A platoon of Swiss Guards cleared the way as Pope Julius and Michelangelo left the Palace of the Sixteen and headed toward the basilica of San Petronio.
Julius spoke of his conquest of Bologna as they walked. “These people know fear. The Bentivoglio ruled by terror, for decades. They murdered everyone who disagreed with them. My concern is that as soon as I’m gone, the fear, and the Bentivoglio, will return.”
When Julius reached the piazza in front of San Petronio, he walked to the middle and then turned around to face the basilica. It was midday and the sun was shining brightly above the cross at the peak of the church.
“Buonarroti, this is where your next commission is. I want you to create something inspiring, something to remind these Bolognese that if they defy me again, I will return. I’m thinking about a statue of me sitting on a throne. I see it right up there, above the main entrance of the church.”
The entrance was on a north-facing wall. It didn’t get any direct light. Michelangelo tried to imagine a white marble statue of the pope projecting out of a niche in the façade, looming in shadows.
It was not the best place for a sculpture. But Michelangelo wasn’t about to argue. This was what the pope wanted, and the sooner it was done the better. “I’ll make some drawings for your consideration and then go to Carrara to find a fitting block of white marble.”
“I’ll expect to see those drawings in a week. Though it won’t be necessary for you to leave Bologna. I’m not thinking about a statue in marble. I see myself in bronze.”
“Yes, the metal of cannons. Bramante told me you studied with Bertoldo, the student of the great Donatello. Surely he taught you something about working in bronze.”
Michelangelo did know something about it. He had made one bronze statue, of David, but with the help of experienced bronze workers who performed most of the labor.
“Your Holiness, I carve marble. I don’t cast bronze.”
“You do now,” barked Julius.
Michelangelo looked up again at the entrance to the church. “May I ask how you see yourself looking down from there?”
“You must create a statue that puts the fear of God into these damned people. I see myself on a throne, arm raised with a steel sword, ready to strike down anyone who defies me. They need to know that I will return, and that when I do I will either fight for them or against them.”
Michelangelo nodded, already hating this commission. But he was resigned to give it his best try. It wasn’t possible for him to work any other way.
In a week he had finished the drawings for the statue, just as Julius had described. The pope was very pleased.
All that was left to do was cast the statue. It would take a few months, at most. Or so he thought.