These fragments come from Matthias Grünewald, c.1475-1528
These fragments come from Matthias Grünewald, c.1475-1528
These snippets come from Vasari’s Lives of the Artists, and describe the funeral of Michelangelo in 1564.
On the pulpit from which Varchi delivered the funeral oration, which was afterwards printed, there was no ornamentation, because, that work having been executed in bronze, with scenes in half-relief and low-relief, by the excellent Donatello, any adornment that might have been added to it would have been by a great measure less beautiful. But on the other, which is opposite to the first, although it had not yet been raised on the columns, there was a picture, four braccia in height and little more than two in width, wherein there was painted with beautiful invention and excellent design, to represent Fame, or rather, Honour, a young man in a most beautiful attitude, with a trumpet in the right hand, and with the feet planted on Time and Death, in order to show that fame and honour, in spite of death and time, preserve alive to all eternity those who have laboured valiantly in this life. This picture was by the hand of Vincenzio Danti, the sculptor of Perugia, of whom we have spoken, and will speak again elsewhere.
The church having been embellished in such a manner, adorned with lights, and filled with a countless multitude, for everyone had left every other care and flocked together to such an honourable spectacle, there entered behind the above-named Lieutenant of the Academy, accompanied by the Captain and Halberdiers of the Duke’s Guard, the Consuls and the Academicians, and, in short, all the painters, sculptors, and architects of Florence. After all these had sat down between the cata-falque and the high-altar, where they had been awaited for a good while by an infinite number of lords and gentlemen, who had been accommodated with seats according to the rank of each, there was begun a most solemn Mass for the dead, with music and ceremonies of every kind. Which finished, Varchi mounted the above-mentioned pulpit, who had never performed such an office since he did it for the most illustrious Lady Duchess of Ferrara, the daughter of Duke Cosimo; and there, with that elegance, those modes of utterance, and that voice which were the peculiar attributes of that great man in oratory, he recounted the praises and merits, life and works of the divine Michelangelo Buonarroti.
Of a truth, what great good fortune it was for Michelangelo that he did not die before our Academy was created, whereby his funeral rites were celebrated with so much honour and such magnificent and honourable pomp. So, also, it must be considered most fortunate for him that it happened that he passed from this to an eternal and most blessed life before Varchi, seeing that he could not have been extolled by any more eloquent and learned man. That funeral oration by M. Benedetto Varchi was printed a short time afterwards, as was also, not long after that, another equally beautiful oration, likewise in praise of Michelangelo and of painting, composed by the most noble and most learned M. Leonardo Salviati, at that time a young man of about twenty-two years of age, and of a rare and happy genius in all manner of compositions, both Latin and Tuscan, as is known even now, and will be better known in the future, to all the world. And what shall I say, what can I say, that would not be too little, of the capacity, goodness, and wisdom of the very reverend Lord Lieutenant, the above-named Don Vincenzio Borghini? Save that it was with him as their chief, their guide, and their counsellor, that the eminent men of the Academy and Company of Design celebrated those obsequies; for the reason that, although each of them was competent to do much more in his art than he did, nevertheless no enterprise is ever carried to a perfect and praiseworthy end save when one single man, in the manner of an experienced pilot and captain, has authority and power over all others. And since it was not possible that the whole city should see that funeral pomp in one day, by order of the Duke it was all left standing many weeks, for the satisfaction of his people and of the foreigners who came from neighboring places to see it.
