For Michelangelo, there was nothing to celebrate. Five hundred years ago, Pope Leo X forced him to leave his beloved Carrara and find new quarries in the impenetrable surroundings of Pietrasanta and Seravezza to extract marble for the façade of Florence’s San Lorenzo Basilica. Michelangelo was a stubborn man and strenuously opposed the papal decision, not seeing the point in changing suppliers. But Giovanni de’ Medici, a.k.a. Leo X, was resolute: Carrara marble came at a cost, while the Pietrasanta area was controlled by Florence, so the rock was free. It came at a high price for the artist who, already a sculptor, painter and architect, now had to improvise as quarryman and road builder too. If marble was to be found in the mighty Monte Altissimo overlooking Seravezza, it was not easy to get it.
Begrudging every minute, Michelangelo spent three years climbing, exploring and taming the harsh mountainsides. “I am the unhappiest man in the world,” he declared in one of the many letters sent to his brother. “Trying to tame these mountains and instilling skills here is akin to resurrecting the dead.” Complaining at the lack of help and funding money, Michelangelo carried on doggedly. He unearthed white veined Statuario marble on Monte Altissimo and began building a road to the sea so that it could be shipped to Florence. But in 1520, Leo X had second thoughts and discharged Michelangelo. The Renaissance genius suffered the dismissal: in his mind, so much time, effort and money had been wasted. With his broken dream and broken heart, he was obliged to turn over a new leaf and “spread a veil of mercy” on the matter. Years later, it turned out that the work had not been done in vain. Grand Duke Cosimo I guessed the potential of the area, building a beautiful villa in Seravezza, completing the Michelangelo road from Monte Altissimo to Forte dei Marmi and paving the way for the marble industry in Versilia.
Michelangelo: Hard Times in the Apuan Alps
September 27, 6.30pm, the Italian Institute of Culture in London
Margreta Moss will lead a special lecture, flanked by Massimo Ruffilli, a Florentine scholar of Michelangelo as architect who has researched the façade of San Lorenzo Basilica, and Nicolas Bertoux, a French artist who lives in Seravezza and whose ARKAD Foundation supports international sculptors and the Alta Versilia marble quarries.