LET us hope that when Fra Sebastiano del Piombo wrote to Michelangelo (April 12, 1520), “You have probably heard of the death of poor Raphael of Urbino, and I am sure that the event has caused you much sorrow,” he felt some regret for the unworthy rôle which he had played between them. But although these words seem to indicate it, we cannot feel sure that he did, for he had reason to dread lest the survivor would regard his treatment of an artist so eminent in a new light, now that death had broken down the petty barriers which his hands had helped to construct between them.
Together with his devoted admirer, Lionardo Sellajo di Compagno, he had systematically depreciated Raphael both as an artist and a man, and we who read their letters to Michelangelo can only wonder that the malevolent spirit displayed in them did not rouse his indignation.
In a letter written by Sebastiano in 1518 he says, “My more than father and most beloved, I am sorry that you were not at Rome to see two pictures by the Prince of the Synagogue, which have just been sent to France, for I believe that nothing more opposed to your views could be imagined. I need only say that the figures look as if they had been smoked, or were made of polished iron, all bright and black, and that they are drawn in the way which Lionardo [Michelangelo’s brother] will describe to you.” To call Raphael Prince of the Synagogue was to call him a Jew, which at Rome in the sixteenth century was the most contemptuous of all names. This was bad enough, but more remains behind, for in the latter part of the same letter Sebastiano charges Raphael with stealing. “I wish,” he says, “that you could persuade Messer Domenico [Buoninsegni, for whom he had painted a picture] to have his picture gilded at Rome, and to let ne gild it, because I wish to prove to the Cardinal that Raphael robs the Pope of at least three ducats a day in the process of gilding.” Is it going too far, we would ask, to suppose that a man capable of uttering such a calumny was himself plotting fraud of the same sort against Messer Domenico in case his request should be granted ?
Sellajo did not indeed proceed to such lengths, but contented himself with praising the works of Fra Sebastiano at Raphael’s expense. Writing to Michelangelo about the Resurrection of Lazarus (now in the National Gallery), he says, ” Sebastiano has nearly finished his picture, and in such a manner that all good judges exalt him far above Raphael. The Chigi ceiling [Farnesina] which has just been uncovered is a disgrace to a great master, worse than the last chamber which he painted at the Vatican [that of the ” Incendio del Borgo “], so that Sebastiano fears nothing. Take note of it.” A year later Sebastiano himself writes about this same picture, “I consider that it is better drawn than the tapestries which have been sent from Flanders,” meaning those woven at Arras after Raphael’s cartoons.
Having failed in their endeavor to induce the Pope to dispossess Raphael and employ them to complete the decoration of the Vatican chambers, Fra Sebastiano and his friends redoubled their efforts after his death to get a foothold in the Palace. It was undoubtedly at his request that Michelangelo wrote to Cardinal Bibbiena (June, 1520) : “I beg your most Reverend Signory, not as a friend and a servant, for I am unworthy to be either, but as a man vile, poor, and crazy, to get Sebastiano, the Venetian painter, some share in the works at the Palace, now that Raphael is dead. If your Signory thinks that in granting my request you are wasting labor, I would remind you that there is the same sort of pleasure in serving madmen which men surfeited with capers feel when they take to eating garlic.” This oddly expressed letter (whose apparent jocoseness is intended to veil the writer’s bitter sense of Leo’s neglect) failed to secure its desired end, for Sebastiano writes in answer that when he took the letter to the Cardinal he was told that the decoration of the Halls of the Popes was assigned to Raphael’s scholars, and that they had already painted upon the wall a figure in oil of such beauty “that no one will ever again care to look at the frescos in the other chambers. Nevertheless,” he adds, “I have been secretly assured by Baccio Bandinelli that the Pope is not satisfied with their work.” In another letter he tells Michelangelo that the chamberlain had proposed to him in the Pope’s name to decorate the lower hall, leaving the upper one to be painted after the designs of Raphael. This,” he says, “I refused, on the ground that after having been offered half the upper hall by the Pope himself, it was not fitting that I, who do not consider myself inferior to them, should paint the cellars and they the gilded halls.” He then urges Michelangelo to undertake the work, “than which there is none more honorable in the world. Thus you will have an opportunity of avenging all your wrongs, and of so stopping the mouths of the crickets that they will cease their chirping once and forever.”
Michelangelo turned a deaf ear to this appeal, either because he knew that he had no chance of success, or moved, as we prefer to believe, by the honorable feeling that Giulio Romano and Giovan Francesco Penni ought to be allowed to paint the Hall of Constantine after the designs prepared by their master. Thus the matter ended ; but it is important to note that while lately published letters furnish no proof that Bramante had formerly endeavored to persuade the Pope to allow Raphael to paint half the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel as alleged, they clearly show that during his lifetime Michelangelo’s friends did what they could to obtain for themselves a portion of the work as-signed to Raphael, and to prevent the carrying out of his designs when death had removed him from the scene of his labors. The blame for these transactions, as we have already said, rests upon them and not upon Michelangelo, who, if left to himself, would never have meddled with the work assigned to another. His appreciation of his rival’s work, and his frankness in acknowledging its merit when occasion offered, is illustrated by the following story, which appears to be authentic. After Raphael had finished the Prophets in the Chigi Chapel at Sta Maria della Pace, for which he received five hundred scudi on account from Giulio Borghese, the paymaster of his employer, Agostino Chigi, he asked for the remainder of the sum, to which he considered himself entitled. Upon this Michelangelo was called in to set a price upon the work, and, filled with admiration, declared that every head ” was worth a hundred golden scudi.”
Having now enabled the reader to judge for himself how little one of these great artists was influenced in his ,judgment of the other by the disparagement of interested parties, we may resume the thread of our history.
Michelangelo can hardly have grieved at the death of Leo X., for there had been no friendship lost between them from the first. The way in which the Pope had made him waste his precious time at Carrara and Serravezza, and condemned him to exile, rankled in his soul. Freed from the contract for the façade of San Lorenzo, he was soon burthened with another Papal commission, and again obliged to return to Carrara for marbles to be used in building the chapel and sculpturing the monuments of the Medici. A few months later his taskmaster died, and this new enterprise was interrupted.
