THE FINE ARTS
LIFE OF MICHAEL ANGELO
Contrast of Michael Angelo and Cellini—Parentage and Boyhood of Michael Angelo—Work with Ghirlandajo—Gardens of S. Marco—The Medicean Circle—Early Essays in Sculpture—Visit to Bologna—First Visit to Rome—The "Pietà" of S. Peter's—Michael Angelo as a Patriot and a Friend of the Medici—Cartoon for the Battle of Pisa—Michael Angelo and Julius II.—The Tragedy of the Tomb—Design for the Pope's Mausoleum—Visit to Carrara—Flight from Rome—Michael Angelo at Bologna—Bronze Statue of Julius—Return to Rome—Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel—Greek and Modern Art—Raphael—Michael Angelo and Leo X.—S. Lorenzo—The new Sacristy—Circumstances under which it was designed and partly finished—Meaning of the Allegories—Incomplete state of Michael Angelo's Marbles—Paul III.—The "Last Judgment"—Critiques of Contemporaries—The Dome of S. Peter's—Vittoria Colonna—Tommaso Cavalieri—Personal Habits of Michael Angelo—His Emotional Nature—Last Illness.
The life of Italian artists at the time of the Renaissance may be illustrated by two biographies. Michael Angelo Buonarroti and Benvenuto Cellini were almost opposite in all they thought and felt, experienced and aimed at. The one impressed his own strong personality on art; the other reflected the light and shadow of the age in the record of his manifold existence. Cellini hovered, like some strong-winged creature, on the surface of human activity, yielding himself to every impulse, seeking every pleasure, and of beauty feeling only the rude animal compulsion. Deep philosophic thoughts, ideas of death and judgment, the stern struggles of the soul, encompassed Michael Angelo; the service of beauty was with him religion. Cellini was the creature of the moment—the glass and mirror of corrupt, enslaved, yet still resplendent Italy. In Michael Angelo the genius of the Renaissance culminated; but his character was rather that of an austere Republican, free and solitary amid the multitudes of slaves and courtiers. Michael Angelo made art the vehicle of lofty and soul-shaking thought. Cellini brought the fervour of an inexhaustibly active nature to the service of sensuality, and taught his art to be the handmaid of a soulless paganism. In these two men, therefore, we study two aspects of their age. How far both were exceptional, need not here be questioned; since their singularity consists not so much in being different from other Italians of the sixteenth century as in concentrating qualities elsewhere scattered and imperfect.
Michael Angelo was born in 1475 at Caprese, among the mountains of the Casentino, where his father Lodovico held the office of Podestà. His ancestry was honourable: the Buonarroti even claimed descent, but apparently without due reason, from the princely house of Canossa. His mother gave him to be suckled by a stone-cutter's wife at Settignano, so that in after days he used to say that he had drawn in the love of chisels and mallets with his nurse's milk. As he grew, the boy developed an invincible determination towards the arts. Lodovico from motives of pride and prudence opposed his wishes, but without success. Michael Angelo made friends with the lad Granacci, who was apprenticed to Domenico Ghirlandajo, and at last induced his father to sign articles for him to the same painter. In Ghirlandajo's workshop he learned the rudiments of art, helping in the execution of the frescoes at S. Maria Novella, until such time as the pupil proved his superiority as a draughtsman to his teacher. The rupture between Michael Angelo and Ghirlandajo might be compared with that between Beethoven and Haydn. In both cases a proud, uncompromising, somewhat scornful student sought aid from a master great in his own line but inferior in fire and originality of genius. In both cases the moment came when pupil and teacher perceived that the eagle could no longer be confined within the hawk's nest, and that henceforth it must sweep the skies alone. After leaving Ghirlandajo's bottega at the age of sixteen, Michael Angelo did in truth thenceforward through his life pursue his art alone. Granacci procured him an introduction to the Medici, and the two friends together frequented those gardens of S. Marco where Lorenzo had placed his collection of antiquities. There the youth discovered his vocation. Having begged a piece of marble and a chisel, he struck out the Faun's mask that still is seen in the Bargello. It is worth noticing that Michael Angelo seems to have done no merely prentice-work. Not a fragment of his labour from the earliest to the latest was insignificant, and only such thoughts as he committed to the perishable materials of bronze or paper have been lost. There was nothing tentative in his genius. Into art, as into a rich land, he came and conquered. In like manner, the first sonnet composed by Dante is scarcely less precious than the last lines of the "Paradiso." This is true of all the highest artistic natures, who need no preparations and have no period of groping.
Lorenzo de' Medici discerned in Michael Angelo a youth of eminent genius, and took the lad into his own household. The astonished father found himself suddenly provided with a comfortable post and courted for the sake of the young sculptor. In Lorenzo's palace the real education of Michael Angelo began. He sat at the same table with Ficino, Pico, and Poliziano, listening to dialogues on Plato and drinking in the golden poetry of Greece. Greek literature and philosophy, expounded by the men who had discovered them, and who were no less proud of their discovery than Columbus of his passage to the Indies, first moulded his mind to those lofty thoughts which it became the task of his life to express in form. At the same time he heard the preaching of Savonarola. In the Duomo and the cloister of S. Marco another portion of his soul was touched, and he acquired that deep religious tone which gives its majesty and terror to the Sistine. Much in the same way was Milton educated by the classics in conjunction with the Scriptures. Both of these austere natures assimilated from pagan art and Jewish prophecy the twofold elements they needed for their own imaginative life. Both Michael Angelo and Milton, in spite of their parade of classic style, were separated from the Greek world by a gulf of Hebrew and of Christian feeling.
While Michael Angelo was thus engaged in studying antique sculpture and in listening to Pico and Savonarola, he carved his first bas-relief—a "Battle of Hercules with the Centaurs," suggested to him by Poliziano. Meantime Lorenzo died. His successor Piero set the young man, it is said, to model a snow statue, and then melted like a shape of snow himself down from his pedestal of power in Florence. Upon the expulsion of the tyrant and the proclamation of the new republic, it was dangerous for house-friends of the Casa Medici to be seen in the city. Michael Angelo, therefore, made his way to Bologna, where he spent some months in the palace of Gian Francesco Aldovrandini, studying Dante and working at an angel for the shrine of S. Dominic. As soon, however, as it seemed safe to do so, he returned to Florence; and to this period belongs the statue of the "Sleeping Cupid," which was sold as an antique to the Cardinal Raffaello Riario.
