When Michelangelo was first commissioned to fresco the ceiling of Rome’s Sistine Chapela 12,000-square-foot, four-year undertaking that would become one of the crowning achievements of the Italian Renaissancehe didn’t even want the gig. Four years after completing his early masterpiece “David,” 33-year-old Michelangelo saw himself as a sculptor first, a painter a distant second. He petitioned the Pope, Julius II, to allow him to design and fashion the pontiff’s tomb instead, a similarly massive task to which he felt far better suited. But even stubborn, tempestuous Michelangelo could not bend the will of the Pope.
As told in Ross King’s scholarly yet infectiously readable account, Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling, those next four years, from 1508 to 1512, were rough going not only for the daunting fresco project, but also for the outlying city of Rome. On the cusp of the Reformation, Rome was reaching its nadir. Livestock roamed the streets, as did untold numbers of prostitutes and beggars; ancient sites were untended and in ruins. For all his fallibility, however, Julius II was a true patron of the arts, and he determinedly set out to transform the downtrodden cityscape. Enter Michelangelo.
Enter also Raphael. One of the great joys of King’s book is to read of the rivalry between the already famous Michelangelo and the younger, more charmingand certainly threateningpainter Raphael, who was busy with the walls of the papal apartments just next door. It is a revelation to read of the paranoia Michelangelo suffered over Raphael’s nearby presence. King likewise sprinkles into the narrative a host of other period notables, among them Leonardo da Vinci, Erasmus, Martin Luther and Niccolo Machiavelli.
Chiefly, though, this book is about the rendering of that breathtaking, theologically progressive ceiling. The Canadian-born, U.K.-based author painstakingly dismantles some long-held myths, including the popular idea that Michelangelo painted alone and on his back, an image burned into many minds by the 1960s biopic The Agony and the Ecstasy. In fact, as King points out, Michelangelo was wise enough to draft a cast of more experienced fresco artists as assistants, and they all painted together from his cartoon-like sketches, leaning on a unique scaffolding structurea Michelangelo design that deserves some high praise of its own for its sheer technical genius.
Early drawings of this contraption, as well as full-color captures of the finished ceiling itself, are peppered throughout King’s work. This and other visuals should be on display when the author arrives at Davis-Kidd 6 p.m. Monday, April 21, to sign the book and to present what should be an enlightening slide show.
Human beings are making such extraordinary demands on the environment that the natural cycles can…
I dunno--I thought of it as Wrath of Khan meets Groundhog Day, writ over 300…
They took all the trees
And put them in a tree museum
And they charged…
Another great work by Hannah Kahn
My name is Eve
Why does joining a cult have to look so pretty, but be so ugly?