“Hey, Raphael,” said the architect Bramante to his buddy and fellow townsman, “would you like to see what Michelangelo has been doing all these months in the Sistine Chapel? He’s gone now, he left for Florence. Nobody is there and I have the key.”
Raphael was an honest, polite man and had his doubts. He was also a gifted artist and had his temptations. There was nothing he would like better. He had seen Michelangelo’s statues but never his painting. “I don’t know if we should,” he said.
“Oh, come on,” said Bramante. “No one will ever know. Michelangelo is a competent sculptor but I would be very surprised if he could paint. That’s your specialty. The Pope should have had you do that ceiling.”
He took the key down from the hook in the wall and started walking towards the chapel. Raphael followed. “Are you sure nobody will see us and tell Michelangelo?”
Bramante never even answered.
Michelangelo’s scaffolding crowded the chapel. “Watch your step,” Bramante told his friend, showing him the way through the forest of beams and the cross-ties on the floor. As soon as he could Raphael looked up. What he saw went right through him but there was no exclamation. Bramante said nothing either. He went for a ladder that was lying next to the wall, stood it up to reach the first crossbar of the scaffolding, and began the climb. Raphael followed as though in a dream. No more hesitation. He had to see those frescoes up close—had to. That had happened to him once before when he saw his first painting by Leonardo da Vinci. Right away he knew that the man was superior to him, had something he didn’t have and would never have. That had happened only once before to Raffaello Sanzio and now here it was happening again. He wasn’t jealous. He only wanted to see and to learn. If he could put some of that magic into his own paintings…..
When Michelangelo returned he noticed that someone had been inside the chapel. He saw that the ladder was not up against the wall as he had left it. And there were other signs. “Nobody but Bramante has the key,” he thought; and cursed him. He didn’t guess that Bramante and Raphael had been there several times and that Raphael had even made sketches of some of the painted figures: the prophets. And it wasn’t until years later, when a caretaker showed Michelangelo the Isaiah by Raphael in the San Agostino church and told him it was painted while he was working on the frescoes of the Sistine that he put two and two together. “This Isaiah looks a little like yours,” the caretaker told him.
“It does indeed,” said Michelangelo; and kept nodding.
Rafael Sanzio’s Isaiah in the church of San Agostino