A dispute about the price of this "Cupid" took Michael Angelo in 1496 to Rome, where it was destined that the greater portion of his life should he spent, and his noblest works of art should be produced. Here, while the Borgias were turning the Vatican into a den of thieves and harlots, he executed the purest of all his statues—a "Pietà" in marble. Christ is lying dead upon his mother's knees. With her right arm she supports his shoulders; her left hand is gently raised as though to say, "Behold and see!" All that art can do to make death beautiful and grief sublime, is achieved in this masterpiece, which was never surpassed by Michael Angelo in later years. Already, at the age of four-and-twenty, he had matured his "terrible manner." Already were invented in his brain that race of superhuman beings, who became the hieroglyphs of his impassioned utterance. Madonna has the small head and heroic torso used by this master to symbolise force. We feel she has no difficulty in holding the dead Christ upon her ample lap and in her powerful arms. Yet while the "Pietà" is wholly Michael Angelesque, we find no lack of repose, none of those contorted lines that are commonly urged against his manner. It is a sober and harmonious composition, combining the profoundest religious feeling with classical tranquillity of expression. Again, though the group is forcibly original, this effect of originality is produced, as in all the best work of the golden age, not by new and startling conception, but by the handling of an old and well-worn motive with the grandeur of consummate style. What the genius of Italian sculpture had for generations been striving after, finds its perfect realisation here. It was precisely by thus crowning the endeavours of antecedent artists—by bringing the opening buds of painting and sculpture to full blossom, and exhausting the resources of a long sustained and common inspiration, that the great masters proved their supremacy and rendered an advance beyond their vantage ground impossible. To those who saw and comprehended this "Pietà" in 1500, it must have been evident that a new power of portraying the very soul had been manifested in sculpture—a power unknown to the Greeks because it lay outside the sphere of their spiritual experience, and unknown to modern artists because it was beyond their faculties of execution and conception. Yet who in Rome, among the courtiers of the Borgias, had brain or heart to understand these things?
In 1501 Michael Angelo returned to Florence, where he stayed until the year 1505. This period was fruitful of results on which his after fame depended. The great statue of "David," the two unfinished medallions of Madonna in relief, the "Holy Family of the Tribune" painted for Angelo Doni, and the Cartoon of the "Battle of Pisa" were now produced; and no man's name, not even Lionardo's, stood higher in esteem thenceforward. It will be remembered that Savonarola was now dead, but that his constitution still existed under the presidency of Pietro Soderini—the non mai abbastanza lodato Cavaliere, as Pitti calls him, the anima sciocca of Machiavelli's epigram. Since Michael Angelo at this time was employed in the service of masters who had superseded his old friends and patrons, it may be well to review here his attitude in general toward the house of Medici. Throughout his lifetime there continued a conflict between the artist and the citizen—the artist owing education and employment to successive members of that house, the citizen resenting their despotism and doing all that in him lay at times to keep them out of Florence. As a patriot, as the student of Dante and the disciple of Savonarola, Michael Angelo detested tyrants. One of his earliest madrigals, conceived as a dialogue between Florence and her exiles, expresses his mind so decidedly that I have ventured to translate it; the exiles first address Florence, and she answers:—
"Lady, for joy of lovers numberless
Thou wast created fair as angels are.
Sure God hath fallen asleep in heaven afar,
When one man calls the boon of many his.
Give back to streaming eyes
The daylight of Thy face, that seems to shun
Those who must live defrauded of their bliss!"
"Vex not your pure desire with tears and sighs;
For he who robs you of my light, hath none.
Dwelling in fear, sin hath no happiness;
Since amid those who love, their joy is less
Whose great desire great plenty still curtails,
Than theirs who, poor, have hope that never fails."
As an artist, owing his advancement to Lorenzo, he had accepted favours binding him by ties of gratitude to the Medici, and even involving him in the downfall of their house. For Leo X. he undertook to build the façade of S. Lorenzo and the Laurentian Library. For Clement VII. he began the statues of the Dukes of Urbino and Nemours. Yet, while accepting these commissions from Medicean Popes, he could not keep his tongue from speaking openly against their despotism. After the sack of Prato it appears from his correspondence that he had exposed himself to danger by some expression of indignation. This was in 1512, when Soderini fled and left the gates of Florence open to the Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici. During the siege of Florence in 1529 he fortified Samminiato, and allowed himself to be named one of the Otto di Guerra chosen for the express purpose of defending Florence against the Medici. After the fall of the city he made peace with Clement by consenting to finish the tombs of S. Lorenzo. Yet, while doing all he could to save those insignificant dukes from oblivion by the immortality of his art, Michael Angelo was conscious of his own and his country's shame. The memorable lines placed in the mouth of his "Night," sufficiently display his feeling after the final return of the Medici in 1530:—
Sweet is my sleep, but more to be mere stone,
So long as ruin and dishonour reign;
To hear nought, to feel nought, is my great gain:
Then wake me not, speak in an under-tone.
When Clement VII died, the last real representative of Michael Angelo's old patrons perished, and the sculptor was free to quit Florence for ever. During the reign of Duke Cosimo he never set foot in his native city. It is thus clear that the patriot, the artist, and the man of honour were at odds in him. Loyalty obliged him to serve the family to whom he owed so much; he was, moreover, dependent for opportunities of doing great work on the very men whose public policy he execrated. Hence arose a compromise and a confusion, hard to accommodate with our conception of his upright and unyielding temper. Only by voluntary exile, and after age had made him stubborn to resist seductive offers, could Michael Angelo act up to the promptings of his heart and declare himself a citizen who held no truce with tyrants. I have already in this work had occasion to compare Dante, Michael Angelo, and Machiavelli. In estimating the conduct of the two last, it must not be forgotten that, by the action of inevitable causes, republican freedom had become in Italy a thing of the past; and in judging between Machiavelli and Michael Angelo, we have to remember that the sculptor's work involved no sacrifice of principle or self-respect. Carving statues for the tombs of Medicean dukes was a different matter from dedicating the "Prince" to them.