The election of Adrian Boyers, Cardinal Bishop of Tortosa, and whilom tutor to Charles V., left Michelangelo perfectly free to work upon the Julius monument, for the new Pope cared as little for the Medici as for the Della Rovere, and was absolutely indifferent as to how he or any of the artists who had been so long the glory and pride of the Vatican were employed. An excellent man, of a most devout temper, and versed in scholastic theology, the successor of Leo X. frowned upon profane literature, and regarded the arts with an aversion which he did not attempt to conceal. He looked upon antique statues as “pagan idols,” and things of evil, like all that contributed to the delight of the eyes. To the disgust of the Romans, who had been trained by a long series of Popes into thinking that the Vatican was a place for worldly amusement, and. that the chief duty of the occupant of St. Peter’s chair was to amuse them by feasts and pageants, Adrian VI. cut down the number of his retainers, reduced the salaries of those employed at the court, and, as far as he was able, put a stop to all license and extravagance. It was not in the designs of Providence, however, that Rome should escape, by any permanent reform within her walls, from the Nemesis who was soon to avenge the past, and so Adrian of Utrecht died, after a short reign of less than two years, and was succeeded by a man of a very different stamp, – the Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici, known in history as Pope Clement VII.
To be a Medici was in the eyes of the literary and artistic world to be another Leo, and the fact that the new Pope belonged to that renowned house sufficed to recall both the lovers of wisdom and the lovers of pleasure who had absented themselves from Rome during the short reign of the Reformer. They came at his call to inaugurate the new ” régime ” with befitting splendor, little dreaming that within five years the vacillating policy of their new master would cause the city which they loved to fall into the hands of a brutal soldiery, and bring such destruction upon her high places as they had not known since the days of Alaric and of Attila. Like the rest, Michelangelo hailed the elevation of Giulio de’ Medici as an auspicious event. ” All the world is rejoiced,” he writes to Domenico (a marble-worker at Carrara) on hearing the news, “and I am of the opinion that much will now be done in the way of art.” His own anticipations of finding favor in the new Pope’s sight were founded on the past. Ever since the days when they had lived together in the Medici palace at Florence, Giulio de’ Medici, then a boy under the tutelage of Politian, had shown an interest in him, and now that he had become Pope he had an opportunity of proving it. What he did was not what Michelangelo desired, although he must have anticipated that Clement, who had given him the commission for the Medici monuments while he was Cardinal, would not allow him to go on with the monument to Pope Julius, and thus forego the realization of a project calculated to aggrandize the prestige of his own family, which, like Leo X., he had much at heart.
Julius or Leo would have commanded him to do their bidding without any preliminaries, but Clement first tried to tempt him by the offer of a pension, and hinted that he had better enter a religious order, a course which would have taken away from him even that shadow of independence to which he had held fast under former Popes. Although Michelangelo rejected both propositions, Clement was none the less master of the situation, as he showed by ordering him to go on with the Medici Chapel, build a library to contain the books and manuscripts of his family, and decorate the piazza of San Lorenzo with a colossal statue sixty feet in height. This last scheme was evidently taken by Michelangelo in the light of a joke, – an exceptional way of looking at anything with him, for in a letter to Fattucci he ridicules it with a grim smile. ” Let us put ìt,” he writes, ” where the barber’s shop now stands, opposite the square on the other side of the street; and in order to save Figaro from displacement, I will make the seat hollow upon which the figure is to be seated, and give it to him as a convenient place to shave his customers in. The cornucopia in the hand of the statue can be used as a chimney, and the head being empty can serve as a dovecot. Another plan would be to treat the figure as a campanile for San Lorenzo, putting the bells inside the head and having the sound come out of the mouth, so that when they are rung it will seem as if the figure cried ‘Misericordia.'” This humorous letter seems to have killed the project altogether, and Michelangelo might have settled down to work upon the library and the chapel in comparative peace, had he not been worried by a lawsuit which the heirs of Julius II. proposed to bring against him, because he had failed to fulfil his last contract for that monument which was the intermit-tent torment of his life for forty-five years, and accused him of having received money on account which he had spent in other ways than those for which it was advanced. Filled with righteous indignation, and firm in the consciousness of his innocence, Michelangelo demanded and obtained an examination of the accounts ab initio, which resulted in proving that so far from having plundered others he had robbed himself by spending more money than he had received for buying marbles and transporting them to Rome.
The following letter, written to Giovan Francesco Fattucci by Michelangelo, contains many interesting details concerning the oft-mentioned monument and other artistic commissions given him by Julius II.
“Messer Giovan Francesco, you ask me, for certain reasons of your own, to tell you about my relations with Pope Julius. I can assure you that an examination of the accounts, if it could be made to-morrow, would rather prove me to be his creditor than his debtor. At the time when he sent for me to Florence, – I think it was in the second year of his Pontificate, – I had undertaken to paint the half of the Hall of Council in the Palazzo Vecchio for three thousand ducats, and had finished the cartoon, as all Florence knows, which in my estimation was worth half that sum. One of the twelve Apostles, commissioned for Santa Maria del Fiore, was then roughed out, and the greater part of the marbles for the others were in hand. As the Pope obliged me to go away, I gained nothing by either commission. When I reached Rome he requested me to make his monument, gave me one thousand ducats to pay for the marbles, and sent me to Carrara to procure them. I spent eight months there in roughing them out, and then brought the greater part of them to Rome, where some were placed in the square of St. Peter’s and some remained at the Ripa Grande. The money which I had received was exhausted in paying for these marbles ; but as I counted upon getting more from the commission for the monument, I furnished my house on the square of St. Peter’s with beds and other furniture, and sent to Florence for assistants, some of whom are still living, to whom I advanced money out of my own pocket. At this time the Pope changed’ his mind, and no longer wished to go on with the monument : and when I, not knowing this, went to ask for money, and was driven out of the Vatican, I felt myself insulted and quitted Rome immediately. Everything which I left in my house suffered, and as the marbles which I had brought remained on the square of St. Peter’s until the election of Pope Leo, both matters turned out as badly as possible. Among other losses which I could prove by witnesses and demand compensation for, were those of two pieces of marble each four and a half braccie in length, which had cost me more than fifty gold ducats. These were carried away from the ‘Ripa’ 12 by Agostino Chigi. During the year which elapsed between the time when I went to Carrara for the marbles and my expulsion from the palace, I received no money and spent ducats by the tens.
