Source: James Harvey Robinson, Readings in European History (Boston
and New York: Ginn & Company, 1904), 537-541.
Transcribed by Sean Park
The statue was finished in
the clay model before Pope Julius left Bologna for Rome, and his Holiness
went to see it, but, the right hand being raised in an attitude of much
dignity and the pontiff not knowing what was to be placed in the left,
inquired whether he were anathematizing the people or giving them his benediction;
Michael Angelo replied that he was admonishing the Bolognese to behave
themselves discreetly, and asked his Holiness to decide whether it were
not well to put a book in the left hand. “Put a sword into it,” replied
Pope Julius, “for of letters I know but little.” The pontiff left
a thousand crowns in the bank of Messer Antonmaria da Lignano for the purpose
of completing the figure, and after Michael Angelo had labored at it for
sixteen months it was placed over the door of San Petronio.
The work was eventually destroyed by the Bentivogli and the bronze was sold to the Duke Alfonzo of Ferrara, who made a piece of artillery, called the Julia, of the fragments; the head only was preserved, and this is now on the Duke’s Guardaroba.
[The pope was very anxious to see the decoration of the Sistine Chapel completed, and constantly inquired when it would be finished.] On one occasion, therefore, Michael Angelo replied, “It will be finished when I shall have done all that I believe is required to satisfy Art.” “And we command,” rejoined the pontiff, “that you satisfy our wish to have it done quickly,” adding that if it were not at once completed, he would have Michael Angelo thrown headlong from the scaffolding. Hearing this, our artist, who feared the fury of the pope, and with good cause, without taking time to add what was wanting, took down the remainder of the scaffolding, to the great satisfaction of the whole city, on All Saint’s day, when Pope Julius went into that chapel to sing mass. But Michael Angelo had much desired to retouch some portion of the work a secco, as had been done by the older masters who had painted the stories on the walls. He would also have gladly added a little ultramarine to the draperies and gilded other parts, to the end that the whole might have a richer and more striking effect.
The pope, too, hearing that these things were still wanting, and finding that all who beheld the chapel praised it highly, would now fain have had the additions made; but as Michael Angelo thought reconstructing the scaffold too long an affair, the pictures remained as they were, although the pope, who often saw Michael Angelo, would sometimes say, “Let the chapel be enriched with bright colors and gold; it looks poor.” When Michael Angelo would reply familiarly, “Holy Father, the men of those days did not adorn themselves with gold; those who are painted here less than any, for they were none too rich; besides which they were holy men, and must have despised riches and ornaments.”
[In 1546, San Gallo, who was in charge of the building operations at St. Peter’s in Rome, having died, Pope Paul III asked Michael Angelo to undertake the office.] The master at first replied that he would not, architecture not being his vocation; but when entreaties were found useless, the pope commanded him to accept the trust, and to his infinite regret he was compelled to obey. He did not approve of San Gallo’s plan. He would often publicly declare that San Gallo had left the building without lights, and had heaped too many ranges of columns one above the other on the outside; adding that, with its innumerable projections, pinnacles, and divisions of members, it was more like a work of the cheerful and beautiful modern style. He further more affirmed that fifty years of time, with more than three hundred thousand crowns in the cost, might very well be spared, while the work might be completed with increased majesty, grandeur, and lightness, to say nothing of better design, greater beauty, and superior convenience.
He made a model also, to prove the truth of his words, and this was of the form wherein we now see the work to have been carried on; it cost twenty-five crowns and was finished in a fortnight, that of San Gallo having exceeded four thousand and having occupied several years in making. From this and other circumstances, it was indeed easy to see that the church had become an object of traffic and a means of gain rather than a building to be completed, being considered by those who undertook the work as a kind of bargain to be turned to the best account.
Such a state of things could not fail to displease so upright a man as Michael Angelo, and as the pope had made him superintendent against his will, he determined to be rid of them all. He therefore one day told them openly that he knew well that they had done and were doing all they could by means of their friends to prevent him from entering on this office, but that if he were to undertake the charge he would not suffer one of them to remain about the building.
Michael Angelo worked for his amusement almost every day at a group of four figures, but he broke up the block at last, either because it was found to have numerous veins, was excessively hard, and often caused the chisel to strike fire, or because the judgment of the artist was so severe that he could never content himself with anything that he ever did. There is proof of this in the fact that few of his works undertaken in his manhood were ever entirely completed, those entirely finished being the productions of his youth. … Michael Angelo himself would often remark that if he were really permitted to satisfy himself in the works to be produced, he should give little or nothing to public view.
And the reason for this is obvious. He had advanced to such an extent of knowledge in art that the very slightest error could not exist in any figure without his immediate discovery thereof; but having found such after the work had been given to view, he would never attempt to correct it, and would commence some other production, believing that a like failure would not happen again. This then was, as he often declared, the reason why the number of pictures and statues finished by his hand was so small…
His powers of imagination were such that he was frequently compelled to abandon his purpose because he could not express by the hand those grand and sublime ideas which he had conceived in his mind, -nay, he has spoiled and destroyed many works for this cause. I know, for example, that a short time before his death he burned a large number of his designs, sketches, and cartoons, that none might see the labors he had gone through and the trials to which he had subjected his spirit in his resolve not to fall short of perfection. I have myself secured some drawings by his hand, which were found in Florence and which are mow in my book of designs; and these, although they give evidence of his great genius, yet prove also that the hammer of Vulcan was necessary to bring Minerva from the head of Jupiter.
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