Why Michelangelo Disliked Leonardo da Vinci

Michelangelo and Leonardo felt “an intense dislike for each other,” says their biographer Vasari. He doesn’t say why.

There is only this story from an anonymous manuscript called the Codice Magliabecchiano:

“As Leonardo, accompanied by [his friend] Giovanni di Gavina, was passing the Spini Bank, near the church of Santa Trinità, several notables were assembled who were discussing a passage in Dante and seeing Leonardo, they asked him to come and explain it to them.

Santa Trinità Church, Florence ( Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license photo)

At the same moment Michelangelo passed and, one of the crowd calling to him, Leonardo said: ‘Michelangelo will be able to tell you what it means.’ To which Michelangelo, thinking this had been said to entrap him, replied: ‘No, explain it yourself, horse-modeller that you are, who, unable to cast a statue in bronze, were forced to give up the attempt in shame.’ So saying, he turned his back on them and left. Leonardo remained silent and blushed at these words.”   (quoted in The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, Oxford University Press, 1952,  trans. Irma A. Richter, p.356 )

This makes Michelangelo look like a jealous ass. Perhaps he was. He was quick to take offense. But the story doesn’t say why Leonardo asked him to explain the text or in what tone. Maybe it was provocative, maybe it sounded like ridicule. It may be the reason Leonardo disliked Michelangelo but Michelangelo’s aversion for Leonardo was already there.
Why would he hate such a genius if not out of jealousy?

Leonardo da Vinci (a statue outside the Uffizi, Florence, by Luigi Pampaloni)

He had heard of Leonardo da Vinci all his life. How could he not? Leonardo was revered as the world’s greatest genius.What was his reputation as an artist based on?  What was his great work, his Sistine, his David, his Moses, his Pietà?

That’s easy, you may say: the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper.

The Mona Lisa is about the size of a small bedroom mirror. Leonardo worked four years on it and still didn’t finish it. Ah, but the size of a work of art shouldn’t matter, you say: many of the greatest paintings are small.  True.

The Last Supper is big—460×880 cm. (181×346 in.). Leonardo spent six years on it before giving up because he couldn’t find the right head for Christ. He drew sketch after sketch and spent whole days staring at the wall.

The Last Supper  by Leonardo da Vinci   Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan, Italy

He finally spoiled it with some experimental medium mixture.  It began to disintegrate almost as soon as he painted it.

His Sistine Chapel should have been the Great Equestrian Monument for the Duke of Milan. On it he horsed around for sixteen years until the Duke finally made a cannon with the bronze he had saved for the statue.  Leonardo’s clay model stood around for years until it was destroyed. That’s the horse Michelangelo was talking about in the Codice Magliabecchiano story.

But it was an incredibly beautiful clay horse, you may say. Everyone praised it.

Ask a sculptor if a clay model is to be taken as anything more than a first step. A work of art has to be permanent. Clay dries and cracks and disintegrates—it is only a model or guide for the next two or three (or ten!) steps before the sculptor’s idea becomes a statue.

Now, Michelangelo never saw either of those. They were in Milan. What might he have heard about the Master? What was Leonardo’s actual record of achievement? What was he employed to do?

He was good at decoration for pageants and weddings and stuff. He could make big toy lions that ran and growled. He played the lyre and sang like an angel (and dressed like one).

Yes, but wasn’t he inventing airplanes and tanks and bombs and things?

On paper. He did a lot of reading too and devoured books on math and engineering and botany. He was a brilliant conversationalist.  Everyone loved to have him at their party.

He went from prince to prince on the strength of a reputation and he was often given room and board as a distinguished guest—for months. He wowed them with his brilliant talk and the originality of his ideas on everything under the sun. But few or none of his fantastic projects were ever brought off.

Except for Cesar Borgia’s map, what else did he actually do for him, which ingenious project was carried out? And the great bridge over the Bosphorus for the Great Turk—it was only a little sketch. The monument for the Duke of Trifulzi—it was a wonderful sketch. So light, so artistic.  The St. Anne and the Virgin with Christ and St. John—it is a cartoon, not a painting.

He lived in style. “He owned, one might say, nothing and he worked very little,” says Vasari, “yet he always kept servants as well as horses”—the great artist. His patrons were forever after him to paint them a picture. He seems never to have said no.  By the time he was fifty he had half a dozen great dukes and kings and ladies begging him to remember his promise to do a little something for them. But Leonardo was busy. Busy observing, doodling, dreaming.
He planned a flying machine and pictured the glory it would bring him: “The first flight of the great bird from the summit of the Monte Ceceri will fill the universe with wonder,” he wrote in his notebook. “All writing will be of its fame, bringing eternal glory to the place of its origin [and a little to the creator maybe?].”

