From a letter. The artist’s father died within months of this letter. Born in Florence in 1475, Michelangelo at the age of thirteen became apprentice to the city’s leading painter, Domenico Ghirlandaio, through whom he met his future patron Lorenzo de’ Medici. Michelangelo rose to prominence as a sculptor with his Pietà of 1498 and his David of 1504; he was the first living artist to have a biography written about him, by Giorgio Vasari. Michelangelo died at the age of eighty-eight.
To Lodovico at Settignano,
Dearest Father—I was amazed at your behavior the other day when I didn’t find you at home, and now, when I hear that you’re complaining about me and saying I turned you out, I am even more amazed; for I’m certain that never, from the day I was born till now, have I thought of doing anything, great or small, to harm you; and always all the toils I’ve endured, I’ve endured them for your sake. And since I came back to Florence from Rome, I’ve always looked after you, and you know I confirmed that all I have is yours; and indeed it’s only a few days ago, when you were ill, that I told you and promised that I would do my best never to fail you as long as I live, and this I confirm. Now I’m amazed that you’ve forgotten everything so soon. Yet you’ve tried me out these thirty years, you and your sons, and you know I’ve always thought about you and helped you whenever I could. How can you go around saying that I turned you out? Don’t you see what a reputation you’re giving me when they can say I turned you out? That’s all I needed, on top of my worries about other things, and all for your sake! A nice way you have of thanking me! Anyhow, be that as it may, I’ll try to imagine that I turned you out and that I’ve always brought you shame and trouble, and just as if I’d really done it, I ask your forgiveness. Just think that you’re forgiving a son who has always lived a bad life and done everything possible on this earth to harm you: and so again I beg you to forgive me like the wretch I am, and don’t give me the reputation up there of having turned you out, for it matters more to me than you think. After all, I’m still your son! The bearer of this will be Rafaello da Gagliano. For God’s love and not for mine, I beg you to come to Florence because I have to go away and I need to tell you something rather important, and I can’t come up there. And because I’ve heard, from his own lips, things about my assistant Pietro that I don’t like, I’m sending him to Pistoia, and he won’t be coming back to me because I don’t want him to be the ruin of our family. All of you, who knew that I knew nothing about his behavior, should have told me long ago and there wouldn’t have been such a scandal.
I’m being urged to go away, but I won’t leave without speaking to you first and leaving you here in this house. I beg you to set aside your anger and just come.
Your Michelagniolo in Florence
© 2007 by Anthony Mortimer. Used with permission of Penguin Books Ltd.