Even Michelangelo Got Paid Late, New Vatican Archives' Book Reveals

A Ignudo, Sistine Chapel.
Another artist who waited to get paid for his work...in 1550. Image via Wikipedia

The Vatican has unlocked its archives, publishing them in a new book, reports the Toronto Star:

The book, $87.23 at Amazon.ca Saturday (but temporarily out of stock), is being published in English, French, Italian and Dutch editions.

And for the truly obsessive collector, there’s a limited edition available for $8,400. Only 33 copies will be printed on felt and hand-stitched, and three are already reserved – one for Pope Benedict XVI, one for the Vatican Library and one for, what else, the Vatican Secret Archives.

The original letters, whether written on parchment, silk or birch bark, are reproduced in exquisite detail, and a modern commentary accompanies each document.

They range from the sublime to the ridiculous – a 1586 letter from Mary Queen of Scots, written to Pope Sixtus V several weeks before her execution, to a 1246 demand by Grand Khan Güyük, the grandson of Genghis Khan, ordering Pope Innocent IV to travel to Central Asia, his “kings” in tow, to “pay service and homage to us” as an act of “submission.”

Otherwise, it warns, “you shall be our enemy.”

Also included:

  • In what surely must rank as one of history’s most impertinent “pay up” letters, Michelangelo writes in 1550 to demand that the Vatican pay his bill, then three months overdue, and complains that his work on the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica has been interrupted by a papal conclave;
  • Letters from Henry VIII and the peers of England written in 1530 about the king’s “Great Matter” – divorce, of course, and a matter near and dear to the hearts of any Tudors fan;
  • The document conferring the Order of the Golden Spur on Mozart in 1770;
  • The 1493 papal bull “inter cetera” of Alexander VI, awarding the New World, as the Americas were then known, to Spain;
  • Documents from the heresy trials of the Knights Templar in 1308-10;
  • The sentence of the Council of Pisa in 1409 deposing popes Benedict XIII and Gregory XII, and
  • The papal bull condemning and excommunicating Martin Luther in 1520-21.
  • Catholic News Service reports:
  • The new book lets readers see some of the things the academics have seen, including handwritten letters to Pope Pius IX from Abraham Lincoln and from Jefferson Davis.Both letters were written in 1863 while the U.S. Civil War raged on.The letter makes no mention of the war, but assures the pope that King is “well informed of the relative interests” of both the United States and the Vatican “and of our sincere desire to cultivate and strengthen the friendship and good correspondence between us.”On the other hand, the letter from Jefferson Davis, president of the secessionist Confederate States, is filled with references to the war and its “slaughter, ruin and devastation.”Only the first page of the letter and Davis’ signature are included in the book, but the Vatican historian’s commentary about the letter includes quotations from the second page as well.

    The commentator said Davis wrote to Pope Pius after the pope had written to the archbishops of New York and New Orleans “urging them to employ every possible means to end the bloodshed and restore peace.”

    Davis wrote to the pope about the suffering caused by “the war now waged by the government of the United States against the states and people over which I have been chosen to preside.” He assured the pope that the people of the South are fighting only to defend themselves and to ensure they can “live at peace with all mankind under our own laws and institutions.”

  • President Lincoln’s letter is a formal, diplomatic request that Pope Pius accept Rufus King as the U.S. representative to the Vatican.

    2 thoughts on “Even Michelangelo Got Paid Late, New Vatican Archives' Book Reveals

    1. Nick Obourn


      It’s good to know that even the legendary artist f our time had to haggle to get paid. Nothing changes. I guess the sad part is that back then, and today, you know that The Vatican had the money to pay Michelangelo, so not sure why they took their time. This book looks interesting though. Reminds me of the book Eyewitness to History by John Carey.

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