He got a commission from the City of Florence to paint a mural on the wall of the Council Hall. He finished the cartoon, the first big step—he got that far. But then he started to paint the wall, not in fresco but with oils—a novel thing to do (always the genius!). He tried a new way to make the colors stick by applying heat and it failed—the colors ran. Michelangelo, who was working on a mural in the same Council Hall, perhaps thought it served him right.

So, dust-covered and sore as he was all the time from long hours of sculpting, he must not have enjoyed seeing Leonardo cologned and in fine clothes with a following of admirers and censer-swingers trailing.
“Michelangelo, come over and meet Leonardo da Vinci, the greatest artist in the world! He can do anything.”

Michelangelo, old at sixty by Jacopino del Conte

Michelangelo was someone who, besides coming up with brilliant designs, solved gigantic practical problems to realize them.  He had to go and get his marble in the cold mountains. He had to find it, cut it out and put it on a cart, then on a barge, and bring it to his workshop a hundred miles away. Sometimes he had to build the very road through the mountains to transport it. “We’re almost through,” he wrote from Serravezza. “There’s just one more big boulder to chip away and then the cart can go forward another hundred feet.”  It was dangerous: “This morning one of the workmen fell and broke his neck. I myself was almost killed.”  Another time a chain from which a big block was swinging broke. “We were so lucky,” he wrote. “Any of us could have been killed.”

He was cruelly abused  by his patrons.  Pope Julius sent him to Carrara for eight months to get marbles for his tomb, then cancelled the project. Pope Leo, the next pope, sent him to the hills of Serravezza for three years and then cancelled his project.  Altogether at least five or six  of Michelangelo’s best years were wasted in quarries.

Once he got the marble home, he had to carve it, which is slow, hard work.   He worked all day swinging a hammer and coughing at the dust until exhaustion put him to sleep. If he still had a moment before dropping off he thought about the design for the building or tomb where the statue would go, or about something his patron had said. Thank God the statue was looking pretty.

There was luck so bad it was like a curse. Pope Julius ordered Michelangelo to make a colossal (three times life-size) portrait of himself in bronze and when Michelangelo had finished modelling it after fourteen months the bronze caster spoiled it and Michelangelo had to do part of it over again. He did finish it but four years later it was melted down and made into a cannon: a major work and two of his best years lost.  While he worked in Bologna he had to live at a cheap hotel in a room with four other workmen and he suffered terribly from the discomfort and the lack of privacy.

Nothing was easy for him: there was obstruction after obstruction, with things and with people. Try to actually DO anything in this world.

And you should have seen him at work in the Sistine Chapel.

A fragment of the Sistine Chapel ceiling  (Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license photo by Aaron Logan)

He taught himself to paint in fresco and he put three hundred figures on a  three-thousand-square-foot ceiling.  He didn’t crack. Probably no one who ever lived could have held up but him. He had superhuman stamina and a slave-driving sense of responsibility. He had a job to do and he would do it.

“Explain this passage from Dante for us, Michelangelo,” Leonardo calls over in his charming way.  “They say you know so much.”

Note: This portrayal of Leonardo does not do him justice. It is a caricature used here to justify Michelangelo’s contempt.

..

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46 Responses to Why Michelangelo Disliked Leonardo da Vinci

  1. There is another explanation (or a complementary one) for Leonardo asking Michelangelo to interpret a verse from Dante. Leonardo knew (it was common knowledge, I think) that Michelangelo was one of the best scholars in Dante’s work, a fanatical admirer of Dante… Of course, all you said, so well, could be true, too… Myself, I believe it was a big misunderstanding, Michelangelo being so ill-tempered, generally…

    • 100swallows says:

      Danu: That’s right too. Maybe there was something ironical in Leonardo’s way of asking. He couldn’t have been immune to jealousy. Lately in Florence Michelangelo was getting all the praise, even for his knowledge of Dante! As if to tickle Leonardo a little more, the town had asked him to help decide where to place Michelangelo’s divine David. Vasari says it all was too much for him and Leonardo left Florence. Too much Michelangelo.

  2. Saso says:

    As a historian of art I can say that this essay is really nice and good one, yet I like to add something that Leonardo hadn’t cast his Horse because the Bronze which were kept away for casting this horse were used for making cannons in the war between Milano and France, not because Leonardo’s ignorance about how to cast the clay Horse model with bronze. Thanks for the Writer of this essay. (this information I wrote is found in Emily Han’s book about the life of Leonardo da vinci)

    • 100swallows says:

      Saso: Thank you very much. You sent me to the sources again. I had remembered this in Vasari:
      “…Leonardo proposed to the Duke that he should make a huge equestrian statue in bronze as a memorial to his father; then he started and carried the work forward on such a scale that it was impossible to finish it. There have even been some to say (men’s opinions are so various and, often enough, so envious and spiteful) that Leonardo had no intention of finishing it when he started. This was because it was so large that it proved an insoluble problem to cast it in one piece; and one can realize why, the outcome being what it was, many came to the conclusion they did, seeing that so many of his works remained unfinished.” Life of Leonardo, Penguin Classics,1965, (trans. George Bull)

