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Quitting School

Michelangelo made his way home through Santa Croce, past the leather shops for which the quarter was known. He thought of his mother, wishing he could tell her of Ghirlandaio’s offer. She would have been so pleased and happy.

She might also have helped convince his father to accept the master painter’s offer. Instead Michelangelo would have to do that by himself. He suspected it would be a challenge.

Via_Bentaccordi in Florence

Via Bentaccordi in Florence

It didn’t help that Michelangelo had skipped school to watch the painters, and when he got home his father was already spoiling a fight.

“No school again,” Lodovico thundered. “You are a disgrace to the Buonarroti family.” He grasped his son’s shoulder and then with the back of his hand smacked Michelangelo across the face.

“You refuse to understand the value of money, but I will make you understand. In the morning you will go back to school and stop chasing the painters once and for all.”

Michelangelo tasted blood from his cut lip. He thought of Granacci and Ghirlandaio and the drawings the master had praised. Ghirlandaio was the best chance he was going to have. He needed to make his father understand. “No, I won’t. I’m quitting school. I think I’ll join Ghirlandaio’s workshop as an apprentice painter.”

Lodovico grimaced. “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. How dare you even suggest it!” He struck out again, hitting Michelangelo’s jaw and knocking him to the floor.

Michelangelo knelt at his father’s feet, dizzy, and tried to collect himself so that when he stood up he wouldn’t lose his balance. He steadied his gaze by staring at a speck of mud on the toe of his father’s polished leather boot. Finally he leaned back, looking up at Lodovico.

“I have to paint,” he told his father. “That’s all I want to do. More than business or law.”

“You don’t even know what you’re saying.” Lodovico’s face contorted and he tugged on the edges of his red satin robe, jerking it tighter in his frustration. “Attending Urbino’s school is for your own good. And the good of our family.”

Michelangelo rose up onto his knees. “I don’t think you know what you’re saying.” He had never said such a thing to his father before. “I can be a great painter.” Only after he spoke did he believe it.

“You, a great painter?” Lodovico laughed wildly. “Wherever did you get that idea?”

Michelangelo knew better than to say my mother. Lodovico only became angrier when she was mentioned. “I believe I can be the best painter alive,” he said quietly, wondering if it was true.

“God help us all. What makes you think you can stick to painting? You can’t manage to attend the one school where you’re actually a student. To be as good as you want to be takes work. You haven’t learned what that is yet.”

“You’re wrong,” Michelangelo said. “I know what I need to do. I’ve figured out a way. And I’m already really good.”

“What you are is a disgrace. Begging on your knees, bleeding, for a silly fantasy.”

Michelangelo was steady enough to get to his feet. “I’m going to try.” The words bolstered him. He was going to try, no matter what.

“How will you do that?” Lodovico crossed his arms, amused in spite of himself. “Do you think I will pay Ghirlandaio to teach you after the money I’ve spent already?”

Michelangelo crossed his arms too, just like his father. “This won’t cost you anything. Because I’m good enough that Ghirlandaio wants to pay you.”

Lodovico stared at his son. “Pay me? Are you joking?”

“It happens sometimes. When a student shows exceptional promise.”

Lodovico began to pace. “Just how much is he willing to pay?”

“Twenty-eight florins over three years.”

“Twenty-eight florins!” Lodovico chuckled. “I’ll need to speak to him and verify that.” He stopped and pointed at his son. “I haven’t decided yet. I need to think this over.”

“Of course, Father,” Michelangelo said. But he knew his father well, and he wasn’t worried. Lodovico would accept.

Michelangelo tried not to smile as he rubbed his jaw. Ghirlandaio’s offer was the best chance he had to satisfy both his parents and himself.

The blood on his lip had dried, and the cut would heal. It was a small price to pay to paint.

 Next: Torture of a First-Year Apprentice


2 Responses to “Quitting School”

  1. Chris July 11, 2011 at 7:41 pm #

    Michelangelo’s father sounds like a real piece of work! Did he have any respect at all for his genius son?

    • David July 11, 2011 at 7:47 pm #


      If Lodovico Buonarroti did respect his son I haven’t seen any evidence of it. I think to admit he was wrong about Michelangelo being an artist would be to admit the failure of his own life. He loved the money, even stole some of it out of Michelangelo’s account a few times, which doesn’t suggest a whole lot of respect for his son. Yet Michelangelo never deserted his father and gave him back the family name and fortune he longed for. I guess some people are just hard to please. Everyone in the world seems to recognize Michelangelo’s genius except for his father: the one person he worked hard to gain it from.

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