SOMETIMES in a crowd of people one sees a tall man,
who stands head and shoulders higher than any one
else, and who can look far over the heads of ordinary-
'What a giant!' we exclaim, as we gaze up and see
him towering above us.
So among the crowd of painters travelling along
the road to Fame we see above the rest a giant,
a greater and more powerful genius than any that
came before or after him. When we hear the name
of Michelangelo we picture to ourselves a great
rugged, powerful giant, a veritable son of thunder,
who, like the Titans of old, bent every force of Nature
to his will.
This Michelangelo was born at Caprese among the
mountains of Casentino. His father, Lodovico
Buonarroti, was podesta or mayor of Caprese, and came
of a very ancient and honourable family, which had
often distinguished itself in the service of Florence.
Now the day on which the baby was born happened
to be not only a Sunday, but also a morning when
the stars were especially favourable. So the wise
men declared that some heavenly virtue was sure
to belong to a child born at that particular time, and
without hesitation Lodovico determined to call his
 little son Michael Angelo, after the archangel Michael.
Surely that was a name splendid enough to adorn
any great career.
It happened just then that Lodovico's year of
office ended, and so he returned with his wife and
child to Florence. He had a property at Settignano,
a little village just outside the city, and there he
Most of the people of the village were stone-
cutters, and it was to the wife of one of these
labourers that little Michelangelo was sent to be
nursed. So in after years the great master often
said that if his mind was worth anything, he owed
it to the clear pure mountain air in which he was
born, just as he owed his love of carving stone to
the unconscious influence of his nurse, the stone-
As the boy grew up he clearly showed in what
direction his interest lay. At school he was something
of a dunce at his lessons, but let him but have
a pencil and paper and his mind was wide awake
at once. Every spare moment he spent making
sketches on the walls of his father's house.
But Lodovico would not hear of the boy becoming
an artist. There were many children to provide for,
and the family was not rich. It would be much
more fitting that Michelangelo should go into the
silk and woollen business and learn to make money.
But it was all in vain to try to make the boy see
the wisdom of all this. Scold as they might, he
cared for nothing but his pencil, and even after he
was severely beaten he would creep back to his
 beloved work. How he envied his friend Francesco
who worked in the shop of Master Ghirlandaio! It
was a joy even to sit and listen to the tales of the
studio, and it was a happy day when Francesco
brought some of the master's drawings to show to
his eager friend.
Little by little Lodovico began to see that there
was nothing for it but to give way to the boy's wishes,
and so at last, when he was fourteen years old,
Michelangelo was sent to study as a pupil in the studio
of Master Ghirlandaio.
It was just at the time when Ghirlandaio was
painting the frescoes of the chapel in Santa Maria Novella,
and Michelangelo learned many lessons as he watched
the master at work, or even helped with the less
But it was like placing an eagle in a hawk's nest.
The young eagle quickly learned to soar far higher
than the hawk could do, and ere long began to
'sweep the skies alone.'
It was not pleasant for the great Florentine
master, whose work all men admired, to have his
drawings corrected by a young lad, and perhaps
Michelangelo was not as humble as he should have
been. In the strength of his great knowledge he
would sometimes say sharp and scornful things, and
perhaps he forgot the respect due from pupil to
Be that as it may, he left Ghirlandaio's studio when
he was sixteen years old, and never had another
master. Thenceforward he worked out his own ideas
in his giant strength, and was the pupil of none.
 The boy Francesco was still his friend, and
together they went to study in the gardens of San
Marco, where Lorenzo the Magnificent had collected
many statues and works of art. Here was a new
field for Michelangelo. Without needing a lesson
he began to copy the statues in terra-cotta, and so
clever was his work that Lorenzo was delighted
'See, now, what thou canst do with marble,' he
said. 'Terra-cotta is but poor stuff to work in.'
Michelangelo had never handled a chisel before,
but he chipped and cut away the marble so marvellously
that life seemed to spring out of the stone.
