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Finding it hard to get paid isn’t anything new…

During a few days annual leave, I had the chance to see Lux in Arcana, a series of documents taken from the Vatican Secret Archives. Amongst the many incredible documents, two stood out … One from Bernini looking for payment for marble for two angels, the second from Michelangelo who was in financial and security trouble with a commission that was suddenly stopped with the death of his commissioner.

“In 1547, when pope Paul III appointed Michelangelo superintendent of the Fabbrica (the construction) of St. Peter’s, replacing Antonio da Sangallo, the artist could surely not have imagined that he would soon be bereft of his powerful patron and protector. The Farnese pope died on November 10, 1549. Twelve days later, pending the election of a new pope, the committee responsible for overseeing the Fabbrica issued a decree whereby the work at St. Peter’s was to be halted, and the construction site and materials were to be confiscated and locked up.

This obviously implied halting the payment of wages due to all the craftsmen, carpenters and masons who were working on the project. Michelangelo, suddenly finding himself in very straitened circumstances, and also worried about the fate of his collaborators, was forced to seek help from his patrons and friends. One of the people he turned to was Cristoforo Spiriti, bishop of Cesena and future patriarch of Jerusalem.

In a short letter, Michelangelo told Spiriti that his workers had stayed at the Fabbrica “to guard it and defend the construction materials and other things like soldiers, at the peril of their lives,” but since he could not pay them himself, he feared the situation might lead to “damage amounting to thousands of scudi” and would probably cause a “scandal.”

A solution was found after Julius III was elected to the papal throne, on February 7, 1550. On March 13th, the head of the Fabbrica ordered the keys to the site to be returned to Michelangelo, and so they were.”

I was struck by how nothing much changes, if only he had VAI to call on…

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