would be better for me than to drag my limbs daily to the
Vatican. Let him who likes get angry. If the Pope wants me to paint,
he must send for the Duke's ambassador and procure the ratification."

What happened at this time about the tomb can be understood by help of
a letter written to Salvestro da Montauto on the 3rd of February 1545.
Michelangelo refers to the last contract, and says that the Duke of
Urbino ratified the deed. Accordingly, five statues were assigned to
Raffaello da Montelupo. "But while I was painting the new chapel for
Pope Paul III., his Holiness, at my earnest prayer, allowed me a
little time, during which I finished two of them, namely, the Active
and Contemplative Life, with my own hand."

With all his good-will, however, Michelangelo did not wholly extricate
himself from the anxieties of this miserable affair. As late as the
year 1553, Annibale Caro wrote to Antonio Gallo entreating him to
plead for the illustrious old man with the Duke of Urbino. "I assure
you that the extreme distress caused him by being in disgrace with his
Excellency is sufficient to bring his grey hairs to the grave before
his time."


The Tomb of Julius, as it now appears in the Church of S. Pietro in
Vincoli in Rome, is a monument composed of two discordant parts, by
inspecting which a sympathetic critic is enabled to read the dreary
history of its production. As Condivi allows, it was a thing
"rattoppata e rifatta," patched together and hashed up.

The lower half represents what eventually survived from the grandiose
original design for one facade of that vast mount of marble which was
to have been erected in the Tribune of St. Peter's. The socles, upon
which captive Arts and Sciences were meant to stand, remain; but
instead of statues, inverted consoles take their places, and lead
lamely up to the heads and busts of terminal old men. The pilasters of
these terms have been shortened. There are four of them, enclosing two
narrow niches, where beautiful female figures, the Active Life and the
Contemplative Life, still testify to the enduring warmth and vigour of
the mighty sculptor's genius. As single statues duly worked into a
symmetrical scheme, these figures would be admirable, since grace of
line and symbolical contrast of attitude render both charming. In
their present position they are reduced to comparative insignificance
by heavy architectural surroundings. The space left free between the
niches and the terms is assigned to the seated statue of Moses, which
forms the main attraction of the monument, and of which, as a
masterpiece of Michelangelo's best years, I shall have to speak later

The architectural plan and the surface decoration of this lower half
are conceived in a style belonging to the earlier Italian Renaissance.
Arabesques and masks and foliated patterns adorn the flat slabs. The
recess of each niche is arched with a concave shell. The terminal
busts are boldly modelled, and impose upon the eye. The whole is rich
in detail, and, though somewhat arid in fanciful invention, it carries
us back to the tradition of Florentine work by Mino da Fiesole and
Desiderio da Settignano.

When we ascend to the upper portion, we seem to have passed, as indeed
we do pass, into the region of the new manner created by Michelangelo
at S. Lorenzo. The orders of the pilasters are immensely tall in
proportion to the spaces they enclose. Two of these spaces, those on
the left and right side, are filled in above with meaningless
rectangular recesses, while seated statues occupy less than a whole
half in altitude of the niches. The architectural design is
nondescript, corresponding to no recognised style, unless it be a
bastard Roman Doric. There is absolutely no decorative element except
four shallow masks beneath the abaci of the pilasters. All is cold and
broad and dry, contrasting strangely with the accumulated details of
the lower portion. In the central niche, immediately above the Moses,
stands a Madonna of fine sculptural quality, beneath a shallow arch,
which repeats the shell-pattern. At her feet lies the extended figure
of Pope Julius II., crowned with the tiara, raising himself in a
half-recumbent attitude upon his right arm.