This digression, though necessary for the right understanding of Michael Angelo's relation to the Medici, has carried me beyond his Florentine residence in 1501-1505. The great achievement of that period was not the "David" but the Cartoon for the "Battle of Pisa." The hall of the Consiglio Grande had been opened, and one wall had been assigned to Lionardo. Michael Angelo was now invited by the Signory to prepare a design for another side of the state-chamber. When he displayed his cartoon to the Florentines, they pronounced that Da Vinci, hitherto the undisputed prince of painting, was surpassed. It is impossible for us to form an opinion on this matter, since both cartoons are lost beyond recovery. We only know that, as Cellini says, "while they lasted, they formed the school of the whole world," and made an epoch in the history of art. When we inquire what was the subject of Michael Angelo's famous picture, we find that he had aimed at representing nothing of more moment than a group of soldiers suddenly surprised by a trumpet-call to battle, while bathing in the Arno—a crowd of naked men in every posture indicating haste, anxiety, and struggle. Not for its intellectual meaning, not for its colour, not for its sentiment, was this design so highly prized. Its science won the admiration of artists and the public. At this period of the Renaissance the bold and perfect drawing of the body gave an exquisite delight. Hence, perhaps, Vasari's vapid talk about "stravaganti attitudini," "divine figure," "scorticamenti," and so forth—as if the soul of figurative art were in such matters. The science of Michael Angelo, which in his own mind was sternly subordinated to thought, had already turned the weaker heads of his generation. A false ideal took possession of the fancy, and such criticism as that of Vasari and Pietro Aretino became inevitable.
Meanwhile, a new Pope had been elected, and in 1505 Michael Angelo was once more called to Rome. Throughout his artist's life he oscillated thus between Rome and Florence—Florence the city of his ancestry, and Rome the city of his soul; Florence where he learnt his art, and Rome where he displayed what art can do of highest. Julius was a patron of different stamp from Lorenzo the Magnificent. He was not learned in book-lore: "Place a sword in my hand!" he said to the sculptor at Bologna: "of letters I know nothing." Yet he was no less capable of discerning excellence than the Medici himself, and his spirit strove incessantly after the accomplishment of vast designs. Between Julius and Michael Angelo there existed a strong bond of sympathy due to community of temperament. Both aimed at colossal achievements in their respective fields of action. The imagination of both was fired by large and simple, rather than luxurious and subtle thoughts. Both were uomini terribili, to use a phrase denoting vigour of character made formidable by an abrupt uncompromising temper. Both worked con furia, with the impetuosity of dæmonic natures; and both left the impress of their individuality graven indelibly upon their age.
Julius ordered the sculptor to prepare his mausoleum. Michael Angelo asked, "Where am I to place it?" Julius replied, "In S. Peter's." But the old basilica of Christendom was too small for this ambitious pontiff's sepulchre, designed by the audacious artist. It was therefore decreed that a new S. Peter's should be built to hold it. In this way the two great labours of Buonarroti's life were mapped out for him in a moment. But, by a strange contrariety of fate, to Bramante and San Gallo fell respectively the planning and the spoiling of S. Peter's. It was only in extreme old age that Michael Angelo crowned it with that world's miracle, the dome. The mausoleum, to form a canopy for which the building was designed, dwindled down at last to the statue of "Moses" thrust out of the way in the church of S. Pietro in Vincoli. "La tragedia della Sepoltura," as Condivi aptly terms the history of Giulio's monument, began thus in 1505 and dragged on till 1545. Rarely did Michael Angelo undertake a work commensurate with his creative power, but something came to interrupt its execution; while tasks outside his sphere, for which he never bargained—the painting of the Sistine Chapel, the façade of S. Lorenzo, the fortification of Samminiato—were thrust upon him in the midst of other more congenial labours. What we possess of his achievement, is a torso of his huge designs.
Giulio's tomb, as he conceived it, would have been the most stupendous monument of sculpture in the world. That mountain of marble covered with figures wrought in stone and bronze, was meant to be the sculptured poem of the thought of Death; no mere apotheosis of Pope Julius, but a pageant of the soul triumphant over the limitations of mortality. All that dignifies humanity—arts, sciences, and laws; the victory that crowns heroic effort; the majesty of contemplation, and the energy of action—was symbolised upon ascending tiers of the great pyramid; while the genii of heaven and earth upheld the open tomb, where lay the dead man waiting for the Resurrection. Of this gigantic scheme only one imperfect drawing now remains. The "Moses" and the "Bound Captives" are all that Michael Angelo accomplished. For forty years the "Moses" remained in his workshop. For forty years he cherished a hope that his plan might still in part be executed, complaining the while that it would have been better for him to have made sulphur matches all his life than to have taken up the desolating artist's trade. "Every day," he cries, "I am stoned as though I had crucified Christ. My youth has been lost, bound hand and foot to this tomb." It was decreed apparently that Michael Angelo should exist for after ages as a fragment; and such might Pheidias among the Greeks have been, if he had worked for ephemeral Popes and bankrupt princes instead of Pericles. Italy in the sixteenth century, dislocated, distracted, and drained of her material resources, gave no opportunity to artists for the creation of monuments colossal in their unity.
Michael Angelo spent eight months at this period among the stone quarries of Carrara, selecting marble for the Pope's tomb. There his brain, always teeming with gigantic conceptions, suggested to him a new fancy. Could not the headland jutting out beyond Sarzana into the Tyrrhene Sea be carved by his workmen into a Pharos? To transmute a mountain into a statue, holding a city in either hand, had been the dream of a Greek artist. Michael Angelo revived the bold thought; but to execute it would have been almost beyond his power. Meanwhile, in November 1505, the marble was shipped, and the quays of Rome were soon crowded with blocks destined for the mausoleum. But when the sculptor arrived, he found that enemies had been poisoning the Pope's mind against him, and that Julius had abandoned the scheme of the mausoleum. On six successive days he was denied entrance to the Vatican, and the last time with such rudeness that he determined to quit Rome. He hurried straightway to his house, sold his effects, mounted, and rode without further ceremony toward Florence, sending to the Pope a written message bidding him to seek for Michael Angelo elsewhere in future than in Rome. It is related that Julius, anxious to recover what had been so lightly lost, sent several couriers to bring him back. Michael Angelo announced that he intended to accept the Sultan's commission for building a bridge at Pera, and refused to be persuaded to return to Rome. This was at Poggibonsi. When he had reached Florence, Julius addressed, himself to Soderini, who, unwilling to displease the Pope, induced Michael Angelo to seek the pardon of the master he had so abruptly quitted. By that time Julius had left the city for the camp; and when Michael Angelo finally appeared before him, fortified with letters from the Signory of Florence, it was at Bologna that they met. "You have waited thus long, it seems," said the Pope, well satisfied but surly, "till we should come ourselves to seek you." The prelate who had introduced the sculptor now began to make excuses for him, whereupon Julius turned in a fury upon the officious courtier, and had him beaten from his presence. A few days after this encounter Michael Angelo was ordered to cast a bronze statue of Julius for the frontispiece of S. Petronio. The sculptor objected that brass-foundry was not his affair. "Never mind," said Julius; "get to work, and we will cast your statue till it comes out perfect." Michael Angelo did as he was bid, and the statue was set up in 1508 above the great door of the church. The Pope was seated, with his right hand raised; in the other were the keys. When Julius asked him whether he was meant to bless or curse the Bolognese with that uplifted hand, Buonarroti found an answer worthy of a courtier: "Your Holiness is threatening this people, if it be not wise." Less than four years afterwards Julius lost his hold upon Bologna, the party of the Bentivogli returned to power, and the statue was destroyed. A bronze cannon, called the "Giulia," was made out of Michael Angelo's masterpiece by the best gunsmith of his century, Alfonso Duke of Ferrara.
