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A Bridge to Nowhere (3)

Francesco Granacci knew the troubled look in Michelangelo’s eyes. He had seen it before. “I know there’s something you’re not telling me,” he said.

“I share more with you than anyone else,” answered Michelangelo.

“Even so, you’re leaving something out. The pope demands you return to Rome, and you talk about going to Turkey. It just doesn’t make any sense. What happened in Rome? Why doesn’t the pope want to pay you to make a tomb you say he loves?”

“You’re right, Francesco.” Michelangelo bowed his head. “You’ve always been right.”

“So tell me, what’s the problem?”

Michelangelo pressed his lips together, then exhaled in a rush. “The pope wants me to fresco a ceiling. I just can’t do it.”

“Why not?”

“I’d rather carve. Also it’s not just any ceiling. It’s a huge flattened barrel vault, and it’s cut into by the lunettes and spandrels above the windows.”

Slowly Granacci smiled. “I know a ceiling like that. Come on.”

Granacci took Michelangelo to the refectory of Ognissanti along the banks of the Arno. As soon as Michelangelo saw the fresco of the Last Supper on the wall, he recognized the style.

The Last Supper by Domenico Ghirlandaio

The Last Supper by Domenico Ghirlandaio

“It’s Ghirlandaio. How did he get so good?”

Granacci folded his arms as he stared at the fresco. “You know how. He learned the materials and obeyed all the rules. He paid his dues and then he painted frescoes for twenty years.” He looked over at Michelangelo. “So what’s the problem with the ceiling in Rome?” 

Ognissanti refectory in Florence

Ognissanti refectory in Florence

“The pope wants me to paint the twelve apostles on the pendentives, and then cover the rest of the ceiling in appropriate geometric designs.”

Granacci took a quick look down the length of the ceiling, picturing it. “If it wasn’t done well, that would look awful.”

“It’s not just the design. The ceiling is much larger than this. It’s also sixty-six feet above the floor. Not the best place to paint my first fresco, is it?”

Granacci kept his head tilted to the ceiling for a few seconds, then looked over at Michelangelo. “No, it’s not. I painted the ceiling in Tornabuoni. It’s brutal work raising your arms with your head always tilted back. Painting a wall is a better way to start.”

Michelangelo held up both hands, as if to say See?

“I see no reason why you can’t do it, though,” Granacci went on. He turned to face Michelangelo directly. “It will be hard, but you’ve mastered great challenges time and time again. Admit it, you love doing that.”

Michelangelo stared at his friend, frowning. But something in his eyes glimmered, and Granacci saw it.

“I can tell you won’t admit it today. But you do love it. Remember that. And for God’s sake, forget about Turkey.”

Next: Pope Julius Goes to War (1)


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