The letter from Giuliano Sangallo was short and to the point. Would Michelangelo be interested in a commission in Rome, for the new pope?
Pope Julius II had big plans to rebuild the city and wanted to employ the best architects, painters, and sculptors, which meant he wanted Michelangelo. Sangallo’s letter said the pope raved over the Pietà and said he had heard great things of the David. He was willing to pay Michelangelo to come to Rome and see what he could do.
How could Michelangelo turn down the chance to work for the pope? Surely he had to leave as soon as possible so as not show any disrespect. He hurried to respond enthusiastically. A sculpting commission in Rome — that would change everything, and he found himself looking foward to that, even eager for it.
Why was he so anxious to leave? It was more than going to Rome, he realized. It was leaving Florence. The thought began to trouble him, for he recognized this eagerness. He’d felt the same when Francesco Granacci took him to the San Marco Garden and he suddenly wanted to sculpt, not paint.
For years after that he had wondered if he had run away from painting, too afraid to chase it, too afraid to fail. And then the yearning for it returned, along with the chance to compete against Leonardo. Now he knew what was making him uncomfortable. He was afraid to paint. Then, and now.
He had to match Leonardo on the wall or be humiliated in front of everyone in Florence. That was the risk of painting. He was confident he could paint a fresco, even a good one, but with Leonardo working in oils there was only so much Michelangelo could do.
His thoughts were racing. He needed to go to the Great Hall and see for himself what Leonardo had already painted on the wall.
Next: A Moment of Truth (2)