It seems that Michael Angelo's flight from Rome in 1506 was due not only to his disappointment about the tomb, but also to his fear lest Julius should give him uncongenial work to do. Bramante, if we may believe the old story, had whispered that it was ill-omened for a man to build his own sepulchre, and that it would be well to employ the sculptor's genius upon the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Accordingly, on his return to Rome in 1508, this new task was allotted him. In vain did Michael Angelo remind his master of the months wasted in the quarries of Carrara; in vain he pointed to his designs for the monument, and pleaded that he was not a painter by profession. Julius had made up his mind that he should paint the Sistine. Was not the cartoon at Florence a sufficient proof that he could do this if he chose, and had he not learned the art of fresco in the bottega of his master Ghirlandajo? Whatever his original reluctance may have been, it was speedily overcome; and the cartoons for the ceiling, projected with the unity belonging to a single great conception, were ready by the summer of 1508.
The difficulty of his new task aroused the artist's energy. If we could accept the legend, whereby contemporaries expressed their admiration for this Titanic labour, we should have to believe the impossible—that Michael Angelo ground his own colours, prepared his own plaster, and completed with his own hand the whole work, after having first conquered the obstacles of scaffolding and vault-painting by machines of his own invention, and that only twenty months were devoted to the execution of a series of paintings almost unequalled in their delicacy, and surpassed by few single masterpieces in extent. What may be called the mythus of the Sistine Chapel has at last been finally disproved, partly by the personal observations of Mr. Heath Wilson, and partly by the publication of Michael Angelo's correspondence. Though some uncertainty remains as to the exact dates of the commencement and completion of the vault, we now know that Michael Angelo continued painting it at intervals during four successive years; and though we are not accurately informed about his helpers, we no longer can doubt that able craftsmen yielded him assistance. On May 10, 1508, he signed a receipt for five hundred ducats advanced by Julius for the necessary expenses of the undertaking; and on the next day he paid ten ducats to a mason for rough plastering and surface-finishing applied to the vault. There is good reason to believe that he began his painting during the autumn of 1508. On November 1, 1509, a certain portion was uncovered to the public; and before the end of the year 1512 the whole was completed. Thus, though the legend of Vasari and Condivi has been stripped of the miraculous by careful observation and keen-sighted criticism, enough remains to justify the sense of wonder that expressed itself in their exaggerated statements. No one but Michael Angelo could have done what he did in the Sistine Chapel. The conception was entirely his own. The execution, except in subordinate details and in matters pertaining to the mason's craft, was also his. The rapidity with which he laboured was astounding. Mr. Heath Wilson infers from the condition of the plaster and the joinings observable in different parts, that the figure of Adam, highly finished as it is, was painted in three days. Nor need we strip the romance from that time-honoured tale of the great master's solitude. Lying on his back beneath the dreary vault, communing with Dante, Savonarola, and the Hebrew prophets in the intervals of labour, locking up the chapel-doors in order to elude the jealous curiosity of rivals, eating but little and scarcely sleeping, he accomplished in sixteen months the first part of his gigantic task. From time to time Julius climbed the scaffold and inspected the painter's progress. Dreading lest death should come before the work were finished, he kept crying, "When will you make an end?" "When I can," answered the painter. "You seem to want," rejoined the petulant old man, "that I should have you thrown down from the scaffold." Then Michael Angelo's brush stopped. The machinery was removed, and the frescoes were uncovered in their incompleteness to the eyes of Rome.
Entering the Cappella Sistina, and raising our eyes to sweep the roof, we have above us a long and somewhat narrow oblong space, vaulted with round arches, and covered from end to end, from side to side, with a network of human forms. The whole is coloured like the dusky, tawny, blueish clouds of thunderstorms. There is no luxury of decorative art;—no gold, no paint-box of vermilion or emerald green, has been lavished here. Sombre and aërial, like shapes condensed from vapour, or dreams begotten by Ixion upon mists of eve or dawn, the phantoms evoked by the sculptor throng that space. Nine compositions, carrying down the sacred history from the creation of light to the beginning of sin in Noah's household, fill the central compartments of the roof. Beneath these, seated on the spandrils, are alternate prophets and sibyls, twelve in all, attesting to the future deliverance and judgment of the world by Christ. The intermediate spaces between these larger masses, on the roof and in the lunettes of the windows, swarm with figures, some naked and some draped—women and children, boys and young men, grouped in tranquil attitudes, or adapting themselves with freedom to their station on the curves and angles of the architecture. In these subordinate creations Michael Angelo deigned to drop the terrible style, in order that he might show how sweet and full of charm his art could be. The grace of colouring, realised in some of those youthful and athletic forms, is such as no copy can represent. Every posture of beauty and of strength, simple or strained, that it is possible for men to assume, has been depicted here. Yet the whole is governed by a strict sense of sobriety. The restlessness of Correggio, the violent attitudinising of Tintoretto, belong alike to another and less noble spirit.
To speak adequately of these form-poems would be quite impossible. Buonarroti seems to have intended to prove by them that the human body has a language, inexhaustible in symbolism—every limb, every feature, and every attitude being a word full of significance to those who comprehend, just as music is a language whereof each note and chord and phrase has correspondence with the spiritual world. It may be presumptuous after this fashion to interpret the design of him who called into existence the heroic population of the Sistine. Yet Michael Angelo has written lines which in some measure justify the reading. This is how he closes one of his finest sonnets to Vittoria Colonna:
Nor hath God deigned to show Himself elsewhere
More clearly than in human forms sublime;
Which, since they image Him, compel my love.
