Romain Rolland described Michelangelo's condition like this: "His view of misery and of crime as well as other aspects of society had made him dejected. A tyrannical power had moved within him and never left. He was delivered to those frenzies of his genius that wouldn't allow him to catch his breath until his death."

At aged 26 Michengelo's health was highly affected. The cold, the wet, poor food, head ache and the excesses of work started to ruin him. Since he had nothing more to do in Rome he longed for Florence. Back there his state of health started to improve. Granacci, his old friend, had advised him that Gonfaloniere Pietro Soderini was about to give the block of marble, lying neglected in the workshop of the cathedral, to Leonardo who resided in Florence. Michelangelo laughed. Leonardo a sculptor? That oaf who was afraid of soiling his precious clothes with paint? Who needed music and wine while he was painting? He certainly couldn't hear the lute and flute anymore when he hammered the marble. Immediately Michelangelo visited Soderini and reminded him of his promise to give the marble block to him. Soderini eventually, who had a weak spot for the boorish artist, gave in.

The order was to create an standing apostle or hero for the façade of the Florentine Cathedral. Well. Like a cat around the milk jug Michelangelo encircled the block. It was old, about 25 years, four meters high and very flat. Agostino di Duccio had tried to sculpt a monk - perhaps a Saint Francis - but failed miserably when he detected a fracture deep within the stone and was afraid that the whole figure would crumble down at his feet. As we know Michelangelo maintained the theory that he just had to free the figure that was hidden deep within a marble block. And something told him that it was David, the young shepherd boy, who was chosen to kill the Philistine Goliath. He remembered the antique, Greek figures he had seen enough of in Rome, in gardens and villas. He remembered even Donatello's "David": the first upright standing single male figure since ancient times. Donatello's David was small, but Michelangelo's David should tower high above the heads of the Florentine folk.

At the same time he got the order for another twelve larger-than-life apostle-statues for the cathedral, but all he could do was to work at the "Saint Matthew" [Florence, Accademia]. "David" took up each minute of his life, of his thinking and of his strength.

Three years he buried himself in his workshop near the cathedral, not communicating with the world outside and very seldom with friends and family. The high trestle was covered with an awning he worked under. Very soon it was clear that this monumental statue would never be able to be placed in the cathedral's façade, but would be freestanding, so the people could walk around.

In 1504 he finished his work. Little is handed down about his contemporaries' reaction. Just one event is described: On the 25th of January a committee of artists - Filippino Lippi, Botticelli, Perugino and Leonardo - discussed which place David will be given. Leonardo wanted to place him in the Loggia dei Lanzi but Michelangelo protested. "He has to be outside, in the light of the piazza." He means the place beside the entrance to Palazzo Signoria, the town hall. The committee finally yielded to his wish. Leonardo's biggest objection was that they had to shift Donatello's statue "Judith and Holofernes", but in the end everything was done as Michelangelo wanted. A company of workers needed four days before the statue arrived its final place. David remained naked. The enlightened, Florentine citizen didn't need a fig leaf to cover male anatomy.

What now? Michelangelo hungered for new deeds. Now, that he had claimed honour and degree of familiarity, he was showered with commissioned works. There was the "Madonna Taddei" [Royal Academy/London], then the "Madonna Bruges" [who was 1506 bought by Flemish merchants and still is too be seen in Bruges, see photo below], and then he got the order to paint a wedding present for Maddalena Strozzi and Agnolo Doni. ["Tondo Doni", Uffizi, Florence, see photo right] A tondo whose round form he had re-invented. His price wasn't high for the Doni's didn't understand the composition. Why were there so many naked figures in the background, they asked. How unseemly for a wedding gift ... Well, the figures in the foreground shows Mary, Joseph and Jesus, draped in an abundance of highly coloured clothes which show the contrast to the naked humankind in the background - for that is its meaning. The holy family have given the simple and naive humans food, both, psychological and physical.

Michelangelo and Leonardo

In the same year something happened what I've already described on my travelogue of Florence: The fight between Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo at Palazzo Signoria in the Room of the Five hundred. I like to add here a part of Romain Rolland's Michelangelo-biography:

"The Signoria rushed Michelangelo and Leonardo to go for each other. Neither men liked each other. The loneliness, that both had in common, should actually bring them close together. But if they felt apart from other humans, they were even more apart from each other. The most lonely of both was Leonardo. He was 52 years old - over twenty years older than Michelangelo."

