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- Pictures Every Child Should Know - 5/52 -
paint, of planning his destruction. He suspected the very assistants whom he, himself, had chosen to go from Florence, of having designs upon his life. He locked the chapel against them, and they had to turn away when they went to begin work. Because of his insane suspicion he did alone the enormous work of the frescoes. Doubtless he was half mad, just as he was wholly a genius.
By the time he had finished those frescoes he was so exhausted and overworked that he wrote piteously to his people at home, "I have not a friend in Rome, neither do I wish nor have use for any." This of course was not true; or he would not have made the statement. "I hardly find time to take nourishment. Not an ounce more can I bear than already rests upon my shoulders." Even when the work was done he felt no happiness because of it, but complained about everything and everybody.
If Angelo thought this an unhappy day, worse was in store for him. Julius II. died and in his place there came to reign upon the papal throne, Leo X. If Michael Angelo had been restricted in his work before, he was almost jailed under Leo X. Julius had been a virile, forceful man, and Michael Angelo was the same. Since he must be restrained and dictated to, it was possible for the artist to listen to a man who was in certain respects strong like himself, but to be under the thumb of a weak, effeminate person like Leo, was the tragedy of tragedies to Angelo. That was a marvellous time in Rome. All its citizens had become so pleasure-loving that the world, stood still to wonder. When the pope banqueted, he had the golden plates from which fair women had eaten hurled into the Tiber, that they might never be profaned by a less noble use than they had known. From all this riot and madness of pleasure, Michael Angelo stood aside with frowning brow and scornful mien. He approved of nothing and of nobody--despising even Raphael, the gentle and loving man whom the pleasure-crazed people of Rome paused to smile upon and love. The pope said that Angelo was "terrible," and that he filled everybody with fear.
Finally, Rome so resented his frowning looks and his surly ways that work was provided for him at a distance. He was sent to Florence again to build a facade. While there, the city was conquered, and Angelo was one who fought for its freedom, but even so, he fled just at the crisis. Thus he ever did the wrong thing--excepting when he worked. In Florence he had planned to do mighty things, but he never accomplished any one of them. He planned to make a wonderful colossal statue on a cliff near Carrara, and also he resolved to make the tomb of Julius the nucleus of a "forest of statues."
Michael Angelo never married, but he was burdened with a family and all its cares. He supported his brothers and even his nephews, and took care of his father. All of those people came to him with their difficulties and with their demands for money. He chided, quarreled, repelled, yet met every obligation. He would sit beside the sick-bed of a servant the night through, but growl at the demands of his near relatives--and it is not unlikely that he had good reason.
At last he withdrew himself from all human society but that of little children, whom he cared to speak with and to please. He would have naught to do with men of genius like himself; and when he fell from a scaffolding and injured himself, the physician had to force his way through a barred window, in order to get into the sick man's presence to serve him.
An illustration of his determined solitude is given in the "Young People's Story of Art:"
"There had long been lying idle in Florence an immense block of marble. One hundred years before a sculptor had tried to carve something from it, but had failed. This was now given to Michael Angelo. He was to be paid twelve dollars a month, and to be allowed two years in which to carve a statue. He made his design in wax; and then built a tower around the block, so that he might work inside without being seen."
Everything Angelo undertook bore the marks of gigantic enterprise. Although he never succeeded in making the tomb of Julius II. the central piece in his forest of statues, the undertaking was marvellous enough. His original plan was to make the tomb three stories high and to ornament it with forty statues, and if St. Peter's Church was large enough to hold it, the work was to be placed therein; but if not, a church was to be built specially to hold the tomb. When at last, in spite of his difficulties with workmen and shipowners, the marbles were deposited in the great square before St. Peter's, they filled the whole place; and the pope, wishing to watch the progress of the work and not himself to be observed, had a covered way built from the Vatican to the workshop of Angelo in the square, by which he might come and go as he chose, while an order was issued that the sculptor was to be admitted at all times to the Vatican. No sooner was this arrangement completed than Angelo's enemies frightened the pope by telling him there was danger in making his tomb before his death; and with these superstitions haunting him Julius II. stopped the work, leaving Angelo without the means to pay for his marbles. With the doors of the Vatican closed to him, Angelo withdrew, post haste to Florence--and who can blame him? Nevertheless, the work was resumed after infinite trouble on the pope's part. He had to send again and again for Angelo and after forty years, the work was finished. There the sequel of the sculptor's forty-years war with self and the world stands to-day in "Moses," the wonderful, commanding central figure which seems to reflect all the fierce power which Angelo had to keep in check during a life-time.