Therefore to him a well-shaped hand, or throat, or head, a neck superbly poised on an athletic chest, the sway of the trunk above the hips, the starting of the muscles on the flank, the tendons of the ankle, the outline of the shoulder when the arm is raised, the backward bending of the loins, the curves of a woman's breast, the contours of a body careless in repose or strained for action, were all words pregnant with profoundest meaning, whereby fit utterance might be given to the thoughts that raise man near to God. But, it may be asked, what poems of action as well as feeling are to be expressed in this form-language? The answer is simple. Paint or carve the body of a man, and, as you do it nobly, you will give the measure of both highest thought and most impassioned deed. This is the key to Michael Angelo's art. He cared but little for inanimate nature. The landscapes of Italy, so eloquent in their sublimity and beauty, were apparently a blank to him. His world was the world of ideas, taking visible form, incarnating themselves in man. One language the master had to serve him in all need—the language of plastic human form; but it was to him a tongue as rich in its variety of accent and of intonation as Beethoven's harmonies.
In the Sistine Chapel, where plastic art is so supreme, we are bound to ask the further question. What was the difference between Michael Angelo and a Greek? The Parthenon with its processions of youths and maidens, its gods and heroes, rejoicing in their strength, and robed with raiment that revealed their living form, made up a symphony of meaning as full as this of Michael Angelo, and far more radiant. The Greek sculptor embraced humanity in his work no less comprehensively than the Italian; and what he had to say was said more plainly in the speech they both could use. But between Pheidias and Michael Angelo lay Christianity, the travail of the world through twenty centuries. Clear as morning, and calm in the unconsciousness of beauty, are those heroes of the youth of Hellas. All is grace, repose, strength shown but not asserted. Michael Angelo's Sibyls and Prophets are old and wrinkled, bowed with thought, consumed by vigils, startled from tranquillity by visions, overburdened with the messages of God. The loveliest among them, the Delphic, lifts dilated eyes, as though to follow dreams that fly upon the paths of trance. Even the young men strain their splendid limbs, and seem to shout or shriek, as if the life in them contained some element of pain. "He maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire:" this verse rises to our lips when we seek to describe the genii that crowd the cornice of the Sistine Chapel. The human form in the work of Pheidias wore a joyous and sedate serenity; in that of Michael Angelo it is turbid with a strange and awful sense of inbreathed agitation. Through the figure-language of the one was spoken the pagan creed, bright, unperturbed, and superficial. The sculpture of the Parthenon accomplished the transfiguration of the natural man. In the other man awakes to a new life of contest, disillusionment, hope, dread, and heavenward striving. It was impossible for the Greek and the Italian, bearing so different a burden of prophecy, even though they used the same speech, to tell the same tale; and this should be remembered by those critics who cast exaggeration and contortion in the teeth of Michael Angelo. Between the birth of the free spirit in Greece and its second birth in Italy, there yawned a sepulchre wherein the old faiths of the world lay buried and whence Christ had risen.
The star of Raphael, meanwhile, had arisen over Rome. Between the two greatest painters of their age the difference was striking. Michael Angelo stood alone, his own master, fashioned in his own school. A band of artists called themselves by Raphael's name; and in his style we trace the influence of several predecessors. Michael Angelo rarely received visits, frequented no society, formed no pupils, and boasted of no friends at Court. Raphael was followed to the Vatican by crowds of students; his levées were like those of a prince; he counted among his intimates the best scholars and poets of the age; his hand was pledged in marriage to a cardinal's niece. It does not appear that they engaged in petty rivalries, or that they came much into personal contact with each other. While Michael Angelo was so framed that he could learn from no man, Raphael gladly learned of Michael Angelo; and after the uncovering of the Sistine frescoes, his manner showed evident signs of alteration. Julius, who had given Michael Angelo the Sistine, set Raphael to work upon the Stanze. For Julius were painted the "Miracle of Bolsena" and the "Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple," scenes containing courtly compliments for the old Pope. No such compliments had been paid by Michael Angelo. Like his great parallel in music, Beethoven, he displayed an almost arrogant contempt for the conventionalities whereby an artist wins the favour of his patrons and the world.
After the death of Julius, Leo X., in character the reverse of his fiery predecessor, and by temperament unsympathetic to the austere Michael Angelo, found nothing better for the sculptor's genius than to set him at work upon the façade of S. Lorenzo at Florence. The better part of the years between 1516 and 1520 was spent in quarrying marble at Carrara, Pietra Santa, and Seravezza. This is the most arid and unfruitful period of Michael Angelo's long life, a period of delays and thwarted schemes and servile labours. What makes the sense of disappointment greater, is that the façade of S. Lorenzo was not even finished. We hurry over this wilderness of wasted months, and arrive at another epoch of artistic production.
Already in 1520 the Cardinal Giulio de' Medici had conceived the notion of building a sacristy in S. Lorenzo to receive the monuments of Cosimo, the founder of the house, Lorenzo the Magnificent, Giuliano Duke of Nemours, Lorenzo Duke of Urbino, Leo X., and himself. To Michael Angelo was committed the design, and in 1521 he began to apply himself to the work. Nine years had now elapsed since the roof of the Sistine chapel had been finished, and during this time Michael Angelo had produced little except the "Christ" of S. Maria sopra Minerva. This new undertaking occupied him at intervals between 1521 and 1534, a space of time decisive for the fortunes of the Medici in Florence. Leo died, and Giulio after a few years succeeded him as Clement VII. The bastards of the house, Ippolito and Alessandro, were expelled from Florence in 1527. Rome was sacked by the Imperial troops; then Michael Angelo quitted the statues and helped to defend his native city against the Prince of Orange. After the failure of the Republicans, he was recalled to his labours by command of Clement. Sullenly and sadly he quarried marbles for the sacristy. Sadly and sullenly he used his chisel year by year, making the very stones cry that shame and ruin were the doom of his country. At last in 1534 Clement died. Then Michael Angelo flung down his mallet. The monuments remained unfinished, and the sculptor set foot in Florence no more.