      But I see that the bronze for Leonardo’s horse was used for a cannon only a year or two after he had completed the model: “In 1493 Leonardo had completed the clay model of the horse…This model was exhibited on the Piazza del Castello at Milan…on the occasion of the marriage of Bianca Maria Sforza, niece of Ludovico il Moro, to the Emperor Maximilian…which took place at Innsbruck on March 16, 1494.”
      “On November 17, 1494, under the pressure of political events, Duke Ludovico shipped the bronze intended for casting Leonardo’s model of the horse down the Po to Ferrara to be made into a cannon.” Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, Oxford University Press, 1952 (notes by Irma Richter)

      It’s true that the clay model stood around for a long time:
      “On September 19, 1501, Ercole I of Ferrara, Isabella d’Este’s father, wrote to his agent to inquire whether the French governor at Milan would cede the colossal horse… which was standing neglected and exposed to wind and weather in the castle square. The French governor relpied that he could not cede the model without the consent of his king.”

      But, as you say, the reason it was not cast was the political turmoil of Milan (no money for such things) and not Leonardo’s inability. Vasari (and Michelangelo) must have assumed that all those years that the clay horse stood around Leonardo was wracking his brains for a casting solution. In any case, Michelangelo would have said that it was silly of Leonardo to make the horse before he knew how he was going to cast it.

      Modelling it really did take him “forever” (sixteen years according to Saba Castiglioni) and even the Duke lost faith in his ability to produce the monument. In July 1489 the Florentine ambassador to Milan wrote Lorenzo de’ Medici asking him to send a Florentine artist to make the statue: ‘Although the Duke has given the commission to Leonardo, it seems to me that he is not confident that he will succeed’” (Notebooks, op, cit.)

      • Saso says:

        Thanks a lot for these rich information, I’m really happy that there are people as you who are attached to good sources to prove their points, I do really like this essay, and wish you good luck in your work.

  3. Dave Clark says:

    Hello again Swallows,

    Another nice piece! There is a great new play called Divine Rivalry that recently had its world premier on the Hartford Stage. It’s the story of Leonardo & Michelangelo enaging each other in the Great Hall with the third main character being Machiavelli who tries to keep the two working on their murals. I saw it and found it to be very well done.

    My own take is a bit different. I have no doubt Michelangelo respected Leonardo’s talent and feared it, just as he did Raphael’s. But for Leonardo, the science was always more important than the art. He used his Battle of Anghiari to see if he could replicate the technique of oil painting on a wall that he found in Pliny.

    The one artist Michelangelo really detested was Pietro Perugino who painted for the money more than the art: the Thomas Kinkade of his day. Perugino was a close friend of Leonardo’s; they apprenticed together under Verrocchio. And they both said they thought the David should be put against the back wall under the Loggia in Florence, which probably didn’t please Michelangelo.

    And one of Pergino’s students was Raphael, who was painting the Pope’s apartments at the same time Michelangelo s painting the ceiling. I wonder how much of the rivaly Michelangelo had with Leonardo and Raphael had to do with their ties to Perugino.

    • 100swallows says:

      Dave: I’m sure you are right that Michelangelo “feared” Leonardo’s talent. He surely recognized the quality. He must have hated reading in Vasari that Leonardo had never been surpassed for the beauty of his faces. In his heart he was glad Leonardo “wasted” so much time tinkering and drawing up impossible projects. Still, the face of the Pietà was right up there with the best even Leonardo could do and Michelangelo had faith in his own powers.
      I remember reading that about imitating Pliny but I don’t know where.
      Vasari (and Condivi too) say that Bramante was Michelangelo’s bête noire and Raphael was his protégé. They were both from Urbino. You had me go read up on Perugino. I have always liked the Virgin and Child with St. Raphael and St. Michael in the National Gallery of London. A guy who could paint that well was better than the K-man you compare him to. And I had forgotten that Perugino was on the commission that decided where to place the David. Thanks for the information.

    • tsolsomah says:

      Michaelangelo feared no one. He was always the superior of all and no one could come close to his genius.

  4. While Leonardo’s fame as a ‘genius’ was undoubted, it was not because of his scientific work or drawings of helicopters and weird machines. He kept those notebooks private and they were, in fact, only published in the 19th C. So, strangely enough, he had exactly zero impact on the science of his day: See Pissing on a Holy Cow, over at the Renaissance Mathematicus.
    Judith

    • Anonymous says:

      Does anyone know why Leonardo didn’t publish his works and finding?
      Is it because he wanted privacy? I read that he decided to publish later but he died before it was published.

