1509 | Vatican City

Injured on the Job

Michelangelo’s labor pains.

I’ve grown a goiter by dwelling in this den—
    As cats from stagnant streams in Lombardy,
    Or in what other land they hap to be—
    Which drives the belly close beneath the chin:
My beard turns up to heaven; my nape falls in,
    Fixed on my spine: my breastbone visibly
    Grows like a harp: a rich embroidery
    Bedews my face from brush drops thick and thin.
My loins into my paunch like levers grind:
    My buttock like a crupper bears my weight;
    My feet unguided wander to and fro;
In front my skin grows loose and long; behind,
    By bending it becomes more taut and strait;
    Crosswise I strain me like a Syrian bow:
Whence false and quaint, I know,
    Must be the fruit of squinting brain and eye;
    For ill can aim the gun that bends awry.
Come then, Giovanni, try
    To succor my dead pictures and my fame;
    Since foul I fare and painting is my shame.

© 1963 by Thames and Hudson. Used with permission of Thames and Hudson.



From a poem. Michelangelo primarily considered himself to be a sculptor of marble, rising to prominence in his midtwenties for his Pieta of 1498 and his David of 1504. Our contemporary adoration of his Sistine Chapel frescoes is in part a result of the twentieth century’s veneration of painting over other art forms.