A Mt. Rushmore type monument fantasized by Michelangelo for the mountains of Carrara


Michelangelo had a vision:

One day when he was high up in the mountains above the town of Carrara, looking down at the peaks and valleys below and the Mediterranean in the distance beyond, ‘he formed the wish to make a colossus, that would be visible to mariners from afar.’ In other words, Michelangelo wanted to carve a chunk of mountain into a human figure.

One guesses, though the subject is not described, that he had in mind a naked male body. He was inspired to this reverie by ‘the available mass of rock, which could be carved most conveniently’, and by the desire to emulate – not to say outdo – the ancient Greeks and Romans, who, he would have known from reading Pliny, had created several gigantic statues.

Obviously, however, this project was impossible. No patron would pay for it, no one was likely to want it – even the sailors who would gain at fantastic expense a possibly useful landmark.

With the available workforce and technology, it was wildly impractical. Even with modern power tools, such mountain carving is a difficult and lengthy process. A memorial to the Native American warrior Crazy Horse begun in the Black Hills of Dakota in 1948 has still not been completed.

However, Michelangelo was strangely reluctant to give this dream up. ‘He certainly would have done it if he had had enough time,’ the Condivi Life insisted, apparently directly quoting the words of Michelangelo. Then, slipping into the first person, Condivi added, ‘Once I heard him complain sadly about this.’ Another decade later, now verging on ninety,

Michelangelo repeated much the same regret to Calcagni: ‘This was, he said, a madness that came over me, but if I could have been sure of living four times longer than I have lived, I would have taken it on.’ That casual estimate puts the period necessary for the completion of the figure carved from the mountain at over three hundred years.

It is tempting to speculate on why he found this wild idea so hard to abandon, so that the thought of it still filled him with sadness half a century later. The reason must have been that the unexecuted man-mountain was emblematic of two things. It stood for all the ambitious schemes, among them the tomb of Julius itself, that were never completed or only in a much reduced manner. And, perhaps even more, the colossus at Carrara represented a project that was his idea alone, not something done at the instigation of a powerful patron, some swaggering gran’ maestro.

Michelangelo’s urge to take control of every aspect of the creative process is one of the traits that make him seem modern. Eventually, he was to make important works just because he wanted to, for people he loved. However, they were on pieces of paper, not carved out of Apuan Alps.

Gayford, Martin. Michelangelo: His Epic Life (pp. 211-212). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.


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