  5. erikatakacs says:

    No, I don’t think “fear” is the word…afterall it was Michelangelo who was dubbed “divine”… some jealousy, maybe, for Leonardo and Raphael getting along better in the politics of the “artworld”of the day. He was possessed by his work, not accepting anything less then perfect from himself and others, which many misinterpreted as misantrophy and distrust.
    Just read this quote from Leonardo, it would make any sculptor’s blood boil:
    “the sculptor in creating his work does so by the strength of his arm by which he consumes the marble, or other obdurate material in which his subject is enclosed: and this is done by most mechanical exercise, often accompanied by great sweat which mixes with the marble dust and forms a kind of mud daubed all over his face. The marble dust flours him all over so that he looks like a baker; his back is covered with a snowstorm of chips, and his house is made filthy by the flakes and dust of stone. The exact reverse is true of the painter…[who] sits before his work, perfectly at his ease and well dressed, and moves a very light brush dipped in delicate color; and he adorns himself with whatever clothes he pleases. His house is clean and filled with charming pictures; and often he is accompanied by music or by the reading of various and beautiful works which, since they are not mixed with the sound of the hammer or other noises, are heard with the greatest pleasure.” Treatise on Painting by Leonardo
    Also, Michelangelo was very spiritual, pious, while Leonardo was anything but.

    • 100swallows says:

      Erika, you are right, “feared” is the wrong word. I imagined that David used it as some say “dread” (such as “he dreads another weekend with his mother-in-law”). But fear, he surely did not. I’m not sure when they started calling him divine, though. They must have called Leonardo divine long before.
      Thanks for typing out that long quote from Leonardo’s notebooks. I actually had it in my post but decided it was too long and my point was already made.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Da Vinci had also famously criticized Michelangelo’s depiction of the human body. He pointed out that Michelangelo’s understanding of human anatomy was somewhat superficial in that he always over-emphasized human musculature as if every muscle in the body was contracting simultaneously. Due to his dissection and study of human cadavers da Vinci understood that when a given muscle contracts its opposing muscle always relaxes – thus his anatomical depictions were more realistic.

    • 100swallows says:

      Anonymous: Thanks. I wish you had given your source for this.

    • judithweingarten says:

      Spot on! That’s exactly what I don’t like about some of Michelangelo’s over-muscled statues. Thanks for clarifying.

      • 100swallows says:

        Judith: Really? That Michelangelo emphasized muscles is clear enough and one can dislike his style altogether. But saying that he didn’t understand such an obvious thing as their tightening and loosening, even coming from Leonardo da Vinci, is silly. Condivi says Michelangelo considered writing a book on what he had learned from the dissection of cadavers. “He has often had it in mind to write a treatise, as a service to those who want to work in sculpture and painting, on all manner of human movements and appearances and on the bone structure, with a brilliant theory which he arrived at through long experience.”
        If Michelangelo chose to exaggerate a muscle, he did so because in that way it seemed to gain in power or suggestion. No artist, not even Leonardo, hesitated to contradict nature if that suited his work.

        Anyway, it is unfair to compare Leonardo’s studies of the human body with Michelangelo’s sketches for his paintings and statues. One is science, the other art. They may be proof of Leonardo’s knowledge but they can’t be used to show Michelangelo’s ignorance.

        I asked Anonymous to find me the source of this “famous” criticism. It is not in Vasari; it is not in any Da Vinci notebook excerpts that I’ve seen. But if Leonardo threw off this kind of criticism, he should have been challenged.

        • Condivi was in love with Michelangelo :-) and made up lots of things about him. Anyway, you are right that we should await Anonymous’ reference. Agreed, too, that most artists will contradict nature if it suits them but, still, there is something over-muscled in many of M’s statues; e.g. the Slaves. Perhaps deliberate but it’s overdone and looks wrong.

          • 100swallows says:

            Judith: I do know what you mean. I wouldn’t have pointed to the Slaves but to some of the figures (sibyls, nudes, putti) on the Sistine ceiling. But every artist, while experimenting with a device of his own invention, must exaggerate it occasionally to find its limits, like someone adjusting his loudpeakers. (Yeah,” I hear you say, “he often has it turned up too loud.”)

  7. Anonymous says:

    1- Michelangelo of Julius II’s tomb was not cancelled but was put on hold as he reluctantly painted the ceiling. it was “finished” in the sense that he was paid for what he had completed and was forced to stop to do lack of funding by Julius’ family.
    2- i would like to have proof that this was mentioned in Vasari’s notes, though Vasari has had many questionable statements.
    3- i’ve never heard of Leonardo commenting of Michelangelo’s “poor” understanding of proper anatomy. they painted entirely different from each other and would have been a ridiculous statement from someone like Leonardo.

