My sources for almost all the material here were the two biographies by Michelangelo’s friends Vasari and Condivi, and, in addition to his poems, his complete letters, translated into English by E. H. Ramsden.
Since Michelangelo’s death, and especially in recent years, scholars have discovered many documents that support or alter the traditional versions of Michelangelo’s life and work which those old sources treated.
Michael Hirst has compiled them for the English reader in his Volume I: Michelangelo, the Achievement of Fame (1475- 1534), Yale University Press, 2011.
“The impetus to write a new biography of Michelangelo,” he writes in the introduction, “ is directly related to the emergence of much revised and new material concerning the artist, his life and work. The most notable event has been the publication of five volumes of his correspondence (1965-1983) which includes not only letters written by him but also those addressed to him…
“This corpus was supplemented by the publication of a further two volumes, generally referred to as the Carteggio indiretto (1988-1995), which contain valuable material previously scattered and difficult to locate.
“A final invaluable book, containing the artist’s contracts, appeared in 2005….
“Already in 1970 there had appeared the complete publication of Michelangelo’s Ricordi, a book of more than four hundred pages, many of which, following a well-established Florentine tradition, are concerned with the details of his financial life.
“A further invaluable resource is the collection of Giovanni Poggi’s papers.”
Hirst’s work is a much needed compilation of the new material but it is not the best introduction to Michelangelo and his work. It should rather be read as a complement to the traditional sources. As to style and treatment, Hirst’s entries often read like notes at the back of a book rather than the book itself. The scholar’s task, after all, is to collate facts rather than to draw conclusions about them or make broad or personal judgments. Consequently the book cannot engage the reader who is new to the life of Michelangelo like those by his friends and enthusiasts, however unobjective.
Yet, the facts Hirst discusses do alter the traditional image of Michelangelo, both for better and for worse. They round him out better. They often tattle on him. Perhaps at the end of his second volume Hirst will highlight the greatest alterations to the Michelangelo saga made by the “new” material of his book.