Michelangelo Beaten for His Dream

Michelangelo could have said nothing in response to Vasari's biography, and we would have never known that his father beat him for wanting to be a painter. Little has been made of the beatings in the countless books about Michelangelo, as if it was no big deal for a father to beat his son for not doing what he wanted. But given Michelangelo's need to set the record straight some sixty years later, it must have mattered greatly to him that the world know what happened to him.
This is the way I imagine it all went down.
To set the scene, it is the early spring of 1488. Michelangelo is 13, his father Lodovico 39. Perhaps Lodovico believes his own self worth depends on the success of his sons, and dreams of being a man of great means, of wearing fine clothes and holding his head high as he walked around Florence.
But the reality is he lives in a rented house on Via Bentaccordi, lacks the ability and gumption to work himself, and thinks less of tradesmen who make a living by getting their hands dirty.
Of course, that's all Michelangelo wants to do. He cares nothing of means, is never comfortable unless working with his hands, and dreams of being a great fresco painter. Although Michelangelo wants to please his father, he also wants to paint. And now that his friend Francesco Granacci has found a way for him to do that, he has to confront his father.
As Michelangelo makes his way through the streets on his way home he smells the tannins of the leather shops for which the Santa Croce quarter is known. He knows his father is waiting for him, having consumed a great deal of wine, as he always does on the days he skips school.
When Michelangelo gets home his father is seething at the door. "How many times have I told you not to skip school," Lodovico said smacking his son across the face with the back of his hand cutting Michelangelo's lip. "You'll go back to school and forget this silly dream of yours."
"No, father, I won't," Michelangelo said. "I'm quitting school."
"What did you say?" his father said raising his hand readying to strike again.
"I'm going to join Ghirlandaio's workshop and become an apprentice painter."
"Not in my lifetime you won't," said Lodovico delivering another blow to Michelangelo's jaw knocking him to the floor.
Michelangelo looks at a speck of mud on at his father's polished leather boot. Then he sits up, staring at his father.
"I have to paint," Michelangelo said. "That's all I want to do for the rest of my life."
"I don't care what you want," said Lodovico tugging down on his red satin robe. "You'll do as I say."
Michelangelo rises to his knees.
"But I can be a great painter if you let me try."
"You, a great painter?" Lodovico says laughing. " I've seen your drawings. You're not that good. As a matter of fact I think you're a dreadful artist."
"I believe I can be the best painter alive," Michelangelo said wanting to believe he can be.
"So you think you can be as good as Ghirlandaio, or Botticelli, or Leonardo da Vinci. You'll never be that good. You'll fail at painting just as you failed at school."
"You're wrong, father," Michelangelo said. "I can be that good."
"Look at you, begging on your knees, bleeding. You're a disgrace to me and your brothers. You're nothing. And you'll always be nothing. You'll never amount to anything."
Michelangelo slowly rises to his feet. "But I want to try," he said.
"And how are you going to do that, boy?" Lodovico said crossing his arms. "Do you think I'm going to pay Ghirlandaio to teach you after all of the money I've wasted on you already?"
This is the moment Michelangelo has been waiting for.
"You won't have to pay Ghirlandaio anything," he said. "He thinks I'm good enough to pay you, if you'll let me join his workshop."
Lodovico raises his right hand to his chin. "Pay me? How much is he willing to pay?"
How much of this is true? We know from Condivi that Lodovico Buonarroti beat his son for wanting to become a painter and from Vasari that he changed his mind and signed a three year contract with Domenico Ghirlandaio to teach Michelangelo how to paint. But we don't know how that happened.
Although the above scene is pure conjecture on my part, a confrontation like this makes sense to me. More importantly, I just can't believe a father would beat his son without saying something to dissuade him of his ways. What he said and how he said it we'll never know. But why wouldn't Lodovico plant the seeds of doubt, the fear of failure in his son, not wanting him to ever become a painter?
The beatings may have stopped when Michelangelo became an apprentice painter, but the real wounds may have been mental, not physical. Perhaps the greatest damage to Michelangelo's dream was done before he ever picked up a paint brush.

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