Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Michelangelo & the Pope's Ceiling by Ross King

book cover

Michelangelo & the Pope's Ceiling
by Ross King

ISBN-13: 9780142003695
Trade Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Penguin
Released: 2002, 2003

Source: Bought at a library book sale.

Book Description from Goodreads:
"In 1508, despite strong advice to the contrary, the powerful Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo Buonarroti to paint the ceiling of the newly restored Sistine Chapel in Rome. Four years earlier, at the age of twenty-nine, Michelangelo had unveiled his masterful statue of David in Florence; however, he had little experience as a painter, even less working in the delicate medium of fresco, and none with the challenging curved surfaces of vaults. The temperamental Michelangelo was himself reluctant: He stormed away from Rome, incurring Julius's wrath, before he was eventually persuaded to begin."

Michelangelo & the Pope's Ceiling recounts the fascinating story of the four extraordinary years he spent laboring over the twelve thousand square feet of the vast ceiling while the power politics and personal rivalries that abounded in Rome swirled around him. Contrary to legend, he neither worked alone nor on his back. He and his hand-picked assistants stood bending backward on a special scaffold he designed for the purpose. Battling against ill health, financial difficulties, domestic and family problems, and the pope's impatience, Michelangelo created scenes - including The Creation, The Temptation, and The Flood - so beautiful that, when they were unveiled in 1512, they stunned onlookers.

My Review:
Michelangelo & the Pope's Ceiling is a history book about the famous works of Michelangelo (with a focus on the Sistine Chapel ceiling) with details about the activities of Pope Julius II, including his military campaigns and the other artists he had busy at work for him, like Raphael. The author used quotes from letters penned by Michelangelo and biographies written about him at the time to help give a personal note to the story. The writing was fairly entertaining and full of drama, but it also had a strong scholarly tone. The author covered information like how frescoes were created, paints acquired, techniques used, and who assisted Michelangelo. He also gave details about the Pope's military campaigns.

Included were some black and white pictures of various pieces of art mentioned in the book, including some pictures of the completed Sistine Chapel ceiling. I would have liked a few more up-close pictures of the ceiling, though. Overall, I'd recommend this book to those interested in this period of history and in detailed information about Michelangelo's work on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
The Piazza Rusticucci was not one of Rome's most prestigious addresses. Though only a short walk from the Vatican, the square was humble and nondescript, part of a maze of narrow streets and densely packed shops and houses that ran west from where the Ponte Sant'Angelo crossed the Tiber River. A trough for livestock stood at its center, next to a fountain, and on its east side was a modest church with a tiny belfry. Santa Caterina delle Cavallerotte was too new to be famous. It housed none of the sorts of relics--bones of saints, fragments from the True Cross--that each year brought thousands of pilgrims to Rome from all over Christendom. However, behind this church, in a small street overshadowed by the city wall, there could be found the workshop of the most sought-after artist in Italy: a squat, flat-nosed, shabbily dressed, ill-tempered sculptor from Florence.

Michelangelo Buonarroti was summoned back to this workshop behind Sanata Caterina in April 1508. He obeyed the call with great reluctance, having vowed he would never return to Rome.

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