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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
Chapter Three - The Palace
Michelangelo enters the palace and shares his quarters with Bertoldo. The opulence and grandeur of the palace makes him wonder in awe. He feels awkward in the presence of its inmates. However, Lorenzo and Contessina make him feel at home. Bertoldo unfolds the magic of the marble to him. He reveals the technique of shaping the instruments and chiseling the marble. Michelangelo is excited touching the marble and working on it.
Shortly afterwards, Lorenzo invites him to attend the meeting of the Plato Academy comprising of scholars from various fields of learning. Marsilio Ficino had started the academy years ago. A well-read man, he had translated the works of great masters and introduced printing of books in Florence. Christoforo Landino, Angelo Poliziano and Pico are some of the esteemed members of the academy. They query Michelangelo about his knowledge of Greek art and volunteer to teach him the ancient language. They also talk about purifying the church and resurrecting arts and science for the betterment of humanity. Michelangelo is fascinated by their talk and feels enriched in their presence.
The palace springs surprises on him. He is given new pairs of dresses and three gold florins as the wages for a week. Wearing new clothes, he visits his friends at the garden and family at home. In the garden, Rustici and Torrigiani mock at him. At home, his father is delighted to receive the gold florins and thus, fails to notice his son. Lucrezia questions about the cooking in the palace, while Leonardo warns him against the bad influence of Lorenzo. Michel is disappointed with his visit. The next week, he visits the Topolinos at Settignano. He buys gifts for all the members of the family and makes them happy.
Michelangelo starts working in earnest. He tries out different figures on clay, after studying the statues of the palace. He also visits churches with Lorenzo to get ideas for his subject on marble. He gets suggestions from the members of the Plato Academy to carve out biblical Themes. Finally, he decides to work on a realistic theme. Thus, he chooses to carve ‘Madonna and the Child’. He remembers his own mother and becomes sentimental thinking of her. He decides to reveal the conflict raging within a mother who is aware that her child would ultimately face the cross. He draws the picture of Mary suckling infant Jesus even as she holds on to the beam for support. He takes months to carve out the image and feels satisfied with the end product. Lorenzo is happy with the sculpture and rewards the boy with a bag full of gold coins. On his next visit home, he hands over the money to his father and makes the latter ecstatic. Lodovico asks his son to begin his next project soon in order to secure more money.
With recognition and fame, Michelangelo wins friends and also enemies. Lorenzo and Contessina are his constant source of inspiration. He becomes intimate with Contessina and shares many cozy moments with her. However, society disapproves of his friendship with the princess. Lorenzo sends her on a holiday. In the garden, Torrigiani tries act possessive with Michelangelo. He seeks the boy’s attention and feels repulsed when the latter thwarts his advances to concentrate on his work. One day, as Michelangelo gets involved with his work, he ignores Torrigiani’s overtures. Torrigiani feels insulted and hits hard on the face of Michelangelo, thus smashing the latter’s nose. The ridge of Michelangelo’s nose gets broken and surgery is performed to heal the wound. However, Michelangelo’s face gets distorted and it takes months for him to recover. The accident leaves him depressed and dispirited.
The Greek philosopher comes to his aid and lifts him up from his gloom. He suggests a theme for a marble sculpture. Michelangelo ponders over the idea and resolves to carve the Battle of the Centaurs. Only he plans to do it differently from that of his master, Bertoldo. He decides to introduce human element in the religious cenotaph. He compresses the different weapons to show the basic one of stone. He also desires to portray the men and women as earthly figures with their nascent appeal. In order to recreate realistic figures, he visits the workmen at Settignano and observes them working on stone unconcerned about their bare bodies. Their attitudes and movements fascinate him and he draws many figures based on their character. Returning to the palace, he transfers these figures on marble and becomes involved with it. However, he is not able to concentrate on his work for long.
The fanatic Savonarola takes the Florentines by surprise and goads them against Lorenzo with sermons and invectives. His words are venomous and poison the minds of the Florentines. Many of the followers of Lorenzo desert him to go to Savonarola. Even Michelangelo gets affected by the words of the religious leader and becomes restless. His brother, Leonardo also warns him from working on blasphemous Themes. In such a confused state of affairs, Michelangelo completes his work on marble relief.
The marble garden is almost deserted. Most of the apprentices find work elsewhere and leave the premises of the palace. Lorenzo tries to arrange lectures by scholars to counter attack the charges of Savonarola against him. However, he fails in his mission. The tirades against him tell upon his health and he falls seriously ill. Before leaving the palace, he commends the work of Michelangelo and encourages him to continue his innovative work. Shortly afterwards, he breathes his last. Michelangelo loses a great friend and patron and feels miserable about it. Suddenly, he feels lonely.