Thursday, October 27, 2011

Michelangelo's Friend

        Vasari says that not very long before the Last Judgment was finished, Michelangelo fell from the scaffolding, and seriously hurt his leg.  The pain he suffered and his melancholy made him shut himself up at home, where he refused to be treated by a doctor.  There was a Florentine physician in Rome, however, of capricious humor, who admired the arts, and felt a real affection for Buonarroti.  This man  contrived to creep into the house by some privy entrance, and roamed about it till he found the master.  He then insisted upon remaining there on watch and guard until he had affected a complete cure. The name of this excellent friend, famous for his skill and science in those days, was Baccio Rontini.  [1]

        Thereupon Master Baccio Rontini, the Florentine, his friend and a clever doctor, feeling pity for him, went one day and knocked at his door, and receiving no answer, made his way to the room of Michelangelo, who had been given over, and would not leave him until he was cured. [2]

I've grown a goitre by dwelling in this den–
As cats from stagnant streams in Lombardy,
Or in what other land they hap to be–
Which drives the belly close beneath the chin:
My beard turns up to heaven; my nape falls in,
Fixed on my spine: my breast-bone visibly
Grows like a harp: a rich embroidery
Bedews my face from brush-drops thick and thin.
My loins into my paunch like levers grind:
My buttock like a crupper bears my weight;
My feet unguided wander to and fro;
In front my skin grows loose and long; behind,
By bending it becomes more taut and strait;
Crosswise I strain me like a Syrian bow:
Whence false and quaint, I know,
Must be the fruit of squinting brain and eye;
For ill can aim the gun that bends awry.
Come then, Giovanni, try
To succour my dead pictures and my fame;
Since foul I fare and painting is my shame. [3]

Jacopino del Conte, Portrait of Michelangelo (after 1550)


[1]   John Addington Symonds, The Life of Michelangelo Buonarroti (1893).

[2]  Giorgio Vasari, The Lives of the Artist (1550)

[3] Michelangelo Buonarroti, Poem describing painting of the Sistine Chapel (translated by Symonds, 1878).

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