" Leonardo was a man of an imposing appearance, with a courteous manner and noble look. He was clad in a pink tunic that reached to his knees... covering half of his breast was a neatly trimmed beard. One day he strolled with a friend in the vicinity of the church Santa Trínita, where another group of reputable burgesses had gathered, discussing a part of Dante's poetry. They called Leonardo and asked him to explain the explanation of this part. Just at that moment Michelangelo passed by. Leonardo said "There goes Michelangelo, he will explain those verses." Michelangelo believed he wanted to mock him, so he responded angrily "You will explain them, you - who made the model of a bronze horse, and haven't been able to make the cast, but stopped in-between to your own shame!" With those words he turned his back and stalked off. Leonardo remained in his place, beet red in his face... And Michelangelo, still not satisfied with hurting him, called out "And those louts, the Milanese, who believed you would be able to do such work!""

You see, Michelangelo had a sharp tongue and he didn't hide his pride in his own works of Art, never scrutinized the reasons of others. With Leonardo's equestrian statue it was a different matter: Leonardo's patron was Francesco Sforza, the son of the Duke of Milan. He commissioned Leonardo to do a bronze monument of himself, on a horse of course. Well, Leonardo's hubris wasn't much smaller than Michelangelo's, so he went so far as to model such a huge monument that nobody was able to cast the bronze, just parts of it and they never could be put together. Just the life-sized model of plaster still exists and some sketches. The model was used by the archers of French King Louis XII when he attacked Milan later. It was really tactless of Michelangelo to mention Leonardo's defeat.

Leonardo left Florence when he was thirty. He needed spiritual freedom and Florence was too rough for his sensitive nature. He was boundless free and thus boundless lonely, a clear and sceptical mind, completely loosened from Fatherland, from religion, from the whole world, so that he only enjoyed the company of tyrants: free spirits like himself. Does this sound odd? I think not. Tyrants have the freedom AND the power to do everything. And Leonardo needed as much freedom as possible for his inventions and most of all of his breathtaking ideas. No restrictions from the church, religion or rulers. He had gone to Milan to Ludovico Sforza, but after his fall he was urged to leave Milan and started his duty for Cesare Borgia in 1502. We all know Cesare Borgia, don't we. He's the son of pope Alexander VI, the Spaniard Rodrigo Borgia, who started his charge in 1492, the Annus Mirabilis. Cesare led a horror regime in Rome, unscrupulously he eliminated each friend of the Spanish party in the Curia, and walked like the angel of death through Rome. Many stories told about the Borgia's are pure invention, but I'm afraid all of Cesare's nastiness is true. After his father's death, he lost some of his influence and became a French condottiere (mercenary leader), marauding over the land. So, what light does it throw on Leonardo when he started to work for him? First of all it gave Leonardo money and he could realize all his daredevil ideas. He invented war-materiels for him, for instance a 12-barrel machinegun (who was the model for the so-called "Stalinorgel" in the Second World War) and a fragmentation bomb. On the death of Cesare in 1503 he was urged to return to Florence where he painted his "Mona Lisa". The ironic smiles of his portraits (that matched his own) was in opposition to Michelangelo's gloomy and feverish passion, thus Michelangelo hated all enemies of his passions and his belief. But far more he hated those who had no passion and no belief - like Leonardo. The greater Leonardo was, the more Michelangelo's aversion grew, and he never missed an occasion to show it.

Now they competed for the design of the "Room of the Fivehundred". You know the results. Leonardo didn't care much about the loss of his fresco but dedicated himself to his attempts to fly.

Michelangelo and Julius

Meanwhile Michelangelo's glory had made its way to Rome and to the new pope Julius II. He commissioned Michelangelo with his tomb, destined to be in St. Peter's that was still under construction. This will burdensome him a life time long. He moved to Rome in 1505 to his workshop at Piazza Venezia, near the forum of emperor Trajan.

