Do you plan on leaving your mark on the world?
Even as a lad, Michelangelo knew that he was destined to create despite his father's attempts to beat the notion out of him. And, indeed, he left us a great many masterpieces, in sketches, sculpture, painting, and architecture. The David, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter's Basilica are perhaps his best-known accomplishments. But there are many works by Michelangelo, some in varying stages of completion, still available to us today, more than 450 years after his death.
Michelangelo is one of the most studied artists of all time. His legacy lives on through his creations.
But did you know the context in which Michelangelo worked? Did you know that his was an era riven by political strife? Did you know that he almost lost his life -- by assassination -- for his political views? Did you know that if he'd died then, he would never have had the chance to paint the Last Judgment or complete the Vatican basilica?
That is the story at the core of our Florence StoryApp Tour and the coming eBook, audio, and print book of the same name: BURIED ALIVE: THE SECRET MICHELANGELO TOOK TO HIS GRAVE, written in collaboration with renowned author Mary Hoffman.
Michelangelo is Mary's #HistoryHero, and we feature him today by giving you a peek inside the story inside the story at the heart of our tour...
Introduction: King of Infinite Space
The moment I step out of this hiding place, I will be arrested. Maybe even executed. It's my own fault, really. I've spent my whole life courting trouble. But this time it's not a rival artist I've offended or a patron I've cheated. This time I've enraged the most powerful family in all of Italy: I speak of the Medici of Florence.
My refuge measures 12 by 3½ braccia. I should know. I have paced it countless times, and precise measurement is a tool of my trade.
What is my trade? Sculptor. Painter. Architect. Builder of strong walls to keep out invaders. I am all of these, but it's the last that has set the mighty Medici against me.
Who am I?
I am Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, known to all of Italy as Michelangelo, named for the Archangel Michael, who killed the serpent with a sword and drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden.
HA! That feels about right as I contemplate exile at the least.
Will the Medici really kill me for being a traitor, or drive me out of my Eden — my Florence — when I have given this city so much?
I was just trying to protect my homeland when, as governor of fortifications, I designed its ramparts in 1527. I have supported the Florentine Republic since the greatest of the Medici, Lorenzo the Magnificent, became my first patron. My giant, David, stands as the symbol of our city-state, a representation in stone of the triumph of virtue over a larger, stronger, better-armed foe.
It has been three years, and the political winds have shifted again, as they so often do in Florence. My defenses were meant to stop imperial mercenaries intent on returning the power-hungry Medici to the top of the Florentine pyramid, not as republicans, but as tyrants. But even thick stone walls cannot hold back armed hordes in league with the pope, who happens also to be a Medici.
In October 1529 imperial forces laid siege to our proud city. For 10 long months we Florentines held fast. But in August, in the face of starvation, we finally succumbed.
The Medici marched back into Florence and I fell immediately from hero to traitor. No sooner had they regained control of the city than the current head of the family put out a warrant for my arrest. And now I am hunted like an animal.
Soldiers were sent to my house. They searched it high and low. But I was not there.
I was here.
It's none too easy to escape a walled city under siege. So I convinced my friend Giovan Battista Figiovanni — whom I call Figi — the prior of the Medici family church, San Lorenzo, to hide me.
We chose a concealed room under the altar of San Lorenzo’s New Sacristy. Few people know the room is even here. I do because this building has been my obsession since 1519. I designed and constructed it to honor the family to whom I owe my fame and fortune: I speak again of the Medici.
I, Michelangelo, the greatest artist of my time, should right now be filling my Medici Chapel with sculptural masterpieces. Instead, I am reduced to sleeping on a bed of straw on a stone floor. At least it was cool in here during the height of our sweltering Florentine summer. But with autumn arriving, I find myself shivering inside this coffin of stone, anxious to feel freedom and the sun on my skin again.
I have plenty of time to think as I hide here, under the Medici Chapel of San Lorenzo waiting for death… or forgiveness. I have nothing to keep me company save my memory of Lorenzo the Magnificent, some charcoal, and these four bare walls to draw on.
I fear this chapel will be my last commission and one I will be forced to leave unfinished.
I fear the family that afforded me my greatest triumphs is now to be my ultimate downfall.
Join me on a journey through the Florence of my lifetime as I attempt to reconstruct for you, as well as myself, the many twists in the road that brought me to this wretched place.
Michelangelo remained true to his gift and his craft to create some of the most magnificent works of the Italian Renaissance. That's why he's a Time Traveler Tours #HistoryHero. Many thanks to Mary Hoffman, UK, for nominating him and collaborating with us to bring to life the story behind the legen.
Who's your #HistoryHero?
Tell us in the comments below and we'll let you know when we feature him or her on this blog.