    • 100swallows says:

      Anonymous: Thanks. That’s good–yes, the tomb was not cancelled, though the project under consideration was. As I told Anonymous, I have never read such a “famous” comment by Leonardo and can’t believe he made it. I don’t know which fact in Vasari’s notes you want proof for. Was it that comment of Leonardo’s?

  8. INWIDB says:

    IDK HELP ME ON THIS QUESTION …. NO GOOD SHORT ANSWERS

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  11. This was a good read.

    I read in Ross King’s book about the Sistine Chapel that Leonardo didn’t think much of sculptors, comparing them to bakers, always covered in dust, which may have upset Michelangelo who, in spite of his frescoes, always regarded himself as a sculptor.

    • 100swallows says:

      Miguel (St Oberose): Thanks, Miguel, for this and your other comments. I haven’t read King’s book but his idea that Leonardo “didn’t think much of sculptors” comes from one of Leonardo’s notebook entries. But there he compares the work of the two kinds of artists, not the artists.

      “The sculptor in creating his work does so by the strength of his arm or the strokes of his hammer…a most mechanical exercise often accompanied by much perspiration which mingling with grit turns into mud. His face is smeared all over with marble powder so that he looks like a baker, and he is covered with a snow-storm of chips, and his house is dirty and filled with flakes and stone dust.
      “How different the painter’s lot…for the painter sits in front of his work at perfect ease. He is well-dressed and moves a very light brush dipped in delicate color. He adorns himself with the clothes he fancies; his home is clean and filled with delightful pictures and he often is accompanied by music or by the reading of various beautiful works to which he can listen with great pleasure without the interference of hammering and other noises.” (from the Arundel M.S. In the British Museum., trans. Irma Richter)

      Leonardo seems to be describing himself and his own comfortable accommodations and so confirms Vasari’s presentation of him as a sybarite. In fact he sounds like some fastidious señorito with a fear of hard work and discomfort. That he looks down on sculptors is another matter, though it is easily inferred. You can imagine Michelangelo’s reaction to this notebook entry if he had read it. Of course Michelangelo liked fine clothes and “delightful” pictures too but those weren’t his priority.

  12. Masaccio says:

    @100swallows: there are no written comments by Leonardo on Michelangelo’s understanding and interpretation of anatomy, but in ‘Trattato della Pittura’* he severely criticised those artists who do not take account of the differences between each human bodies and depict all the same way. Some think he might be referring (also) to Michelangelo and his followers.

    *Volume 1, part 2, paragraph 75.

    • Michaelangelo’s knowledge of human anatomy was tremendous, though, and he’s calculated to have used some 800 anatomical points in his figures, some so recondite modern medicine still hasn’t given names to these tiny little bits of the human body. I look at his figures, at his frescos say, and I don’t see the same body repeated ad infinitum.

    • 100swallows says:

      Massaccio and Miguel(St. Oberose): I have at hand only a selection of Leonardo’s writings and my book doesn’t include the section where he talks about artists that make all their figures look alike. Of course both he and Michelangelo were trying to come up with not only general laws but ideal ones, and, in their art, the endless variations of individual models are, precisely, ignored. In his imagined works, the virgins, saints, and angels, there is a sameness about the features of Leonardo’s figures too. Though I can understand his impatience with seeing so many figures without more individuality than those that are part of some sculptural decoration of a stairs or a wall. Michelangelo of course would have said he was leaving individuality to the portrait artists; that he was speaking about symbols of mankind.

      • Masaccio says:

        Here’s the passage I mentioned, both in Italian and in English, translated (quite well, though he added a sentence which is not part of the original text: “which are all existing in Nature in its most perfect state”) by John Francis Rigaud:

        -Delle varietà delle figure.
        Il pittore deve cercare d’essere universale, perché gli manca assai dignità se fa una cosa bene e l’altra male: come molti che solo studiano nel nudo misurato e proporzionato, e non ricercano la sua varietà; perché può un uomo essere proporzionato ed esser grosso e corto o lungo e sottile o mediocre, e chi di questa varietà non tien conto fa sempre le sue figure in stampa, che pare che sieno tutte sorelle, la qual cosa merita grande riprensione.

        -Variety in Figures.
        A painter ought to aim at universal excellence; for he will be greatly wanting in dignity, if he do one thing well and another badly, as many do, who study only the naked figure, measured and proportioned by a pair of compasses in their hands, and do not seek for variety. A man may be well proportioned, and yet be tall or short, large or lean, or of a middle size; and whoever does not make great use of these varieties, which are all existing in Nature in its most perfect state, will produce figures as if cast in one and the same mould, which is highly reprehensible.

        This only wants to be a little factual contribution to this interesting post. I personally don’t believe Leonardo meant to criticize Michelangelo’s skills — art historians love gossiping as much as anybody else, unfortunately.