Of the statues in the upper portion, by far the finest in artistic
merit is the Madonna. This dignified and gracious lady, holding the
Divine Child in her arms, must be reckoned among Buonarroti's triumphs
in dealing with the female form. There is more of softness and
sweetness here than in the Madonna of the Medicean sacristy, while the
infant playing with a captured bird is full of grace. Michelangelo
left little in this group for the chisel of Montelupo to deform by
alteration. The seated female, a Sibyl, on the left, bears equally the
stamp of his design. Executed by himself, this would have been a
masterpiece for grandeur of line and dignified repose. As it is, the
style, while seeming to aim at breadth, remains frigid and formal. The
so-called Prophet on the other side counts among the signal failures
of Italian sculpture. It has neither beauty nor significance. Like a
heavy Roman consul of the Decadence, the man sits there, lumpy and
meaningless; we might take it for a statue-portrait erected by some
provincial municipality to celebrate a local magnate; but of prophecy
or inspiration there is nothing to detect in this inert figure. We
wonder why he should be placed so near a Pope.

It is said that Michelangelo expressed dissatisfaction with
Montelupo's execution of the two statues finally committed to his
charge, and we know from documents that the man was ill when they were
finished. Still we can hardly excuse the master himself for the cold
and perfunctory performance of a task which had such animated and
heroic beginnings. Competent judges, who have narrowly surveyed the
monument, say that the stones are badly put together, and the
workmanship is defective in important requirements of the
sculptor-mason's craft. Those who defend Buonarroti must fall back
upon the theory that weariness and disappointment made him at last
indifferent to the fate of a design which had cost him so much
anxiety, pecuniary difficulties, and frustrated expectations in past
years. He let the Tomb of Julius, his first vast dream of art, be
botched up out of dregs and relics by ignoble hands, because he was
heart-sick and out of pocket.

As artist, Michelangelo might, one thinks, have avoided the glaring
discord of styles between the upper and the lower portions of the
tomb; but sensitiveness to harmony of manner lies not in the nature of
men who rapidly evolve new forms of thought and feeling from some
older phase. Probably he felt the width and the depth of that gulf
which divided himself in 1505 from the same self in 1545, less than we
do. Forty years in a creative nature introduce subtle changes, which
react upon the spirit of the age, and provoke subsequent criticism to
keen comments and comparisons. The individual and his contemporaries
are not so well aware of these discrepancies as posterity.

The Moses, which Paul and his courtiers thought sufficient to
commemorate a single Pope, stands as the eminent jewel of this
defrauded tomb. We may not be attracted by it. We may even be repelled
by the goat-like features, the enormous beard, the ponderous muscles,
and the grotesque garments of the monstrous statue. In order to do it
justice, Jet us bear in mind that the Moses now remains detached from
a group of environing symbolic forms which Michelangelo designed.
Instead of taking its place as one among eight corresponding and
counterbalancing giants, it is isolated, thrust forward on the eye;
whereas it was intended to be viewed from below in concert with a
scheme of balanced figures, male and female, on the same colossal

Condivi writes not amiss, in harmony with the gusto of his age, and
records what a gentle spirit thought about the Moses then: "Worthy of
all admiration is the statue of Moses, duke and captain of the
Hebrews. He sits posed in the attitude of a thinker and a sage,
holding beneath his right arm the tables of the law, and with the left
hand giving support to his chin, like one who is tired and full of
anxious cares. From the fingers of this hand escape long flowing lines
of beard, which are very beautiful in their effect upon the eye. The
face is full of vivid life and spiritual force, fit to inspire both
love and terror, as perhaps the man in truth did. He bears, according
to the customary wont of artists while portraying Moses, two horns
upon the head, not far removed from the summit of the brows. He is
robed and girt about the legs with hosen, the arms bare, and all the
rest after the antique fashion. It is a marvellous work, and full of
art: mostly in this, that underneath those subtleties of raiment one
can perceive the naked form, the garments detracting nothing from the
beauty of the body; as was the universal way of working with this
master in all his clothed figures, whether painted or sculptured."

Except that Condivi dwelt too much upon the repose of this
extraordinary statue, too little upon its vivacity and agitating
unrest, his description serves our purpose as well as any other. He
does not seem to have felt the turbulence and carnal insolence which
break our sense of dignity and beauty now.

