Julius was staying in the Palace of the Sixteen in Bologna. When Michelangelo went to see him there, he was shown to Alidosi’s office instead.
“What brings you to Bologna?” asked Cardinal Alidosi in his oily way.
“I have heard the pope is not well,” Michelangelo said. “Is it true?”
“On the contrary. Just this morning I saw him take a two-handed whack at a general.”
“Thank God for that. I’m here to see him. I have some business to discuss.”
“No need to discuss it with him, Buonarroti. I know what you want. The Holy Father asked me to take care of this little problem.”
“I assure you, there is no problem. I finished painting the first half of the ceiling. Now, by the terms of my contract, I am owed five hundred ducats for the work completed and five hundred more to move the scaffold so I can begin the second half.”
“So you say.” Alidosi pressed his palms together and studied Michelangelo.
“You know I’m right. These are the terms. You wrote the contract!”
“How am I to know if you’re finished, or if it’s done well? I haven’t seen your work. I might find it unworthy.”
Michelangelo sighed. “Someone like you wouldn’t know the difference.”
“Perhaps. But how can I pay you for work unseen?”
“Please, Alidosi, I really must see the pope.”
“Did you not see the soldiers in the street?” Alidosi snapped. “Do you not know we are at war? The pope has far more important matters to deal with than a grown man who paints bright pretty pictures. You might as well go back to Rome. I cannot let you waste the pope’s time now.”
Michelangelo could see he would get nowhere, and took his leave.
As he pondered what to do next, a buzz of hopeful anticipation swept through the city. The bishop of Bologna had just died and the people were expecting to find out who their new bishop would be; he would be the man who followed the pope to the altar at the beginning of Sunday mass.
That morning, Michelangelo followed the anxious crowd into San Petronio, where thousands filled the nave. He pushed toward the altar, hoping that he could get close enough to speak to the pope after mass. Many of the faithful said prayers for the new bishop, while the less pious busily placed wagers on which man had been chosen.
A hush fell over the crowd when the choir began the service with a chant. The clergy climbed the altar stairs. But the pope was not at the end of the trail of men. In the spot where he should have been was only a man in bishop’s vestments — a man that everyone knew.
Loud groans carried across the nave. Some hissed. How could this be? many whispered. For standing before the jam-packed church was the most hated man in Bologna. This was the man who as legate had ordered the Bentivoglio loyalists strangled in the public square. None other than Cardinal Alidosi.
The commotion didn’t bother Alidosi. He recited the liturgy without interruption. During the Eucharist he even looked down from the altar, spotted Michelangelo, and smiled.
Michelangelo wanted to vomit. Perhaps the rumors were true and the pope was sick. He had no idea what would happen to the ceiling, and his own family, if the pope died. He had to find a way to see Julius and find out for himself.
After mass Michelangelo did the only thing he could think of. He went to ask for help from an old friend, a fellow Florentine: Cardinal Giovanni de’ Medici.
Next: A Visit to Julius (2)