Buy Michelangelo’s country villa

A drop-dead gorgeous villa in Tuscany that once belonged to the Renaissance genius Michelangelo Buonarrotti can be yours today for a mere $8,441,193. Nestled in the verdant Chianti hills just 22 miles from Florence and nine miles southwest of Siena, this masonry villa looks frozen in time, like Michelangelo might storm up any second and ask just what the hell you’re doing in his house. Except it has bathrooms now. Seven of them. Also eight bedrooms, fireplaces you could spit-roast an ox in and a kitchen that pulls off that rare miracle of integrating modern conveniences with ancient glories. Don’t even get me started on the ceilings.

Michelangelo bought the property in 1549 when he was 74 years old. He was hugely famous and in demand as a painter, sculptor and architect. Just one year after Michelangelo bought the villa, Giorgio Vasari would publish his biography of the master in his seminal work of art history, the Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects. It was the first biography of a living artist and testifies to the high esteem in which he was held by Vasari and most everyone else at this time. Michelangelo had had bouts of serious ill-health in the 1540s and suffered great personal losses when his close friend Vittoria Colonna and his brother Giovansimone Buonarrotti died within a year of each other, but he was still very much active, working on a variety of papal commissions and personal projects in Rome.

He’d been appointed architect of St. Peter’s Basilica in 1546 and worked on it steadily until his death. In 1542 he was commissioned by Pope Paul III to paint two frescoes, the Conversion of Saint Paul and the Crucifixion of Saint Peter, in the Pauline Chapel, a newly built chapel in the Apostolic Palace a door down from the Sistine Chapel where Michelangelo had just completed the Last Judgment in 1541. He finished the murals in 1549, the same year he bought the villa in Tuscany. You can see both frescoes, restored to their original brilliant colors in 2009, in this virtual tour of the chapel. They’re almost exactly to the right and left of your default position when you enter the room. From 1547 through 1550 he worked on completing the facade and courtyard of the Palazzo Farnese (Paul III was born Alessandro Farnese). He also started the Rondanini Pietà around 1547.

So Michelangelo was swamped with work which kept him in Rome and left him little free time to return home to his beloved Tuscany, chug Chianti and chill. (He didn’t drink, actually. Michelangelo lived something of an ascetic lifestyle.) As a committed Republican, he also had serious ideological differences with Cosimo I de’ Medici, first Granduke of Tuscany, which kept Michelangelo from returning to Florence no matter how thoroughly Cosimo showered him with inducements.

Michelangelo was in Rome when he died on February 18th, 1564, less than three weeks from his 89th birthday. His nephew Lionardo Buonarroti went to Rome to recover his uncle’s body and arrange its transport to Florence. Vasari’s second edition of the Lives claims, probably hyperbolically, that Roman authorities didn’t want to release the body because they wanted the great artist buried in St. Peter’s so Lionardo hid the corpse in a basket and smuggled it out of the city in the middle of the night. By whatever means, Michelangelo’s mortal remains were interred in the basilica of Santa Croce in Florence.

Lionardo inherited the Chianti villa after Michelangelo’s death along with everything else the artist had left behind, including the Casa Buonarroti in Florence which Michelangelo had bought but never lived in and which is now a museum with a rich family archive. The hillside villa remained in the Buonarrotti family for more than three centuries until it was sold in 1867.

The current owner has renovated it with due care for its historical significance and original elements. He also owns the original documents and deed to the home, which I presume comes with the house because you’d have to be a monster to separate the villa and the historic paperwork. That’s almost worth $8 million right there.

12 thoughts on “Buy Michelangelo’s country villa

  1. Darn — why didn’t I win that monster lottery from last month.

    This is such an inspiring place – linked to a talent known around the globe by a single name -it would be grand if someone bought the estate and turned it into a place for artists. Each could live there for a specific period and their lodging-payment would be to make new art for a public location in Italy.

    It should always be associated with the best aspects of art – not just become the property of a wealthy person looking to name-drop the former owner’s achievements.

  2. I, too, had the thought that if only I had won that YHUUUUUUGE 1.5 billion Powerball lottery in December, that I could buy Michelangelo’s villa. As an artist inspired primarily by the Old Masters, particularly Mr Buonorotti and Mr. Da Vinci, I’d would make the property available as an artists’ retreat for the study of Michelangelo’s work. I’ll keep the faith that one day I’ll hit that lottery.

  3. Preston, it might be hard to discover, even from the deeds, how old the place is.

    I live about 40 miles to the west, so I have some feel for the area.

    There was probably a small farmhouse on the property from mediaeval times: the plot is on a well-drained slope with what seems to be a south-west orientation, pretty much ideal for a decent farm here.

    Over the last 450 years the original farm/manor house will have been rebuilt and extended, with barns and byres added then converted. Traditional Tuscan building techniques disguise the age of buildings very effectively. I know of places which look ancient, but which were built in the last ten years.

    The current owner, and presumably his predecessors, has done a superb job here. Looking at the pics, I have picked up one or two ideas for our little converted cantina (cellar)for when I finally retire.

  4. Jeff–Exactly! It’s a rustic “podere” that was villa-ed out at a fairly late date. But a skillful job and–oh my God!–six acres of prime Chiantishire real estate. Still, you can get much grander houses around here for that amount of money. I wonder if anyone in the Buonarroti family ever actually spent a night there? Michelangelo himself certainly never set foot on the grounds as owner–since he left for Rome in 1534 and only returned feet-first for his burial in 1564. However, he did pick up investment properties for his family. Meanwhile, the chief family property–in Michelangelo’s day and where he partially grew up–is in Lower Settignano (not far from Villa I Tatti, in fact. And it too is known as “Villa Michelangelo”. HOWEVER, having said that, when all of you–Liv’s devoted readers–pool your lottery winnings and buy the place,you will have to invest in a serious security system if you want to keep me away! Ed G.

  5. Thanks Jeff. I imagine that it could’ve been pretty old when Michelangelo bought it. I looked on the site that’s selling it, but it doesn’t say either. Just curious.
    That must be an amazing area to live in. One thing that struck me when I was in Europe, was how the houses were built yo last. There’s supposedly ones in the city of Rome that were built during the Empire, and are still inhabited. Granite is a durable building material.

  6. Jeff —

    The COMMENTS writers – yearn to be NEAR this historic location and enjoy the glories of Italy. Now we know about your ‘cantina’ just down the road. (Please say it has NO FENCE!) You, dear Jeff, could at least open a foundling home or adopt us! We could all share the ‘Cantina St. Jeffery Orphanage’ and cover the expenses with pooled Social Security checks!

  7. Sweet Audrey

    I doubt if many of you would fit in our little apartment. It is at the foot of a biggish apartment building, a few yards from the Tower put up by the Goths in the Seventh Century, effectively founding the village. Italy was a tough place then. I should guess that our building was within the defensive wall, and it would have been some work to climb the hill and assault us.

    Part of the structure was a chapel, now an apartment. A published poet lives above us.

    Before modernisation, our place was a byre/store, a blacksmith’s workshop, and somehow a hangout for the local Youth including, according to a former girlfriend, one Andrea Bocelli. I believe he sings a bit.

    If anyone here intends to be in Western Tuscan, separate from but still handy for the Golden Triangle, our host has my email.

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