Michelangelo left the Moses incomplete in many details, after bringing
the rest of the figure to a high state of polish. Tooth-marks of the
chisel are observable upon the drapery, the back, both hands, part of
the neck, the hair, and the salient horns. It seems to have been his
habit, as Condivi and Cellini report, to send a finished statue forth
with some sign-manual of roughness in the final touches. That gave his
work the signature of the sharp tools he had employed upon it. And
perhaps he loved the marble so well that he did not like to quit the
good white stone without sparing a portion of its clinging strength
and stubbornness, as symbol of the effort of his brain and hand to
educe live thought from inert matter.

In the century after Michelangelo's death a sonnet was written by
Giovanni Battista Felice Zappi upon this Moses. It is famous in
Italian literature, and expresses adequately the ideas which occur to
ordinary minds when they approach the Moses. For this reason I think
that it is worthy of being introduced in a translation here:--

_Who is the man who, carved in this huge stone,
Sits giant, all renowned things of art
Transcending? he whose living lips, that start,
Speak eager words? I hear, and take their tone.

He sure is Moses. That the chin hath shown
By its dense honour, the brows' beam bipart:
'Tis Moses, when he left the Mount, with part,
A great-part, of God's glory round him thrown.

Such was the prophet when those sounding vast
Waters he held suspense about him; such
When he the sea barred, made it gulph his foe.

And you, his tribes, a vile calf did you cast?
Why not an idol worth like this so much?
To worship that had wrought you lesser woe._


Before quitting the Tomb of Julius, I must discuss the question of
eight scattered statues, partly unfinished, which are supposed, on
more or less good grounds, to have been designed for this monument.
About two of them, the bound Captives in the Louvre, there is no
doubt. Michelangelo mentions these in his petition to Pope Paul,
saying that the change of scale implied by the last plan obliged him
to abstain from using them. We also know their history. When the
sculptor was ill at Rome in 1544, Luigi del Riccio nursed him in the
palace of the Strozzi. Gratitude for this hospitality induced him to
make a present of the statues to Ruberto degli Strozzi, who took them
to France and offered them to the King. Francis gave them to the
Constable de Montmorenci; and he placed them in his country-house of
Ecouen. In 1793 the Republic offered them for sale, when they were
bought for the French nation by M. Lenoir.

One of these Captives deserves to be called the most fascinating
creation of the master's genius. Together with the Adam, it may be
taken as fixing his standard of masculine beauty. He is a young man,
with head thrown back, as though in swoon or slumber; the left arm
raised above the weight of massy curls, the right hand resting on his
broad full bosom. There is a divine charm in the tranquil face, tired
but not fatigued, sad but not melancholy, suggesting that the sleeping
mind of the immortal youth is musing upon solemn dreams. Praxiteles
might have so expressed the Genius of Eternal Repose; but no Greek
sculptor would have given that huge girth to the thorax, or have
exaggerated the mighty hand with such delight in sinewy force. These
qualities, peculiar to Buonarroti's sense of form, do not detract from
the languid pose and supple rhythm of the figure, which flows down, a
sinuous line of beauty, through the slightly swelling flanks, along
the finely moulded thighs, to loveliest feet emerging from the marble.
It is impossible, while gazing on this statue, not to hear a strain of
intellectual music. Indeed, like melody, it tells no story, awakes no
desire, but fills the soul with something beyond thought or passion,
subtler and more penetrating than words.

The companion figure has not equal grace. Athletically muscular,
though adolescent, the body of this young man, whose hands are tied
behind his back, is writhed into an attitude of vehement protest and
rebellion. He raises his face with appealing pain to heaven. The head,
which is only blocked out, overweighs the form, proving that
Michelangelo, unlike the Greeks, did not observe a fixed canon of
proportion for the human frame. This statue bears a strong resemblance
in feeling and conception to the Apollo designed for Baccio Valori.

