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Today is Michelangelo Buonarroti’s birthday. He is 540.

In the coming weeks, I will put out a post about the plot of my upcoming novel, but here’s a teaser:

Michelangelo is one of the protagonists.

The entryway of my house: drawings and letters by Michelangelo
The entryway of my house: drawings and letters by Michelangelo

I have known Michelangelo for over 20 years. As a child, I’m sure I heard rumors about him—hasn’t everyone seen a picture of his David or Creation of Adam?—but I officially met him during my sophomore year of college when I took my first art history class.

I quickly developed a crush.

Late at night, long after finishing my homework, I would stay awake to read as much as I could about his art, family, poetry, appearance, homes, work habits, likes, dislikes… What did he eat? Where did he live? How did he sleep? Whom did he love? I read his letters and poems over and over again. Like he spoke to his marble, I spoke to him.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t so much a crush as an obsession.

Then, I spent the summer of 1996 studying art in Pisa, Italy. We were a quick train ride from Florence, and it was there that I fell madly in love with Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simone.

It wasn’t just walking up that aisle of his unfinished slaves to come face to face with David for the first time:

Photo by Darren Milligan
Photo by Darren Milligan

Or strolling the halls of Casa Buonarroti, standing beneath his Bacchus in the Bargello, being transfixed by his Night and Day in the Medici Chapels, or visiting his tomb in Santa Croce…

It was finding him—his Italian spirit, temper, passion, drive, wit, faith—in the people, churches, streets, and food… It was hiking—the long way around—up to Piazza Michelangelo to overlook the glittering mosaic that is Florence.

And in Rome—standing beneath the Sistine ceiling for the first time, gazing up at his Last Judgment, visiting Moses, and weeping before his Pieta—I found more than him.

I found myself.

I found my own anxieties and hopes. My struggles and passions. My power and flaws.

Since then, I have gone on a pilgrimage to see every Michelangelo on display in the world. I suppose I didn’t do that so much to find him, as to find myself.

I am not the only one who loves him or who sees a mirror in his art. It’s why he has remained a beloved master for over 500 years. I am grateful to be just one of many. If I were the only one who loved him, I would be sad. He deserves to be loved, even if he didn’t always know it.

That’s true for all of us.

So, happy birthday, Michel.

YOU lasted almost 89 years on this earth, but your art lives on. In the marble. In the paint. In all of us.