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Michelangelo, the Piccolomini and Cardinal Francesco's Chapel in Siena Cathedral

Author(s): A. Lawrence Jenkens

Source: The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 144, No. 1197 (Dec., 2002), pp. 752-754
Published by: Burlington Magazine Publications Ltd.
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tus of a 'minor' work, its figures seen as the rushed products of an

Michelangelo, the Piccolomini and Cardinal artist whose attention was elsewhere.8 When the commission came,
Francesco's chapel in Siena Cathedral* however, it cannot have been of minor importance to the young
artist who, although he had recently finished his splendid Pieta for
the late Cardinal de Bilhares, had no other work save an altar-piece
to paint for a chapel in the Roman church of S. Agostino.9 The job
BY A. LAWRENCE JENKENS offered by the Cardinal of Siena also promised the significant sum
of five hundred ducats for the finished figures which were to be
carved over a period of three years. It may be that the Piccolomini
IN the early 1480s Cardinal Francesco Piccolomini commissioned commission finally allowed Michelangelo the opportunity to aban-
a large and elaborate wall chapel and altar to decorate his arche- don the S. Agostino panel, now convincingly identified with the
piscopal seat, the cathedral church of Siena (Fig.47).1 Carved from unfinished Entombment in the National Gallery in London, and
white marble and some three stories tall, this work was executed return
in to his native Florence.'o Whatever motivated it, the artist's
an elegant and then very fashionable classicising style by Andrea return to Florence effectively diminished the prospect that he
Bregno, one of the most sought-after sculptors in Rome in the last would ever realise the ambitious figural programme for the Pic-
decades of the Quattrocento.2 Cardinal Francesco intended his colomini altar: Michelangelo signed a contract to carve the figure
chapel as a memorial to his uncle, Pope Pius II (1458-64), but also of David in Florence just weeks after promising Francesco that
as a possible burial site for himself. In both his 1493 and 1503 he would accept no other work until he had finished the Cardinal's
wills, Francesco asked to be buried in St Peter's Basilica, next to his
uncle, should he die in Rome or nearby,3 but were he to die in some Although the basic facts of the Siena commission are already
other part of Italy, he instructed that his remains be interred in well known, a newly-discovered letter in the Biblioteca Civica in
front of the altar of his chapel in the Sienese Duomo.4 Francesco Trieste (see the Appendix below) offers fresh evidence to show that
Piccolomini became Pope Pius III in 1503 and, when he died after the project lived on in the minds of Cardinal Francesco's family."
reigning for only eighteen days, he was buried in Rome. This letter, now bound into a large volume of miscellaneous
Bregno never completed the Piccolomini monument, and in
Piccolomini documents, was written by Francesco di Nanni da
1501 Cardinal Francesco asked Michelangelo, a young Florentine Sarteano in Siena on 20th May 1508, and addressed to Archbishop
sculptor working in Rome, to carve fifteen marble figures to deco- Giovanni Piccolomini in Rome. The archbishop was Cardinal
Francesco's nephew and successor as Siena's chief prelate. Fran-
rate the Sienese altar." Although a large commission, it has received
cesco da Sarteano was a long-time servant of the family: he had
a relatively modest amount of attention in the literature, a neglect
been the Cardinal's trusted business manager in Siena, and after
that began in the artist's own lifetime.6 Neither Condivi nor Vasari,
Michelangelo's earliest biographers, makes any mention of the the latter's death was employed by Francesco's brother (and Gio-
commission or of the four figures which he did carve for the altar vanni's uncle), Giacomo, who bequeathed him the task of finishing
before October 1504.7 Perhaps it was the artist's own reticencehis palace. The letter makes it clear that Francesco continued to
about this commission - for Michelangelo himself was certainly serve the next generation of the family after Giacomo's death early
in 1507.12
Condivi's best source for his early career - that has earned it the sta-

