A deserter he certainly was.
Michelangelo by Giulio Bonasone (1546) Copperplate print, 23.7 x 18.3 cm. public domain photo
Florence was under siege and the authorities put Michelangelo in charge of the city’s defense. He strengthened the city walls, built bastions in strategic places around the city, and encircled the San Miniato hill above town with fortifications. Everyone agrees he did a good job.
But in spite of his well-planned defense things got worse and worse for the town as the siege went on. There was no help in sight. Anyone could see it was just a matter of time before Florence would have to surrender. There were persistent rumors of a secret plot to turn over the city to the enemy. Things would probably go badly for Michelangelo when the enemy marched into Florence. He got to thinking all this over and…
And then he did the worst thing on his curriculum. He stuffed into bags all the money and jewels he could carry and, using his authority as an army official, he ordered one of the city gates opened and rode out of town with two servants in the middle of the night. “To save himself,” as Vasari puts it plainly.
Before passing sentence on Michelangelo read this:
Why Michelangelo Deserted
When Michelangelo realized that there really was a secret plot to surrender the city and that there was nothing he could do about it, he decided to get out before the enemy came to arrest him.
He had done his share and more than his share in defending Florence. A republican in spite of his patrons and friends, he had decided to fight for the freedom of his city and had put himself on the line. He even made a big cash donation to the war effort.
But more than all that, he was sacrificing his future as an artist. The enemy that lay outside the city and who was trying to restore the tyrant to power was none other than Michelangelo’s patron, Pope Clement, a Medici!
And the tyrant was the Pope’s illegitimate son, Alessandro.
Alessandro de’ Medici, Duke of Florence by Cristofano dell Altissimo public domain photo here
Michelangelo had spent years of his life working for the Medicis. Even now he was carving those great figures for the family chapel. By defending Florence against the Pope he was as good as destroying his work and the great projects of the future. Should he throw away his life now as well?
What happened finally?
When the victorious enemy army came into Florence Alessandro de Medici ordered Michelangelo’s murder. Michelangelo hid in a cellar until the coast was clear.
Read here about these drawings Michelangelo made on the wall of the basement where he hid
How did the coast clear? The Pope, Alessandro’s father, intervened and gave orders that “his” artist should be spared. Afterwards he ordered Michelangelo to go on with his work in the Medici Chapel.