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Tomb for a Pope (2)

Julius grunted when he saw the first design for his tomb: a one-story mausoleum lined with three 10-foot statues on each side. Michelangelo had explained that the figures could be ordinary men, Old Testament prophets, or the twelve apostles.

“It looks rather meager, my son. I hope there is more.”

The pope sized up the second drawing, a two-story structure with more statues of men, women, and angels, and crowned by a statue of Victory.

“This one is better.”

Plan for Julius Tomb by Michelangelo

Plan for Julius’s Tomb by Michelangelo

The pope didn’t bother to work his way through the rest of the stack of drawings, arranged from the simplest to most grand. He flipped to the last page. It showed a 24-foot x 36-foot two-story rectangle standing 50 feet high. The structure was lined with 40 statues as great as the David, with two doors and a walk-in chamber for the sarcophagus. Topping it all off was a statue of Julius.

“Oh, I like this.” The pope tapped the page. “How long will this take you to carve?”

Plan for Tomb of Julius

Plan for Tomb of Julius

Michelangelo thought quickly. It had taken a year to finish the Pietà. Forty similar statues might take 40 years. The commission of a lifetime would take a lifetime to complete. Even if he could manage to cut that time in half, it was far too long for a 63-year-old pope to wait.

“I can finish in ten years,” Michelangelo said boldly.

“I’ll give you five,” said the Warrior Pope. “How much will it cost me?”

Michelangelo had been paid 4oo ducats for the David, but he hadn’t needed to buy the marble. For the tomb he would need to buy the marble for 40 statues and the mausoleum, pay for the labor to help, and cover his salary.

“It will cost twenty thousand ducats.”

“I’ll pay you ten thousand and no more.” The pope held out his hand for Michelangelo to kiss. “You will do this for your pontiff.”

Michelangelo assented, slightly stunned. He would do it, and gladly, locked behind closed doors in his own world of sculpting. Everything troublesome and undesirable would be far away: his father, his brothers, irritable gonfalonieres, Leonardo. He could spend all of his time with his tools and his stone. Piece by piece he would carve the figures — his “children” — to create a family that would be united forever, protecting the memory of Julius.

He was ready for this commission, the greatest he could have imagined. It was a relief that he and Julius seemed to understand each other.

Next: Tomb for a Pope (3)


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