*I am grateful to the College of Liberal Arts at the University of New Orleans for exception of the images of the saints and other images that ought to be placed on
a summer research fellowship, and to the director and staff of the Biblioteca Civica and about the altar panel, has already been completed, I order that the chapel itself
in Trieste for their help. An early version of this note was presented at Newcomb and all its marble decorations be finished and that all of the figures which are lack-
College Art Department at Tulane University in October 2000 at the invitation of ing on the panel or in the niches be completed.' One should note that the 1493 will
Professor William Tronzo. For their help, especially in transcribing and interpret- names the sum of money already paid to Bregno as 1,417 florins which makes more
ing the document, I am indebted to colleagues and staff at Villa I Tatti, especially sense given that the monument seems to have been completed and installed with the
Marilina Cirillo. Thanks also to Michael Hirst, Sarah McPhee, Caroline Elam and exception of the figures. See RICHARDSON, loc. cit. at note 3 above, p.204, note 51.
Richard Tuttle; Gino Corti was good enough to check and correct my transcription 6Much of the literature on Michelangelo's figures for the Piccolomini chapel con-
of the letter. cerns their authenticity as autograph works. For the early literature, see G. VASARI:
'Although now commonly called the Piccolomini altar, this monument, which bears La vita di Michelangelo nelle redazioni del 1550 e 1568, ed. P. BAROCCHI, Milan [1962], II,
the date 1485 in its inscription, is consistently referred to as a chapel in the contem- pp. 190-95. See also E. CARLI: Michelangelo e Siena, Rome [1964]; and most recently
porary documents. See note 5 below. G. BONSANTI, in K. WErL-GARRIS BRANDT et al., eds.: Giovinezza di Michelangelo, exh. cat.,
2For a brief summary of Bregno's career and further bibliography, see G. CASSESE in Palazzo Vecchio and Casa Buonarroti, Florence [1999], pp.308-11, no.40.
TheDictionary ofArt, ed. J. TURNER, London [1996], IV, pp.736-38. There is relatively
7M. HIRST: 'Michelangelo in Florence: "David" in 1503 and "Hercules" in 1506', THEm
little known about this commission. A letter from Platina to Lorenzo de' Medici BURLINGTON MAGAZINE, CXLII [2000], pp.488-89.
of 15th May 1481 asks for a safe conduct through Florentine territory for marbles 8That Michelangelo, even at the end of his life, had not forgotten his obligation to
which Bregno 'is preparing to transport from Liguria to Siena through Florentine the Piccolomini family is clear in a letter he wrote to his nephew Leonardo on 20th
territory for a certain chapel or, rather, altar commissioned of him by the Cardinal
September 1561 asking him to find a copy of the original contract so that he might
of Siena'. The letter was published in G. GAYE: Carteggio inedito d'artisti dei secoli XIV,settle the affair (P. BAROCCHI and R. RISTORI, eds.: Il carteggio di Michelangelo, Florence
XV, XVI, Florence [1889], I, pp.273-74. For an English translation, see H. MANCUSI-[1983], V, p.268).
UNGARO: Michelangelo and the Bruges Madonna, New Haven [1971], pp.57-59. 9For the National Gallery Entombment, see M. HIRST and J. DUNKERTON: Making and
"Cardinal Francesco had also commissioned his uncle's tomb, now located in S. Meaning. The Young Michelangelo, New Haven [1994], p.57-71; A. NAGEL: 'Michel-
Andrea della Valle in Rome from Andrea Bregno (CASSESE, loc. cit. at note 2 above, angelo's London "Entombment" and the church of Sant'Agostino in Rome', THEm
IV, pp.736-38). For Francesco's 1493 will, see c. RICHARDSON: 'The Last Will and BURLINGTON MAGAZINE, CXXXVI [1994], pp.164-67.
Testament of Cardinal Francesco Todeschini Piccolomini (1439-1503)', Papers of the "OIt is most often suggested that Michelangelo's return to Florence was motivated by
British School at Rome, LXVI [1998], pp.193-214. There is an oft-quoted manuscripthis desire for the commission to carve the large marble block that had for so long sat
copy ofFrancesco's 1503 will in Siena, Biblioteca Comunale, C.VI.9, fols.612r-29v. in the yard of the cathedral workshop in Florence. See HIRST and DUNKERTON, op. Cit.
For the bibliography on this document, see G. SHEPHERD: A Monument to Pope Plus II:at note 9 above, pp.70-71.
Pinturicchio and Raphael in the Piccolomini Library in Siena 1494-1508, unpublished "For the interesting history of the small collection of Piccolomini family documents
doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, 1993, pp.424-25. in Trieste, see A. ZEMBRINO: 'Manoscritti Piccolominei', in Inventari dei manoscritti delle
4RICHARDSON, loc. cit. at note 3 above, p.204. biblioteche d'Italia, v.109, Trieste and Florence [1997], pp.9-17.
5Francesco Piccolomini's will of 30th April 1503 sketches out the history of the altar '2The architectural commissions of the Piccolomini family in Siena at the end of the
commission (the translation is from MANCUSI-UNGARO, op. cit. at note 2 above, pp. Quattrocento and early Cinquecento are the subject of a study I am currently
74-77): 'Whereas Master Sculptor Andrea has already received four hundred sev- preparing for publication. See also A.L. JENKENs: The Palazzo Piccolomini in Siena: Pius
enteen gold florins on account of the two thousand gold florins agreed on comple-II's architectural patronage and its afterlfe, unpublished doctoral dissertation, Institute of
tion of said chapel, as stated in the contract..., and as all of the work, with the Fine Arts, New York University, 1995.