” After that, the first time that Pope Julius went to Bologna I was forced to go there and ask his pardon with a halter round my neck, wherefore he commissioned me to make his seated statue in bronze about nine braccie in height. When he asked me how much it would cost, I answered that it could probably be cast for one thousand ducats, but that, as I was no expert, I did not wish to bind myself to do it for that sum. Hearing this, he replied, ` Set to work, and cast it until it succeeds, and I will pay you to your satisfaction.’ To speak briefly, the statue was cast twice, and at the end of two years, which it took to finish it, I found that I had advanced four ducats and a half. From that time I received no more money, and that which I spent in the said two years was taken from the one thousand ducats at which I had said the statue could be cast, and these were paid to me at intervals by Messer Antonio Maria da Legniame of Bologna.
” After I had set up the statue upon the facade of St. Petronius and had returned to Rome, the Pope still refused to allow me to make his monument, and set me to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel at the stipulated price of three thousand ducats. At first I proposed to put the Twelve Apostles in the lunettes, and to fill the rest of the space with ornaments after the usual fashion. Afterwards, when I had begun the easel-work, it seemed to me that it would turn out a poor thing if the Apostles only were painted, and I said so to the Pope. He asked me why : I answered because they also were poor men. He then gave me permission to do what I liked, saying that he would pay me well for it, and that I might paint down to the Scripture subjects. When the ceiling was nearly finished the Pope went back to Bologna, whither I twice followed him to ask for money due to me, but without success; besides which, I lost all my time until he returned to Rome. After my own return, I made cartoons of the heads and faces to be painted in the Sistine Chapel, hoping to be paid, and to complete the work. In this I was disappointed, and one day, when talking with Messer Bernardo Bibbiena and Atalante, I complained of my fruitless efforts, saying that as I could not get any money I must leave Rome, and trust in Heaven to help me. Hearing this, Messer Bernardo told Atalante to remind him of what I had said, as he was determined to get the money for me. Thanks to his intervention, I received two thousand ducats from the Papal treasury, of which I gave one hundred to Messer Bernardo and fifty to Atalante to recompense them for their good offices. These two thousand ducats and the one thousand previously paid to me made up the amount expended for the marbles, wherefore I supposed that I had received them in recompense for lost time and the works completed.
” Then came the death of the Pope ; and as in the early part of Leo’s pontificate Aginensis wished to increase the size of the monument, we made a new contract. When I objected to have the three thou-sand ducats which I had received credited to the new account, because, as I showed, I ought to have received a much larger sum, Aginensis called me a cheat.”
It is evident that Aginensis, who acted for the executors of the Pope, made no allowance for time wasted in fruitless journeys and in waiting for money with which to carry on work. For these delays Michelangelo was in no wise answerable, and we cannot wonder that, having suffered so much from them, he was indignant at being called a cheat.
The reader will remember that according to the first design the monument was to have been an immense quadrilateral structure, three storeys in height, decorated with forty statues and many bas-reliefs. The second design, made under the new contract, shows but three sides, the fourth being set against the wall; but from Michelangelo’s own words in the letter just quoted, and from the fact that instead of ten thousand ducats, stipulated by the first contract, the executors agreed to allow him sixteen thousand five hundred, it is evident that they proposed to make it even richer and grander than it would have been according to the first design. The arrangement of niches, statues, architectural enrichments, etc., seems to have been very much the same, but a chapel adorned with five statues was to be built against the wall, at the rear end of the platform, which would certainly have contributed greatly to the grand and imposing effect of the whole.
In 1515 Leo X. obliged Michelangelo to break this second contract in order that he might work for him upon the façade of San Lorenzo ; but the next year he permitted him to make a third, by which the design for the monument was again modified, and the number of statues considerably reduced. Nine years of incessant occupation, during which little was done towards carrying it out, ended with those threats of prosecution of which we have already spoken, and brought about an examination of the accounts which cleared Michelangelo from the unjust accusations of fraud with which he had been charged. Seven years after he signed his name to a fourth contract, by which he bound himself to finish six statues with his own hand for the monument, which, on a greatly reduced scale, was to be set up, not in St. Peter’s, but in the church of ” San Pietro ad Vincula,” of which Julius II. had at one time been Cardinal. For recompense he was to receive two thousand gold ducats, and the whole was to be completed in three years ; but this agreement was broken like the rest, nor was it until the year 1542 that a fifth and final contract was made between Pope Paul III., the Duke of Urbino, and Michelangelo, under which the monument received its present form. As all the world knows, it has one statue finished by the great sculptor himself, and two other statues, the Rachel and Leah, for which he furnished the designs. Before concluding this final arrangement, Michelangelo stipulated that he should be allowed to pay back a sum of money already advanced for the three other statues agreed upon by the contract of 1532, and he accordingly deposited fifteen hundred and eighty ducats to the Duke’s credit in the hands of his bankers, the Strozzi, at Florence.
