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 Peter Takes on History 

September 8, 1504


Michelangelo was a titan of Renaissance art, considered by many to be one of the greatest painters and certainly the greatest sculptor of all time. History dwells less on the fact that Michelangelo was kind of a jerk.
He was rude, dirty, unpredictable and combative. And there wasn’t much of a firewall between what he thought and what he said. That’s the reason every portrait of Michelangelo shows his misshapen nose; the result of an encounter with a guy who shut him up with a right hook.
Michelangelo wasn’t an entirely honest man either.
Early on he got caught trying to pass a statue of cupid he’d sculpted as a recently unearthed Greek archaeological treasure. The Roman Cardinal who bought it learned of the scam but was so stunned by the young sculptor’s talent that he invited Michelangelo to Rome for a meeting that eventually led to his commission for his famous Pietà showing the Madonna cradling the body of her son.
His talent also brought him to the attention of Lorenzo de Medici in Florence. He landed a sweet internship with the family when he was just fourteen. Political turmoil resulting from the death of Lorenzo forced him out of the city but two years later some extreme winter weather brought him back.
After a freak snowstorm Piero, son of Lorenzo de Medici, sent for Michelangelo and offered a immediate commission; to build him a snowman. Michelangelo took the commision. The result was described by contemporaries as the most beautiful snowman ever. His biographers have suggested the finely chiseled snow figure was a dry run for his masterpiece David.
David was carved from a gargantuan block of marble aptly nicknamed “The Giant.” It had been quarried 40 years earlier and abandoned by a series of sculptors who’d decided it was too brittle to carve and gave up. And I’m not talking about art school dropout’s either! Donatello had taken a whack at “the Giant” and thought it was unworkable.
But Michelangelo saw something in the slab and in 1501, at age 26 Michelangelo began to release David from the stone. I thought his method was interesting. He made a wax model of David and submerged it. Then, day by day he’d drain off a little water and sculpt the details that had emerged. Also interesting; knowing the statue was supposed to be mounted high above the congregation Michelangelo foreshortened the figure, making the head, arms and hands disproportionately large to correct for perspective.
For three years he worked at a breakneck pace, in the utmost secrecy, seeing no one, seldom bathing and rarely eating. He slept in his clothes, even his boots.
Then, on this day in history, September 8th, 1504, the statue of David was unveiled … and the public loved it! They flocked to the cathedral to see it ... but it wasn’t where they’d expected to see it.
David was actually intended to fill a niche near the ceiling of the Florence Cathedral but at 17 feet tall and 12,500 pounds, the builders had second thoughts. It took forty men three days to move David from Michelangelo’s studio a half mile to the cathedral. Hoisting it 50 feet in the air … well, David never made it through the front door. Instead he was placed outside the cathedral, in the Piazza della Signoria.
David became a “must see” and Michaelangelo became a cult figure and an object of national interest. People clamoured for details of the life of this disheveled and reclusive genius.
At a time when da Vinci and Botticelli were still putting brush to canvas, 28 year old Michelangelo became the most famous artist in Italy. And the best paid! His many governmental and papal commissions are well documented.
He was filthy rich. Literally rich and literally filthy.
He lived to the ripe old age of 88 but spent most of those years in solitary squalor. They say he was so foul that when he died, his crusty, tattered clothes had to be cut from his body. But still, his countrymen loved him. Called him Il Divino; the divine. Michelangelo’s wealth and fame bought him one important thing; freedom. Freedom to be a wacko and to live his life in his own crazy way - proving what I’ve always believed; The difference between “lock him up” insane and “curiously eccentric'' is found in one’s wallet.

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