        • 100swallows says:

          Masaccio: Thanks very much for posting this. It’s hard to know which painters Leonardo was referring to, but “lesser” ones than Michelangelo, surely. I always imagined that it was Michelangelo’s personality that put Leonardo off, not his work. Leonardo must have recognized the quality and originality of it. He might well have been jealous of all the praise the young upstart was getting, and what was worse, getting deservedly.

  13. dorisfiebig says:

    hi, i nominated you for the dragon’s loyalty award, http://zbrushfun.wordpress.com/2013/12/02/dragons-loyalty-award/, since i love your blog, in particluar the parts about michelangelo and bernini, not only the posts are great, but also the discussions after the post are very interesting to read. thanks.

    • 100swallows says:

      Dorisfiebig: Thanks very much. I’m glad you like the blog and I appreciate your nomination for the award. Just now, however, I have to decline the invitation to participate because of a very heavy work load and no time. I enjoyed seeing your blog and wish you much luck with it. Later I will have a look at your other choices for the prize. Kind regards from 100swallows

  14. KDR says:

    My suggestion: Read Irving Stone’s masterpiece on Michelangelo: “The Agony and the Ecstasy.” In that book, you shall find everything explained regarding the two artists.

    Everything said and done, there was no one comparable to Michelangelo in his time and place.

    • 100swallows says:

      KDR: Thanks. That’s a work of fiction. In order to make his characters, the author goes way beyond what is known. He has some good insights but I can never get far into the story without objecting to his license everywhere.

      • KDR says:

        The fictional part deals with the narrative on the psychology and private lives of the subjects in the book. The encounters between Michelangelo and Leonardo (which is a small part of the book, but informative, and that is the topic and therefore concern of this section), remain historically accurate, even if (and I may be wrong) the settings where those encounters occur, are fictional, and even if, the book itself is fictional.

        Nonetheless, allow me to point out that Stone used many of Michelangelo’s letters (Michelangelo’s correspondence of 495 letters, translated from Italian by Charles Speroni and published in 1962 as I, Michelangelo, Sculptor) lived and worked in Italy for a number of years, conducted research from from third-party scholars regarding the personal details and artistic achievements of the life of Michelangelo.

        So, while the book is an attempt to offer a very honest and accurate biography of Michelangelo, to compel readers and to bring the man alive, he had to rely on fiction to tell the story. As it stood, when the book was published, there were already numerous biographies of Michelangelo in existence, but by putting a biography in novel format and creating the character of Michelangelo, it can be argued that this combination of historical accuracy and fiction presents readers with what becomes, ultimately, a more readable and understandable account of a very complex man and sheds light on historical and social circumstances in a first-person manner rather than the cold or distant perspective of a historian.

        Therefore, merely dismissing the book (overwrought as parts of the narration may be) as a mere work of fiction, without taking into account the careful scrutiny and the letters that played their role is rather rash.

        Anyhow, I’m not here to defend Stone and his work, only to point out what’s written about Michelangelo and Leonardo in the book, and that is testified by not only Stone, but other biographers as well, including Giorgio Vasari.

        I hope this helps.

        • 100swallows says:

          KDR: Thanks again for your comment. As far I know, there are no recorded encounters between Michelangelo and Leonardo besides the one I mention in the post by an anonymous author. In Michelangelo’s letters there are none. Vasari speaks only of their intense dislike. I assume that if Michael Hirst had found any news in his latest biography, which includes information in letters written to and about Michelangelo, he would have included it. Leonardo scholars may have dug up something.

          It is a tempting idea to fictionalize Michelangelo’s story. Like others, I myself have sometimes toyed with the idea. There is in Stone’s book much interesting information (a bit too much for the average reader, especially in the beginning), which adds to the realism. But the moment he thinks for Michelangelo, he is not Michelangelo but Irving Stone, an honest but not a great enough writer for the task (not that it can or should be done at all).

          In any case, why read a novel? I would advise people to read the Vasari and Condivi biographies and to buy those letters and begin to form their own idea of the great man. Those biographies are “the horse’s mouth”, written by men who knew and worked with Michelangelo. Certainly their account comes closer to “historical accuracy” than anything a modern writer living 500 years after the events, no matter how much research he does, and how much he sounds to himself like Michelangelo, can provide. Even as entertainment they are as good.

  15. KDR says:

    Thanks 100 swallows for the reply.

    Regarding the encounter you mention, it goes something like this:

    Michelangelo was passing the Santa Trinità Church and saw a group of men talking on the benches in front of the Spina Bank House. They were discussing a passage from Dante, of which Michelangelo recognized the lines as coming Canto XI of the Inferno

    “Philosophy”, my master answered me,
    “To him who understands it, demonstrates
    How nature takes her course, not only from
    Wisdom divine, but from its art as well.
    And if you read with care your books of physics,
    After the first few pages, you will find
    That art, as best it can, doth follow nature,
    As pupil follows master.”