The monument in its final shape would hardly have satisfied the ambition of Julius II., whose statue, reclining upon a sarcophagus (the work of Maso del Bosco, a third-rate sculptor), is one of its most in-significant features. It has been called a monument to Moses, and. such it appears, for when looking at it we see only this mighty figure relieved against an architectural background, whose tasteless lines disturb rather than enhance its effect. Painfully out of harmony with its surroundings, which are quite disproportioned to it, it is seen at a great disadvantage on a level with the eye, instead of being grouped with other statues of corresponding size at a considerable elevation. It is but the disjointed part of an unexplained whole, a giant among pygmies, a huge block of marble set against a tasteless architectural background. Our opinion of it as a work of art depends very much upon whether we judge it from an ancient or a modern point of view. Winckelmann, who regarded Michelangelo’s works from the Hellenic standpoint, speaks of him as one of those artists “in whose mind Heaven did not permit the soft feeling of pure beauty to ripen,” and perhaps we could not better show how he differs from men less imbued with the antique spirit, than by an imaginary dialogue between an Athenian of the fifth century B. C. and an Italian of our own time. Meeting before the Moses, the Greek thus addresses the Italian:
Greek. I pray you, O man of the modern world, of which I know nothing, as I have dwelt in Hades since Charon ferried me over the Styx some two thousand years ago, tell me who is the Deity enthroned in this temple ? I must confess myself sorely puzzled, for while the budding horns on his forehead would lead me to think him Pan or one of his satyrs, his flowing locks remind me of Zeus or Poseidon, and his gigantic limbs of Hercules. Yet he can be none of these, for he has neither the satyr’s feet, nor the thunderbolt of Zeus, nor the trident of Neptune, nor the club and the lion’s skin of Hercules.
Italian. You are right, my antiquated friend; this is neither god nor demigod. Our sculptors seldom waste their chisel-strokes on representations of those unsubstantial phantoms with which your brilliant Greek imagination peopled the heaven, the earth, and the sea. Old Pan is dead with all his fellows, and when we dig up ancient statues of him or of them, we use them to adorn our gardens or our museums ; but never put them into our churches, lest the ignorant should fall down and worship them. This is no god, but a great Jewish lawgiver called Moses, to whom the God of the Christians – the unknown God whom your descendants worshipped at Athens gave certain tablets of stone graven with the laws which they were to obey. The projections on his forehead, which you mistake for horns, are rays of light, “twin beams that from his temples start,” brilliant signs that he is the leader of God’s chosen people. Now that I have told you who is here represented, do you not see how admirably this great and powerful figure realizes the idea of an inspired medium between the Supreme Being and man? Is he not really great?
Greek. Yes, if size is to be taken as a standard of greatness; but we Greeks do not consider it such. Ot,c év TÚ) eeya’X;v r ev’ iceieevoc etvac, tiXXa év Ti) eÚ Tó µya,” says Athenaeus.
Italian. That means, as I understand it, for I am not ignorant of your admirable language, ” the excellent does not lie in the great, but the great in the excellent.”
Greek. Precisely so. Now to me it seems as if the sculptor of this figure took an absolutely opposite point of view. I cannot deny that his lawgiver has a certain grandeur, but of a sort which is inadmissible in sculpture according to our ideas. He seems to have taken as his model one of those vapor figures which lie about the track of Helios as he plunges his fiery chariot at evening into the sea. Had he studied nature after our fashion, and known how to reach the ideal by winnowing the wheat from the chaff, under which head our Greek sculptors classed the unfit as well as the unseemly, he would have striven to attain purity and elegance of line, and to diffuse that serene energy throughout his figure which is alone consistent with the ideal whether of god or prophet. There is, however, one thing for which I must give him credit, and this is that he has sought to identify the personage represented by grandeur and dignity of demeanor rather than through distinctive attributes. So Phidias in the frieze of the Parthenon distinguished gods from mortals by giving them the impress of a superior nature.
Italian. I rejoice that you are candid enough to admit this excellence, and have all confidence in the independence of your judgment up to a certain point, but beyond this I do not trust you, for you can-not free yourself wholly from the trammels of a system which you were educated to regard as perfect. Still, I would ask you once more whether the plenitude of form, grandeur of pose, majestic presence, and expressive dignity of this statue, do not in some measure condone those departures from Greek canons of taste which you have pointed out ?
Greek. To speak frankly, no. What looks to you like dignity seems to me self-consciousness. I see the sculptor so plainly that I cannot lose the sense of his personality, as I do in presence of a really great work of art, which, like a work of nature, should suggest no intermediate hand between the thought and the thing. Here I trip over the artist at every step. He seems to be working to display his knowledge and skill rather than to embody a great ideal. Again, his forms are redundant and his use of means ill-proportioned to his end. So our sophists at Athens used to address the multitude with loudly pitched voices, covering up the shallowness of their reasoning with sounding phrases, and blinding the judgment of those among their audience who had any grain of common-sense by rapidity and energy of gesture, forced enthusiasm, and exaggerated diction. The true orator, like the true artist, speaks calmly and to the purpose, with no crowing or flap-ping of wings, but with just so much of warmth as is necessary to keep the attention of his listeners alive, until the moment comes to launch forth a telling phrase or a withering sarcasm. As in a speech, so in a work of art nothing is so important as to give the impression of reserved power. If the speaker or the sculptor tells us all he knows, our imaginations have no room for play. We tire of him and his work, and will not acknowledge him as our master unless he knows how to intimate that far more lies behind than that which he has given us. Thus only can he keep our respect while he awakens our admiration.
