Altar egos 4 – Michelangelo

John Gosden has had to be patient with Michelangelo. The bay colt, sired by Galileo, did not race as a two year old. It was clear then that he was a horse that would not show its capability over short distances.

Clearly, much was expected of him, as he made his debut not in an ordinary maiden at some out of the way track, but at the course where many great artists shine, in a listed race at Newmarket in May this year. As you’d expect of an artist, he was not immediately the finished article, though the Sporting Life marked him out as “promising” from the start.

Three races on, Michelangelo seeks to make his mark on his grandest canvas yet. His Sistine Chapel ceiling is his first attempt at a Group 1 race in this afternoon’s St Leger. Maybe it needs a decent sized leap of faith to believe he’ll win, but that sort of thing runs in the family. After all, it took years before Galileo’s view that the earth revolved around the sun was accepted.

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Michelangelo’s work at a 16th century painter, sculptor and poet marked him out as one of the greatest figures of the Renaissance. Unlike his altar ego, Michelangelo displayed precocious talent as a youngster, and at the age of 14 he was apprenticed to one of the leading trainers/artists, Domenico Ghirlandaio, in the “headquarters” of the Renaissance, Florence.

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This proved a valuable grounding for the young artist, and when the rulers of Florence, the Medici family (is there a parallel to the Maktoums here?) asked Ghirlandaio for his two best pupils, Michelangelo was sent forward and benefited from their patronage for the early part of his life.

During his long life he shuttled back and forth between Florence and Rome, and all his major commissions were completed in one or other of these two cities: the statue of David in Florence, and the painting of the Sistine Chapel, with its 300 or so different figures, a masterpiece that took four years to complete.

There has been much speculation about Michelangelo’s sexuality. He wrote a series of intensely erotic sonnets a good 50 years before Shakespeare turned to the form to express some of his deepest thoughts about love. The view of Michelangelo’s own apprentice Ascanio Condivi (yes, he turned trainer in his later life), was that he had a “monk like chastity.”

However Michelangelo runs in the St Leger this afternoon, he’s unlikely to share that with his namesake.

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