I think that scarcely any artist who is capable of understanding Michelangelo can be satisfied with any of the biographies devoted to him. Despite all the respect shown to him by all who have written about him, we artists always have the feeling that his work is not displayed in its real greatness: he is greater and more complicated than any of these books would suggest. We have however no idea of depreciating the admirable work of many who have written studies of the great Italian. But just as with all great work there is much pain and effort in the process of creation, so it is to a somewhat lesser degree in the case of great men, when their work comes to be interpreted. It certainly seems to me that I shall not go wrong in doubting whether a complete work can ever be written on Michelangelo by a savant without the help of an artist, or by an artist without the help of a savant.
The former holds all too much to the external facts and "realities" and events which have to be recorded, while the latter relies in the main upon his imagination and attempts a subjective reconstruction. Hence men of the pen are seldom capable of seeing what is behind and above the works, or that which lies on the other side of them, and to which the artist has more or less succeeded in imparting a material form. They simply lack the sense which would enable them to feel this: they lack the torch of fantasy by which, through the work before them, they might kindle in it that original something which was before its author as he worked. And the artist, on the other hand, lacks so many other necessary elements, above all, the time and patience for an exhaustive study, and the habit of expressing his meaning by the written word. Thus a middle way must be found, and the savant must consult the artist: for it can be said of the artist, if of anybody, that he has an inward hidden world of his own, which is much more important than the world outside, at least so far as his creative power is concerned.
Even though there is no doubt that the artist, like every other man, is influenced by the material and moral circumstances of his milieu, and by his own personal circumstances, and that these affect his outlook on the world and his imagination, yet this influence, in substance, does not play the decisive role, and certain figures, at least in their main activities, stand outside the direct influence of the age and circumstances in which they live. This might be said to be truer of Michelangelo than of any other man.
These few words make no pretence of being an infallible guide to Michelangelo's work: they are merely intended as a warning to those specially interested in it, not to accept as final what is written in the standard books on Michelangelo: but to endeavour to understand, appreciate and feel him for themselves. If they should find in this essay anything which will facilitate their comprehension of the great master, I shall be amply satisfied. Personally I have so high an opinion of Michelangelo that I hardly dare to write about him. If I none the less do so, it is only to salve my conscience for great and frequent enjoyment as I stood before his works. Hence in reality it is not so much about him that I venture to write, as about my own feelings and observations, as called forth by his works.