In the year 1506 had been detected 25 antique sculptures in the thermal baths of Trajan - emperor Nero's former "Domus Aurea" [Golden House] and close to Michelangelo's own house. He and his friend, the architect Giuliano da Sangallo were witnesses as the Laocoon-group was dig up. He recognized it instantly. "That's the masterpiece, Pliny was talking about!" he called out. [Pliny - actually Plinius - was a scientist killed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79.] This group would be placed with triumph in the Vatican, where already the "Apollo of the Belvedere" was standing, a statue, found back around 1500 in Anzio, in the Villa of Nero.
The Laocoon-group gained great acclaim. When French King Francis I claimed it in 1515 after his victory in the battle of Marignano as part of the spoils of war, pope Leo X de'Medici furtively made a copy of it. But neither the original nor the copy found its way to France, so it was placed at the Cortile del Belvedere where it still has its place.

An archaeological fever broke out. They discovered the subterranean rooms of Nero's Domus Aurea and the Torso of Belvedere. In the thermal baths of emperor Caracalla they brought to light an over three meters high Hercules, a bull, a Flora and lots of mosaics. Since the noble family of Farnese financed the diggings they would be called from now after their name. Many Greek statues decorated the Villa Giulia of pope Julius.

Michelangelo was then involved in a quarrel between the biggest master builder of his time: Donato Bramante (some called him "Master Ruinante" though). Bramante didn't hesitate to destroy ancient master pieces either from the old cathedral or from the antique Roman temples and even the coliseum. Inestimable precious master pieces of marble vanished in Bramante's chalk vats. Michelangelo begged him to stop but he just laughed and said they needed the chalk for the new Christian Dome and he would find it very suspicious when Michelangelo was so fond of all those pagan things...

Pope Julius II and Michelangelo Buonarroti - they were a pair who should have been destined to understand each other. Both were tempestuous and stupendous characters, but most of the time they were involved in a hateful quarrel. Both minds seethed with gigantic plans. The pope planned to rebuild the unstable St Peter's cathedral while Michelangelo's enemies in Rome were many and powerful. The leader of them all was Donato Bramante from Urbino, the pope's architect and a relative of Raphael. His genius matched Michelangelo's but Bramante's willpower was mightier. There couldn't be any sympathy and friendship between the elegant men from Urbino and the wild Florentine.

Unwisely Michelangelo accused Bramante of having committed embezzlements during his work. Bramante took revenge by appealing to Julius' superstition that it would be a bad omen to erect hs tomb while he was still alive. Julius agreed and the plans for the tomb stopped.

Michelangelo was humiliated and in debt because he had paid the expenses for his work himself and he left Rome in fury when he couldn't speak to the pope. On the 17th of April in 1506 Julius' courier reached him in poggibonsi with the order to come back instantly.

Michelangelo refused and rode further back to Florence. Mayor Soderini wasn't exactly amused by his behaviour because he feared complications with the Holy See. One day later Bramante layed the cornerstone for the new St. Peters. He can now do anything he liked especially since at the end of August Julius started his war against Perugia and Bologna. The Signoria in Florence prompted Michelangelo urgently to go to Bologna and become reconciled with the pope. They feared Florence would share Bologna's and Perugia's fate which were defeated by the papal army and annexed into the Papal States. So, in November he went teeth-grinding to Bologna. Julius was pleased to see him and became reconciled. Probably he was impressed by Michelangelo's resistance and the casualness with which the artist met him. He kept him there and commissioned a colossal bronze monument of himself. But Michelangelo didn't know anything about how to cast bronze ...

In June of 1507 the first cast of the stature failed. The statue just come out until the girdle. He worked desperately at it until February 1508. His health was almost ruined. Eventually the result of Julius' monument was placed in front of the church of San Petronio. Michelangelo thought it terrible but Julius was excited, although he had given Julius a book in his hand, not the demanded sword. Well, it had a sad story: What had been done with so much effort was destroyed in 1511 by the party of the Bentivoglio - Julius' enemies. Duke Alfonso d'Este bought the remains and made a gun from it.

In between he worked on plans for Julius' tomb. The pope had changed his mind again and now wanted his tomb created by the greatest artist of his time - and he wanted to see it. Michelangelo drew up gigantic plans, Julius was excited. It would be placed in the centre of St. Peter's, under the cupola, not yet neither erected nor even planned. Soon it was clear that the architecture of the tomb wouldn't fit the cathedral's architecture, especially if it was placed in the middle of the church. It was simply too big for that. Michelangelo designed an over boarding group of statues, Leah and Rachel, Moses and amongst them the reclining pope, guarded by angels and putti.