why did leonardo da vinci and michaelanglo hated each other?
The rivalry between the two great masters began in the early sixteenth century, when both Leonardo and Michelangelo were hired to paint vast battle scenes on the same wall of the Council Hall in Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio. The two artists were in direct competition as they each completed their commission. At the time of the commission, in 1503, Leonardo was in his early 50s, and was well known throughout Europe. He was commissioned to paint a huge wall painting of The Battle of Anghiari, a scene from the recent wars between Florence and Milan. Then, just a year later, Michelangelo, aged only twenty-nine and something of a prodigy, was commissioned to paint The Battle of Cascina, a fourteenth century conflict between Florence and Pisa, on the same wall. This commission came months after Michelangelo’s David, arguably still the world’s most recognisable sculpture, was unveiled in Florence. Despite his fame, Leonardo now had a rival.
Another artistic Renaissance rivalry existed between Michelangelo and Raphael. When young artist Raphael emerged onto the Renaissance art scene in Italy in 1504, he had an intricate style that was influenced by his predecessors, including Leonardo and Michelangelo, he certainly ruffled a few feathers. In 1508, at the young age of twenty-six, Raphael was commissioned by Pope Julius II to paint a fresco in the Pope’s private library in the Vatican Palace. He beat out competitors Michelangelo and Leonardo to win the commission, and his work was very highly reviewed.
Michelangelo and Da Vinci stood out as strong and mighty-personalities with two irreconcilably opposed attitudes to art – yet there is a bond of deep understanding between them. Da Vinci was twenty years Michelangelo’s senior and each had his own set vision about art. Their fierce independence led to clashes whenever circumstances, such as simultaneous commissions for cartoons of the Palazzo Vecchio, brought them face-to-face. From Donatello and Verrocchio, Da Vinci had developed his sfumato style, best defined as “blending light and shadow without trait or sign, like smoke” and best witnessed in the Mona Lisa at the Louvre Museum of Paris. It obtains hazy contours and dark colours, opposite to Michelangelo’s technique seen in his Doni Tondo (a.k.a. The Holy Family) at the Uffizi in Florence. Da Vinci spent years under Verrocchio while Michelangelo had lasted just one at the Ghirlandaio workshop before studying under Bertoldo: Michelangelo saw himself primarily as a man who worked stone.
For Da Vinci, the essential concern was the long quest for truth while Michelangelo was dogged all his life by the meaning of art itself. Both had dissected cadavers to learn anatomy but for different reasons: Da Vinci was out to render the truth of a gesture in order to better represent action and emotion while Michelangelo simply had a hardwired interest in crafting nudes – Da Vinci never painted nudes. Michelangelo’s David standing in contrapposto is the direct result of his anatomical studies. In short, anatomy affected the two greats very differently.
Vasari relates a wonderfully bitchy remark made to him by Michelangelo after visiting Titian’s studio. To Titian’s face, of course, Vasari and Michelangelo praised his work. After leaving, Michelangelo commented on what a great painter Titian would have been if only he had been taught to draw properly. In his seventies and eighties, Michelangelo was pursued by a now–forgotten figure named Nanni di Baccio Bigio, who wanted to replace him as architect of St Peter’s, and loudly, unavailingly complained that the great man was senile, incompetent and knew nothing of architecture.
Hardly had Michelangelo begun to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling in 1508, when Raphael also arrived in Rome and began to win golden opinions for his paintings in the papal apartments. Such was the younger artist’s kudos, that when the first part of the Sistine ceiling was unveiled in 1510, one ambassador reported that it was Raphael who had painted it (a view that, if Michelangelo heard it, must have made him gnash his teeth with fury).
The young sculptor flushed. His chin raised a notch. Leonardo recognized the look. It was pride. He was tired of other people’s pride.
Sixteenth century Florence was home to the Renaissance’s greatest talents—among them, the inimitable Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti. The former was, most famously, the genius behind oils like the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper. The latter, for the Pietà, David, and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
“Divine Rivalry” begins Saturday, July 7 and runs through August 5 at the Old Globe.
Throughout the play, which had its world premiere at the Hartford Stage in 2011, the two artists trade insults, but also ideas about art, religion and war.