We first take a look at the facade, which is made exclusively of rough brickwork, with some rows of brick sticking out, and others skipping back. Pope Leo X (a Medici) desired a beautiful facade for his ‘family church’.
The Pope organised a competition, with participants including Raphaël, Andrea and Jacopo Sansovino, but also Giuliano da Sangallo. Michelangelo ended up winning the assignment, but he had to work together with Jacopo Sansovino. After taking it up to the pope, Michelangelo succeeded in negotiating that Sansovino would be left out. Sansovino was now unemployed. He writes Michelangelo a letter. In it, he accuses Michelangelo, and rightly so, of defamation, dishonesty and self-centredness, but primarily of a breach of contract, as can be read here:
‘I also tell you that the pope, the cardinal and Iachopo Salviati are men of their word, when they say yes, it stays yes, they hold up their contracts and are not how you claim they are. But you judge them by your own standards, for you, there are neither contracts nor good faith, and all the time you say no or yes as it suits and profits you. And you know the pope promised me and Iachopo the stories on the reliefs; and they are men of their word. And I have been as just and profitable to you as I could be. That is why I not yet realised that you never do anyone justice and that, starting with me, you cannot tolerate someone else’s success. You also know that we have had plenty discussions, even that accursed time where you had nothing positive to say about anyone. May God be with you. I will be silent. I am very well informed, as you will be too upon your return. This is all.’ As written by Jacopo Sansovino in a letter to Michelangelo Buonarroti dated 30 June 1517.
Buonarroti later wrote that he was forced by the pope to handle the assignment on his own. Michelangelo Buonarroti designed a marble facade, but this never reached the construction phase. Naturally, he gave the facade several recesses for statues. It goes without saying that Michelangelo wanted to carve these statues by himself.
Aside from a few sketch drawings, a wooden model of the facade has been preserved which can now be seen in the Casa Buonarroti. What also remains is a drawing on which Michelangelo indicates to the masons the exact measurements of the different marble blocks. Costs for the facade design were 40,000 ducats, while the church itself only cost 25,000 ducats. The problem was in the transport of the marble blocks. Transport costs were ten times the cost of the marble blocks themselves. Capitals by Michelangelo for the facade has also been preserved. The facade was never constructed, even though a part of the foundations are in place. Michelangelo simply had too many assignments at that time.
In his architectural designs, Michelangelo never based himself on a flat surface, never used a module, rarely gave measurements in his drawings, and refrained from using a compass and ruler to calculate the ideal proportions. If you walk inside the church, you can see the difference between Michelangelo’s approach and of an architect like Brunelleschi. Entering the San Lorenzo, the linework that convenes towards one vanishing point is clear to see. The lines of the gilded wooden ceiling, the linework in the floor and architrave above the arcades all convene at one point behind the main altar.
Buonarroti rejected this static approach, his architecture was dynamic. This does not yet apply to his early architecture like the New Sacristy and the Laurenziana library in Florence. Michelangelo bases his work on the movement of man as he or she walks through a building. His thinking is spatial, as beautifully illustrated in his drawing for a bastion near Florence’s city walls (Casa Buonarroti). In this drawing, the directions that the cannonballs can reach are indicated by short dashes. The principal point in these drawings are the cannons that must be rotatable in all directions to fend off an attack. For these designs, Michelangelo places himself in the shoes of the men operating the cannons: a whole different perspective than the perspective of one vanishing point.