There was a marble head of an old faun in the
garden, and this Michelangelo set himself to copy.
Such a wonderful copy did he make that Lorenzo
was amazed. It was even better than the original,
for the boy had introduced ideas of his own and had
made the laughing mouth a little open to show the
teeth and the tongue of the faun. Lorenzo noticed
this, and turned with a smile to the young artist.
'Thou shouldst have remembered that old folks
never keep all their teeth, but that some of them
are always wanting,' he said.
Of course Lorenzo meant this as a joke, but
Michelangelo immediately took his hammer and struck out
several of the teeth, and this too pleased Lorenzo
There was nothing that the Magnificent ruler
loved so much as genius, so Michelangelo was received
into the palace and made the companion of Lorenzo's
sons. Not only did good fortune thus smile upon the
 young artist, but to his great astonishment Lodovico
too found that benefits were showered upon him, all
for the sake of his famous young son.
These years of peace, and calm, steady work had the
greatest effect on Michelangelo's work, and he learned
much from the clever, brilliant men who thronged
Lorenzo's court. Then, too, he first listened to that
ringing voice which strove to raise Florence to a
sense of her sins, when Savonarola preached his great
sermons in the Duomo. That teaching sank deep
into the heart of Michelangelo, and years afterwards
he left on the walls of the Sistine Chapel a living
echo of those thundering words.
Like all the other artists, he would often go to
study Masaccio's frescoes in the little chapel of
the Carmine. There was quite a band of young
artists working there, and very soon they began to
look with envious feelings at Michelangelo's drawings,
and their jealousy grew as his fame increased. At
last, one day, a youth called Torriggiano could bear
it no longer, and began to make scornful remarks,
and worked himself up into such a rage that he
aimed a blow at Michelangelo with his fist, which
not only broke his nose but crushed it in such a way
that he was marked for life. He had had a rough,
rugged look before this, but now the crooked nose
gave him almost a savage expression which he never
Changes followed fast after this time of quiet.
Lorenzo the Magnificent died, and his son, the weak
Piero de Medici, tried to take his place as ruler of
Florence. For a time Michelangelo continued to live
 at the court of Piero, but it was not encouraging to
work for a master whose foolish taste demanded
statues to be made out of snow, which, of course,
melted at the first breath of spring.
Michelangelo never forgot all that he owed to
Lorenzo, and he loved the Medici family, but his
sense of justice made him unable to take their part
when trouble arose between them and the Florentine
people. So when the struggle began he left Florence
and went first to Venice and then to Bologna. From
afar he heard how the weak Piero had been driven
out of the city, but more bitter still was his grief
when the news came that the solemn warning voice
of the great preacher Savonarola was silenced for
Then a great longing to see his beloved city again
filled his heart, and he returned to Florence.
Botticelli was a sad, broken-down old man now,
and Ghirlandaio was also growing old, but Florence
was still rich in great artists. Leonardo da Vinci,
Perugino, and Filippino Lippi were all there, and
men talked of the coming of an even greater genius,
the young Raphael of Urbino.
There happened just then to be at the works of the
Cathedral of St. Mary of the Flowers a huge block
of marble which no one knew how to use. Leonardo
da Vinci had been invited to carve a statue out of it,
but he had refused to try, saying he could do nothing
with it. But when the marble was offered to Michelangelo
his eye kindled and he stood for a long time
silent before the great white block. Through the
outer walls of stone he seemed to see the figure
im-  prisoned in the marble, and his giant strength and
giant mind longed to go to work to set that figure
And when the last covering of marble was chipped
and cut away there stood out a magnificent figure of
the young David. Perhaps he is too strong and
powerful for our idea of the gentle shepherd-lad, but
he is a wonderful figure, and Goliath might well have
trembled to meet such a young giant.
People flocked to see the great statue, and many
were the discussions as to where it should be placed.
