He was a brooding genius without people skills. So wrote Irving Stone in the 1961 biographical novel ”The Agony and the Ecstasy.” He based the profile on 500 of the artist’s letters,
But if you read a more recent bio, “Michelangelo: The Artist, the Man and His Times” by William Wallace, you’d conclude that Stone got it wrong. Wallace, using 900 newly translated letters, shows Michelangelo to be a popular fellow with a lot of friends and an attentive son and uncle, even paying a mind to their meds and real estate investments.
In fact, to hear Wallace tell it, if you asked Michelangelo at the end of his life what he cared about most, his answer be his family, not art. What’s more, he never even set out to be an artist. He just fell into it by chance and late.
Eye-witness accounts of Michelangelo as a little boy, recorded in a biography before he died, tell a different story. “The Life of Michelangelo Buonarroti,” by his friend Asconio Condivi in 1553, recounted how the boy was taken to the gardens of the Medicis full of antiques statues where he was so taken with the carved figures that he went every day and stayed all day,
Condivi describes how Michelangelo carved a god of Love in the form of a sleeping boy out of marble. Lorenzo Medici thought so highly of the carving that Condivi quotes him telling Michelangelo, “If you were to treat it so it seemed to have been buried in the earth, I would send it to Rome and it would pass for an antiquity.
How can some Michelangelo’s letters say one thing and still other letters say another? The two are not all that irreconcilable. Like all artists, he was a contradictory figure. And writing that he never wanted to be an artist might have something to do with the attitude of his father, who beat him to keep him from being an artist. Eye-witness accounts of the boy in Medici’s garden fixated on marble statuary tells a different story can’t be denied.
Dali would have understood. In his words “You have to systematically create confusion, it sets creativity free. Everything that is contradictory creates life.”
See his contradictory self in excelsis in the Dali Museum collection. He was both a masterful religious painter and a prodigious creator of pornographic drawings.