Two guards woke Michelangelo in his workshop at first light, demanding he come with them immediately. They took him by way of the corridor first to the papal apartments and then to the stairway leading up to the scaffold in the chapel.
Michelangelo found Pope Julius at the rear, gazing at the prophet Zechariah, who was painted in Julius’s own image. To the right, David raised his right arm with sword in hand, ready to slice off Goliath’s head. To the left of Zechariah, Judith carried away the head of Holofernes — the face a good likeness of Michelangelo.
“I’m afraid you have painted this all wrong, Buonarroti,” Julius said. “You have me keeping my head while you have lost your own.”
“On the contrary, Holy Father. The longer I’ve had to wait, the more separated I feel from my head.”
“Yes, well, I’ve been a bit busy. I’m sorry to tell you that your beautiful bronze in Bologna is no more.”
Michelangelo gaped at the pope. His eyes filled. He felt the loss of the bronze as if it were a child.
Julius turned away slowly, leaning on his cane, and shuffled toward the direction of the altar, passing under The Drunkenness of Noah, The Great Flood, and The Sacrifice of Noah. He stopped to look up at The Temptation in the Garden of Eden.
“Don’t you find this a bit too suggestive for the pope’s chapel?” Julius asked.
“Before there was shame there was no need for clothes, Holy Father. Besides, even popes have children, do they not?”
“Have you seen Raphael’s portrait of you in the Segnatura? It’s of Heraclitus, I’m told — the weeping philosopher. How fitting.”
“I’ve seen it.” Michelangelo looked down, uncomfortable with where the conversation was headed.
“What do you think of his work? He is quite good, is he not?”
“I don’t think at all about his work, only my own. That is, when you allow me to work.”
“Well then, you’ll be happy to know I’ve called you here for a reason. I want the scaffold taken down immediately. I want the world to see your work.”
“It would be easier to put up the new scaffolding as we take down the old.”
“Indeed. But then it would cast shadows on what you have done. So leave it down for now.”
“As you wish, Holy Father.”
At long last the scaffold was taken down, and for the first time Michelangelo could see from the floor what he had done. What he saw worried him.
Next: Julius Returns (3)