Michelangelo’s father was a prideful stubborn man who could read and write but not do much else. For this he blamed his own father, Lionardo.
Lodovico said if his father hadn’t been such a bad businessman, he, Lodovico, would still be as wealthy and proud as the Buonarrotis had been for countless generations. But Lionardo had lost the family wealth in a string of unfortunate deals. Things got so bad that Lionardo had to sell off the last good piece of property he owned to pay for his daughter’s dowry. The family was humiliated. And then Lionardo had the gall to die, leaving all of his problems to his sons Lodovico and Francesco.
In a way Lodovico never got over it. He had come from wealth and thought it should still be there to enable him to live a life of ease. He looked down on anyone who had to work for a living, and held on tightest to the notion that he shouldn’t have to do so. Lodovico never thought about the fact that he could have tried to restore his family’s fame and fortune, if he’d had the gumption to try.
Instead Lodovico focused on raising his five sons and placing the burden of restoring the family’s fortune on their shoulders. In his mind, there was only one honorable way for his sons to gain wealth and importance, and that was in the trades, where as businessmen they could rise through the guilds and become leaders in the city.
Lodovico only had enough money to formally educate one of his sons, so he had to choose carefully.
His eldest, Lionardo, was a good boy but lacked a certain intellect and spark; Lodovico handed him over to the Dominicans to become a priest. His second-eldest, Michelangelo, was by far the smartest of all five brothers. When Michelangelo turned eight, Lodovico sent him to Francesco Urbino’s school to study letters and learn accounts so he could become a businessman or a lawyer and support the family.
Lodovico knew Michelangelo would have preferred to become a painter. Lodovico himself never cared for art, much less artists, who in his opinion were nothing more than slaves working for their masters. He thought once Michelangelo started to read and study he would outgrow the childish fascination with painting. There was simply no way any son of Lodovico’s was ever going to disgrace the family by working with his hands the way artists did. The Buonarrotis were businessmen.
Michelangelo went to school. He didn’t really have a choice.
With Francesco Urbino he studied commercial mathematics. He learned how to keep books, convert weights and measures, calculate interest, and translate currencies. He learned the proper way to write business letters. And he learned that Master Urbino kept his students obedient with the threat of whippings.
For four years Michelangelo stuck it out at Franceso Urbino’s school. But his desire to paint never faded like his father expected it would.
Sometimes, instead of going straight to class Michelangelo ran across town to watch the painters in the early morning light in Santa Maria Novella. The apprentices were preparing the walls of the Tornabuoni Chapel for Domenico Ghirlandaio to paint. As Michelangelo watched them he lost all sense of time. He began to be late for school.
Urbino berated Lodovico Buonarroti about his son’s tardiness. “I can’t teach him if he isn’t there. It’s your money you’re wasting, not mine.”
Lodovico handled the situation the same way his own father would have. He beat Michelangelo with the back of his hand while giving him a tongue-lashing.
Yet the beatings didn’t stop Michelangelo from trying to watch the painters. He tried to be good, and obey his father and get to school on time. But he just couldn’t stop visiting Tornabuoni to watch art get made.