Michelangelo refused to be paid for his work on St. Peter’s Basilica

Domagoj Valjak
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Along with Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo is praised as one of the greatest artists of the High Renaissance.

He was a prodigy who excelled in architecture, sculpture, painting and even poetry. His career was extremely prolific, and during his lifetime he earned the nickname “Il Divino,” or  “the divine one.”

Portrait of Michelangelo by Daniele da Volterra

Michelangelo’s career started when he was 14 years old. He lived in Florence, and his father was initially reluctant to allow him to pursue the career of an artist. Still, at the age of 13, he became an apprentice of the famous painter Domenico Ghirlandaio.

A year later, Michelangelo’s talent was recognized by Florence’s most famous art patron, Lorenzo de Medici, so Michelangelo moved to the Medici residence where he studied, surrounded by the most talented artists of the time.

Michelangelo was commissioned to work on many projects that resulted in some of the world’s most grandiose masterpieces.

He sculpted his famous Pieta, the sculpture of Virgin Mary with the dead Christ, for the French cardinal, Jean Bilheres de Lagraulas. He also sculpted the famous sculpture of David, painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and worked on the grand tomb of Pope Julius II for several decades.

Since he was a famous and respected artist, Michelangelo earned a lot of money. For painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, he was paid 3000 ducats, which would amount to approximately 78 000 dollars in today’s terms, which at the time was a stellar amount of money. For the tomb of Pope Julius II, he was reportedly paid 10 000 ducats, an astronomical sum.

Main facade and dome of St. Peter’s Basilica Photo Credit

However, Michelangelo proved that he valued his art far more than money. At the beginning of the 16th century, Pope Julius II hired the Italian architect, Donato Bramante to upgrade the main church of Vatican, the St. Peter’s Basilica, which was a rather small and unimpressive church at the time.

Both Pope Julius II and Donato Bramante died before the work on the church was finished. After several architects had failed to finish the construction, Michelangelo was hired as the leading architect.

Michelangelo’s plan for the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica

Michelangelo worked on the church for years and refused to be paid for his work even though he designed the major parts of this timeless building. He continued developing Donato Bramante’s architectural plans and perfected them with his own creations. However, Michelangelo also died before the church was completed, but his successors continued using some of his plans.

The engraving of St. Peter’s Basilica by Stefan du Pérac was published in 1569, five years after the death of Michelangelo

In December of 2007, one of Michelangelo’s original chalk sketches of the St. Peter’s Basilica was found deep in the Vatican archives. This discovery was a surprise for many art historians because Michelangelo usually destroyed all of his sketches after finishing his projects.

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Historians presume that the sketch was preserved because a series of detailed mathematical calculations were found written on the sketch, and these calculations were probably used during the construction of the church.