Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 4/Raphael and Michel Angelo

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2345499Once a Week, Series 1, Volume IV — Raphael and Michel Angelo
Edward Henry Michelsen


The family Farnese had built a splendid and costly villa on the bank of the Tiber, and Cardinal Farnese, on succeeding to its possession, requested Raphael to undertake the fresco-painting on the walls of the salons. The great artist for a long time refused the task, but his Eminence having won the intercession of the Fornarina, Raphael consented, and promised to employ all his talents in the work, under the condition, however, that none should be allowed to look at it before its completion.

It is well known that the rivalry existing between the two artists had at last degenerated into actual jealousy, and that there were at that time not a few among the connoisseurs at Rome who preferred the grace and beauty of Raphael’s paintings to the powerful productions of the gigantic genius of his rival. Michel Angelo was aware of the fact, and his excitable and haughty temper often betrayed him into malicious tricks against Raphael. When the villa paintings were in course of rapid progress, nothing else was then talked of at Rome. Some spoke with enthusiasm of the “Banquet of the Gods and the Union of Psyche;” others were inexhaustible in praise of the beautiful “Galatea,” while each and all expressed a desire and curiosity to know what Angelo would say of them.

All these rumours and praises of a work that nobody had as yet seen, and few only knew by name, having reached the ears of the jealous Angelo, he swore by Dante’s “Inferno” to use all the means in his power, fair and foul, to obtain a glimpse of the work in the villa, and to injure it beyond redemption. At that period Raphael was so enamoured of his Fornarina that he spent whole days in her company, and never dreamt of taking up his professional brush, while he hardly ever made his appearance at the villa before noon-time. One morning Michel Angelo rose early, disguised himself as an acqua vitario (spirit-hawker), took a basket filled with biscuits and liqueurs to the villa, where his cry, “Liqueurs, liqueurs!” soon brought down from the ladders within all the masons and labourers who were still employed in the interior of the structure. They opened the front door and invited the seller to bring in his wares. Leaving his basket in their hands, Angelo made his way to the salons, and, passing from room to room, he took a rapid survey of the various paintings, but remained fixed with admiration before the yet unfinished “Galatea.” Observing an empty spot in the centre of the picture, he took up a piece of charcoal, mounted the scaffold, and drew in the vacant space a colossal head of Jupiter. He then left the villa by one of the side doors, forgetting his basket and wares in the fullness of his mischievous joy. At noon Raphael appeared, and no sooner had he caught sight of the magnificent head of Jupiter in the centre of his “Galatea,” than he exclaimed, “Michel Angelo! Michel Angelo!” and left the villa never to re-enter it. The work remained unfinished by him, and the mischievous head is still preserved under a glass, and excites the admiration of artists and connoisseurs.