Italian. Alas, poor Michelangelo ! I see that his chance is small with such ultra-purists as you Greeks. And yet I could show you certain Greek statues made after you were dead and buried, which are quite as open to criticism as his Moses, and for like defects. Such are Glycon’s Hercules at Naples, and the bronze Hercules in the Vatican, whose semi-divinity shows itself in the display of mighty muscles and sinews ; and the Laocoön, a group of three figures writhing in the coils of the snakes sent by Apollo to punish him, and –
Greek. Softly, my friend; your examples are ill chosen, for they have no bearing on the question. I have never seen the works of which you speak, but it is evident from your description of them that the degenerate Greeks who sculptured them had lost the lofty ideal of Phidias, and had fallen into the faults of your modern schools. In my day, which closed soon after that exquisite Balustrade was added to the Temple of Victory at Athens in commemoration of the triumphant return of Alkibiades from Asia Minor, ideal beauty was the great object of art, and any distortion of the features or twisting of the limbs, would not have been tolerated. Phidias and his scholars considered that the highest beauty was the beauty of the Eternal, which being the expression of perfect goodness and almighty power must be serene. Their aim was to embody it in human forms of perfect proportion and exquisite outline, absolutely harmonious as units, and relatively so in the relation of their parts to each other. Our greatest sculptors were always careful to adapt form to subject; so were our architects, by using different styles for the temples of each of the great gods; and our composers, by employing different modes for hymns in honor of Zeus or Athena or Aphrodite. This precious observance, which is indispensable to harmony in a work of art, seems to have been set aside by the sculptor of this statue, which, as representing a seer among his people, should neither have had the limbs of an overgrown giant nor the swollen muscles of a pugilist.
Italian. “Per Bacco,” my friend ; if you go on in this way I half fear that you will convert me to your way of thinking, and this, to tell you the truth, I cannot run the risk of. After all, I am a man of the nineteenth century, who, like my fellows, have not been brought up to hold such strict notions about art as were held by the Greeks of your day and generation, and so had perhaps better keep to my faith in Michelangelo’s Moses, which, to tell the truth, now that I look at it again, does not seem to me quite what it was before you filled my brain with ideas which I do not more than half understand. I feel already that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing; so “Addio, caro mio.” By and by, when I have forgotten you and your antiquated ideas, I shall come back here again with the hope of seeing this statue as I used to see it.
Here we may dismiss our disputants, persuaded that no amount of reasoning could reconcile them, or, in other words, that the Moses, if judged by antique canons, is open to criticism. If, however, we drop the Phidian ideal, and look at it from a modern point of view, we feel its power and grandeur. In judging it we should not forget that we see it under the greatest disadvantages, on a level with the eye, instead of at a height of fifteen feet from the pavement, as the artist intended. It is as if an orator standing within a few feet of us should pitch his voice as if he were addressing us from a distance. Stunned and perplexed, we should lose all power of appreciating his ideas. This remark applies, however, solely to the pose, proportions, and general effect of the figure, for it cannot be denied that, as Michelangelo meant that it should be seen at a considerable distance, the elaborate finish of its surface was a waste of labor, calculated to diminish its effect. The greatest of ancient sculptors, Phidias, and the most scientific of modern sculptors, Donatello, avoided this error, into which Alcamenes at Athens and Michelangelo at Florence both fell. It was not until the latter grappled with the same question in treating the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel that he learned after one failure to calculate finish and expression in correct ratio to the fixed distance between the spectator and the object offered to his sight. With all its defects the Moses is, however, original, grandiose, and thoroughly characteristic of the master; but this is not the case with the statues of Rachel and Leah, or Active and Contemplative life, which fill the niches to its right and left. The original suggestion for these figures is to be found in Dante (Purgatorio, c. XXVII. v. 101), but his beautiful verses roused no corresponding image in the artist’s mind. Dante’s Leah culls flowers to make a garland. “For the sake of that enjoyment which I shall have in beholding my God face to face, I thus exercise myself in good works.” Her delight is in admiring in a mirror, that is, in the Supreme Being, the light or knowledge that he has vouchsafed her. Thus she combines in herself active and contemplative life, a double subject which Michelangelo divided between Leah, who holds a mirror and a wreath of flowers, and Rachel, who gazes upwards as if in prayer. Like the figures of the Medici monuments, but without their redeeming qualities, these statues fail in precision of idea ; nor have they any of that grandeur about them which elevates the mind, even if it fails to enlighten it.
A Prophet and a Sibyl by Raffaele da Montelupo, with both of which Michelangelo was greatly discontented, four terminal figures, the Papal arms, and other details not necessary to mention, complete the decoration of a sepulchre conceived by ambition, nursed in disappointment, and finished when the will and power of him who had planned it on a mighty scale were weakened by age and trouble. Take away the Moses which belonged to the original design, and there is nothing which any second-rate sculptor could not have designed and carried out. And for this poor result what a world of trouble, annoyance, humiliation, and pain had one of earth’s greatest and noblest sons suffered. It was a cross long borne upon those strong shoulders of his, never wholly lifted off, and sometimes pressing upon them with crushing weight. Condivi calls the history of this monument a tragedy, and with ample reason, for it is not only unutterably sad as studied in its result, but in its every detail. With it are connected the delays and hesitations of Julius, varied by outbursts of anger and threats of punishment; the opposition of Leo, leading to months of exile at Carrara and Seravezza, to endless journeys and troubles with the Duke of Massa and the quarrymen and the boatmen; the accusations of dishonesty, the delays in payment of dues for work commissioned and completed, the constant change of plans, and a thousand other painful circumstances more easily imagined than described.
Among the statues known or supposed to have been intended for this monument, the two finest are the Prisoners at the Louvre. The sleeping prisoner (Fig. 18) perhaps symbolizes its sculptor’s grateful recognition of that one avenue of escape which Nature offered to him. Thus to forget the burthens of life, the impediments of circumstance and the obstacles which stood between him and his lofty ideal, was to him an infinite relief. When himself a prisoner at Carrara, he wrote those lovely lines to Night, which one should have in one’s mind whilst looking at this statue which embodies their spirit.
“O Night, thou sweet though sombre space of time (All things find rest upon their journey’s end), Whoso hath prized thee well doth apprehend ; And whoso honors thee, hath wisdom’s prime. Our cares thou canst to quietude sublime, For dews and darkness are of peace the friend. Often by thee in dreams upborne I wend From earth to heaven, where yet I hope to climb. Thou shade of Death, through whom the soul at length Shuns pain and sadness hostile to the heart, Whom mourners find their last and sure relief, Thou dost restore our suffering flesh to strength, Driest our tears, assuagest every smart, Purging the spirits of the pure from grief.”
