A letter from Michelangelo

  • Eline Ronde - Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences
  • Liana Wobben - Faculty of Science and Engineering

At some moments, the project of the tomb was a big nightmare for Michelangelo. A good way to 'feel' his emotions, is by reading the letters he wrote during these moments. The letter below is a letter, written to the head architect of the pope, in which Michelangelo defended his departure from Rome.

To Master Giuliano da Sangallo, Florentine, architect to the pope in Rome

Giuliano- I learned from your letter how the pope took my departure badly and how His Holiness had made a deposit and is ready to do what we agreed on, and that I should come back and not worry about anything.

About my departure, what's true is that on Holy Saturday I heard the pope, who was talking at the table with a jeweler and with the master of ceremonies, say that he wasn't ready to spend another penny on stones, big or small, and this really amazed me. Still, before I left I asked him for a part of what I needed to carry on with the work. His Holiness answered that I should come back on Monday: and I came back on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, as he could see. Finally, on Friday morning, I was sent away, or rather driven out; and the fellow who sent me off said he knew who I was, but those were his orders. So, having heard those words that Saturday and then seen their effect, I grew desperate. But that wasn't the sole cause of my departure; there was something else as well that I don't want to write about. Enough to say that it made me think that if I stayed in Rome, my own tomb would be made before the pope's. And this was why I left so suddenly.

Now you write to me on the pope's behalf, so you can read the pope this: let His Holiness understand that I am more willing than ever to carry on with the work; and if he wants the tomb come what may, he shouldn't be bothered about where I work on it, provided that, at the end of the five years we agreed on, it is set up in St Peter's, wherever he likes; and that it is something beautiful, as I have promised it will be; for I'm sure that if it's completed, there will be nothing like it in the world.

Now if His Holiness wants to go on with it, he should place the deposit for me in Florence and I'll write to tell him where. And I have many marbles on order in Carrara which I shall have brought here along with those I have in Rome. Even if it meant a serious loss to me, I shouldn't mind so long as I could do the work here; and I would forward the finished pieces one by ones o that His Holiness would enjoy them just as much as if I were working in Rome - or even more, because he would just see the finished pieces without having any other bother. For the money and for the work I shall pledge myself as His Holiness desires and give him whatever security he requires here in Florence. Whatever it is, I'll give him that security before all Florence. Enough. One more thing: it would not be possible to do the work for the same price in Rome, because there are so many facilities here that don't exist down there. And I shall do it better and with more love because I won't have so many things to think about. In the meantime, my dear Giuliano, let me have an answer and quickly. There's nothing else.

On the 2nd day of May, 1506

Your Michelagniolo, sculptor, in Florence [1]


  1. Buonarroti, M., & Mortimer, A. (2007). Poems and Letters: selections, with the 1550 Vasari Life. London: Penguin Classics.