    “Here is Michelangelo,” said da Vinci; “he will interpret the verses,”
    Michelangelo looked so much the laborer returning home from his day-long tasks that some of the younger admirers around Leonardo laughed.

    “Explain them yourself,” Michelangelo retorted, blaming Leonardo for the laughter. “You who made a model of a horse to be cast in bronze, and to your shame had to leave it unfinished!”

    Leonardo’s face turned a flaming red.
    “I was not mocking you, I asked in earnest. It is not my fault if these others laughed.”

    There’s no doubt that there was an element of envy in from Michelangelo toward Leonardo, but I’m sure it went the other way around as well. When Michelangelo sculpted his giant, the David, he was the talk and boast of Florence. He felt all his hard-work and misery had finally paid off. However, his elation was short lived when Leonardo depicted his painting The Battle of Anghiari that was on the eastern wall of the Great Hall, in Florence. The Florentine’s had a new hero. He had recently painted the Mona Lisa, and the they were after him to pay homage to their city by providing a painting of equal beauty. This was the Battle of Anghiari.

    But Michelangelo wasn’t to be so easily usurped. He sought and received the commission to paint on the other side of the Great Hall, next to Leo’s painting. This turned out to be the Battle of Cascina or the Bathers. When completed, Raphael Sanzio or simply Raphael, who Michelangelo liked immediately upon meeting and who was still not two and twenty years old, a nephew of Antonio Sangallo, and an apprentice of Pietro Perugino, spoke no word for hours after he saw the painting. Finally, he stated:

    “This makes painting a wholly different art. I shall have to start back at the beginning. Even what I have learned from Leonardo, is no longer sufficient.”

    Perugino on the other hand, called the painting “beastly” and stated:

    “Give a wild animal a brush, and he would do the same. You will destroy us…all we have spent a lifetime to create!”

    Sick at heart, Michelangelo could only murmur, “Perugino why do you attack me? I admire your work…”

    “My work! How dare you speak of my work in the presence of this…this filthiness! In my work I have manners, taste, repeatability! If my work is painting, then yours is not. It is a debauchery, every square inch of it.”

    Raphael, later comes over to defend his master: “I came to apologize for my friend and teacher. He’s had a shock and is now ill…”

    “Why did he attack me?”

    “Can’t you see? When he saw the Bathers, he felt exactly as I did: that this was a different world of painting, that one had to start over. For me, this was a challenge; it opened my eyes to how much more exciting an art I had entered than I had suspected. But I am not yet twenty-two. I have life before me. Perugino is fifty-five; he can never start over. This work of yours will make his art old-fashioned.”

    All the above is taken from “The Agony and the Ecstasy.” I doubt Stone would have created a part fictional in such measure and scope as above, and taken such liberties with the characters of great artists like Raphael and Perugino. It’s parts like these that make the book worth reading. It’s a book. You can choose what you please, and discard what you please, especially if you know what’s real and what’s fictional. Stone doesn’t hide the fact that there are parts which are fiction.

    So, why not read a novel? When you’ve exhausted every good biography out there, Stone’s version isn’t about to change your already fixed perceptions on Michelangelo. Probably add to them if anything, and if not, so what? It is still a book filled with historical truth, even if certain events and characters are fictional. Therefore it is useful, and did I say interesting. It all depends on how you approach the book. Approaching it the manner in which you do, I wouldn’t want to read it either.

    But to each his own I guess.

    • 100swallows says:

      Thanks. Let readers compare the actual anonymous text at the beginning of my post with this elaboration by Stone and decide whether they approve of additions like these:

      …Michelangelo looked so much the laborer returning home from his day-long tasks that some of the younger admirers around Leonardo laughed…

      …of which Michelangelo recognized the lines as coming Canto XI of the Inferno…

      …“I was not mocking you, I asked in earnest. It is not my fault if these others laughed.”…

      If so, let them enjoy his book.

    • Masaccio says:

      That book, “The Agony and the Ecstasy”, must be a joke — at least from a historical point of view. Michelangelo’s fresco ‘The Battle of Cascina’ never existed; the good Buonarroti only produced the full-size preliminary drawing (called ‘cartone’). So Raffaello’s praise and Perugino’s criticism are an invention of Mr Stone.

  16. Meena says:

    Actually the book refers to the cartoon, not the painting. The painting was meant to go up the Great Wall, but Michelangelo never completed it, being commissioned by Pope Julius II to come to Rome to work on his tomb. Raphael and Perugino make their respective statements looking at the preliminary. It also mentions that he completed the cartoon in 3 months, while a really good painter would have easily needed 6 months to a year. Furthermore, the painting was done when Michelangelo was only 30, making it one of his first attempts in years.

