One morning, an 18-year-old apprentice of Ghirlandaio’s was preparing the walls in the Tornabuoni Chapel for the day’s work. The young man, Franceso Granacci, had trained for years, and was skilled enough to be trusted with this task.
As Granacci began to prepare the plaster, he caught sight of a 12-year-old boy halfway down the nave, sitting on the floor. Granacci had seen the boy hanging around before. Today, he was leaning against the same column Granacci used to lean against when he was younger. It even looked like the boy was drawing the same painting Granacci used to draw.
Quietly, Granacci crept up behind the boy, who was sitting in front of a fresco of Jesus on the cross. Granacci was amazed at what he saw. The boy’s drawing was very, very good.
“Who taught you how to do that?” he asked finally.
The boy, startled, quickly covered his work with both hands.
“What’s your name?”
“I’ve seen you here before. But I didn’t know you drew so well.”
“It’s not that good.”
“Oh, but it is. My name’s Francesco. Do you mind if I look at your sketch?”
Michelangelo looked down as he handed Granacci the drawing.
“Yes. This is really very good. May I show you something?”
Granacci walked up to Masaccio’s fresco and drew lines in the air from several places in the scene, all of them ending on the face of Jesus, including the checkered squares of the ceiling.
“Do you see what Masaccio did there? It’s called linear perspective. It gives the painting true depth. This is a very famous painting. It’s the first one to use perspective this way.”
Michelangelo studied the painting, then looked at his drawing, thinking about how he could generate the effect Granacci had just showed him: a vanishing focal point. “What is the painting supposed to mean?” he asked.
“Can’t you tell? The painting is called Holy Trinity. There is Jesus. And his father is there above him. And in between is a white dove that looks like a collar. That’s the Holy Spirit. God and the spirit are standing behind Christ in his hour of need.”
Michelangelo nodded, taking in all these new ways to look at the painting.
“Do you know what those words are, above the skeleton?” asked Granacci.
Michelangelo stood and walked closer to the painting to read: IO FU GA QUEL CHE VOI STE: E QUEL CHO SON VOI ACO SARETE.
“No,” he said after a moment.
“I take it you don’t read Latin.”
“Not very well.”
“It says I was once what you are and what I am you also will be.”
Michelangelo nodded. The words seemed to linger in the air.
“So, who taught you?” asked Granacci.
“No one. I taught myself.”
“You draw better than I do. Maybe you should become a painter.”
Michelangelo looked up at his new friend. He didn’t need to say a thing. Granacci saw the dreamy look in his eyes. It was unmistakable.