In the waking Prisoner struggling to burst his bonds, Michelangelo may have symbolized those moments when the sun roused him to a consciousness of his own hopeless bondage. This, too, he expressed to Pope Julius in the bitter words,
” I am thy slave, and have been from my youth.”
Four other writhing captives in the grotto of the Boboli Gardens at Florence are supposed to belong to the monument, but they are so roughly blocked out in the marble that it is impossible to determine whether they are not young men bearing garlands, intended to decorate the never erected facade of San Lorenzo. In the pen-and-ink sketch of a portion of the monument at the Casa Buonarroti there is a winged Victory, which resembles the marble Victory at the Bargello, another powerful, half-defined shape which sets conjecture at defiance. She stands over the prostrate body of a man whose constrained attitude is similar to that of the so-called Adonis at the Uffizi. If, however, this statue is also one of the prisoners and not an Adonis, why is the Boar’s head thrust under his bent knees ? The sculptor might perhaps have answered this question, but in default of his aid we must leave it unanswered, with many other inexplicable things in his statues. When he puzzles us, as he often does, we must remember that where other artists would have used a lump of clay, he used a block of marble, and if his idea did not afterwards seem worth working out clearly, turned from it with as little thought as if the material had been equally worthless. This reckless indifference to the value of a substance which had been quarried and brought within his reach at great expense, shows a mind disposed to rise above those reasonable but somewhat vulgar considerations by which most men are influenced. At the bottom of it lay that love of overcoming obstacles which was natural to Michelangelo. The soft and ductile clay wearied him by its very obedience to his will, whereas the resistance with which the solid block met his vigorous attack was an excitement and a stimulus to exertion, in itself a joy to his strong nature. Is it not possible that he also found some slight consolation for the constant opposition which he met with from his Papal masters, in the effort to overcome them, as he would have done had not their hearts been harder than marble ? That, indeed, he could fashion as he would, but these were made of a stuff against which the chisels of his will soon became blunted and useless. When he perceived this he obeyed their behests, and, throwing himself into the work which they gave him to do, temporarily forgot his disappointments.
Scarcely less magnificent as a scheme than the monument to Pope Julius, the Chapel of the Medici offered him an equally congenial field for the exercise of his powers. Already in 1524 the cupola had been raised upon the building, and in the following year the four reclining figures of the sarcophagi were in hand and somewhat advanced. The two monuments of which they form a part were not intended to be the only ones in the chapel, as they now are. Besides these of Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino, and of Giuliano, Duke de Nemours, there were to have been others, to Lorenzo the Magnificent (for which the Madonna and Child by Michelangelo, and the two statues of SS. Cosmo and Damian by his pupils, were destined), to Julian de’ Medici his brother, to Leo X. and to Clement VII. The last three remained, so far as we know, entirely in nubibus, and the completion of the first two was long delayed by the political events which convulsed Italy and absorbed so much of Michelangelo’s time and thoughts. He had already played many parts in his life, for some of which he had had but little preparation, but circumstances now forced him to undertake a new rôle for which he was even less ready than he had been for former experiments in untried fields of action.
The events connected with the siege of Florence, in which Michelangelo played an heroic part, were brought about by the crooked and vacillating policy of the Pope, which reduced him to dire straits, en-tailed inconceivable misery upon Rome, and eventually brought about the fall of the Florentine Republic and the restoration of the Medici. Clement was one of those men who are incapable of adhering to a line of policy, because they want faith in their own judgment, however deliberately formed. Instead of seeing that Charles V. was master of the situation, and that his own interests would be best forwarded by a firm alliance with the Imperialists, he repeatedly played fast and loose with the Emperor, and at last joined the league formed against him between Francis I., the Venetians, and the English. When he found that the Papal States were exposed to invasion, and that his allies could give him but little material aid in such case, he patched up a too tardy truce with the Imperial Viceroy. It happened, however; that the Constable de Bourbon, who had shortly before gone over to the Emperor, had under him a fierce and undisciplined horde of Spanish and German freebooters clamorous for pay, and on fire with the idea of enriching themselves by plundering Florence or Rome. Unable to pay them otherwise, the Constable marched straight for Florence, but finding that city strongly fortified, and being, as it would seem, fully aware that Charles V. would not be sorry to see his slippery ally, the Pope, punished for his numerous tergiversations, he pushed on to Rome, and on the 5th of May, 1527, led his troops over the heights of Monte Mario and encamped in the valley of the Tiber. Shut up in the castle of St. Angelo, and unable to move a finger in defence of the unfortunate city which was given over to the tender mercies of a pack of demons under his very eyes, the Pope, after a long imprisonment, eventually made his escape and took refuge at Orvieto. As soon as the news of these events was received at Florence, the republicans rose against the Papal authority, forced Cardinal Cortona the governor to abdicate, and joined the league. So strong was their determination not to submit to the restoration of the Medici, that they determined to resist single-handed. The League of Cambray formed between Charles V. and Francis I., and the truce between the Pope and the Emperor, left them no choice between the return of the Medici, and single-handed resistance. This they heroically decided to make, and in October, 1529, the city was invested by the Imperial troops. As this event had been for some time anticipated it did not find them wholly unprepared, and had all addressed themselves to the defence with the same single-hearted purpose as Michelangelo, who had been appointed commissioner-general on the first signs of danger, the siege of Florence might have been indefinitely prolonged if not eventually raised. There were, however, enemies within as well as without the walls. Malatesta Baglioni, captain-general of the Florentine forces, who should have been their shield and buckler, was a traitor at heart, and Michelangelo recognized him as such long before he actually betrayed his trust. Niccolo Capponi, the gonfaloniere, was also suspected of some understanding with the Pope, and although he lost his office on this account, had still great influence, which he used to oppose plans deemed of vital importance to the safety of the city. Carducci, who succeeded Capponi as chief magistrate, was thought loyal to the Republic, but he disapproved of fortifying the hill of San Miniato ; and thus dissension prevailed even among those who wished to do their duty.