There are four rough-hewn male figures, eccentrically wrought into the
rock-work of a grotto in the Boboli Gardens, which have been assigned
to the Tomb of Julius. This attribution involves considerable
difficulties. In the first place, the scale is different, and the
stride of one of them, at any rate, is too wide for the pedestals of
that monument. Then their violent contortions and ponderous adult
forms seem to be at variance with the spirit of the Captives. Mr.
Heath Wilson may perhaps be right in his conjecture that Michelangelo
began them for the sculptural decoration on the facade of S. Lorenzo.
Their incompleteness baffles criticism; yet we feel instinctively that
they were meant for the open air and for effect at a considerable
distance. They remind us of Deucalion's men growing out of the stones
he threw behind his back. We could not wish them to be finished, or to
lose their wild attraction, as of primeval beings, the remnants of dim
generations nearer than ourselves to elemental nature. No better
specimens of Buonarroti's way of working in the marble could be
chosen. Almost savage hatchings with the point blend into finer
touches from the toothed chisel; and here and there the surface has
been treated with innumerable smoothing lines that round it into skin
and muscle. To a man who chiselled thus, marble must have yielded like
softest freestone beneath his tools; and how recklessly he wrought is
clear from the defective proportions of one old man's figure, whose
leg below the knee is short beyond all excuse.

A group of two figures, sometimes called the Victory, now in the
Bargello Palace, was catalogued without hesitation by Vasari among the
statues for the tomb. A young hero, of gigantic strength and height,
stands firmly poised upon one foot, while his other leg, bent at the
knee, crushes the back of an old man doubled up beneath him. In the
face of the vanquished warrior critics have found a resemblance to
Michelangelo. The head of the victorious youth seems too small for his
stature, and the features are almost brutally vacuous, though burning
with an insolent and carnal beauty. The whole forcible figure
expresses irresistible energy and superhuman litheness combined with
massive strength. This group cannot be called pleasing, and its great
height renders it almost inconceivable that it was meant to range upon
one monument with the Captives of the Louvre. There are, however, so
many puzzles and perplexities connected with that design in its
several stages, that we dare affirm or deny nothing concerning it. M.
Guillaume, taking it for granted that the Victory was intended for the
tomb, makes the plausible suggestion that some of the peculiarities
which render it in composition awkward, would have been justified by
the addition of bronze wings. Mr. Heath Wilson, seeking after an
allegory, is fain to believe that it represents Michelangelo's own
state of subjection while employed upon the Serravezza quarries.

Last comes the so-called Adonis of the Bargello Palace, which not
improbably was designed for one of the figures prostrate below the
feet of a victorious Genius. It bears, indeed, much resemblance to a
roughly indicated nude at the extreme right of the sketch for the
tomb. Upon this supposition, Michelangelo must have left it in a very
unfinished state, with an unshaped block beneath the raised right
thigh. This block has now been converted into a boar. Extremely
beautiful as the Adonis undoubtedly is, the strained, distorted
attitude seems to require some explanation. That might have been given
by the trampling form and robes of a Genius. Still it is difficult to
comprehend why the left arm and hand, finished, I feel almost sure, by
Michelangelo, should have been so carefully executed. The Genius, if
draped, would have hidden nearly the whole of that part of the statue.
The face of this Adonis displays exactly the same type as that of the
so-called Victory and of Giuliano de' Medici. Here the type assumes
singular loveliness.



After the death of Clement VII. Michelangelo never returned to reside
at Florence. The rest of his life was spent in Rome. In the year 1534
he had reached the advanced age of fifty-nine, and it is possible that
he first became acquainted with the noble lady Vittoria Colonna about
1538. Recent students of his poetry and friendships have suggested
that their famous intimacy began earlier, during one of his not
infrequent visits to Rome. But we have no proof of this. On the
contrary, the only letters extant which he sent to her, two in number,
belong to the year 1545. It is certain that anything like friendship
between them grew up at some considerable time after his final
settlement in Rome.

