« AnteriorContinuar »
COMPLETION OF THE SIXTINE,
says Vasari, “rushed to the Sixtine. Julius was there first, before the dust from the falling scaffolding was laid, and said mass in the chapel the same day.”
The success was immense; Bramante, seeing that his vile plot, far from succeeding, had only increased the fame of Michelangelo, who had come forth in triumph fron, the snare which he had laid for him, begged the Pope to give Raphael the other half of the chapel to do. Julius, however, kept to his resolution, despite his desire to please the architect, and after a short interval Michelangelo resumed the painting of the vault; but rumours of these intrigues came to his ears ; he went to the Pope with bitter complaints of Bramante's conduct towards him, and no doubt the coolness between him and Raphael dated from this time.
The second, and by far the most considerable part of the vault was not finished till 1512, and it is difficult to understand how Vasari could say that this enormous undertaking was finished in twenty months. He seems to have confused the dates, to have referred to the whole that which only applies to the first half. It is marvel enough that Michelangelo could finish so gigantic a work in four years, there is no need to excite still greater astonishment by trying to make out that it was completed in an utterly impossible space of time.
The impatience of Julius was so great that he almost fell out with Michelangelo a second time. The artist wanted to go to Florence on business, and went to ask for money. "When will you finish my chapel ?” said the Pope. “As
“ soon as I can," replied Michelangelo.
66 As soon as I can, as soon as I can—why, I'll pitch you off your scaffold,” cried the irascible Pontiff, giving him a slight blow with his stick. Michelangelo went home, packed up his things, and was on
the point of starting off, when the Pope sent his favourite Accursio to him with his apologies and 500 ducats.
Again Michelangelo could not finish his work as completely as he wished. He wanted to touch it up when it was dry. But when the scaffolding was once down, he contented himself with leaving it as it was. He said that what was wanting to the figures was immaterial. “You must put in a little gilding,” said the Pope. “My chapel will look poor."
“The people I have painted on it were poor,” replied Michel| angelo, and no alteration was made.
These paintings of the Sixtine vault are beyond description. How could one give any idea of those numberless and sublime figures to those who have not quailed and trembled in this temple of wonders? The unrivalled grandeur of Michelangelo shines forth even in the chapel which contains the pictures of Ghirlandaio, of Signorelli, which pale before those of the Florentine, as the light of a lamp under that of the sun. Raphael painted his wonderful Sibyls of the Pace about the same time, and under the influence of what he had seen in the Sixtine : compare them! He also, no doubt, attained to the highest regions of art in some of his orks,the St. Paul at Hampton Court,' the Vision of Ezekiel, the Virgin of the Dresden Museum,- but what was the exception with Sanzio was the rule with the great Buonarroti. Michelangelo had glimpses of a world which is not this. His daring and unlooked-for flights of fancy are so far above and outside the ordinary range of human thought, that they repel by their very sublimity, and are far from captivating ordinary minds like the marvellous and charming creations of the painter of Urbino. It is important however to combat the widespread opinion
Now in the South Kensington Museum.
that Michelangelo comprehended only extravagant ideas, and could only express them by exaggerated and contorted movements. His figures possess the highest qualities of art, originality, sublimity of style, breadth and skill in outline, precision, and harmony of colour, and that character so striking in the Sixtine pictures, which precludes a thought of the painter. That portentous sky seems as if it must have come thus peopled with its giant forms, and it requires an effort of thought to imagine a creator of so sublime a work. All this is conceded, but he is refused the knowledge of grace, of beauty in its youth and brightness, of form which expresses tender and delicate feelings, such as the divine pencil of kaphael has so wonderfully represented. I allow that Michelangelo took little pains to please, and that his stern genius delighted only in the gravest thought; but I do not acknowledge that he was a stranger to grace and beauty, especially in women. Not to mention the Virgin of the Academy in London, or, in another style, the wonderful Captive of the Louvre ; without leaving the Sixtine, what more marvellous vision of beauty could appear in dreams than that Adam opening his eyes upon the light for the first time? What more chaste, more graceful, more lovely than the youthful form of that Eve bending towards her Creator and drawing from his half-open lips the divine breath which gives her life? What is the meaning of that work so full of terror ? What is the meaning of that long unrolling of human destiny? Why did those two beings whom we see beautiful and happy in the beginning people the earth with that passionate and restless race, gigantic yet powerless? Ah ! Greece would have made of that vault an Olympus inhabited by forms happy and godlike ! (Michelangelo has peopled it with beings grand and unhappy, and this mournful poem of humanity is truer than the marvellous fictions of ancient Poetry and Art. “ Michelangelo,” Condivi tells us, was a special admirer of Dante. Moreover, he devoted himself diligently to reading the Holy Scriptures and the writings of Savonarola, for whom he always entertained great affection, retaining even the remembrance of his mighty voice.” On the other hand, the native land of the great Florentine, the glorious. Italy of the Renaissance, was on the eve of dissolution. Such studies, such memories, such mournful realities, may interpret the visions which passed through the mind of the great artist during the four years of almost complete solitude which he passed in the Sixtine. The precise meaning of his compositions will probably escape us, but so long as man exists, they will draw the spirit towards the dim world of fancy, and this is the end of art.
The year which followed the opening of the Sixtine, and which preceded the death of Julius, seems, like the two first of the Pontificate of Leo X., to have been among the happiest and calmest of Michelangelo's life. The old Pope loved him “ with an anxiety and jealousy," says Condivi, " which he had for no one else about him.” He honoured his integrity, and even that independence of character of which he had more than once had proof. Michelangelo, on his part, overlooked that rough treatment which was so promptly and perfectly atoned for. His sight, weakened by that four years' incessant work, compelled him to rest almost entirely. necessity," says Vasari, "for always looking upwards during the time of his work, had so weakened his sight, that for several months afterwards he could not see a drawing nor read a letter without holding it over his head." He enjoyed unrivalled fame in that period of semi-repose which succeeds a mighty effort. Probably all his thoughts at this time were