Eyes like silver-point pens
Michaelangelo “used his eyes as though they were silver-point pens, drawing for his mind’s portfolio” (Book 1, p. 9).
The thirteen-year-old apprentice immediately sizes up his master, Ghirlandaio, as though drawing him and saves the image in his mental file. When he is told to do a sample drawing, he draws the whole studio, “swallowing impressions” with his eyes (p. 10). In this case, eyes are like a stomach, digesting impressions. In another instance, his eyes seem to see through matter, as when he undresses people in his mind to draw their limbs accurately. His eyes thus are the first instruments with which he draws or carves.
Marble like a river
“Once marble is out of its quarry, it is no longer a mountain, it is a river. It can flow, change its course. That’s what I’m doing, helping this marble river change its bed” (Book 6, p. 400).
Sangallo is amazed how closely he shaves the line when carving the David. One wrong move, and the stone would be shattered. Michaelangelo speaks of marble as though it is fluid rather than solid. It molds easily to his hand, eye, thoughts.
Chisel like lightning
“At last he was back at the column, feeling whole again, and a master, the fierceness of his joy sending the chisel through the block like lightning through cumulus clouds” (Book 7, p. 498).
Michaelangelo never feels marble as a weight or dead thing. It is malleable, and as his chisel finds the form, he breathes life into the form, as though he is God creating. The extended comparison also refers to the fact that in the beginning, the piece of marble is dense and thick, like a cumulus cloud, opaque and formless. The lightning of the chisel illuminates the form and removes the cloud.
I am of stone
Balducci scolds Michaelangelo for living an ascetic life as he paints the Sistine ceiling, forgetting to eat and sleep. Michaelangelo pays no attention. He says simply, “I am of stone” (Book 7, p. 546). He means not only is he hardy, but also that he identifies with his favorite medium. He was raised cutting stone with the quarry men, and it has made him strong. Though the artist is slight in build, he likes to carve and paint strong muscular figures, feeling that he is giving his own strength to them. He thinks of himself as their equal. He lives a long life, able to weather the ups and downs of a country at war.