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Trouble in the Sistine Chapel (3)

The entire rear half of the ceiling was covered with a scaffold that looked like it was caught up in a spider’s web. It was suspended from ropes that were tied to the rafters and hung down through holes drilled in the plaster ceiling.

The Sistine Chapel before Michelangelo

The Sistine Chapel before Michelangelo

Michelangelo hurried up the scaffold to get a closer look at the damage. There were holes everywhere. In his ceiling.

How was he supposed to paint a ceiling filled with holes? This had to be Bramante’s idea. He shook his head in disgust. What a waste of rope! The whole scaffold would have to be torn down and rebuilt, and the ceiling repaired.

He reached out to touch one of the ropes and leaned back to study the ceiling. The scaffold prevented him from seeing the entire ceiling from the floor, or accurately judging the light. At least now he could take accurate measurements. That would allow him to get right to work on the drawings, much sooner than he expected.

Immediately he set to work measuring the pendentives. He didn’t hear the door creak at the rear of the chapel, but he couldn’t help being interrupted by two rather loud voices, which he recognized although he couldn’t see the men beneath the scaffold. Donato Bramante and Cardinal Alidosi had entered from the Sala Regia.

Their heels clicked on the marble floor as they slowly made their way toward the altar. Michelangelo silently inched his way to the edge of the scaffold so that he could look down at them.

“—was afraid when he first saw this ceiling,” Bramante was saying. “He spooked like a horse. Whinnied like one too.”

Donato Bramante

Donato Bramante

Alidosi laughed. “I saw him wear that same look in Bologna. Yet he stayed there, and cast that bronze. A good job, I’m told.”

“That was bronze, not fresco. This will be much harder,” Bramante said with satisfaction.

“Will he really come back?”

“I’d be surprised,” answered Bramante. “Humiliating failure can be so…humbling. You never can tell with sculptors. I think all of that hammering rattles their brains.”

Michelangelo gritted his teeth as he listened.

Cardinal Alidosi by Raphael

Cardinal Alidosi by Raphael

“It’s only twelve apostles,” said Alidosi, who didn’t know anything about painting. “Will it be so hard to paint them?”

Bramante pointed to the upper wall. “Do you see how the pendentives curve up into the ceiling? It’s not like painting a picture on a flat wall. That curve means you have to be really skilled at foreshortening or else the figures will look out of proportion. It is a very hard technique to master. Especially if you’ve never painted before.”

“So you think he’ll fail at this?”

“Definitely, if he doesn’t run away first.”

Michelangelo had heard all he could take. He picked up a coil of heavy rope and, with precise aim, tossed it over the side of the scaffold.

When the coil landed at his feet, Bramante sprang away like a rabbit and let out a high-pitched yelp.

“Who’s afraid now, Bramante?” called Michelangelo, and made his way down the stairs of the scaffold. He clenched his fists, angry enough to fight.

When he reached the chapel floor, however, Bramante was gone.

“Where is he? Where did the precious architect go?”

“I told him to leave,” Cardinal Alidosi said smoothly. “Your business is with me, not him.”

This made Michelangelo even more furious. “Bramante and I aren’t done. And I handle my business with popes, not cardinals.”

Alidosi chuckled. “Today, like it or not, you’re stuck with a cardinal.” He leaned closer, staring down Michelangelo. “Julius isn’t even in Rome. He’s gone fishing in Ostia. And I don’t expect him back anytime soon. So if you want to paint this ceiling, you’re going to have to deal with me.”

Next: Genesis (1)


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