Of all the Old Masters, Leonardo and Caravaggio are the main media darlings, subject to a ceaseless tide of speculative claim and counterclaim. But that grumpy old man-mountain Michelangelo (1475–1564) continues to hold his own. Big scholarly tomes and popular biographies tumble with metronomic regularity off the presses, and the latest discoveries and theories remain newsworthy: he was a fat cat who embezzled Pope Julius II’s heirs; The Last Judgement was inspired by visits to Roman steam baths; this is a lost early painting or that is a forgotten sculpture.
There are other reasons, aside from Michelangelo’s celebrity, why six substantial biographies have appeared in English during the last five years. Art historians are profiting from the publication in reliable editions of vast amounts of documentation. There are around 1,400 surviving letters to and from the artist, as well as