Whatever was originally intended, it is certain that in Michelangelo’s sacristy disillusionment reigns as well as death. But how beautiful it is!
In a little room leading from the sacristy I was shown by a smiling custodian Lorenzo the Magnificent’s coffin, crumbling away, and photographs of the skulls of the two brothers: Giuliano’s with one of Francesco de’ Pazzi’s dagger wounds in it, and Lorenzo’s, ghastly in its decay. I gave the man half a lira.
While he was working on the tombs Michelangelo had undertaken now and then a small commission, and to this period belongs the David which we shall see in the little room on the ground floor of the Bargello. In 1534, when he finally abandoned the sacristy, and, leaving Florence for ever, settled in Rome, the Laurentian library was only begun, and he had little interest in it. He never saw it again. At Rome his time was fully occupied in painting the “Last Judgment” in the Sixtine Chapel, and in various architectural works. But Florence at any rate has two marble masterpieces that belong to the later period—the Brutus in the Bargello and the Pieta in the Duomo, which we have seen—that poignantly impressive rendering of the entombment upon which the old man was at work when he died, and which he meant for his own grave.
His death came in 1564, on February 23rd, when he was nearly eighty-nine, and his body was brought to Florence and buried amid universal grief in S. Croce, where it has a florid monument.
Since we are considering the life of Michelangelo, I might perhaps say here a few words about his house, which is only a few minutes’ distant—at No. 64 Via Ghibellina—where certain early works and personal relics are preserved. Michelangelo gave the house to his nephew Leonardo; it was decorated early in the seventeenth century with scenes in the life of the master, and finally bequeathed to the city as a heritage in 1858. It is perhaps the best example of the rapacity of the Florentines; for notwithstanding that it was left freely in this way a lira is charged for admission. The house contains more collateral curiosities, as they might be called, than those in the direct line; but there are architectural drawings from the wonderful hand, colour drawings of a Madonna, a few studies, and two early pieces of sculpture—the battle of the Lapithae and Centaurs, a relief marked by tremendous vigour and full of movement, and a Madonna and Child, also in relief, with many marks of greatness upon it. In a recess in Room IV are some personal relics of the artist, which his great nephew, the poet, who was named after him, began to collect early in the seventeenth century. As a whole the house is disappointing.
Upstairs have been arranged a quantity of prints and drawings illustrating the history of Florence.
The S. Lorenzo cloisters may be entered either from a side door in the church close to the Old Sacristy or from the piazza. Although an official in uniform keeps the piazza door, they are free. Brunelleschi is again the architect, and from the loggia at the entrance to the library you see most acceptably the whole of his cathedral dome and half of Giotto’s tower. It is impossible for Florentine cloisters—or indeed any cloisters—not to have a certain beauty, and these are unusually charming and light, seen both from the loggia and the ground.