The Sacristy of S. Lorenzo was built by Michael Angelo and panelled with marbles to receive the sculpture he meant to place there. Thus the colossal statues of Giuliano and Lorenzo were studied with a view to their light and shadow as much as to their form; and this is a fact to be remembered by those who visit the chapel where Buonarroti laboured both as architect and sculptor. Of the two Medici, it is not fanciful to say that the "Duke of Urbino" is the most immovable of spectral shapes eternalised in marble; while the "Duke of Nemours," more graceful and elegant, seems intended to present a contrast to this terrible thought-burdened form. The allegorical figures, stretched on segments of ellipses beneath the pedestals of the two dukes, indicate phases of darkness and of light, of death and life. They are two women and two men; tradition names them "Night" and "Day," "Twilight" and "Dawning." Thus in the statues themselves and in their attendant genii we have a series of abstractions, symbolising the sleep and waking of existence, action and thought, the gloom of death, the lustre of life, and the intermediate states of sadness and of hope that form the borderland of both. Life is a dream between two slumbers; sleep is death's twin-brother; night is the shadow of death; death is the gate of life:—such is the mysterious mythology wrought by the sculptor of the modern world in marble. All these figures, by the intensity of their expression, the vagueness of their symbolism, force us to think and question. What, for example, occupies Lorenzo's brain? Bending forward, leaning his chin upon his wrist, placing the other hand upon his knee, on what does he for ever ponder? The sight, as Rogers said well, "fascinates and is intolerable." Michael Angelo has shot the beaver of the helmet forward on his forehead, and bowed his head, so as to clothe the face in darkness. But behind the gloom there is no skull, as Rogers fancied. The whole frame of the powerful man is instinct with some imperious thought. Has he outlived his life and fallen upon everlasting contemplation? Is he brooding, injured and indignant, over his own doom and the extinction of his race? Is he condemned to witness in immortal immobility the woes of Italy he helped to cause? Or has the sculptor symbolised in him the burden of that personality we carry with us in this life and bear for ever when we wake into another world? Beneath this incarnation of oppressive thought there lie, full-length and naked, the figures of Dawn and Twilight, Morn and Evening. So at least they are commonly called: and these names are not inappropriate; for the breaking of the day and the approach of night are metaphors for many transient conditions of the soul. It is only as allegories in a large sense, comprehending both the physical and intellectual order, and capable of various interpretation, that any of these statues can be understood. Even the Dukes do not pretend to be portraits: and hence in part perhaps the uncertainty that has gathered round them. Very tranquil and noble is Twilight: a giant in repose, he meditates, leaning upon his elbow, looking down. But Dawn starts from her couch, as though some painful summons had reached her sunk in dreamless sleep, and called her forth to suffer. Her waking to consciousness is like that of one who has been drowned, and who finds the return to life agony. Before her eyes, seen even through the mists of slumber, are the ruin and the shame of Italy. Opposite lies Night, so sorrowful, so utterly absorbed in darkness and the shade of death, that to shake off that everlasting lethargy seems impossible. Yet she is not dead. If we raise our voices, she too will stretch her limbs and, like her sister, shudder into sensibility with sighs. Only we must not wake her; for he who fashioned her, has told us that her sleep of stone is great good fortune. Both of these women are large and brawny, unlike the Fates of Pheidias in their muscular maturity. The burden of Michael Angelo's thought was too tremendous to be borne by virginal or graceful beings. He had to make women no less capable of suffering, no less world-wearied, than his country.
Standing before these statues, we do not cry. How beautiful! We murmur, How terrible, how grand! Yet, after long gazing, we find them gifted with beauty beyond grace. In each of them there is a palpitating thought, torn from the artist's soul and crystallised in marble. It has been said that architecture is petrified music. In the sacristy of S. Lorenzo we feel impelled to remember phrases of Beethoven. Each of these statues becomes for us a passion, fit for musical expression, but turned like Niobe to stone. They have the intellectual vagueness, the emotional certainty, that belong to the motives of a symphony. In their allegories, left without a key, sculpture has passed beyond her old domain of placid concrete form. The anguish of intolerable emotion, the quickening of the consciousness to a sense of suffering, the acceptance of the inevitable, the strife of the soul with destiny, the burden and the passion of mankind:—that is what they contain in their cold chisel-tortured marble. It is open to critics of the school of Lessing to object that here is the suicide of sculpture. It is easy to remark that those strained postures and writhen limbs may have perverted the taste of lesser craftsmen. Yet if Michael Angelo was called to carve Medicean statues after the sack of Rome and the fall of Florence—if he was obliged in sober sadness to make sculpture a fit language for his sorrow-laden heart—how could he have wrought more truthfully than thus? To imitate him without sharing his emotions or comprehending his thoughts, as the soulless artist of the decadence attempted, was without any doubt a grievous error. Surely also we may regret, not without reason, that in the evil days upon which he had fallen, the fair antique "Heiterkeit" and "Allgemeinheit" were beyond his reach.
Michael Angelo left the tombs of the Medici unfinished; nor, in spite of Duke Cosimo's earnest entreaties, would he afterwards return to Florence to complete them. Lorenzo's features are but rough-hewn; so is the face of Night. Day seems struggling into shape beneath his mask of rock, and Twilight shows everywhere the tooth-dint of the chisel. To leave unfinished was the fate of Michael Angelo—partly too, perhaps, his preference; for he was easily deterred from work. Many of his marbles are only just begun. The two medallion "Madonnas," the "Madonna and Child" in S. Lorenzo, the "Head of Brutus," the "Bound Captives," and the "Pietà" in the Duomo of Florence, are instances of masterpieces in the rough. He loved to fancy that the form dwelt within the stone, and that the chisel disencumbered it of superfluity. Therefore, to his eye, foreseeing what the shape would be when the rude envelope was chipped away, the marble mask may have taken the appearance of a veil or mantle. He may have found some fascination in the incompleteness that argued want of will but not of art, and a rough-hewn Madonna may have been to him what a Dryad still enclosed within a gnarled oak was to a Greek poet's fancy. We are not, however, justified in therefore assuming, as a recent critic has suggested, that Michael Angelo sought to realise a certain preconceived effect by want of finish. There is enough in the distracted circumstances of his life and in his temper, at once passionate and downcast, to account for fragmentary and imperfect performance; nor must it be forgotten that the manual labour of the sculptor in the sixteenth century was by no means so light as it is now. A decisive argument against this theory is that Buonarroti's three most celebrated statues—the "Pietà" in S. Peter's, the "Moses" and the "Dawn"—are executed with the highest polish it is possible for stone to take. That he always aimed at this high finish, but often fell below it through discontent and ennui and the importunity of patrons, we have the best reason to believe.
Michael Angelo had now reached his fifty-ninth year. Lionardo and Raphael had already passed away, and were remembered as the giants of a bygone age of gold. Correggio was in his last year. Andrea del Sarto was dead. Nowhere except at Venice did Italian art still flourish; and the mundane style of Titian was not to the sculptor's taste. He had overlived the greatness of his country, and saw Italy in ruins. Yet he was destined to survive another thirty years, another lifetime of Masaccio or Raphael, and to witness still worse days. When we call Michael Angelo the interpreter of the burden and the pain of the Renaissance, we must remember this long weary old age, during which in solitude and silence he watched the extinction of Florence, the institution of the Inquisition, and the abasement of the Italian spirit beneath the tyranny of Spain. His sonnets, written chiefly in this latter period of life, turn often on the thought of death. His love of art yields to religious hope and fear, and he bemoans a youth and manhood spent in vanity. Once when he injured his leg by a fall from the scaffolding in the Sistine Chapel, he refused assistance, shut himself up at home, and lay waiting for deliverance in death. His life was only saved by the forcible interference of friends.
