Michelangelo, a Tuscan wit

“Your lordship sends word that I have to paint without any doubt: I reply that people should paint using their brain and not only their hands, and those who haven’t got their brain, discredit themselves: and I will have done a good job only when my work will be ready.” (Michelangelo Buonarroti, letter to the prelate who urged him for painting the Cappella Paolina in Rome).

Could we expect a better warning than this from an artist? Each action, word, gesture, thought and decision is controlled and directed by brain… As I promised you last time, here I am to talk you again about Michelangelo, one of the greatest man who has ever lived, who thousands of books, monographs and unknown works have already written about. There’s not much left to say then about that man who was, first of all, a man like everyone else, a son of his land, or better, of our land more than we could expect.

I could talk you about his life, his biography, but hundreds of books and critics (more or less influential) have already gushed over; I could comment over his works and his artistic genius, but I think there’s nothing new left to say (or, as we use to say where I live “he has been commented in every possible sauce – which stands for way!). So I would like to draw Michelangelo as all Tuscans’ forefather, a compatriot of times gone by who, however, is still in everyone’s heart.

Before considering Michelangelo the Tuscan wit as the man who gave humanity a peerless, rich heritage, we should think over him as a son of his city, Florence, and his time. Florence is what he considered his mother, who he addressed with lovely epithets to: Florence was his nurisher, his precious joy, “the nest where I was born”. Although his hometown was Caprese, he belonged to a family that was once a noble, Florentine family holding government positions till when fell into disgrace and Lodovico, Michelangelo‘s father, was forced to accept the charge of judicial administrator of Caprese (a small town near Arezzo), so that his family could enjoy a dignified life. Even if his family kept noble rules and traditions alive, Michelangelo felt at ease with common people instead of high society, and with no doubt the fact that he went to live with a nurse in the town of Settignano after his birth, had a relevant influence on that. Settignano was a little village near Florence, well known for its main activity of stone-cutting (in the village there was plenty of that pietra serena which had always been used for Florence massive buildings) and, according to Michelangelo, he had drunk “milk with marble powder thus receiving, or better sucking the knack of handling chisel and hammer”.

Not even his volunteer exile in Rome, as Michelangelo, at the end of his life, considered the thirty years he spent there, kept him far away from Florence: he was always homesick, he used to keep track of the political issues and, like any good Florentine, he was as much proud of his land as critical towards it and his countrymen, if needed. Rumors has it even that he preferred to stay with those Florentine exiles that he used to meet in Rome instead of striking up new friendships, and that he didn’t drink any wine but that coming from Florence (who knows if he simply wanted to enjoy his homeland tastes or if he didn’t like Roman wines – as a matter of fact, there is not yet parallel to our Chianti wine!). And that’s not all: he even preferred his boys came from Florence, instead of relying in Romans, who he didn’t trust in (Urbe is a Latin way which stands for Rome).

In a few words, Florence represented his guardian angel and his muse at the same time: as it happens to all human beings, his life experiences had a great influences on his works, his ideas, his way to relate to art and to what it represented to him, on the depiction of all those characters he brought to life in his artistic world. But we can state with no doubt that Florence was mainly his teacher and guide: thanks to his city, Michelangelo got in touch with art even before being apprenticed to Ghirlandaio‘s brothers when he was just thirteen. Through its churches and frescoes, Florence showed him the beauty of art: he was so fascinated and seduced by this new world that instead of going to grammar school, he preferred copying paintings from churches.

But however, would it be really possible to resist the charm of the beautiful Fiorenza (as it would be called using an alternative, but a little bit desuete spelling)?


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