Baldassare del Milanese, the merchant who peddled the Cupid, knew very well how to make use of Michelangelo’s talent.
He took the Cupid straight to Cardinal San Giorgio’s palace. The Cardinal was a famous collector of antiques and always on the lookout for the real thing.
“This is not only one of the best Roman statues ever found,” the merchant told him, “it is certainly the best preserved. Look at it, Eminence: not a nick, not a scratch.” Here he cleaned away for the excited Cardinal some of the dirt and grass he or Michelangelo had plugged into a few of the recesses.
“Oh, even if it were missing a toe or a whole arm I wouldn’t mind!” exclaimed the Cardinal, a real connoisseur. “I can’t believe the craftsmanship. Those old sculptors really knew their business.”
Considering the rarity of the piece (and the Cardinal’s disposition) the merchant must have set the price at four or five hundred ducats. Then he let the old Cardinal, an experienced haggler, bring him down to two hundred. The Cardinal, taking no chances, had him paid right there on the spot.
The merchant sent Michelangelo thirty ducats. “Things didn’t go as well as I had expected,” he wrote him. “The Cardinal said he already has more antique marbles than he knows what to do with; and anyway right now he is up to his neck in debt. The most I could get from him—and not even that was easy!—was forty ducats. I know this is disappointing; I’ve decided to send you thirty ducats and to take only ten for myself instead of the 40% we had agreed on. I think we were just unlucky. In another moment we might have gotten three times that.”
See Was Michelangelo Crooked? (Part 3) and learn how the fraud was discovered and what the Cardinal did.