In 1534 a new Eurystheus arose for our Hercules. The Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, a fox by nature and infamous through his indulgence for a vicious bastard, was made Pope under the name of Paul III. Michael Angelo had shed lustre on the reigns of three Popes, his predecessors. For thirty years the Farnese had watched him with greedy eyes. After Julius, Leo, and Clement, the time was now come for the heroic craftsman to serve Paul. The Pope found him at work in his bottega on the tomb of Julius; for the "tragedy of the mausoleum" still dragged on. The statue of Moses was finished. "That," said Paul, "is enough for one Pope. Give me your contract with the Duke of Urbino; I will tear it. Have I waited all these years; and now that I am Pope at last, shall I not have you for myself? I want you in the Sistine Chapel." Accordingly Michael Angelo, who had already made cartoons for the "Last Judgment" in the life of Clement, once more laid aside the chisel and took up the brush. For eight years, between 1534 and 1542, he laboured at the fresco above the high altar of the chapel, devoting his terrible genius to a subject worthy of the times in which he lived. Since he had first listened while a youth to the prophecies of Savonarola, the woes announced in that apocalypse had all come true. Italy had been scourged, Rome sacked, the Church chastised. And yet the world had not grown wiser; vice was on the increase, virtue grew more rare. It was impossible after the experience of the immediate past and within view of the present and the future, to conceive of God as other than an angry judge, vindictive and implacable.
The "Last Judgment" has long been the most celebrated of Michael Angelo's paintings; partly no doubt because it was executed in the plenitude of his fame, with the eyes of all Italy upon him; partly because its size arouses vulgar wonder, and its theme strikes terror into all who gaze on it. Yet it is neither so strong nor so beautiful as the vault-paintings of the Sistine. The freshness of the genius that created Eve and Adam, unrivalled in their bloom of primal youth, has passed away. Austerity and gloom have taken possession of the painter. His style has hardened into mannerism, and the display of barren science in difficult posturing and strained anatomy has become wilful. Still, whether we regard this fresco as closing the long series of "Last Judgments" to be studied on Italian church-walls from Giotto downwards; or whether we confine our attention, as contemporaries seem to have done, to the skill of its foreshortenings and groupings; or whether we analyse the dramatic energy wherewith tremendous passions are expressed, its triumph is in either case decided. The whole wall swarms with ascending and descending, poised and hovering, shapes—men and women rising from the grave before the judge, taking their stations among the saved, or sinking with unutterable anguish to the place of doom—a multitude that no man can number, surging to and fro in dim tempestuous air. In the centre at the top, Christ is rising from His throne with the gesture of an angry Hercules, hurling ruin on the guilty. He is such as the sins of Italy have made Him. Squadrons of angels, bearing the emblems of His passion, whirl around Him like grey thunder-clouds, and all the saints lean forward from their vantage ground to curse and threaten. At the very bottom bestial features take the place of human lineaments, and the terror of judgment has become the torment of damnation. Such is the general scope of this picture. Of all its merits, none is greater than the delineation of uncertainty and gradual awakening to life. The middle region between vigilance and slumber, reality and dream, Michael Angelo ruled as his own realm; and a painting of the "Last Judgment" enabled him to deal with this metaichmios skotos—this darkness in the interval of crossing spears—under its most solemn aspect.
When the fresco was uncovered, there arose a general murmur of disapprobation that the figures were all nude. As society became more vicious, it grew nice. Messer Biagio, the Pope's master of the ceremonies, remarked that such things were more fit for stews and taverns than a chapel. The angry painter placed his portrait in Hell with a mark of infamy that cast too lurid a light upon this prudish speech. When Biagio complained, Paul wittily answered that, had it been Purgatory, he might have helped him, but in Hell is no redemption. Even the foul-mouthed and foul-hearted Aretino wrote from Venice to the same effect—a letter astounding for its impudence. Michael Angelo made no defence. Perhaps he reflected that the souls of the Pope himself and Messer Biagio and Messer Pietro Aretino would go forth one day naked to appear before the judge, with the deformities of sin upon them, as in Plato's "Gorgias." He refused, however, to give clothes to his men and women. Daniel da Volterra, who was afterwards employed to do this, got the name of breeches-maker.
We are hardly able to appreciate the "Last Judgment;" it has been so smirched and blackened by the smoke and dust of centuries. And this is true of the whole Sistine Chapel. Yet it is here that the genius of Michael Angelo in all its terribleness must still be studied. In order to characterise the impression produced by even the less awful of these frescoes on a sympathetic student, I lay my pen aside and beg the reader to weigh what Henri Beyle, the versatile and brilliant critic, pencilled in the gallery of the Sistine Chapel on January 13, 1807: "Greek sculpture was unwilling to reproduce the terrible in any shape; the Greeks had enough real troubles of their own. Therefore, in the realm of art, nothing can be compared with the figure of the Eternal drawing forth the first man from nonentity. The pose, the drawing, the drapery, all is striking: the soul is agitated by sensations that are not usually communicated through the eyes. When in our disastrous retreat from Russia, it chanced that we were suddenly awakened in the middle of the dark night by an obstinate cannonading, which at each moment seemed to gain in nearness, then all the forces of a man's nature gathered close around his heart; he felt himself in the presence of fate, and, having no attention left for things of vulgar interest, he made himself ready to dispute his life with destiny. The sight of Michael Angelo's pictures has brought back to my consciousness that almost forgotten sensation. Great souls enjoy their own greatness: the rest of the world is seized with fear, and goes mad."
After the painting of the "Last Judgment," one more great labour was reserved for Michael Angelo. By a brief of September, 1535, Paul III. had made him the chief architect as well as sculptor and painter of the Holy See. He was now called upon to superintend the building of S. Peter's, and to this task, undertaken for the repose of his soul without emolument, he devoted the last years of his life. The dome of S. Peter's, as seen from Tivoli or the Alban hills, like a cloud upon the Campagna, is Buonarroti's; but he has no share in the façade that screens it from the piazza. It lies beyond the scope of this chapter to relate once more the history of the vicissitudes through which S. Peter's went between the days of Alberti and Bernini. I can but refer to Michael Angelo's letter addressed to Bartolommeo Ammanati, valuable both as setting forth his views about the structure, and as rendering the fullest and most glorious meed of praise to his old enemy Bramante. All ancient jealousies, even had they ever stirred the heart of Michael Angelo, had long been set at rest by time and death. The one wish of his soul was to set a worthy diadem upon the mother-church of Christianity, repairing by the majesty of art what Rome had suffered at the hands of Germany and Spain, and inaugurating by this visible sign of sovereignty the new age of Catholicity renascent and triumphant.