Had Michelangelo been a trained military engineer his opinion would have had weight on this point ; but he knew nothing of the science of defence, and had not even that sort of experience as a practical soldier which might have helped him to calculate the probabilities of attack or the best methods of repelling an enemy. His patriotism, his bravery, and his knowledge of military architecture which enabled him to draw plans of ditch and rampart well suited to the nature of the ground, were his only qualifications for the responsible office which his fellow-citizens had conferred upon him. These gave him courage to accept it, and once having accepted it, he felt that he had a right to have his plans considered. That, however, which distressed him more than all was his want of confidence in the good faith of some of those in power. He firmly believed that the Council of War desired to get rid of him when he was directed to go to Ferrara in order to study its fortifications and consult with the Duke Alfonso d’Este, who had a great military reputation ; but this does not seem to have been the case. The Signory urged his immediate return, which was delayed about a month by a secret mission to Venice, of whose purpose we have no record. After its accomplishment he returned to Florence and resumed his work upon the fortifications. But hardly had he done so, when he suddenly abandoned his post, and with one companion fled to Venice, firmly intending to go thence to France and seek a position under Francis I. No one who knows the character of Michelangelo can for an instant believe, what indeed his subsequent conduct entirely refutes, that his flight was caused by personal fear. It is evident that, having vainly striven to convince the Council of the treasonable intentions of Malatesta Baglioni, he shook the dust of Florence from his feet, and with bitter feelings. of despair and disappointment left her to her fate. In a letter which he wrote from Venice to Battista della Palla he clearly states that his departure from Florence had been suddenly resolved upon. The answer was an appeal to his patriotism which he could not resist, especially as it followed close upon the heels of a messenger who brought him a passport from the Signory of Florence, and letters which showed him that not only his personal friends, but many of his fellow-citizens, had unshaken confidence in his ability to help them in their hour of need. Returning to the post of danger, he was received with a general joy which must have soothed and fortified his wounded spirit ; but, though he was now allowed to fortify San Miniato as he had wished to do from the first, his mind was ill at ease. The traitor was busy at his work, and the end was not far distant. On the 12th of August, 1530, Baglioni, throwing off the mask, admitted the Imperial troops within the Roman gate, and shortly after, the despicable Alessandro de’ Medici was appointed Governor of Florence by Imperial decree.
For some time after the raising of the siege Michelangelo, knowing that little mercy was to be expected from the Pope towards a rebel like himself, lay concealed in the house of a friend ; but when Clement’s need of him got the better of his anger, and a promise of pardon in case of reappearance and submission, was circulated, he issued from his hiding-place and resumed his work upon the Medici monuments. He had employed his rare moments of leisure during the siege in painting a picture of Leda for the Duke of Ferrara, in sketching a group of Sampson smiting a Philistine, and a young Apollo drawing an arrow from his quiver ; but it is morally certain, from what we know of him, that his loyal hand had dealt no chisel-stroke for the Medici while he was working to prevent their return to power. In 1527, when he ceased to work upon the Chapel monuments, the four recumbent figures were blocked out and a portion of this architectural background was completed ; but when he again took them in hand after the siege, a great deal remained to be done, and his state of health was such that it seemed more than doubtful whether he would ever do it. “He is so ill,” writes his pupil, Antonio Mini, ” that he cannot live unless he can be persuaded to take care of himself.” “Suffering from loss of sleep and appetite, subject to headache and attacks of vertigo, and distressed by the condition of his beloved Florence,” his feelings would have broken his heart had they not found an outlet in poetry and sculpture. In these so-called figures of the Medici he embodied his own moods and thoughts, and this is the reason why they are so difficult of interpretation. It is difficult to conjecture why Giuliano, titular Duke de Nemours and brother of Leo X., who was an insignificant person, and Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino, son of Piero and father of Catharine de’ Medici, who was a dissolute and unprincipled man, were chosen to represent the family of Clement VII., unless because both had governed Florence. Neither of them was a representative man in any sense. Of the two, Giuliano was the more interesting to Michelangelo, as he had elevated tastes, which led him to cultivate the society of literary men and of artists ; but his statue gives no indication of this side of his character. It is that of a military hero, although he did nothing as a soldier or a leader to entitle him to be so regarded.
Can we come to any other conclusion than that Michelangelo, who knew him thoroughly, failing to find in the real man any element of greatness worthy of embodiment, substituted an abstract being in his place? If he did so when dealing with Giuliano, we cannot wonder that he also ignored Lorenzo’s personality as being even less worthy of his regard. We may, then, dismiss both Giuliano and Lorenzo from our minds when we enter the Medici Chapel, and regard their statues as purely abstract conceptions. The finer of the two is well called “Il Pensoso,”- the Thinker (tail-piece, Chapter VI.), – for, as he sits with the forefinger of his left hand pressed upon his lip as if to command silence, with his face darkened by the projecting visor of his helmet, he looks the very personification of all-absorbing thought. Thus when the struggle was over, brooding in silence over those evil times for his country and himself, which he had in vain striven to set aright, did the sculptor sit, groaning in spirit as he remembered the wrongs of Florence, or thought bitterly of the hard fate which doomed him to be the puppet and slave of popes and dukes, or pondered over the great problems of life, – Whence do we come? Whither do we go? Why must we suffer ? then, wearied with the effort to solve the unsolvable, he would turn to the conception of a statue or a picture or a sonnet, seeking rest and finding none.
Select whichever subject you will as that which may have weighed upon him at such times, and it will suit the Thinker at San Lorenzo.
You ask what he is thinking of. If you would know, read the life of Michelangelo. He was an artist, and he was ever thwarted in his work ; he was a patriot, and he saw his country crushed ; he was religious, and he lived among scoffers ; he was full of kindly affections, and he lived alone in sadness until, to use his own words,
“Par che amaro ogni mio dole io senta.”