The command of Julius that he should paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel aroused all his fierce resistance. He did it under protest, all the while accusing those about him of having designs upon his life.
"I am not a painter, but a sculptor," he said.
"Such a man as thou is everything that he wishes to be," the pope replied.
"But this is an affair of Raphael. Give him this room to paint and let me carve a mountain!" But no, he must paint the ceiling; but to render it easier for him the pope told him he might fill in the spaces with saints, and charge a certain amount for each. This Angelo, who was first of all an artist, refused to do. He would do the work rightly or not at all. So he made his own plans and cut himself a cardboard helmet, into the front of which he thrust a candle, as if it were a Davy lamp, and he lay upon his back to work day and night at the hated task. During those months he was compelled to look up so continually, that never afterward was he able to look down without difficulty. When he had finished the work Julius had some criticisms to make.
"Those dresses on your saints are such poor things," he said. "Not rich enough--such very poor things!"
"Well, they were poor things," was Angelo's answer. "The saints did not wear golden ornaments, nor gold on their garments."
After Julius II. and Leo X. came Pope Paul III., and he, like the other two, determined to have Angelo for his workman. Indeed all his life, Michael Angelo's gifts were commanded by the Church of Rome. It was for Paul III. he painted the "Last Judgment." His former work upon the Sistine Chapel had been the story of the creation. All his work was of a mighty and allegorical nature; tremendous shoulders, mighty limbs, herculean muscles that seemed fit to support the universe. These allegories are made of hundreds of figures. To-day they are still there, though dimmed by the smoke of centuries of incense, and dismembered by the cracking of plaster and disintegration of materials.
Angelo's methods of work, as well as their results, were oppressive. In his youth, while trying to perfect himself in his study of the human form, he drew or modelled, from nude corpses. He had these conveyed by stealth from the hospital into the convent of Santo Spirito, where he had a cell and there he worked, alone.
He was concentrated, mentally and emotionally, upon himself. The only remark he made after the blow from Torregiano was, "You will be remembered only as the man who broke my nose!" This proved nearly true, since Torregiano was banished, and murdered by the Spanish Inquisition.
All sorts of anecdotes have floated through the centuries concerning this man and his work. For example, he made a statue of a sleeping cupid, which was buried in the ground for a time that it might assume the appearance of age, and pass for an antique. Afterward it was sold to the Cardinal San Giorgio for two hundred ducats, though Michael Angelo received only thirty. Nevertheless, he died a rich man, after having cared for a numerous family, while he himself lived like a man without means. All the tranquillity he ever knew he enjoyed in his old age.
It was characteristic of his perversity that he left his name upon nothing that he made, with one exception. Vasari relates the story of that exception:
"The love and care which Michael Angelo had given to this group, 'In Paradise,' were such that he there left his name--a thing he never did again for any work--on the cincture which girdles the robe of Our Lady; for it happened one day that Michael Angelo, entering the place where it was erected, found a large assemblage of strangers from Lombardy there, who were praising it highly; one of them asking who had done it, was told, 'our Hunchback of Milan'; hearing which Michael Angelo remained silent, although surprised that his work should be attributed to another. But one night he repaired to St. Peter's with a light and his chisels, to engrave his name on the figure, which seems to breathe a spirit as perfect as her form and countenance."
If his youth had been given to sculpture, his maturity to the painting of wondrous frescoes, so his old age was devoted to architecture, and as architect he rebuilt the decaying St. Peter's. In this work he felt that he partly realised his ideal. Sculpture meant more to him, "did more for the glory of God," than any other form of art. When he had finished his work on St. Peter's, he is said to have looked upon it and exclaimed: "I have hung the Pantheon in the air!"
This colossal genius died in Rome, and was carried by the light of torches from that city back to his better loved Florence, where he was buried. His tomb was made in the Santa Croce, and upon it are three female figures representing Michael Angelo's three wonderful arts: Architecture, sculpture and painting. No artist was greater than he.
His will committed "his soul to God, his body to the earth, and his property to his nearest relatives."
This wonderful painting is a part of the decoration of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. The picture of the prophet tells so much in itself, that a description seems absurd. It is enough to call attention to the powerful muscles in the arm, the fall of the hand, and then to speak of the main characteristics of the artist's pictures.
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