It was a cold autumn’s day in Carrara, on 19 October 1503. The young, 28-year old sculptor Michelangelo Buonarroti had just heard the horrible news of the death of his good friend, Francesco Todeschini Piccolomini. He had passed away the day before, less than a month after his election to Pope, Pius III. Pope Pius III had been a reformist, openly protesting against the political intrigues of his predecessor, Alexander VI. Officially Pius III died of an infection of an ulcer on his leg, but soon rumors of poisoning spread.

Michelangelo Buonarroti – sculpture at the Uffizi of Florence

Michelangelo came to Carrara, looking for a piece of marble. His friend Pius had ordered a sculpture, depicting a Madonna with Child, intended for the altar of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta in Siena, commemorating his uncle, Pope Pius II.
Michelangelo already had a good idea of what the sculpture would look like. But would the successor agree with the order and buy the sculpture?

In September 1504, summer didn’t seem to stop. Michelangelo gently touched the head of the Madonna, feeling the cool marble. The sculpture is beautiful to him. He demonstrated his new views on shapes with this masterpiece.
The papal advisor, architect Donato Bramante, had just left. The new pope, Julius II, ordered Bramante to come and inspect the sculpture before buying it. The young Michelangelo already showed his skills with his ‘Piëta’, his ‘David’ was almost ready, but the papal advisor had been less than praising. This sculpture, showing Mary and Child, diverged with everything the old masters made, sculptures and paintings.
Grumbling Bramante said, “What have you done? The Child is too big. Furthermore, the Mother is not carrying the Child, as a loving mother would do. It looks as she’s negligently lets Him go. Mother and Child aren’t even lovingly leaning towards each other. There is no form of connection between them! As if the two figures are independent from each other…”
Michelangelo explains they are eternally connected to each other in the single piece of marble, and by their hands holding. The Child also finds security in the folds of the Mother’s cloak. Michelangelo’s explanation couldn’t convince Bramante.
Look at Mary’s face! There is an absent expression, She’s not there! She is not interested in the Child, staring in front of her. This sculpture will never touch the hearts and minds of any faithful Christian!
When Michelangelo opened his mouth to explain the somewhat blank face is more an indeterminate melancholy, expressing the unbearable realization of Jesus’ future, redemptive sacrifice, and at the same time the laborious acquiescence in that inevitable predestination, Barmante doesn’t give him the opportunity.
The Child isn’t even looking at the people standing in front of Him. He’s looking – and so does Mary – down! How could any human turn to this atrocity in prayer!
Michelangelo knew the sculpture was intended to be placed high in the altar in Siena. In its rightful spot, Mary and Jesus would be looking towards anyone coming before them. And the proportions, when you were in the cathedral, looking up to the sculpture, were precise. But, Michelangelo understood the underlying message, Rome wasn’t buying this sculpture.

In the spring of 1505, Pope Julius II calls Michelangelo to Rome. The pope is of the opinion Michelangelo is the most suitable man to design and sculpt his cenotaph. The young sculptor has Madonna with Child Michelangelo Buonarroti 33 made name and fame with several masterpieces: the Piëta, the David, the sculptures of Peter and Paul on the altar of Piccolomini. For his mausoleum, Julius II was something grand: a colossal Moses.
Sadly, Barmante deemed additional improvements to the Saint Peter’s Basilica are priority, leaving no more money to have Michelangelo construct the mausoleum. Disappointed, Michelangelo returned to Florence.
Shortly after Michelangelo return to Florence, Giovanni and Alessandro di Moscheroni were staying in the city. They were wealthy traders in cloth, coming from Bruges. At that time, Bruges was at its hey days with economics.
Jan and Alexander van Moeskroen (they liked to use the Italian ‘di Moscheroni’, sounding a bit more posh than ‘van Moeskroen’ does) had heard of this genius sculptor. They wanted to know if this young sculptor could make a sculpture for the Church of Our Lady in Bruges. With Michelangelo’s name and fame spreading quickly, they knew soon it would be impossible to afford a sculpture made by him.

The sculpture at the Church of Our Lady (Bruges)

On 13 August 1506, Michelangelo received a letter by Giovanni Balducci. “I estimate Francesco de Pugliese will have the opportunity to send the sculpture to Viareggo, and then to Flanders, Bruges, to the firm Giovanni and Alessandro di Moscheroni and Co.
Michelangelo was a happy man. He sold the sculpture of Madonna and Child for 4000 florins. It was the first time one of his sculptures would leave Italy.
A few weeks later, the sculpture, neatly packed in a crate, arrived in Bruges. Jan and Alexander were pleased. They pulled off something nobody else could manage. They bought a sculpture of a artist who was already a legend while he was still alive. In 1514, they donated the sculpture to the Church of Our Lady.
The only request they made was to be buried were the sculpture would come. Still today, and for all eternity, they rest at the feet of the masterpiece they bought from the grand master himself.

The tomb of Jan and Alexander van Moeskroen (Moscron) at the foot of the sculpture.