With Paola Angelini of Guided Florence Tours, who expertly guided me to all Michelangelo's hiding places, and who I hope will create her own Time Traveler Tour one day. Her topic: Renaissance women!
I write to you from Florence, Italy, where I am walking in the footsteps of Giants, specifically Michelangelo's and his David. Actually, I’m sort of stumbling about after them. But I’m on their trail, and getting closer all the time.
I'm here to walk the tour route suggested by Mary Hoffman's manuscript for In the Footsteps of Giants and to begin the process of weaving her story into this extraordinary historic place.
I've spent the past year researching the man and his works, his life and his times, in anticipation of reaching this stage in the creation of our next Time Traveler Tour. So I feel oddly close to him as I wander the streets whose names and stories I already know.
Michelangelo was born 6 March 1475 in Caprese, Italy, where his father, Lodovico, was a minor government official. He was sent straight away to a wet nurse in Settignano where his family had a farm and quarry. But at some point, he would have been brought here, for this is where all Catholics in Renaissance Florence were baptized. It's called The Baptistery.
When he was fifteen years old, after spending two years as an apprentice to the painter Domenico Ghirlandiao, Michelangelo was invited to live at the home of his patron, Lorenzo (the Magnificent) de' Medici. Even then, his extraordinary talent was recognized.
He would live in the Medici Palace for two years, until Lorenzo's untimely death in 1492. I went there to see what Michelangelo might have seen on a daily basis, when he came and went from the palace; took a turn in the family garden; ate his meals; hung out with Lorenzo's sons; chatted with some of the greatest thinkers of the day; and meditated in the family chapel.
Check out these images -- which work (or works) of art do you think might have provided inspiration for Michelangelo the artist?
Lorenzo took Michelangelo's studies in hand, providing him both master-teacher as well as the marble he used to carve his earliest original sculptures. The Madonna of the Stairs and Battle of the Centaurs, both reliefs he carved as a teenager, are hanging at the Casa Buonarroti in Florence. I also found there a fanciful sculpture of Michelangelo carving his faun for patron and father-figure, Lorenzo the Magnificent.
You'll learn more about the story behind the making of the faun from Mary's coming tale, In the Footsteps of Giants.
Lorenzo died unexpectedly in 1492, leaving Florence in a state of instability that would last into the next decade. Michelangelo traveled to Venice, Bologna, and finally Rome, seeking commissions. In Rome, he carved his first Pietà for a French Cardinal to the admiration of all.
In 1501, Florence's republican leadership gave him the opportunity to undertake a special civic commission for his native city. They wanted a sculpture symbolizing the triumph of the underdog over a stronger, better equipped foe. They wanted a sculpture that would return civic pride to their city. They wanted an expression of hope as they launched into a new century. They wanted a new interpretation of the story of David.
Michelangelo set to work to create a David such as no one had ever seen before. Drawing from the masterpieces of his forbears, Donatello and Verrocchio, both of whom he admired greatly, he decided to depict David before felling Goliath, while still deep in concentration, contemplating when to load his sling and aim, fearful should he miss his mark with nothing but a stone for ammunition.
The Donatello and Verrocchio's Davids are on exhibit at the Bargello Museum.
And that's when Michelangelo's troubles would begin. But you'll have to read In the Footsteps of Giants to find out why, and how he managed to survive what from that point on will become a turbulent time for Florence. So turbulent, in fact, that he would be forced to go into hiding for his life.
That's where our story begins. Stay tuned!