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Francesco's short letter was evidently written in responseures to afor it. Certainly the project to fresco the ceiling of the Sistine
lost letter from Giovanni Piccolomini asking for a copy ofchapel, the begun in earnest just as Francesco da Sarteano was writing
September 1504 contract drawn up between his father, Andrea, to the Archbishop in Rome, made any immediate work on the Pic-
and Michelangelo- a legal confirmation of the original agreement colomini figures impossible. Giovanni's enquiry about the altar in
between Cardinal Francesco and Michelangelo that had then only1508 was perhaps one further attempt to force the artist to
recently expired.' Francesco tells the archbishop that his brother, return to his previous commission before becoming too deeply
Pierfrancesco Piccolomini, has the contract and will include it with in the Sistine project. It must also have been true, how-
other papers he is sending him. Francesco then offers his ownever, opin-that the sheer scale and visibility of his commissions in Flo-
ion on the matter. He suggests that if Michelangelo does notrence carveand Rome had already made the execution of the Siena
the figures, however long that might take, they will never bestatues made less interesting to the artist. Any hope that Michelangelo
at all, and indeed he seems to be urging Giovanni to renew the would
con-carve those statues must surely have faded as he began the
tract with Michelangelo and not to worry if it should take some
mammoth job of decorating the Sistine ceiling.
time yet to have the figures." His concern proved prescient;We have no evidence that tells us if indeed Archbishop Giovan-
Piccolomini chapel today contains only the figures Michelangelo ni did approach Michelangelo about the Sienese statues or how
had delivered by October 1504. Michelangelo might have responded. There are two hints, how-
Francesco's letter and what it reveals of Giovanni Piccolomini's ever, that Michelangelo may not yet have abandoned the project
intention to pursue the commission suggest both that Pius III's heirscompletely in 1508. In June 1510 the artist's father, Lodovico,
had not lost interest in the altar and that they were intent on hav-wrote to his son about four blocks of marble which Matteo di
ing Michelangelo himself, now a prominent artist, carve all the fig-Cucarello had brought to Florence some time earlier 'perfare quelle

passage of the letter. Francesco da Sarteano's Italian is not absolutely clear, and the
"These documents were first published in G. MIIANESI: Documenti per la storia dell'arte
sense of what he is saying is further obscured by the fact that we are joining in a con-
senese, Siena [1856], III, pp.18-27. See also MANCUSI-UtNGARO, op. cit. at note 2 above,
pp.80-93. versation that had already begun elsewhere.
'4"I am most grateful, again, to Michael Hirst for his thoughts on the reading of this