We shall not give in this place the great multitude of epitaphs and verses, both Latin and Tuscan, composed by many able men in honour of Michelangelo; both because they would require a work to themselves, and because they have been written down and published by other writers elsewhere. But I will not omit to say in this last part, that after all the honours described above, the Duke ordained that an honourable place should be given to Michelangelo for his tomb in S. Croce, in which church he had purposed in his lifetime to be buried, because the sepulchre of his ancestors was there. And to Leonardo, the nephew of Michelangelo, his Excellency gave all the marbles, both white and variegated, for that tomb, which was allotted to Battista Lorenzi, an able sculptor, to execute after the design of Giorgio Vasari, together with the head of Michelangelo. And since there are to be three statues there, Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture, one of these was allotted to the above-named Battista, one to Giovanni dell’ Opera, and the last to Valerio Cioli; Florentine sculptors which statues are in process of being fashioned together with the tomb, and soon they will be seen finished and set in their places. The cost, over and above the marbles received from the Duke, has been borne by the same Leonardo Buonarroti. But his Excellency, in order not to fail in any respect in doing honor to that great man, will cause to be placed in the Duomo, as he has previously thought to do, a memorial with his name, besides the head, even as there are to be seen there the names and images of the other eminent Florentines.
The medieval term ‘sodomy’ covered a multitude of activities including incest, sex with nuns, and bestiality. In fact any sexual activity which deviated from that approved by the Bible. Sodomy came to be a byword for homosexual behaviour in the Renaissance. In 1527, a Florentine noble was fined for the explicit crimes of per buggerone. By 1600, Francis Bacon was promoting masculine love as a specific erotic category (his mother wrote to him complaining of his ‘foul sins’ with various male servants), and specifically homosexual activity was one of many subversive pursuits which flourished in the 15th and 16th centuries.
As this ‘unmentionable vice’ grew, so too did the authorities attempts to persecute its practitioners. A sixteenth century source claims
The mighty impose penalties on those who [commit sodomy] for no other reason than this: since it is their own profession, they don’t want common people to use it.
Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571), an Italian sculptor and goldsmith, was convicted of sodomy in 1557; by which point the phrase had become almost synonymous with ‘seducing young boys’. While Cellini may privately have had no regrets, he was furious at his public outing. His sentence included a heavy fine and four years imprisonment, which was reduced to four years house arrest after the intervention of the Medicis. The following is his own account of his outing by rival artist Bandinello:
Bardinello ‘turned to me with that most hideous face of his, screaming aloud: ‘Oh, hold your tongue, sta cheto, soddomitaccio! [you filthy sodomite]‘ At these words the Duke frowned, and the others pursed their lips up and looked with knitted grows toward him. The horrible affront half maddened me with fury; but in a moment I recovered presence of mind enough to turn it off with a jest; ‘You madman! you exceed the bounds of decency. Yet would to God that I understood so noble an art as you allude to; they say that Jove used it with Ganymede in paradise, and here upon this earth it is practised by some of the greatest emperors and kings. I, however, am but a poor humble creature, who neither have the power nor the intelligence to perplex my wits with anything so admirable.’ When I had finished this speech, the Duke and his attendants could control themselves no longer, but broke into such shouts of laughter that one never heard the like. You must know, gentle readers, that though I put on this appearance of pleasantry, my heart was bursting in my body to think that a fellow, the foulest villain who ever breathed, should have dared in the presence of so great a prince to cast an insult of that atrocious nature in my teeth; but you must also know that he insulted the Duke, and not me; for had I not stood in that august presence, I should have felled him dead to earth. When the dirty stupid scoundrel observed that those gentlemen kept on laughing, he tried to change the subject, and divert them from deriding him; so he began as follows: ‘This fellow Benvenuto goes about boasting that I have promised him a piece of marble.’ I took him up at once. ‘What! did you not send to tell me by your journeyman, Francesco, that if I wished to work in marble you would give me a block? I accepted it, and mean to have it.’ He retorted: ‘Be very well assured that you will never get it.’ Still smarting as I was under the calumnious insults he had flung at me, I lost my self-control, forgot I was in the presence of the Duke, and called out in a storm of fury: ‘I swear to you that if you do not send the marble to my house, you had better look out for another world, for if you stay upon this earth I will most certainly rip the wind out of your carcass.’
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This fragment is an anonymous painting entitled The Dead Lovers, created around 1470 in Swabia (German Empire). For years, it was wrongly attributed to the German Renaissance artist Matthias Grünewald. It is currently in the Musée de l’Oeuvre de Notre-Dame, Strasbourg.