Vittoria was the daughter of Fabrizio Colonna, Grand Constable of
Naples, by his marriage with Agnesina di Montefeltro, daughter of
Federigo, Duke of Urbino. Blood more illustrious than hers could not
be found in Italy. When she was four years old, her parents betrothed
her to Ferrante Francesco d'Avalos, a boy of the same age, the only
son of the Marchese di Pescara. In her nineteenth year the affianced
couple were married at Ischia, the fief and residence of the house of
D'Avalos. Ferrante had succeeded to his father's title early in
boyhood, and was destined for a brilliant military career. On the
young bride's side at least it was a love-match. She was tenderly
attached to her handsome husband, ignorant of his infidelities, and
blind to his fatal faults of character. Her happiness proved of short
duration. In 1512 Pescara was wounded and made prisoner at the battle
of Ravenna, and, though he returned to his wife for a short interval,
duty called him again to the field of war in Lombardy in 1515. After
this date Vittoria saw him but seldom. The last time they met was in
October 1522. As general of the Imperial forces, Pescara spent the
next years in perpetual military operations. Under his leadership the
battle of Pavia was won in 1525, and King Francis became his master's
prisoner. So far, nothing but honour, success, and glory waited on the
youthful hero. But now the tide turned. Pescara, when he again settled
down at Milan, began to plot with Girolamo Morone, Grand Chancellor of
Francesco Sforza's duchy. Morone had conceived a plan for reinstating
his former lord in Milan by the help of an Italian coalition. He
offered Pescara the crown of Naples if he would turn against the
Emperor. The Marquis seems at first to have lent a not unwilling ear
to these proposals, but seeing reason to doubt the success of the
scheme, he finally resolved to betray Morone to Charles V., and did
this with cold-blooded ingenuity. A few months afterwards, on November
25, 1525, he died, branded as a traitor, accused of double treachery,
both to his sovereign and his friend.

If suspicions of her husband's guilt crossed Vittoria's mind, as we
have some reason to believe they did, these were not able to destroy
her loyalty and love. Though left so young a widow and childless, she
determined to consecrate her whole life to his memory and to religion.
His nephew and heir, the Marchese del Vasto, became her adopted son.
The Marchioness survived Pescara two-and-twenty years, which were
spent partly in retirement at Ischia, partly in journeys, partly in
convents at Orvieto and Viterbo, and finally in a semi-monastic
seclusion at Rome. The time spared from pious exercises she devoted to
study, the composition of poetry, correspondence with illustrious men
of letters, and the society of learned persons. Her chief friends
belonged to that group of earnest thinkers who felt the influences of
the Reformation without ceasing to be loyal children of the Church.
With Vittoria's name are inseparably connected those of Gasparo
Contarini, Reginald Pole, Giovanni Morone, Jacopo Sadoleto,
Marcantonio Flaminio, Pietro Carnesecchi, and Fra Bernardino Ochino.
The last of these avowed his Lutheran principles, and was severely
criticised by Vittoria Colonna for doing so. Carnesecchi was burned
for heresy. Vittoria never adopted Protestantism, and died an orthodox
Catholic. Yet her intimacy with men of liberal opinions exposed her to
mistrust and censure in old age. The movement of the
Counter-Reformation had begun, and any kind of speculative freedom
aroused suspicion. This saintly princess was accordingly placed under
the supervision of the Holy Office, and to be her friend was slightly
dangerous. It is obvious that Vittoria's religion was of an
evangelical type, inconsistent with the dogmas developed by the
Tridentine Council; and it is probable that, like her friend
Contarini, she advocated a widening rather than a narrowing of Western
Christendom. To bring the Church back to purer morals and sincerity of
faith was their aim. They yearned for a reformation and regeneration
from within.

In all these matters, Michelangelo, the devout student of the Bible
and the disciple of Savonarola, shared Vittoria's sentiments. His
nature, profoundly and simply religious from the outset, assumed a
tone of deeper piety and habitual devotion during the advance of
years. Vittoria Colonna's influence at this period strengthened his
Christian emotions, which remained untainted by asceticism or
superstition. They were further united by another bond, which was
their common interest in poetry. The Marchioness of Pescara was justly
celebrated during her lifetime as one of the most natural writers of
Italian verse. Her poems consist principally of sonnets consecrated to
the memory of her husband, or composed on sacred and moral subjects.
Penetrated by genuine feeling, and almost wholly free from literary
affectation, they have that dignity and sweetness which belong to the
spontaneous utterances of a noble heart. Whether she treats of love or
of religion, we find the same simplicity and sincerity of style. There
is nothing in her pious meditations that a Christian of any communion
may not read with profit, as the heartfelt outpourings of a soul
athirst for God and nourished on the study of the gospel.

