THE TOMB OF GIULIANO DE' MEDICI

The tomb of Giuliano de' Medici is the companion to the tomb of Lorenzo, and stands on the opposite side of the altar which separates them. Our illustration shows the entire work, the statue being in the niche above, and the sarcophagus standing below with two reclining figures on it.

Giuliano de' Medici, duke of Nemours, was the youngest son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, and consequently the uncle of the younger Lorenzo. In reality he was greatly superior to his nephew, but curiously enough his appearance in Michelangelo's statue is more commonplace, though his attitude is graceful. He was a thoughtful man, somewhat melancholy in disposition, and the author of a poem on suicide. He wears the costume of a Roman general, but his small head and slender throat are not those of a warrior.

You will notice that the attitude of the duke Giuliano is somewhat similar to that of Moses. Both sit with left foot drawn back and right knee extended. Both turn the head in profile, looking intently toward the left. In either case it is easy to imagine the figure suddenly springing up.

Now this fact emphasizes the difference we have already noted between the sculpture of Michelangelo and that of the Greeks. The leading idea in Greek sculpture was that of repose, while, as we have seen in the David and the Cupid, Michelangelo chose for his figures a moment of action. To give this suggestion of motion to a seated figure is even more remarkable than in the case of one standing, for the sitting posture naturally has an effect of stability.

The reclining figures on the sarcophagus of the Duke Giuliano represent Night and Day, and are supposed to be symbolic of death and resurrection. Night is a woman lying with head sunk upon the breast in a deep sleep. She is crowned with a crescent moon and star, and an owl is placed at her feet. The mask beneath her pillow symbolizes the body from which the spirit has departed. Though the figure is not beautiful in the Greek sense, it is grand and queenly. Opposite is Day, an unfinished captive, his head half freed from the stone, the arms rigid, the body contorted.

These two figures, together with Dawn and Twilight on Lorenzo's tomb, have an allegorical meaning which must be read in the light of Michelangelo's own life history. "Life is a dream between two slumbers; sleep is death's twin-brother; night is the shadow of death; death is the gate of life—such is the mysterious mythology wrought by the sculptor."[31]

[31] Symonds, in Renaissance in Italy: the Fine Arts.

The work on the Medicean tombs covered a period of about twelve years. During this time the Medici family passed through varying fortunes, and in consequence the fate of the tombs, and indeed that of the sculptor himself, hung in the balance. Florence became weary of tyranny and rose in a revolution which drove the Medici from the city in 1527.

TOMB OF GIULIANO DE' MEDICI. Church of S. Lorenzo, Florence.
TOMB OF GIULIANO DE' MEDICI. Church of S. Lorenzo, Florence.

Success was of short duration: the republic soon "found herself standing out against a world of foes," the Pope, Clement VII. (himself a Medici), "threatening fire and flame," and all the Medici family "getting ready to return in double force." The Florentines prepared to fight for their liberty, and Michelangelo was found among the patriots. No sense of personal gratitude to the Medici could shake his love of liberty. He forsook the monuments and turned his skill to the fortification of the city.

For eleven months Florence was besieged, and in the end the city was captured. The Medici returned conquerors. Mercenaries now broke into the houses, killing the best citizens. Had not Michelangelo been in hiding, he too would have perished. But the Pope could not afford to lose his best sculptor, and, calling him forth from his hiding-place, again set him to work in the Medici chapel. It is not strange that the sculptor's proud spirit rebelled at having to work on that which was to honor the enemies of his beloved Florence.

Thus it was that his sculpture told the story of "the tragedy of Florence: how hope had departed, how life had become a desert, and how it was hard to struggle with waking consciousness, but good to sleep and forget—nay, best of all, to be stone and feel no more."

The old writer Vasari, who was once a pupil of Michelangelo, and tells us many anecdotes of the sculptor, relates that when the statue of Night was first shown to the public, it called forth a verse from a contemporary poet (Giovan Battista Strozzi). This is the verse:—

"Night in so sweet an attitude beheld
Asleep, was by an angel sculptured
In this stone; and sleeping, is alive;
Waken her, doubter; she will speak to thee."[32]

To this Michelangelo replied in the following lines:[33]—