Lodovico Buonarroti wiped his eyes as he emerged from the bedroom. His wife had just given birth to their fifth son, but at the highest possible cost. She was dying.
“Michelangelo.” Lodovico looked at his second son, just five years old. “Your mother wants to speak to you.”
The scrawny little boy with the large head and curly black hair moved slowly toward the door. He heard the groans before he saw his mother curled up on the bed.
“Come here, son. Take my hand.” Her voice was but a whisper.
Michelangelo took her hand. It was ice cold. Her face was gray and she looked old.
“No crying now,” said Francesca.
Michelangelo dutifully brushed away his tears. “What’s wrong, Mama?”
“Listen, I have something important to tell you. Something you must never forget. I think you are going to become a great artist someday, as great as Giotto and Masaccio. Maybe even as great as Leonardo da Vinci.”
The boy blinked, surprised. “Do you really think so, Mama?”
“Yes. I do.”
“I’ll make you proud of me.” He stood a little straighter, clutching her hand.
“I’m sure you will,” said Francesca. “But you must also promise me something.”
“Anything.” Michelangelo leaned closer to her.
“Promise me you will always obey your father. It is important.”
Michelangelo looked directly into his mother’s eyes. “I promise, Mama.”
Her face relaxed and her grip loosened. She smiled. “You are a good boy. Ti amo. Now go outside and send in your brother Buonarroto.”
Michelangelo did as she asked, relieved that his promise had brought her some calm. He did not yet have any idea how much the promise would trouble him for the next 27 years.
Francesca Buonarroti died the next day.