Michelangelo preserved a large number of her sonnets, which he kept
together in one volume. Writing to his nephew Lionardo in 1554, he
says: "Messer Giovan Francesco (Fattucci) asked me about a month ago
if I possessed any writings of the Marchioness. I have a little book
bound in parchment, which she gave me some ten years ago. It has one
hundred and three sonnets, not counting another forty she afterwards
sent on paper from Viterbo. I had these bound into the same book, and
at that time I used to lend them about to many persons, so that they
are all of them now in print. In addition to these poems I have many
letters which she wrote from Orvieto and Viterbo. These then are the
writings I possess of the Marchioness." He composed several pieces,
madrigals and sonnets, under the genial influence of this exchange of
thoughts. It was a period at which his old love of versifying revived
with singular activity. Other friends, like Tommaso Cavalieri, Luigi
del Riccio, and afterwards Vasari, enticed his Muse to frequent
utterance. Those he wrote for the Marchioness were distributed in
manuscript among his private friends, and found their way into the
first edition of his collected poems. But it is a mistake to suppose
that she was the sole or even the chief source of his poetical

We shall see that it was his custom to mark his feeling for particular
friends by gifts of drawings as well as of poems. He did this notably
in the case of both Vittoria Colonna and Tommaso dei Cavalieri. For
the latter he designed subjects from Greek mythology; for the former,
episodes in the Passion of our Lord. "At the request of this lady,"
says Condivi, "he made a naked Christ, at the moment when, taken from
the cross, our Lord would have fallen like an abandoned corpse at the
feet of his most holy Mother, if two angels did not support him in
their arms. She sits below the cross with a face full of tears and
sorrow, lifting both her widespread arms to heaven, while on the stem
of the tree above is written this legend, 'Non vi si pensa quanto
sangue costa.' The cross is of the same kind as that which was carried
in procession by the White Friars at the time of the plague of 1348,
and afterwards deposited in the Church of S. Croce at Florence. He
also made, for love of her, the design of a Jesus Christ upon the
cross, not with the aspect of one dead, as is the common wont, but in
a divine attitude, with face raised to the Father, seeming to exclaim,
'Eli! Eli!' In this drawing the body does not appear to fall, like an
abandoned corpse, but as though in life to writhe and quiver with the
agony it feels."

Of these two designs we have several more or less satisfactory
mementoes. The Pieta was engraved by Giulio Bonasoni and Tudius
Bononiensis (date 1546), exactly as Condivi describes it. The
Crucifixion survives in a great number of pencil-drawings, together
with one or two pictures painted by men like Venusti, and many early
engravings of the drawings. One sketch in the Taylor Museum at Oxford
is generally supposed to represent the original designed for Vittoria.


What remains of the correspondence between Michelangelo and the
Marchioness opens with a letter referring to their interchange of
sonnets and drawings. It is dated Rome, 1545. Vittoria had evidently
sent him poems, and he wishes to make her a return in kind: "I
desired, lady, before I accepted the things which your ladyship has
often expressed the will to give me--I desired to produce something
for you with my own hand, in order to be as little as possible
unworthy of this kindness. I have now come to recognise that the grace
of God is not to be bought, and that to keep it waiting is a grievous
sin. Therefore I acknowledge my error, and willingly accept your
favours. When I possess them, not indeed because I shall have them in
my house, but for that I myself shall dwell in them, the place will
seem to encircle me with Paradise. For which felicity I shall remain
ever more obliged to your ladyship than I am already, if that is

"The bearer of this letter will be Urbino, who lives in my service.
Your ladyship may inform him when you would like me to come and see
the head you promised to show me."

This letter is written under the autograph copy of a sonnet which must
have been sent with it, since it expresses the same thought in its
opening quatrain. My translation of the poem runs thus:

_Seeking at least to be not all unfit
For thy sublime and-boundless courtesy,
My lowly thoughts at first were fain to try
What they could yield for grace so infinite.
But now I know my unassisted wit
Is all too weak to make me soar so high,
For pardon, lady, for this fault I cry,

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