When Michael Angelo was twelve years of age, although he had had no instruction in art, he did a piece of work which greatly pleased the painter Domenico Ghirlandajo. That artist at once declared that here was lad of genius, who must quit his school studies and become a painter.
This was what the little Michael most wished to do, but he had no hope that his father would listen for a moment to the suggestion. His father, Ludovico Buonarotti, was a distinguished man in the state, and held art and artists in contempt. He had planned a great political career for his boy, as the boy knew very well.
Ghirlandajo was enthusiastic, however, and, in company with the lad, he at once visited Ludovico, and asked him to place Michael in his studio.
Ludovico was very angry, saying that he wished his son to become a prominent man in society and politics, not a dauber and a mason; but when he found that young Michael was determined to be an artist or nothing he gave way, though most ungraciously. He would not say that he consented to place his son with Ghirlandajo; he would not admit that the study of art was study, or the studio of an artist anything but a shop. He said to the artist: "I give up my son to you. He shall be your apprentice or your servant, as you please, for three years, and you must
pay me twenty-four florins for his services."
In spite of the insulting words and the insulting terms, Michael Angelo consented thus to be hired out as a servant to the artist, who should have been paid by his father for teaching him. He had to endure much, indeed, besides the anger and contempt of his father, who forbade him even to visit his house, and utterly disowned him. His fellow-pupils were jealous of his ability, and ill-treated him constantly, one of them going so far as to break his nose with a blow.
When Michael Angelo had been with Ghirlandajo about two years, he went one day to the Gardens of St. Mark, where the Prince Lorenzo de' Medici--who was the foremost patron of art in Florence--had established a rich museum of art-works at great expense. One of the workmen in the garden gave the boy leave to try his hand at copying some of the sculptures there, and Michael, who had hitherto studied only painting, was glad of a chance to experiment with the chisel, which he preferred to the brush. He chose for his model an ancient figure of a faun, which
was somewhat mutilated. The mouth, indeed, was entirely broken off, but the boy was very self-reliant, and this did not trouble him. He worked day after day at the piece, creating a mouth for it of his own imagining, with the lips parted in laughter and the teeth displayed.
When he had finished, and was looking at his work, a man standing near asked if he might offer a criticism.
"Yes," answered the boy, "if it is a just one."
"Of that you shall be the judge," said the man.
"Very well. What is it?"
"The forehead of your faun is old, but the mouth is young. See, it has a full set of perfect teeth. A faun so old as this one is would not have perfect teeth."
The lad admitted the justice of the criticism, and proceeded to remedy the defect by chipping away two or three of the teeth, and chiselling the gums so as to give them a shrivelled appearance.
The next morning, when Michael went to remove his faun from the garden, it was gone. He searched everywhere for it, but without success. Finally, seeing the man who had made the suggestion about the teeth, he asked him if he knew where it was.
"Yes," replied the man, "and if you will follow me I'll show you where it is."
"Will you give it back to me? I made it, and have a right to it."
"Oh, if you must have it, you shall."
With that he led the way into the palace of the prince, and there, among the most precious works of art in the collection, stood the faun. The young sculptor cried out in alarm, declaring that the Prince Lorenzo would never forgive the introduction of so rude a piece of work among his treasures of sculpture. To his astonishment the man declared that he was himself the Prince Lorenzo de' Medici, and that he set the highest value upon this work.
"I am your protector and friend," he added. "Henceforth you shall be counted as my son, for you are destined to become one of the great masters of art."
This was overwhelming good-fortune. Lorenzo de' Medici was a powerful nobleman, known far and wide to be a most expert judge of works of art. His approval was in itself fame and fortune.
Filled with joy, the lad went straightway to his father's house, which he had been forbidden to enter, and, forcing his way into Ludovico's presence, told him what had happened. The father refused to believe the good news until Michael led him into Lorenzo's presence.
When the prince, by way of emphasizing his goodwill, offered Ludovico any post he might choose, he asked for a very modest place indeed, saying, with bitter contempt, that it was good enough "for the father of a mason."
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