Artists were never tired of giving their opinion, and
even of criticising the work. 'It seems to me,' said
one, 'that the nose is surely much too large for the
face. Could you not alter that?'
Michelangelo said nothing, but he mounted the
scaffolding and pretended to chip away at the nose
with his chisel. Meanwhile he let drop some marble
chips and dust upon the head of the critic beneath.
Then he came down.
'Is that better?' he asked gravely.
'Admirable!' answered the artist. 'You have
given it life.'
Michelangelo smiled to himself. How wise people
thought themselves when they often knew nothing
about what they were talking! But the critic was
satisfied, and did not notice the smile.
It would fill a book to tell of all the work which
Michelangelo did; but although he began so much, a
great deal of it was left unfinished. If he had lived
in quieter times, his work would have been more
complete; but one after another his patrons died, or
 changed their minds, and set him to work at something
else before he had finished what he was doing.
The great tomb which Pope Julius had ordered
him to make was never finished, although Michelangelo
drew out all the designs for it, and for forty
years was constantly trying to complete it. The
Pope began to think it was an evil omen to build his
own tomb, so he made up his mind that Michelangelo
should instead set to work to fresco the ceiling
of the Sistine Chapel. In vain did the great
sculptor repeat that he knew but little of the art of
'Didst thou not learn to mix colours in the studio
of Master Ghirlandaio?' said Julius. 'Thou hast but
to remember the lessons he taught thee. And,
besides, I have heard of a great drawing of a battle-
scene which thou didst make for the Florentines,
and have seen many drawings of thine, one especially:
a terrible head of a furious old man, shrieking
in his rage, such as no other hand than thine could
have drawn. Is there aught that thou canst not do
if thou hast but the will?'
DRAWING BY MICHAEL ANGELO
And the Pope was right; for as soon as
Michelangelo really made up his mind to do the work, all
difficulties seemed to vanish.
It was no easy task he had undertaken. To stand
upright and cover vast walls with painting is difficult
enough, but Michelangelo was obliged to lie
flat upon a scaffolding and paint the ceiling above
him. Even to look up at that ceiling for ten minutes
makes the head and neck ache with pain, and we
 wonder how such a piece of work could ever have
No help would the master accept, and he had no
pupils. Alone he worked, and he could not bear to
have any one near him looking on. In silence and
solitude he lay there painting those marvellous
frescoes of the story of the Creation to the time of
Noah. Only Pope Julius himself dared to disturb
the master, and he alone climbed the scaffolding and
watched the work.
'When wilt thou have finished?' was his constant
cry. 'I long to show thy work to the world.'
'Patience, patience,' said Michelangelo. 'Nothing
is ready yet.'
'But when wilt thou make an end?' asked the
impatient old man.
'When I can,' answered the painter.
Then the Pope lost his temper, for he was not
accustomed to be answered like this.
'Dost thou want to be thrown head first from the
scaffold?' he asked angrily. 'I tell thee that will
happen if the work is not finished at once.'
So, incomplete as they were, Michelangelo was
obliged to uncover the frescoes that all Rome might
see them. It was many years before the ceiling was
finished or the final fresco of the Last Judgment
painted upon the end wall.
Michelangelo lived to be a very old man, and his
life was lonely and solitary to the end. The one
woman he loved, Vittoria Colonna, had died, and
with her death all brightness for him had faded.
Although he worked so much in Rome, it was always
 Florence that he loved. There it was that he began
the statues for the Chapel of the Medici, and there,
too, he helped to build the defences of San Miniato
when the Medici family made war upon the City of
So when the great man died in Rome it seemed
but fit that his body should be carried back to his
beloved Florence. There it now rests in the Church
of Santa Croce, while his giant works, his great and
terrible thoughts breathed out into marble or flashed
upon the walls of the Sistine Chapel, live on for ever,
filling the minds of men with a great awe and wonder
as they gaze upon them.