Finally the new scaffold was being raised in the chapel. Michelangelo watched with satisfaction, his thoughts full of plans for restarting his work.
When an unexpected hand grabbed his shoulder, he spun around, on the defensive. He hated being taken by surprise. As he turned he raised his left arm, swinging reflexively.
Francesco Granacci knew what was coming, and quickly backed away to avoid his friend’s devastating left hook. Michelangelo stumbled forward as he swung wildly through the air.
“Is that any way to greet an old friend?” asked Granacci, smiling.
After Michelangelo recovered his footing, he took in the sight of his friend and then opened his arms. “Il mio buon amico, you know me too well.”
Immediately he pointed upward. As Granacci slowly made his way down the middle of the chapel, looking at the ceiling, Michelangelo searched for slight hints of approval on his friend’s face. Light and dark bands swept across the ceiling as clouds floated by over Rome, changing the light.
Granacci hummed in appreciation. He also made a few groans, and winced once or twice. Then he stopped directly beneath the scene of The Great Flood, which the two of them had painted together three years before.
“It looks like I was right after all,” said Granacci. “I told you not to worry about this one. From here, your figures almost look as good as mine.”
Michelangelo smiled. “Then you approve?”
Granacci glanced over at his friend. “I remember it like it was yesterday. A frightened, skinny boy came into Santa Maria Novella, dreaming of becoming a great fresco painter. And now that little boy has grown up to paint this. It’s truly remarkable.”
Michelangelo bowed his head, pleased.
“I can’t wait to see it when you’re finished,” Granacci continued. “Have you completed the drawings?”
Granacci gazed up at the ceiling. “I still haven’t figured out what this ceiling of yours is supposed to mean.”
Michelangelo shrugged. “Can anyone know how a story ends without knowing how it begins?”
“So, it is a story.”
“Why don’t you stay, help me paint it, and find out for yourself?”
Granacci chuckled. “Oh no, not me. I’m too fond of Florence. And too afraid of popes.”
Michelangelo frowned. “I’ve heard all is not well at home.”
“Julius is livid at the Signoria for letting the Pisan Council go forward. Did you know he issued an interdict against Florence? No one can receive the sacraments. The people are afraid. Soderini and Machiavelli are now talking about raising an army.”
“There’s been talk of war here too. Julius has vowed to chase the French home, across the Alps. Francesco, I confess I fear for Florence. I watched Julius pound Mirandola into dust with artillery. After the city fell, the army looted it.”
“Soderini will put up a fight,” Granacci said with confidence. “He has no choice unless he wants to go live in France with Louis.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to stay?” prodded Michelangelo. “I could really use your help. The pope gave me only a year to finish.”
Granacci studied the ceiling. “You need to work more like Ghirlandaio. Paint only the main scenes yourself and leave the rest to the garzoni. Let them paint the framework, the lunettes, even the spandrels. That will leave you” — he paused to count — “ five prophets and sibyls, four Genesis scenes, and the two corners.”
“That’s exactly what I’ve been thinking. Francesco, please stay.”
“I can’t. I really must get back. I have my own commissions to work on.”
“Oh, come on. How many times can you paint the same Madonna and child? It must be so boring. Whatever happened to that great fresco dream of yours?”
“Oh, it lives on. In you.” Granacci pointed upward. “That’s good enough for me.”
Before the scaffold was finished, Granacci left Rome. And shortly thereafter, Michelangelo heard devastating news about Julius.
Next: Last Rites