THE STATUE AT BOLOGNA (1506-1507)
Ox the 26th of August, 1506, four months after laying the first stone of the new Vatican Basilica, Julius II. quitted Rome at the head of an army, and began his career as a conqueror: "Leaving", as says, shortly after, the French contemporary chronicler, "S. Peter's chair to assume the title of Mars, the god of battles, to display his triple crown on the field, and to sleep under a tent; and God knows how fair to behold in the field were his mitres, his crosses, and his crucifixes! "
The success of this first campaign — or "crusade," as he himself called it, speaking to Macchiavelli — is astonishingly rapid. Giampolo Baglioni, the sanguinary tyrant of Perugia, who has never recoiled before any danger or any crime, now suddenly is affrighted, hastens to meet Julius II at Orvieto, surrenders his fortified city, and begs only to be admitted among the followers of the Pope. At Bologna the same panic seizes the aged Giovanni Bentivoglio, surrounded by his valiant family and his numerous vassals and armed men. He escapes to the French camp of Marechal Chaumont, and the city welcomes with frenzied delight the ''Pope-Liberator''. Julius II enters Bologna, the ancient Felsina, "like another Julius Caesar," in a huge chariot, a purple canopy above his head. Still more classic is the homage paid him by the Romans, on his return some months later. The arcus Domitiani upon the Corso (at that time still standing) "is so splendidly decorated with statues and pictures", says Albertini, the quasi-official historiographer, "that one would think Domitian himself had returned, to triumph anew". Near the Castle of Sant' Angelo, the gilded oak-tree of the Rovere rises from the centre of a globe, lifting its branches to the height of Santa Maria Transpontina; and, from a quadriga with white horses, winged genii present palms to the victorious pontiff. The greatest humanist of the age, who at that time was travelling in Italy, witnessed these scenes: notwithstanding his ardent love for antiquity, Erasmus of Rotterdam cannot conceal his profound surprise to see the Successor of the Apostles surrounded with so pagan a display.
While Julius II was thus giving the world the extraordinary spectacle of a Pope conquering like Caesar, triumphing like Domitian, Michelangelo, having escaped from Rome and taken refuge in Tuscany, was occupied with no less an idea than that of quitting Italy altogether and going to take service with the Grand Turk!
"Giuliano",—Buonarroti wrote, May 2, 1506, two weeks after his extraordinary flight from Rome, to the architect Giuliano da Sangallo, and enjoined him to show the words to the pontiff himself,—"I learn from your letter that the Pope has taken my departure very ill, and that his Holiness is disposed to act and to pay as was agreed, and that I may return without any fear. It is only too true that on Holy Saturday I heard the Pope say,—he was at table and was talking with his jewellers and his master of ceremonies—that he would never again spend a baiocco for stones, small or great. This did not a little surprise me; however, before going away, I asked for the money necessary to continue the work, and his Holiness replied that I should come again on Monday. On Monday I came, Tuesday, Wednesday also, and Thursday, as he well knew; finally, on Friday morning, I was sent away, driven away, and he who did it said that he knew me well, but that he had orders. Thus it happened that, having heard the words spoken on Saturday and having thus seen their effect, I was seized with despair."
Was the artist justified in taking to himself words said about "stones, small or great"; also was he right in coming day after day in Easter week to claim his money? I should not dare affirm it; and the rest of the letter seems to me to leave no doubt as to the morbid excitement of Michelangelo at this period, an actual condition of hallucination.
"This, however", he continues, "is not the sole cause of my departure; there was still another thing, about which I am not willing to write. It is enough to say that I had reason to believe that if I remained in Rome, my tomb would be ready much before the Pope's; and it was this which was the cause of my sudden departure"
What does this mean? Did he fear Bramante's poignard, or was it some mysterious plot framed by the Vatican people? At a later day, however, he who wrote this letter full of foolish fears was to return to Rome and pass more than half his life there, without the least disaster!
Nor, indeed, is this the only time when we see this great genius impelled by chimerical terrors to extreme and inexplicable resolutions. In 1494 he takes flight on the approach of Charles VIII for the reason that a lute-player relates to him a mysterious dream. In 1529 he takes flight while directing the fortification of besieged Florence, abandoning his post in presence of the enemy on a warning from "some one who from the neighbourhood of the Porta San Niccolo, whether sent by God or by the devil I know not", he frankly communicates to his friend Battista della Palla! The Roman episode in April, 1506, belongs evidently in this same category of the vagaries of Buonarroti's vexed and gloomy soul.
