When Michelangelo completed the Doni Tondo, he sent the painting to the patron, Agnolo Doni, asking for payment of 70 ducats. Doni, who was cautious with his money, gave the messenger just 40 ducats. The artist was incensed. Because of Doni’s tightfistedness, Michelangelo demanded double the price, which meant that Doni, “who knew that it was worth even more,” ended up paying an astronomical 140 ducats for his painting.
This episode highlights the tension between an artist wishing preferred treatment and a patron who was slow to recognize that contracts and negotiated payments were no longer acceptable means of eliciting a masterpiece from the famously recalcitrant artist. Doni, at least, ultimately succeeded in obtaining a work; many other would-be patrons were not so fortunate in dealing with Michelangelo.
Michelangelo was a great sculptor, painter, architect and poet, as well as a skilled engineer and successful entrepreneur. He was an artist but also an aristocrat, proud of his family’s illustrious ancestry. He advised his nephew about property investments and a suitable bride (“to perpetuate our house”), and he chided the young man for writing careless letters as if to “the greatest ass in the world.” Michelangelo’s ambitions are evident in his writing, dress, and comportment, as well as in his ability to befriend, influence, and occasionally say “no” to popes and princes. He did more than any previous artist to raise the stature of his profession, from craftsman to genius, from artisan to gentleman.
Written from the words of Michelangelo and his contemporaries, this biography allows the artist to tell his own story, placing him firmly in his times, among family, friends, popes and patrons. Imagine Florence in 1492, Rome in 1500, or extracting marble with rope, oxen, and sweat. This book takes you there.