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figure del chardinale di Siena'. Because Michelangelo Quercia which have didinnot want
the past been seen as possible sources for
them, he had had the blocks delivered to motifs Baccio da
in his ownMontelupo,
work of the first decade of the sixteenth century.23
and Matteo was concerned that Baccio had not In thepaid
larger for the
context mar-
of Michelangelo's career, the Piccolomini
ble.'5 This letter leaves us with the vexing and chapelhereoffers some telling ques-
irresoluble parallels with the better-known and
tions of when the marble was broughtmore to dramatic
Florence and
history why
of the tomb ofJulius II. The latter, begun
Michelangelo gave it to Baccio da Montelupo.'6 in Rome It in 1505,suggest
does was certainly
twobigger and more grandiose than
things. Michelangelo was, at some point, serious enough about
Francesco Piccolomini's chapel, yet both these funerary monu-
resuming work on the Piccolomini project ments to orderrequiredfour blocks carve
that Michelangelo of a significant number offig-
marble to be sent to Florence, perhaps as ures early as 1504
conceived as partwhen the
of a larger architectural whole. In designing
contract for the chapel was renewed, although the Siena instatues,
this Michelangelo
case Matteo encountered many of the same
waited a long time to be paid for it. It also indicates issues of the relationship
that by the between
earlyfigure and architecture that he
summer of 1510, and probably sometime was before,
later to Michelangelo
face in his more monumental designs for the Julius
had abandoned that intention. tomb - which also called for standing figures in niches - and then
The second hint that the project continued at least to haunt the again on the vault of the Sistine chapel. Michael Hirst has suggest-
artist comes in a letter he wrote to his father in Florence asking ed that the lowest pair of tabernacles on the Piccolomini altar were
him to put aside the hundred florins he needed to reimburse designed by Michelangelo, which would make them his earliest sur-
Francesco's heirs."7 The date of the letter is uncertain. Paola Baroc-viving architectural work.24 Even if this is not the case, it is interest-
chi has suggested, reasonably, that it was written in June 1511; ing to note the similarities between the decorative grotteschi of the
tempting as it is now to link Michelangelo's letter with renewed Piccolomini altar and those of the earliest phase of the Julius tomb
as they are preserved in the finished monument in S. Pietro a
pressure from the Piccolomini to finish the statues, it is most unlike-
ly that it can be dated as early as June 1508, as Harold Mancusi- Vincoli. Such architectural decoration was all the rage in Rome
Ungaro argues.'" The artist seems by this time definitively to have in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, but Michelangelo
abandoned the figures for the Piccolomini chapel, but he has also would have experienced it first hand, and indeed worked with it
been unable to tie up the project's loose ends. in planning his Sienese figures.
Francesco da Sarteano's letter also clarifies a point of interest Perhaps the most suggestive parallel between these projects,
concerning Michelangelo's early career. After promising to see that however, is that they were both left unfinished. Indeed the Piccolo-
the contract is sent to Rome, Francesco goes on to remind Giovan- mini chapel is the first of the major commissions Michelangelo
ni what figures have already been sent to Siena, and this list raises abandoned. In part the blame for this lies in the ambitious promise
the issue of whether and for how long Michelangelo stayed in he made - in this case fifteen figures, albeit two braccia each rather
Siena. The statues of Sts Peter and Paul and the two popes were than life size, to be carved in three years - and in the distraction of
sent from Florence, where they had been executed, but the figure bigger and more prominent projects that began to come to him at
of St Francis had arrived from Rome. This statue had been begun a furious pace. Michelangelo did not define the unfinished Piccolo-
by Pietro Torrigiani, perhaps at the behest of the elderly Bregno mini commission as a tragedy, as he would later characterise the
who had not even begun the figures destined for the altar.'9 The Julius tomb. In the ambition of the initial project, however, and in
1501 contract between Cardinal Francesco and Michelangelo the frustration and disappointment that resulted in its failure, the
Siena chapel establishes an agonisingly familiar pattern that was
called for the artist to rework and finish this figure - at no additional
compensation - so that '. .. it can stand among his own figuresto repeat itself numerous times over the artist's long, brilliant and
without betraying a different master or hand... '.20 The contract often troubled career.
further specified that the Cardinal would ship the unfinished statue University ofNew Orleans
to Siena where Michelangelo, who was required to go there in any
case to see and measure the altar, could finish it. The St Francis is
not mentioned again in the documents of 1504, although this does Appendix
not necessarily mean that it had been completed. The October
1504 contract does make it clear, however, that Michelangelo had Letter from Francesco di Nanni da Sarteano to Archbishop Giovanni Pic-
fulfilled his obligation to go to Siena - perhaps, as Wilhelm Rein- colomini, 20th May 1508 (Trieste, Biblioteca Civica, Manoscritti Piccolominei,
MS II, fol.164, letter no.121).
hold Valentiner suggested, as early as the summer of 1501, just
after he accepted the Piccolomini commission and before the con-Reverendissime in Christo Pater et Domine, domine mi unice, humili, comenda-
tract for the marble Davidwas signed in Florence on 16th August.2' tione praemixe. Inteso quanto la S.V. scrive di Micchalagnilo schultore, so' stato col
It is not impossible that he worked on the St Francis at that time, S [ignor] Pierfrancisco il quale m'd decto havere il contratto che fece la bona memo-
especially since he would have been waiting for the marble forria di Misser Andrea con lui. Et che lo mandard con certe altre scripture che d a
mandare a la S.V. Circha el dire se mi pare che gli si debbino allocare, dico che se
the other figures to arrive from Carrara. This is at least as likely as
non si alluogano a llui, che non si faranno mai pii et che per ogni modo la S.V. ne
the possibility that he finished the figure in Rome, during either faccia
of allocatione et non guardi a un pocho pii di tempo che qui non v'6 disegno,
his brief and busy visits there in 1505 and 1506.22 In any case, ne if in altro luogo che io senta. Qua sonno quattro statue che vennero da Fiorenza,
Michelangelo did spend enough time in Siena betweenJune 1501 cio6 San Pietro et San Pavolo et dui papi et e vi 6 uno San Francesco che venne gili
da Roma, el quale decto Micchalagnilo era obligato ad rifinire et ridurre a la per-
and September 1504 to finish the St Francis, he would also have had
fectione ad ci6 che tutte paressero d'una mano perch6 non lo fece lui. Sollecitate el
the opportunity to make a careful study of the city's artistic trea- S[ignor] Pierfrancesco che mandi el contracto. Raccomandomi alla S.V. re-
sures including those by Giovanni Pisano, Duccio andJacopo della verendissime. [. . .] Die xx maj 1508. Servitor Francesco de [. . .].

