Born March 6, 1475 not far outside of Florence, Italy, Michelangelo di Ludovico Buonarroti Simoni seemed already to have the credentials to become the quintessential Renaissance Man. His hometown—Caprese—has since been renamed Caprese Michelangelo in honor of this most highly celebrated of artists. Michelangelo’s early life, however, was notable for his father Lodovico’s financial troubles: Although the Buonarrotis were bankers, family debt and dowries had given Lodovico, his elder brother, and their families much concern living under one roof. Nevertheless, Lodovico was able to send second son Michelangelo to Florence to study with Francresco da Urbino, and later to apprentice at the Ghirlandaio workshop, which would lead to a career closely involved with the Medici family and their influence over the Papacy in Rome.
Today, we publish art historian Michael Hirst’s major new biography, Michelangelo: The Achievement of Fame, 1475-1534. Hirst, the leading authority on Michelangelo, sheds fresh light on the years when Michelangelo built his reputation with the Pietá, the Sistine Ceiling frescoes, and many other masterpieces. This free excerpt from Chapter IX, entitled “A Vulnerable Artist”, describes Michelangelo’s Florentine years at the height of their anxiety, when the Medici family was overthrown in favor of the republic, following the 1527 sack of Rome. Hirst details Michelangelo’s changing public and political roles during the period, the artist’s subsequent flight to Venice, and the creation of his lost painting of Leda and the Swan, addressing his complex psychological relations with his family, friends, and powerful patrons.