Michelangelo was just starting out and needed money. In those days the market was for antique (old Roman or Greek) statues, not modern ones by unknown artists.
So he carved a statue of a Cupid, “aged it”, i.e. made it look old, and then palmed it off on a cardinal as an antique work. A merchant did the dirty work of selling it for him.
In time, the cardinal got wind of the fraud and made the merchant give him his money back. He then returned the Cupid to him in disgust.
Michelangelo’s biographer-buddies had the cheek to blame the Cardinal for returning the statue after he had discovered it wasn’t ancient. “A guy with all his money could have kept the Cupid anyway,” they said. “Everyone agreed it was a very beautiful work. This shows the Cardinal didn’t know a good thing when he saw it.”
Correct me if I am mistaken, but I believe that it was Michelangelo, not the Cardinal, who got cheated by the art merchant.
That merchant was a shyster all right. The Cardinal paid him 200 ducats and he gave Michelangelo thirty.
Michelangelo tried to recover his statue afterwards but the merchant told him to go to the devil–that it was HIS statue, since had paid for it. He turned around and sold it to Cesar Borgia–I can’t remember if as an antique or only as a pretty Cupid.