I feel obliged also to class with these vagaries the strange interpretation that he always put upon the Pope's proposition in regard to the Sistine Chapel. It was Bramante, he said (and he affirmed it again in his old age), who perfidiously insinuated this scheme into the mind of Julius II; a snare was laid for him, in thus giving to the sculptor a painter's task; a foreseen and desired failure was thus prepared for him. He had, however, himself, and of his own free will, as early as 1504, before the Roman expedition, before any perfidie of Bramante, challenged the greatest painter of the time,— composing, in competition with Leonardo da Vinci, his famous cartoon of the War of Pisa. This cartoon had excited the world's admiration; it was at that very moment the great school in which all young painters were training themselves; Vasari enumerates Ridolfo Ghirlandaio, Andrea del Sarto, Francia Bigio, Pontormo, and a certain pupil of Perugino, by name Raffaello Santi. Verily, no satanic intrigue was needed to suggest to the Rovere that the author of the War of Pisa, for the Hall of the Great Council in the Palazzo Vecchio, might be very well able to place some masterpiece of painting upon the splendid vault of the Sistina.
Julius II, as is well known, made repeated attempts to bring back the artist to his studio in Rome, first, by appeals to Michelangelo himself; then, through the Florentine Signoiy and the gonfalonier Soderini. The Cardinal of Pavia, Alidosi, an all-powerful favourite with the Rovere, and likewise a great admirer of Michelangelo, employs himself zealously in negotiations. Nothing comes of it: Buonarroti still remains indignant and frightened—impaurito, as Soderini says in a letter to the Pope, and one day the gonfalonier learns that the artist is negotiating with the Sultan, Bajazet II, through the mediation of the Franciscan monks: he would build a bridge at Pera! And why not? Was not Gentile Bellini the court painter of the conqueror of Constantinople? Did he not return "with magnificent gifts and the rank of knighthood", and proudly thereafter sign his pictures: Eques auratus comesque palatinus? Vittore Carpaccio probably also resided for a certain time in the East, finding there the models for the turbaned crowds which amuse us so much in his delicious venetian pictures.
The most varied genius of this great epoch, the "divine" Leonardo da Vinci, had more than once the idea of going to take service with the Grand Seignior, and offering the Turk his profound inventions in mechanics and the science of war. Among the very rare works which have come down to us from the sculptor Bertoldo, Michelangelo's master in the Medicean Garden, there is a medal in honour of Mahomet II. These keen intellects of the Renaissance, it is evident, were very far from feeling for the infidel, for the iconoclast, that repugnance which we should naturally attribute to them. One's thoughts linger, strangely moved and variously agitated, nevertheless, upon this fantastic hypothesis of a Buonarroti transported suddenly to the Bosporos,— reconstructing, perhaps, the Aya Sofia, instead of S. Peter's Basilica; and, in default of Vittoria Colonna, seeking out, late in life, some mufti or dervish with whom to discuss the grave problems of existence!
"Here, chalices are made into swords and helmets; the cross and the thorns become lances and shields; and Christ's blood is sold by the spoonful. He will never come again to these countries watered with His sweat, this Rome, which traffics in His skin, and the ways of salvation are henceforth closed! If ever I had desired to possess wealth, all work is now snatched from me, and that man in the cloak, like a Medusa, has changed me into inert stone! Up there in Heaven, poverty is welcomed, they say, but how can one hope for that better life, being led to it under standards like these!"
Thus is conceived a sonnet found among the posthumous papers of Michelangelo, written entirely by his own hand. I cannot understand how it is possible that there should have beeu, up to this day, a mistake as to the date and meaning of these vengeful, exasperated lines. They belong, evidently, to this year 1506; they have in view Julius II, marching at the head of his troops against Perugia and Bologna; this is the farewell that the embittered artist, deceived in his hopes of fortune and fame, flings in the face of the Pope, "the man in the cloak", at the moment of taking refuge with the Sultan. They are signed: Finis. Vostro Miccelagniolo in Turchia
"It would be better for you to return and die with the Pope than to go and live with the Grand Turk", said the good gonfalonier to the artist. Some time before this he had protested to Buonarroti that the latter had acted towards the Pontiff, in this matter, "as the King of France himself would not have dared to do. Let us have done with shifts and entreaties; we shall not make war with the Pope on account of you, nor shall we endanger the safety of the State: prepare to return to Rome". Julius II, still being urgent, in letters now dated from classic Felsina, Buonarroti at last yields, and sets off for Bologna, "a rope around my neck," he says in his curious letter to Fattucci, written twenty years later.
