am 6. März 2003
I enjoy reading biographies and Mr. King is one of the better writers when documenting those periods of European History he chooses. He wrote a wonderful book about Brunelleschi, and now offers readers and even more ambitious work on Michelangelo and Pope Julius II. Many writers seem to often stray, and are too sweeping and inclusive of other persons and events that also took place during the time they are documenting. Mr. King gives enough information to keep his subjects and their pursuits in context without diluting the premise of his books.
The painting of the Sistine Chapel may seem like too well worn a subject for another book but the author dispels so many misconceptions about the events that were involved in this creation that his clarifications are worth the read on their own. The book also includes magnificent color plates and numerous black and white drawings that make the book all the more interesting. But the images add to the book, they do not act as a crutch for an author lacking information.
Did Michelangelo paint while lying on his back, the book answers that question by sharing a letter and diagram of Michelangelo that he penned himself sharing the manner by which he worked? Were the frescoed ceiling and vaults designed and painted by Michelangelo on his own, how long did the work really take, and how close did the work come to be handed over to another artist before its completion?
The author also demonstrates the influence and politics that were a daily part of working for The Vatican and this particular Pope. Mr. King will share the discovery and rapid rise of the artist Raphael who was painting at The Vatican simultaneously with Michelangelo. Bramante who was to initiate the rebuilding of St. Peter's Cathedral was also always present, in the shadows or in front, scheming or openly attempting to influence who would gain specific commissions for the Pope. And there is also the famous/infamous Savonarola who held great influence with the artist who painted the 12,000sf ceiling at a time when approving of the doomed holy man could mean death to those who shared his thoughts.
I have no way of knowing which person or architectural marvel Mr. King will turn to next. He explores several fascinating people in this work that would fill several additional books. I only hope that he continues to produce these eminently readable and enjoyable studies of History and her participants.
am 19. Juni 2005
"Michelangelo And The Pope's Ceiling" tells the stories of the creation of Michelangelo's magnus opus and of the world in which he worked. It is a combination of biography, technical manual and social and art history.
The biography tells us of Michelangelo's life. We meet his family and gain an understand his training, his financial standing and his artistic history. I was surprised to learn that he was, primarily, a sculptor who was hired to build the tomb of Pope Julius II before being diverted into the ceiling project. The popular image of Michelangelo laying on his back while painting the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel is repeatedly dismissed.
The technical manual introduces the reader to the techniques employed in the creation of a fresco. The explanations of the then existing practices relating to the drawing of the sketches on paper for transfer to the wet plaster and the array and qualities of the pigments available make fascinating reading. The author brings the reader into the team of artists and assistants who made this work happen. The growth of the picture across the ceiling is shown not only as expansion from side to side, but also as the growth of an artist who adjusted his techniques as he viewed his work from the perspective of its admirers.
The social history places Michelangelo's work in the world of his patron, Pope Julius II. Julius was an amazing character, a warrior Pope who left his mark, not in the sanctity of his Church but in the magnificence of its churches.
The art history walks the reader across the scenes of the ceiling. I have never been to Rome, but after reading this book it seems that one could spend weeks trying to take the whole ceiling in. The author also places this work in its artistic context, both in how it advanced what went before and how it became the standard for so much which followed. Even for one with my minimal familiarity with Renaissance history and art, this book is fascinating. I think that you will enjoy it also.