Thus interpreted, the Lorenzo has a far greater interest and significance than the Giuliano, which has too little distinctive character to give us any clue to the artist’s meaning. The head is spirited and handsome, the pose effective, but there is little depth in the face, or significance in the attitude (tail-piece, Chapter V.). The magnificent figures of Day and Night upon the sarcophagus below it, would seem better suited to the Thinker, waiting in a night of doubt and perplexity, for the coming of the day, than to the warrior, with whom they seem to have no connection. Taken with the Dawn and Twilight, they are commonly interpreted as a pale allegory of the flight of time, which, as touching the interests of Florence, was to pass from the twilight and night of her evil days to the dawn and full day of better times. This interpretation would be satisfactory as connecting the four figures with Florence and her fate, did we not know that all four figures were blocked out four years before the siege began, so that they cannot allude in any way to events resulting from it. Equally unsatisfactory is the explanation which makes Lorenzo, as represented in the “Pensoso,” a victim to remorse. Machiavelli had indeed, at one time, counted upon him to effect the national deliverance, but this was an idea which certainly never crossed his brain. Had Michelangelo supposed him capable of regretting that he had not merged his selfish aims in so noble an enterprise, he would have given his face a remorseful expression, instead of making it depressed and melancholy, as it is, and we therefore return to our previous idea, – that the statue is a personification of the artist’s desolate and brooding spirit, that the Night expresses his longing for repose, and the Day (see tail-piece to this Chapter) that reaction against despair which proved that, though sometimes cast down by all the evils which surrounded and oppressed him, he had within him an undying energy. The figure is that of a Titan rousing himself for action. With superhuman strength it lifts itself above the lid of the sarcophagus, as the sun at dawn above the horizon. While by its vague grandeur it reminds us of such shapes as we sometimes see in cloud-cumuli towering against the evening sky, the undefined nature of its forms allows free play of the imagination, and gives us a certain sense of companionship with the sculptor, with whom we seem to be working towards completeness. Often, as in this statue, Michelangelo stayed his band when approaching his ideal, be-cause with every fresh stroke he feared to lose ground. He had dealt his sturdy blows upon the marble without placing a point, or stopping to calculate whether it was broad enough or long enough to hold his thought ; then he paused to reflect, doubt followed, and as his
“Fears, like the needle verging to the pole, Trembled, and trembled into certainty,”
his ardor cooled, and he turned away a sadder if not a wiser man.
The quarries of Carrara and Seravezza must have been as exciting to him as the sound of a trumpet to a war-horse, for their white blocks offered him a limitless range of possibilities ; but his enthusiasm cooled with possession, and he often dropped the chisel before he had half worked out the intended form. The exceptions are such highly finished works as the ” Pietà,” the Moses, and the Night of the Medici Chapel. Unlike the Day, this sleeping giantess is completely and most elaborately worked out in the marble. She lies upon the opposite end of the sarcophagus with her head drooping towards her left shoulder in an attitude which, were it possible, would hardly allow repose. A star between two moon-horns (cornua noctis) rests above her forehead; a mask, the symbol of dreams, lies near her left arm ; and a bunch of poppies at her feet.
“The Night which thou beholdest, bound in deep And sweet repose, au angel’s hand did hew Out of this rock, and, though she is asleep, Breathes : doubt’st thou? Wake her, she will speak to you. Whereto, in language we may never match, The grief-worn patriot gave sublime reply : “T is well to slumber, best to be of stone, While shame endures and Florence is not free ; So lest I waken, ah ! subdue thy tone: Methinks ‘t is blessed not to hear nor see.’ ”
These lines to the Night were written in 1531, the year after the submission of the city to the Medici, and it is to the grief which he feels for her slavery that the sculptor plainly alludes in his answer; but the statue expresses that desire for repose, that love of the dark hours which bring
“Sleep, that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care,”
which he felt when he wrote the Sonnet to the Night, and sculptured the Prisoner at the Louvre. In presence of the Thinker and the Day, the Night, grand as it is, pales its fires ; but all three so far surpass the Aurora and the Twilight that where they are we cannot think of them. In the unfinished group of the Madonna and Child Michelangelo is himself again. It reminds us of the Taunton Madonna in the National Gallery, but it is stamped with a grander and more mature feeling.
Splendid as are the powers displayed in the Medicean monuments, they explain the deleterious influence of Michelangelo upon the rising generation of artists. Unable to seize his spirit, they attached them-selves to those qualities of exaggeration which impair his style, and, like the frog in the fable, burst from over-dilation. The pretentious grandeur of their works makes their weakness conspicuous. After a Michelangelo, a Bandinelli was inevitable. His Hercules and Cacus, with its blustering vulgarity, its swollen muscles, and its back which Cellini compared to a sack filled with chestnuts, is an epitome of Michelangelo’s defects. The immediate scholars of Michelangelo were not men of remarkable talent, like Bandinelli. Their best works, the SS. Cosmo and Damian, which flank the Madonna in the Medici Chapel, were executed under the master’s eye, and with his direct assistance. He retouched the St. Cosmo of Fra Giovan Angelo Montorsoli, and modelled both the head and hands in clay, and may have done as much for the St. Damian of Raffaelle da Montelupo, whom he employed to finish the statues of Rachel and Leah for the tomb of Julius II. The dissatisfaction with which he regarded them is not to be wondered at, considering what they are as compared with what they might have been had he fulfilled his promise of finishing them himself, which he was prevented from doing by stress of occupation. In accepting them, Michelangelo drained the last drops of the bitter cup which Julius II. held to his lips.
Architecturally, the Medici Chapel is cold and uninteresting. Such effect as it has, is derived from the skill with which the monuments are connected with the architecture by the great sarcophagi, which are so placed that the heads of the grand allegorical figures upon them rise just above the line of the surbase running round the walls, and, by their combination with the portrait statues in the niches above them, form pyramidal compositions on either side of the chapel. It is unfair, however, to judge it from its present appearance. When the dome was decorated with arabesques, and it and the panels below it enriched with stucco-work by Giovanni da Udine, it doubtless wore a very different aspect.