In 1538, three years before completing Last Judgment, Michelangelo met poetess and lay theologian Vittoria Colonna. A widow, Colonna was a member of the Viterbo Circle, a reform group that called for the church to base its theology on divine grace rather than human works.
Michelangelo and Colonna enjoyed a passionate though platonic relationship of more than ten years, exchanging letters and having discussions about their beliefs regarding the church, politics, and the arts. This spiritual union was the catalyst for some of Michelangelo's most lyrical poems. His yearning for an ideal and unattainable woman remained strongly evident in his writings until her death in 1547.
It is important to note that the artist, while characterized by history as vir melancholicus (the absorbed and isolated contemplator), suffered helplessly in his personal relationships due to a lack of self-worth. These feelings of inadequacy often led him to show overly repentant behavior toward family and associates. Though defiant of his family's wishes from an early age, Michelangelo was attentive and supportive of his father and brothers, often sacrificing his own physical and financial welfare for their benefit. He pledged, "I will send you what you demand of me even if I have to sell myself as a slave."
After the death of his father, the artist developed a deep admiration for young Roman nobleman Tommaso Cavalieri. The latter inspired Michelangelo to create poetry and drawings celebrating the young man's "incomparable beauty," though his affection for Tommaso was only demonstrated from afar. It is also recorded that Michelangelo was on agreeable terms with his pupils Giorgio Vasari and Ascanio Condivi.
His gentleness and generosity were also enjoyed by his personal servant Urbino, who spent twenty-six years in his employ, and by younger artists with whom Michelangelo shared suggestions and sketches. Though temperamental and quarrelsome in his professional life, it is evident that Michelangelo's feelings of inadequacy, along with his desire for eternal salvation, led him to a life of moral virtue.
Michelangelo became gentler as he reached old age, and he accomplished some of his greatest work at this stage. Learn more in the next section of this article.