The Letters of Michelangelo - Vol. 2

The Letters of Michelangelo - Vol. 2

The Letters of Michelangelo - Vol. 2

The Letters of Michelangelo - Vol. 2

Excerpt

When Michelangelo reached Rome on September 23rd 1534 Clement VII was already in extremis; two days later he was dead.1 Now, for the first time for eighteen years, Michelangelo, being released from the service of the Medici, found himself at liberty to complete the Tomb of Julius in fulfilment of his obligation to the della Rovere heirs. But his anticipated freedom was not to be enjoyed. For no less than thirty years the new Pope, Paul III, who, before his elevation on October 13th had been recognized as perhaps the most learned, astute and distinguished of all the members of the Sacred College, had apparently cherished a desire to command Michelangelo's services2 and now that he was in a position to do so, he was not to be denied.

According to a communication from the Venetian envoy in Rome to the Imperial ambassador in Venice,3 as early as the beginning of 1534, Pope Clement had so far prevailed upon Michelangelo that he had undertaken to execute the enormous fresco for the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel. The subject then proposed was said to be The Resurrection, a theme in some respects more suitable for that position than The Last Judgment, which is more commonly reserved for the liturgical west end of a church.

That there could be any valid reason for the abandonment of this great project owing to the death of his predecessor was not a notion that the resolute Farnese Pope was prepared for a moment to entertain, however importunately Michelangelo might plead his prior engagement to the Duke of Urbino. But Michelangelo remained obdurate and even thought of leaving Rome to continue the Tomb elsewhere. Finally, however, Paul III, attended by eight of the cardinals, went to visit him in his house in the Macel de' Corvi.4 Here, while they were all admiring the marbles and the cartoons, the Cardinal of Mantua, Ercole Gonzaga, suddenly exclaimed that the figure of Moses alone would suffice to do honour to the Tomb of Julius. Then the Pope, being still unable to induce Michelangelo to enter his service, himself undertook to arrange matters with the Duke, and in such a way, that at last Michelangelo found himself with no option but to yield. On September 1st 15355 he was formally appointed a member of the Pope's household, with a place at his table and, what was perhaps even more relevant, with a salary of twelve hundred scudi a year.

It is true that in consequence he was no longer his own master, any more than he had been for the past thirty years or was to be for the rest of his life; it is true that he had virtually to abandon his first love, sculpture, and to cleave unto his second, painting; it is true that he had to bear the burden of the Tomb for another ten years, yet even so, . . .

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