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: