The Wealth of Michelangelo.
Istituto nazionale di studi sul Rinascimento. Studi e testi del Rinascimento europeo 16. Rome: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 2002. lxiv + 564 pp. index. append. tbls. bibl. [euro] 72. ISBN: 88-8498-057-7.
It might seem that the Florentine archives had long ago been plundered for every scrap of information relating to Michelangelo. We may well then join Rab Hatfield in his surprise at finding the records for the sculptor's bank account stored in the Archivio di Stato in Florence. Scholars have long been familiar with the image of Michelangelo as the hard-done-by artist, manipulated to produce work by patrons desperate for another work by the Florentine genius. In the wake of Rab Hatfield's new book The Wealth of Michelangelo, that image becomes increasingly difficult to sustain. For example, we learn that while working for Pope Paul III, Michelangelo received a salary of 100 gold scudi a month, at least twelve times the salary paid to Titian by Charles V (by comparison, a university professor made that amount in a year). Through publication and analysis of financial records covering a period of approximately sixty-seven years, Hatfield confirms some long-held beliefs, but more importantly provides astonishing evidence about Michelangelo's financial standing and by extension, his work and status.
Hatfield describes the discovery of Michelangelo's bank account with the Florentine Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova as being "perhaps easier than using the phone book" (xvii). These banking records cover a period of ten years, from 1505-15. From that original discovery, the search expanded, adding his Roman account (1497-1516) as well as property accounts (1506-64) and records of piecework, salary, and investment income (1496-1564). As Hatfield reports, many of these records had been found and transcribed by the early twentieth-century scholar Giovanni Poggi as part of a planned but never completed monumental work on Michelangelo. On his death, Poggi's papers passed to the Istituto Nazionale di Studi sul Rinascimento (which also published the present volume) and became available to scholars. The present volume then contains both new discoveries by Hatfield, as well as publication of documents transcribed by Poggi but never available in print.
The volume presents a vast amount of material on Michelangelo's financial history in original documents, as well as tables and analysis by Hatfield. The first half of the volume includes nine chapters that analyze not only the contents of the documents, but also their impact on our understanding of Michelangelo's personality and work. The book opens with a summary of the social world of Florentine patricians and artists, to which Michelangelo--as an example of both--is compared at the book's conclusion. In the bulk of the book, Hatfield examines each account or type of document, placing it clearly into the sweep of Michelangelo's career and creative output. While the punctuation in these chapters may verge for some on hyperbole (for example, one page contains three exclamation marks, albeit nonconsecutive), this is understandable; the astonishing volume and nature of the information almost warrants such typographical drama. Some may wish for more in-depth analysis and definitive conclusions; however, at this early stage the sheer volume of information perhaps warrants caution and patience.
The second half of the book contains transcriptions of various bank accounts, real estate purchase deeds, and salary records, as well as accessible tabular charts of the information from those accounts. Both in the documents and text Hatfield guides the reader through the complexities of Italian currencies, and makes reasonable estimations of their relative value, for the most part comparing them to period rather than twenty-first century notions of wealth. Thus, for example, we learn that at his death, Michelangelo left approximately 9,985 florins in liquid capital and uncollected salary--in excess of the 9,000 florins paid by Eleonora of Toledo for the Pitti Palace in 1549. These documents alone make a substantial contribution to Michelangelo scholarship, allowing scholars to confirm dates, payment amounts, and many other vital points. In addition, they present a detailed picture of Renaissance banking practices and an artists' social and financial network.
As a whole, The Wealth of Michelangelo contributes to critical issues in the history of Michelangelo and the Renaissance: the artistic process, art markets, the reliability of primary sources, and intricacies of Renaissance banking. The most striking contradiction, and the larger theme of the book, is the tension between Michelangelo's monumental wealth, and the frugality with which he lived. Hatfield suggests that this "obsession with money" (194) may well reflect the artist's ultimately successful efforts to rehabilitate his family, but also reminds us of the 1523 settlement in which Michelangelo took all the family possessions from his relatives. The resultant picture of a miserly, avaricious, generous, obsessed man will surely take much more time to integrate into the scholarly canon. In the meantime, we have Rab Hatfield's substantial new documentation and analyses to make fresh headway in furthering our understanding of this complex man and his work.
Truman State University
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2004|
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