Michelangelo Flips His Lid

One stormy night Michelangelo goes berserk. He destroys all the models in his studio, orders his servants to sell everything and get lost, then hops on a horse and gallops out of Rome, cursing the Pope. He heads for the Florentine border, where Pope Julius can’t touch him.

Up to now, in the biographies at least, Michelangelo has been behaving. Suddenly he turns into a fiery demon, the equal of Cellini or Pope Julius himself. He seems to go mad with rage.

Michelangelo’s defiant David (photo credit here)

Rage? Rage ends. A head cools down. Another man in the course of this flight would lose some of his steam and reconsider. Michelangelo keeps boiling as he rides; and when the papal emissaries catch up with him, he draws his sword and threatens to kill them. Condivi doesn’t say how many emissaries there were, but there were more than one. They were not ready to risk their own lives in a fight with him: they had probably expected a poor, remorseful soul, ready to burst into tears in apology for his behavior and fearful of punishment from the world’s most powerful ruler. They had orders to bring him back to Rome one way or another. But now, seeing the gleam of deadly resolution in his eyes, they hedge, they soften. “Be reasonable,” they plead. “Make peace with the Pope. At least write a note telling him you apologize.”
“I won’t,” said the artist. “You write him and tell him to go to the devil.”

What had gotten into Michelangelo? Here is his explanation:

“As to my leaving Rome, it’s true that on Holy Saturday I heard the Pope, speaking at table to his jeweller and master of ceremonies [the chief devil on the Sistine wall], say he didn’t want to spend a penny more on stones [his tomb, on which Michelangelo had been working for two years]….. That surprised me very much. Besides, before leaving I asked him for part of [the money] I needed to continue with my work. His Holiness answered that I should come back the following Monday. I went back there on Monday, on Tuesday, on Wednesday, and on Thursday, as he himself saw. Finally, on Friday morning, they sent me away: that is, they threw me out, and the person who did it said he knew me, but this was the order he had received. So, having heard these words and seeing the results, on Saturday I fell into a state of extreme desperation…..”
(To Master Giuliano da Sangallo, Papal Architect in Rome; Florence, May 2, 1506)
In this account Michelangelo omitted the remark he made to the palace official who wouldn’t let him see the Pope: “You may tell the Pope that from now on, if he wants me, he can look for me somewhere else.”

He had been sculpting figures like these:


Marble statues for the tomb of Pope Julius II, now in the Louvre, Paris.   (Wikicommons photos here and here)

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2 Responses to Michelangelo Flips His Lid

  1. artstage – Da fängt die Schwierigkeit ja schon an! Wie soll ich meine abgelaufenen Jahre beschreiben? Wenn möglich in einem Satz? Menschen, die mich nicht kennen, beliebe ich zu sagen: ich bin die Summe unendlichen Nichtwissens minus aller meiner Erfahrungen! Das muss für den Anfang reichen, oder ... ?!
    artstage says:

    “…didn’t want to spend a penny more on stones ” – a few hundred years later artists still have similar problems?! Isn’t it a shame?
    Wouldn’t it be an absolute profit for our society to give respect also to the work of contemporary artists? Before it’s too late and they’re dead and gone? (Not everything should be left in the hands of the artmarket)
    But ofcourse, you’re right with your site about “The Best Artists”! They are! And they are still our inspiration!
    greetings from Austria!

  2. 100swallows says:

    Hello, artstage. I see I never answered you–sorry! It’s nice to get something from Austria. Leider kann ich nicht gut auf Deutsch schreiben. Seit vielen Jahren sprach ich ein wenig aber jetzt habe ich fast alles vergessen. Vielleicht lerne ich etwas mit deinem(r?) blog.
    I’m not so sure I want the state to finance artists, if that’s what you meant. The government would be a worse patron than the artmarket, don’t you think?

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