IT is said that, being asked by a priest why he had never married, Michael Angelo replied : “I have only too much of a wife in this art of mine. She has always kept me struggling on. My children will be the works I leave behind me. Even though they are worth naught, yet I shall live awhile in them. Woe to Lorenzo Ghiberti if he had not made the gates of S. Giovanni. His children and grandchildren have sold and squandered the substance that he left. The gates are still in their places.”
The only woman with whose name that of Michael Angelo has been connected is Vittoria Colonna, and their affection for each other seems to have been purely of a platonic nature. On her side was admiration for a great artist ; on his side, attraction to a noble nature, strengthened by a common love for poetry and a unity of religious sentiment.
Vittoria was about fifteen years younger than the great Angelo, having been born in 1490. Her father was Fabrizio Colonna, Grand Constable of Naples ; her mother, Agnesina di Montefeltro, daughter to Federigo, Duke of Urbino. Betrothed when a child, Vittoria Colonna was married at nineteen to the young Marquis of Pescara, who became a brilliant soldier, but whose career ended in disgrace in 1525. His widow, ignorant of some of his faults, forgiving others, mourned him long and faithfully, and never remarried.
” For death, that breaks the marriage band In others, only closer pressed The wedding-ring upon her hand, And closer locked and barred her breast.”
We do not know when the friendship between her and Michael Angelo began perhaps about 1538, when the artist was over sixty and the lady nearing fifty years. The only letters extant which he sent to her, and they are but two, belong to the year 1545, when Angelo had reached seventy years. The friends had sent each other poems of their own composition, and Michael Angelo had also executed certain drawings for the lady.
His first epistle to Vittoria is as follows: ” I desired, lady, before I accepted the things which your ladyship has often expressed the will to give me I desired to produce some-thing for you with my own hand, in order to be as little as possible unworthy of this kindness. I have now come to recognize 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 favors. 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 possible.
” 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.”
The letter was accompanied by this son-net:
” 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, And wiser still I grow, remembering it. Yea, well I see what folly ’twere to think That largess dropped from thee like dews from heaven Could e’re be paid by work so frail as mine ! To nothingness my art and talent sink ; He fails who from his mortal stores bath given A thousandfold to match one gift divine.”
Here is a translation, by Symonds, who also translated those sonnets by the master which are here quoted, of a letter which Vittoria Colonna sent to Michael Angelo from Viterbo:
“MAGNIFICENT MESSER MICHELANGELO.
-I did not reply earlier to your letter, because it was, as one might say, an answer to my last ; for I thought that if you and I were to go on writing without intermission according to my obligation and your courtesy, I should have to neglect the Chapel of S. Catherine here, and be absent at the appointed hours for company with my sister-hood, while you would have to leave the Chapel of S. Paul, and be absent from morning through the day from your sweet usual colloquy with painted forms, the which with their natural accents do not speak to you less clearly than the living persons round me speak to me. Thus we should both of us fail in our duty, I to the brides, you to the vicar of Christ. For these reasons, inasmuch as I am well assured of our steadfast friendship and firm affection, bound by knots of Christian kindness, I do not think it necessary to obtain the proof of your good will in letters by writing on my side, but rather to await with well-prepared mind some substantial occasion for serving you. Mean-while I address my prayers to that Lord of whom you spoke to me with so fervent and humble a heart, when I left Rome, that when I return thither I may find you with his image renewed and enlivened by true faith in your soul, in like measure as you have painted it with perfect art in my Samaritan. Believe me to remain always yours and your Urbino’s.”
The friendship between these two noble souls came to an end, as far as death can end such things, in 1547, when Vittoria Colonna passed from earth.
” All my friends are dead ; And she is dead, the noblest of them all.
I saw her face, when the great Sculptor Death, Whom men should call Divine, had at a blow Stricken her into marble ; and I kissed Her cold white hand.”‘
‘ Longfellow’s “Michael Angelo.”
Vittoria Colonna had been at rest seven-teen years when the end of a long life and of many colossal labors came to Buonarroti.
“Who shall doubt that these two have walked much together since, in that heaven where ,they neither marry nor are given in marriage ? ‘ ”
In painting his attractive picture of ” Michael Angelo Reading his Sonnets to Vittoria Colonna,” Herr Schneider has permitted himself the quite allowable license of portraying the two poets as somewhat younger than the facts warrant.
Hermann Schneider was born at Munich in 1846, and received instruction in art from the celebrated Piloty. His paintings are mostly historical in their nature, and include ” Charles V. at Valladolid,” ” Mozart and his Sister,” ” Van Dyck Painting the Children of Charles I.,” Venus and Cupids,” Nymph and Triton,” ” Abundantia,” and “A Roman Festival.” He has decorated the castle of Drachenburg, on the Rhine, with mural paintings of “The Cycle of Bacchus ” and other subjects.