The Italian Almanac

a letter from Italian king, Vittorio Emanuele II

Italian News - December 13

A letter chronicling Michelangelo's payments to his assistants fetched a record price of $576,000 at Sotheby's. Michelangelo's signed letter dates from 1521 and records payments in gold ducats made to two sculptors who worked on his statue of the Risen Christ in the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome. The manuscript was part of a lot of three documents only expected to reach between $200,000 and $300,000 dollars in all.

Catherine of Aragon's attempts to avoid divorce were one on the other highlights in the auction. The letter from the English queen is dated 1534 and addresses her nephew Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, asking him to use his influence with the pope to uphold her marriage to Henry VIII, then on the first of his six wives. Described by Sotheby's as a pivotal document in the controversy between the Roman Catholic church and the British monarchy, it too defied expectations of about $100,000 in reaching $156,000.

Other letters that went under the hammer included a plea from Beethoven to a Viennese magistrate on behalf of his suicidal nephew, a reprieve from Stalin to a condemned army officer and a letter from Fyodor Dostoevsky to a literary admirer. In other letters auctioned off, Leo Tolstoy explains that being in love is a harmful emotion, and a 16-year-old Napoleon, then an artillery lieutenant, tries to calm his family's fears for his safety.

Other manuscripts were by Albert Einstein, Frederic Chopin, Richard Wagner, Sigmund Freud and Marilyn Monroe.