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Creating David (1)

“I have good news, Father,” Michelangelo announced to Lodovico. “A project. The commissioners have chosen me to carve a marble statue of David.” He spoke with obvious pride. “They considered everyone, even Leonardo da Vinci.”

Lodovico only cared about one detail. “How much are they going to pay you?”

“Four hundred ducats.” It was a great deal of money — enough to run two fully staffed country estates for a nobleman.

“Wonderful.” Lodovico put an arm around his son’s shoulder. “I have some advice for you. Two words: Real estate. Buying land is the best investment we can make.”

“I won’t be paid anything until I show them the drawings,” Michelangelo said. He had barely started those. “And I won’t be paid in full until I finish the sculpture.”

Early sketch of David

Early sketch of David

“You promised long ago to give your brothers the money they need to open a wool shop. I think now would be a good time. They’re not getting any younger, you know.”

As his father talked about money, Michelangelo thought about the work. A heavy weight was easing itself onto his shoulders — a new pressure, more than he had felt before. Although he boasted about his sculpting ability, he often suffered grave doubts. The David was going to be a challenge unlike any other.

Only other sculptors understood just how hard it would be to carve a 17-foot-high man from a thin flawed block, one that had already been butchered by two sculptors. The marble was no longer fresh, having been mined some 40 years before. It was crusted and brittle now. A single misplaced strike of the hammer would fracture it and destroy months or possibly years of work, as well as Michelangelo’s dream of proving his greatness in Florence.

If he was to be humiliated, at least he could ensure that it wouldn’t be in full public view. The first thing he did was prop up the giant block on one end and build a wooden wall around it. No one would be able to watch him work, although there wasn’t much to see that summer. Michelangelo measured the block, made countless drawings and studies to perfect the design, and built several wax models to test his ideas.

Soon enough his secluded work area and his refusal to let anyone inside raised suspicions. Why was he being so secretive? What was he trying to hide? Why couldn’t he show off what he was doing, like Leonardo?

By the end of August Michelangelo was sick of hearing about Leonardo. Even his father commented on how good Leonardo’s drawings were.

Michelangelo believed that people might talk of him that way, someday. But for that to happen he needed to keep his head down and work. He tried his best not to be distracted by all the talk of Leonardo. Which he was able to do, except on the day he finally met the man.

Next: Creating David (2)


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