15BAROCCHI and RISTORI, op. cit. at note 8 above, I [1965], p.105. For Matteo Cucarel- opere italiane', Commentari, XII [1971], pp.305-25.
lo, see HIRST, loc. cit. at note 7 above, p.488 and note 9. 20The contract reads: '. .. acci3 possa stare infra le sue figure, et non si mostri maestro et mano
16This letter has been discussed in the literature concerning the Piccolomini chapel; diversa...' (MIANESI, op. cit. at note 13 above, p.22).
see MANCUSI-UNGARO, op. cit. at note 2 above, pp. 17-18. 21W.R. VALENTINER: Studies of Italian Renaissance Sculpture, New York [1950], pp.
17BAROCCHI and RISTORI, op. cit. at note 8 above, I, p. 118. 200-01.
18For the bibliography on the dating of this letter, see BAROCCHI and RISTORI, op. cit. 22Michael Hirst, private communication,January 2002.
at note 8 above, I, p. 118. For the earlier dating, see MANCUSI-UNGARO, op. cit. at note 23See MANCUSI-UNGARO, op. cit. at note 2 above, pp.31-32. CARLI, op. cit. at note 6
2 above, p.18. above, pp.20-21, dismisses Valentiner's search for Sienese sources in the Piccolo-
'9For the career of Pietro Torrigiani, see A.P. DARR: 'Pietro Torrigiani', in TURNER, mini statues, saying: 'Michelangelo a Siena trattennesi pochissimo, il tempo strettamente neces-
ed. cit. at note 2 above, XXXI, pp. 188-92 and idem: 'New Documents for Pietro Tor- sario per prendere visione dell'altare dove devono essere collocate [le statue] .. .' (p.21).
rigiani and other early Cinquecento Florentine Sculptors active in Italy and Eng- 24M. HIRST: 'L'artista a Roma. 1496-1501', in M. HIRST and J. DUNKERTON: Michelange-
land', in Kunst des Cinquecento in der Toskana, ed. M. CAMMERER, Munich [1992], lo giovane. Scultore epittore a Roma, 1496-1501, Modena [1997], p.78, note 58 and pp.
pp.108-38. See also M.G. CIARDI-DUPRE DAL POGGETTO: 'Pietro Torrigiani e le sue 84-85.


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