He arrives at Bologna early in December, 1506, and goes to hear mass in the church of San Petronio. He is recognised in church by a servant of the Pope, and is brought forthwith into the presence of the master, who is desirous to see him without delay. Julius II is at table in the palace of the Bentivogli, one of the finest buildings at that time to be seen in Italy. All the Court is present at the pontiff's repast. "You have delayed long and we have been obliged to come to meet you!" exclaims the old man, exasperated at sight of the fugitive. Buonarroti kneels and makes his plea — he had not deserved the treatment received in Easter week. One of the courtiers present, a prelate, takes it upon himself to offer apologies for the culprit: one must be indulgent towards this race of artists who understand nothing outside their trade, and are often lacking in good manners. "How dare you", thunders Julius II, "say to this man things that I myself would not say? It is you who lack manners; to the devil with you!". At this blow, the unfortunate prelate is dismayed, he stumbles, is led out of the hall by the servants, and the Pope, in sign of pardon, bestows upon the sculptor the apostolic benediction. Could the picture be improved?
The reconciliation is now complete between these two terribili, and, as in the good Roman days, the Pope at Bologna frequently visits the sculptor in his studio behind the Cathedral; for already Buonarroti is again in harness. It is no longer a question of the famous mortuary monument; undeceive yourself on this point; there is something altogether new in hand, namely, a statue of Julius II, which is to be placed high upon the fagade of San Petronio to celebrate the recovery of Bologna by the Holy See. It is to be a work in bronze, and, being concerted between Rovere and Buonarroti, one may well suppose its proportions will not be ordinary: the statue is to be three times the size of life! The sculptor attacked the work with ardour; at the end of a few weeks he was able to show the master the model in clay. The pontiff is represented sitting, the triple crown upon his head, his right hand lifted. The gesture is haughty; it is almost violent, and Julius inquires if the lifted hand intends to bless or to curse. The sculptor answers with a singular pertinency, which well gives the lie to the prelate's charge that artists are a clownish folk: "The right hand lifted bids the Bolognese be obedient; but what shall the left hand hold, — a book?". "A sword, a sword; I am no scholar, not I!" is the characteristic response of Julius II. More sagacious than the pontiff, the artist, in the end, preferred to give to the left hand S. Peter's keys.
Remaining alone at Bologna, after the Pope's departure (February, 1507), Michelangelo pursues his task unremittingly, but under conditious constantly more and more difficult and irritating. An epidemic ravages the city; also the sculptor fails not to remark that the disposition of the people is changing, and turning against the regime but just now established and welcomed. He orders assistants from Florence and sends them away again immediately; he believes himself basely exploited by his comrades and regarded with hostility or undermined by all who come near him. For a word, awkwardly said, perhaps, but without the least intention of giving offence, he is very rough with poor Francesco Francia, favourite goldsmith and painter to the Bentivogli, the former lords of the place. And did he not also, some months earlier, pick a quarrel much more offensively with a man much more illustrious, namely, Leonardo da Vinci? The latter, crossing the Piazza della Santa Trinita, in Florence, with a group of friends, calls out to Michelangelo, who is passing, to give them the explanation of a passage from Dante, which the party are at the moment discussing. "Explain it yourself," is the truly incredible answer, "you, who tried to make an equestrian statue in bronze and could not do it! Only those idiots of Milanese would have thought you could! "
It might be said that an avenging Fate turned against Michelangelo himself this most unfriendly reply to the great Leonardo: he, in turn, could not melt the metal in the furnaces of Bologna, and was obliged to have recourse to men who were experienced in foundry-work, with whom he had many disagreements. It was not until after fifteen months that the statue was completed. The 21st of February, 1508, "at the hour recognised as propitious by the astrologers," the statue of Julius II was lifted to its niche over the portal of San Petronio, to the sound of drums, trumpets, and bells.
The astrologers had made some miscalculation; and the people of Bologna, on their part, were very far from remaining "obedient." They revolted, three years later (May 21, 1511), negotiated with the French, then at war with the Pope, and recalled their former masters, the Bentivogli; the citadel only, recently constructed by Julius II, held out for a time.
"Now there was," relates the Marechal Fleuranges, in his picturesque old French, "in the city of Boulone [Bologna], over the portal of the church, on high, a pope all in massive copper, which Pope Julius had caused to be made, which was as large as a giant, and could be seen from a great distance. The Bentivolles, having a spite at it, put ropes round its neck, and, by strength of men, pulled it down, and broke the neck of it. Then incontinent the Sieur de Beutivolle had it melted, made a double cannon of it, and in six days fired it at the castle."
It is difficult to see how it was possible that, of so important a work of Buonarroti,—one of the very few statues that he ever completely finished, and the only bronze statue,—there should remain to us no engraving, no drawing, not even a description in any degree detailed and intelligible. Vasari, who never saw it, says in his conventional style that it was full of majesty and terribilita.