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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
Chapter Three - The Palace
Michelangelo experiences both ecstasy and agony during his stay in the palace. The first few months at the palace are blissful. He is treated as a member of the Medici family and Contessina becomes his friend. He is given new clothes, gold florins and liberty to work on the marbles in the garden. Bertoldo teaches him the techniques of handling marble and working on it. The scholars at the Plato Academy impart knowledge to him on languages and philosophy. They also suggest to him Themes for his sculptures. Lorenzo takes him to the churches and around the palace to acquaint him with the statues and carvings in them. Thus, living amongst friendly people and in a conducive atmosphere, Michelangelo gets inspired to carve the exquisite ‘Madonna and child’ and the astounding ‘Battle of the Centaurs.’ His works are recognized and he is rewarded generously by his patron. Michelangelo feels fulfilled. "The Marble and he were one. They spoke to each other. And for him, the feel of marble was the supreme sensation. No gratification of any other sense, taste, sight, sound, smell, could approach it." Working on marble, Michelangelo experiences a divine feeling and Lorenzo encourages him to do his best.
Michelangelo’s days of happiness are numbered. He meets his antagonists both at the palace and outside. Lorenzo’s son, Piero de Medici orders Michelangelo to carve out the statue of his wife. When Michelangelo turns down Piero’s request, the latter gets angry and orders the boy to quit the palace. Michelangelo feels insulted and gets ready to leave but Lorenzo stops him from going away. At the garden, Torrigiani takes advantage of his influence over the boy. He forces Michelangelo to work with him and keep him company. Michelangelo wants to be left alone to concentrate on his work. Torrigiani gets provoked and in an act of insane jealousy, smashes the nose of Michelangelo, thus distorting the latter’s face. Michelangelo undergoes pain and misery and almost loses his will to sculpt.
In both cases, Michelangelo’s frank attitude and dedication to his art create enemies for him. His forthright manner and idealism irritate his adversaries and they try to ruin his career and life. His ‘ferocity’ for his work creates problems for him and retards his progress. To add insult to injury, Savonarola’s venomous speeches against Lorenzo confuse Michelangelo and disturb the creativity of the artist. Leonardo’s attitude further distresses him and shatters his peace of mind. Despite these hurdles, he completes work on the ‘Battle of the Centaurs’ and wins accolades from Lorenzo. However, his work suffers due to fear and insecurity created by the presence of Savonarola in Florence. With Lorenzo’s illness and consequent death, he is agonized and feels alienated.
The book traces the fall of Lorenzo de Medici. Lorenzo is a liberal aristocrat who encourages scholarship and art for the benefit of the Florentines. He is good and generous. He hosts all kinds of people in his house and allows them to express their ideas fearlessly. He pampers Michelangelo with comfort and luxury and persuades him to carve out a masterpiece. He is shocked by the attitude of Savonarola and takes measures to curb the fanaticism of the religious leader. However, his pleasure- loving attitude and bold measures shock the sensibilities of his orthodox rivals like Savonarola who spread vicious rumors about His highness. Such savage attacks on his character hurt him and cause havoc to his health. He suffers from gout and feels incapacitated to perform his normal duties. He feels seriously ill and dies soon after. Ironically, Lorenzo invites Savonarola to bless him before breathing his last.
This part of the book brings out the contradiction between religion and Humanism. Religious fanatics like Savonarola and Leonardo lead a life of bitterness and gain popularity by invoking fear in the hearts of the people. On the other hand, patrons of art and humanists like Lorenzo, Bertoldo and Poliziano spread good will and knowledge. They also encourage artists like Michelangelo to do their best. They love humanity and are loved by people. Irving Stone exposes the rigidity and dogmatism of religious leaders through the character of Savonarola, while he reveals the humanism and liberalism of patrons of art through Lorenzo and Poliziano.
Book three traces the creative process of Michelangelo’s genius and reveals his love for realism in art. A few members of the Plato academy suggest religious Themes for his work but Michelangelo searches his heart to find a subject for his sculpture. He remembers his mother with fondness and tries to understand the relationship binding a mother and her child. "When he thought of his mother, he saw her too as a beautiful young woman; yet it was a different beauty he felt, one coming from within. Not a woman desirable to all men, as was Botticelli’s love; but one who would love a son and be loved by him." This picture of a woman he transfers on the marble when he carves the image of Mary nursing infant Jesus. It results in the sculpture of ‘Madonna and Child,’ a masterpiece that reveals "the intense emotional thinking reflected on Mary’s face as she felt the tug of Jesus at her breast and the weight of the cross in her hand."
Michelangelo’s second marble relief, ‘The Battle of the Centaurs,’ is again a original piece; a human version of the earlier model of Bertoldo. He compresses the various weapons in the scene to the basic one of stone. He also eliminates heavy robes and armor from women and warriors. "He cared little for mythological legends, they were foreign to his nature. He was drawn to reality, as much of it as he could grasp; for him the truest , most significant reality was the male figure, containing within itself the prototype of all other forms and designs." To grasp his subject better, he visits Settignano, the land of the stonecutters. He observes the sturdy male laborers unclothed and deeply involved in cutting stones. Their attitudes and movements fascinate him and he draws various figures looking at them before transferring them into the marble. Thus, he creates his pulsating panel of the ‘Battle of the Centaurs.’