    Therefore, Raphael’s praise and Perugino’s criticism are authentic. Research it, if you don’t think so [or read the book :)]

    I prefer the Vasari biography myself, but you can’t really compare the two works. One is a historical biography and the other a biographical novel. Stone’s work is interesting if you’re perfectly aware of what is creation and what is fact.

    • Masaccio says:

      “When completed, Raphael Sanzio or simply Raphael, [...] spoke no word for hours after he saw the painting.”

      “This makes painting a wholly different art.”

      “Perugino on the other hand, called the painting “beastly” [...]”

      If Stone was referring to a drawing and not a painting, he did quite a bad job. Please give some proof (the book alone isn’t one) that the reaction of Raffalello and Perugino, and the dialogue with Michelangelo are historically accurate. I haven’t found anything on the subject, nor in Italian or in English. Thank you.

  17. Meena says:

    …are you serious ?? Who are you? I believe the part that’s written in there…I don’t need to research it just to prove it to you…how arrogant!

    More importantly, what makes your opinion so valid? ….he did quite a bad job??

    Why don’t you research it for me and find out if that particular part is creation or fact? To do that you would have to have access to the thousands of materials Stone did…including scholars on Michelangelo, who aided him in his work.

    Just because you cannot find anyone else quote it, doesn’t make it unreal!

    It’s hard to imagine how people are so quick to judge when they haven’t even read the material. They just simply pass it all of as fiction and a waste of time, based on word of mouth. And if you do appreciate Michelangelo, and have read every other Michelangelo bio out there…you would also appreciate this book it for what it’s worth….entertainment, and historical truth.

    You call the book a joke…and for what? It would have been a joke had Stone tried to pass it off as all fact and no fiction…but he worked within the realm of the biographical novel (do you know what that means?)

    Get enlightened.

    Thanks.

    • Masaccio says:

      I’m not here to argue. The problem is you want to believe that what’s written in that book it’s true, you don’t really care whether those are actually facts. You’ve decided that your hero, Mr. Stone in this case, is right. End of story.

      In that excerpt the word ‘painting’ occurs several times; strange way of referring to a drawing, don’t you think? That’s why I said the author did ‘quite a bad job’. It wasn’t a provocation. One shouldn’t talk about apples using the word ‘oranges’.

      Who am I? I’m someone who has respect for great artists like Michelangelo, Raffaello and Perugino, someone who has read a lot about them. And I care about real knowledge.

      Please, let’s not spoil this interesting site with unnecessary fantasies. If you know that episode really happened, prove it by citing more reliable sources, and we’ll all be grateful to you. But if you can’t, please stop insisting — well, you can continue, but I won’t answer anymore.

      • 100swallows says:

        Masaccio: Thanks for your comments. Though I can’t really condemn Stone for writing a novel about Michelangelo, I cringe like you all the time at his liberties and inventions. Probably the more one knows about Michelangelo, the more it hurts to see someone walking around calling himself Michelangelo and fooling everyone.

        • Meena says:

          Masaccio: It’s a shame you fail to grasp what you read. It’s so simple to come off and state things like, “you want to believe everything is true…yada yada”, but you don’t pay attention when you read that the book is a blend of creation and fiction. You get it? It’s already been stated!

          You say you’re someone who has great respect for artists like Michelangelo, Raphael, Perugino…that truly makes you unique on this website does it? If you really do have respect for such great artists, then at least learn from them to have a little originality, and read something before you pass upon it so ruthless a judgement. Don’t go forming your opinions based on what the “art circles” say, being content to take everything by word of mouth. Have the courage to judge for yourself, after you’ve taken the energy and work to review.

          You call Stone my hero….very mature, is that what you get from my argument? My argument has nothing to do with Stone, but everything to do with self-righteousness and banality.

          I guess it’s even more mature to so easily pour water upon one man’s years of hard work, without so much as caring to review the piece first.

          It’s good you won’t reply…that would save me the time it takes to read and formulate an answer to educate your ignorant excuse for an opinion….

          100Swallows: No disrespect. You have a wonderful site here, and I hope to continue as an admirer. The material is great.

          But I must say, when you differentiate yourself as such a pure lover of Michelangelo, that it arouses your poor sensitivities when someone writes something about Michelangelo the way Stone does, you sound as fake as the author you so willingly condemn.

          The most inane aspect is to vilify a writer who has never pretended to have written a book based on pure fact. It’s so easy to become a puritan, but in your case it counts for nothing, cause it’s based on nothing. You haven’t even gotten through the book…that’s cool, you don’t have to, but at least keep your opinions to yourself until you have. Otherwise you end up sounding no different that someone who hates science because of the creation of the atom bomb.

          Anyways, like my good friend Masaccio, I too am done with this. There’s other more interesting aspects to this site,

          It was said earlier…to each his own…I guess if that’s ever made sense, it makes sense here…

          Your two pennies are welcome, just don’t expect any back…

          Thank you.

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