Was Michelangelo a Republican?

Where did he stand politically?
All his life he had to watch his mouth. And his biographers had to watch their pens. Because Michelangelo was a republican, at least as regarded his own city of Florence.

He may already have started to be one while, as an adolescent, he was living with Lorenzo the Magnificent, an enlightened despot. The men at the Duke’s palace certainly had no sympathy for a government by the people. But Michelangelo slipped away to hear the incendiary sermons of Savonarola.

The Medici were driven out of Florence and Michelangelo was commissioned by the new republican “mayor” to sculpt a colossal David.

Michelangelo’s David photo by Rico Heil ((User:Silmaril) under GNU Free Documentation License here

Why a David?
“This was intended as a symbol of liberty for the Palace, signifying that just as David had protected his people and governed them justly, so whoever ruled Florence should vigorously defend the city and govern it with justice,” says Vasari. He worked for the Medici and so gave a flexible interpretation of “liberty”. In fact, he probably believed that people had the right only to just rule, not necessarily to self rule. Maybe Michelangelo agreed with him.

The Medici were just too powerful to be kept out of Florence and they came back with fire and sword. Michelangelo had to lie low while Alessandro de Medici’s secret service tried to murder him for his role in the defense of the city during the siege. Alessandro was, according to a contemporary historian, “a creature who would have disgraced even the deadliest epochs of Roman villainy.” Michelangelo left Florence for good, heartbroken, disgusted.

When Alessandro was assassinated, one of the Medici family who was glad he was gone commissioned this marble bust of Brutus from Michelangelo.
Who was Brutus? The great tyrannicide, of course, the man who (with others) assassinated Julius Caesar.


Brutus by Michelangelo. Source here

The bust isn’t one of Michelangelo’s best works. It is unfinished but its limitations are already far along. The philosopher Schopenhauer believed a man’s character was visible in his face but probably he would have insisted on a living man’s face. In any case, the real problem is in knowing how to read it. The harmonious features of this Brutus, plus a little frown of intransigence, don’t seem enough to make the bust articulate as propaganda or important as psychology.

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This entry was posted in art, art history, great artists, Michelangelo, Renaissance, Savonarola, sculpture, stone carving. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Was Michelangelo a Republican?

  1. Fascinating! Thank you for this!

  2. wpm1955 says:

    I’m beginning to wonder if you believe in reincarnation. I’m seriously beginning to wonder if you lived int he time of these artists and knew them yourself, you write so convincingly of their character, like you know them really well. Fascinating, as always.

    Madame Monet
    Writing, Painting, Music, and Wine
    winewriter.wordpress.com

  3. wrjones says:

    I agree with Madame Monet. You seem to know these people. Maybe you should take a break from those library tomes and go outside for an exercise walk.

  4. 100swallows says:

    Just when I was contemplating an ocean cruise, you come back from one and recommend a walk in the country, Bill. I do go for walks, by the way. I take my tomes along, of course. Pull them behind me in little school cart.

  5. 100swallows says:

    I knew most of them, Madame Monet. Velazquez I met at a bullfight in 1630 or so, and Michelangelo gave me a recommendation for art school. Benvenuto Cellini gave me a tour of the San Angelo castle in Rome which I’ll never forget. Who needs reincarnation?

  6. Pingback: Art History » Blog Archive » Was Michelangelo a Republican?

  7. Aryul says:

    It would have been great to see the master at work. Btw happy new year 100swallows.

  8. 100swallows says:

    Yes, Aryul–me too. But he probably wouldn’t have let us stand there and watch. He didn’t even allow his friend Vasari to do that. Happy New Year to you, too.

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