To the last period of Buonarroti's life (a space of twenty-two years between 1542 and 1564) we owe some of his most beautiful drawings—sketches for pictures of the Crucifixion made for Vittoria Colonna, and a few mythological designs, like the "Rape of Ganymede," composed for Tommaso Cavalieri. His thoughts meanwhile were turned more and more, as time advanced, to piety; and many of his sonnets breathe an almost ascetic spirit of religion. We see in them the old man regretting the years he had spent on art, deploring his enthusiasm for earthly beauty, and seeking comfort in the cross alone.
Painting nor sculpture now can lull to rest
My soul, that turns to His great love on high,
Whose arms to clasp us on the cross were spread.
It is pleasant to know that these last years were also the happiest and calmest. Though he had lost his faithful friend and servant Urbino; though his father had died, an old man, and his brothers had passed away before him one by one, his nephew Lionardo had married in Florence, and begotten a son called Michael Angelo. Thus he had the satisfaction of hoping that his name would endure and flourish, as indeed it has done almost to this very day in Florence. What consolation this thought must have brought him, is clear to those who have studied his correspondence and observed the tender care and continual anxiety he had for his kinsmen. Wealth now belonged to him: but he had never cared for money; and he continued to live like a poor man, dressing soberly and eating sparely, often taking but one meal in the day, and that of bread and wine. He slept little, and rose by night to work upon his statues, wearing a cap with a candle stuck in front of it, that he might see where to drive the chisel home. During his whole life he had been solitary, partly by preference, partly by devotion to his art, and partly because he kept men at a distance by his manner. Not that Michael Angelo was sour or haughty; but he spoke his mind out very plainly, had no tolerance for fools, and was apt to fly into passions. Time had now softened his temper and removed all causes of discouragement. He had survived every rival, and the world was convinced of his supremacy. Princes courted him; the Count of Canossa was proud to claim him for a kinsman; strangers, when they visited Rome, were eager to behold in him its greatest living wonder. His old age was the serene and splendid evening of a toilsome day. But better than all this, he now enjoyed both love and friendship.
If Michael Angelo could ever have been handsome is more than doubtful. Early in his youth the quarrelsome and vain Torrigiani broke his nose with a blow of the fist, when they were drawing from Masaccio's frescoes in the Carmine together. Thenceforth the artist's soul looked forth from a sad face, with small grey eyes, flat nostrils, and rugged weight of jutting brows. Good care was thus taken that light love should not trifle with the man who was destined to be the prophet of his age in art. Like Beethoven, he united a loving nature, sensitive to beauty and desirous of affection, with a rude exterior. He seemed incapable of attaching himself to any merely mortal object, and wedded the ideal. In that century of intrigue and amour, we hear of nothing to imply that Michael Angelo was a lover till he reached the age of sixty. How he may have loved in the earlier periods of his life, whereof no record now remains, can only be guessed from the tenderness and passion outpoured in the poems of his latter years. That his morality was pure and his converse without stain, is emphatically witnessed by both Vasari and Condivi. But that his emotion was intense, and that to beauty in all its human forms he was throughout his life a slave, we have his own sonnets to prove.
In the year 1534 he first became acquainted with the noble lady Vittoria, daughter of Fabrizio Colonna, and widow of the Marquis of Pescara. She was then aged forty-four, and had nine years survived the loss of a husband she never ceased to idolise. Living in retirement in Rome, she employed her leisure with philosophy and poetry. Artists and men of letters were admitted to her society. Among the subjects she had most at heart was the reform of the Church and the restoration of religion to its evangelical purity. Between her and Michael Angelo a tender affection sprang up based upon the sympathy of ardent and high-seeking natures. If love be the right name for this exalted and yet fervid attachment, Michael Angelo may be said to have loved her with all the pent-up forces of his heart. None of his works display a predilection for girlish beauty, and it is probable that her intellectual distinction and mature womanhood touched him even more than if she had been younger. When they were together in Rome they met frequently for conversation on the themes of art and piety they both held dear. Of these discourses a charming record has been preserved to us by the painter Francis of Holland. When they were separated they exchanged poems and wrote letters, some of which remain. On the death of Vittoria, in 1547, the light of life seemed to be extinguished for our sculptor. It is said that he waited by her bed-side, and kissed her hand when she was dying. The sonnets he afterwards composed show that his soul followed her to heaven.
Another friend whom Michael Angelo found in this last stage of life, and whom he loved with only less warmth than Vittoria, was a young Roman of perfect beauty and of winning manners. Tommaso Cavalieri must be mentioned next to the Marchioness of Pescara as the being who bound this greatest soul a captive. Both Cavalieri and Vittoria are said to have been painted by him, and these are the only two portraits he is reported to have executed. It may here be remarked that nothing is more characteristic of his genius than the determination to see through nature, to pass beyond the actual to the abstract, and to use reality only as a stepping-stone to the ideal. This artistic Platonism was the source both of his greatness and his mannerism. As men choose to follow Blake or Ruskin, they may praise or blame him; yet, blame and praise pronounced on such a matter with regard to such a man are equally impertinent and insignificant. It is enough for the critic to note with reverence that thus and thus the spirit that was in him worked and moved.
When we read the sonnets addressed to Vittoria Colonna and Cavalieri, we find something inexpressibly pathetic in this pure and fervent worship of beauty, when the artist with a soul still young had reached the limit of the years of man. Here and there we trace in them an echo of his youth. The Platonic dialogues he heard while yet a young man at the suppers of Lorenzo, reappear converted to the very substance of his thought and style. At the same time Savonarola resumes ascendency over his mind; and when he turns to Florence, it is of Dante that he speaks.
At last the moment came when this strong solitary spirit, much suffering and much loving, had to render its account. It appears from a letter written to Lionardo Buonarroti on February 15, 1564, that his old servant Antonio del Francese, the successor of Urbino in his household, together with Tommaso Cavalieri and Daniello Ricciarelli of Volterra, attended him in his last illness. On the 18th of that month, having bequeathed his soul to God, his body to the earth, and his worldly goods to his kinsfolk, praying them on their death-bed to think upon Christ's passion, he breathed his last. His corpse was transported to Florence, and buried in the church of S. Croce, with great pomp and honour, by the Duke, the city, and the Florentine Academy.