Thursday, September 6, 2012

Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling

by Ross King

Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling was my audio exercise book this past month. I will begin my review by acknowledging that Ross King knows art, artists and renaissance history, and while I found the majority of the information compelling, Ross' delivery was pretty dry, failed to maintain a logical timeline, and delved into so much trivial detail it distracted from the theme. However, the audio narrator  for this book was very good (John Lee).

Facts I enjoyed hearing about were inspirations and details of each section of the Sistine Chapel and the struggles Michelangelo faced as he painted the frescoes. This medium was not his specialty and the project may have been assigned to him by the Pope in order to discredit his standing in the art world. Instead, as Michelangelo learned techniques and styles and experimented with approaches his work actually became a model for his contemporaries and the vault catapulted him into artistic fame. Because he was learning on the job, Michelangelo began the work on a section in a far corner, which took him over 6 weeks to complete. In contrast, he took only one day to complete the figure of God.

I would have loved to read/hear these sections of the book while looking at the actual fresco described, and I did pull up pictures on the Internet afterward; the Vatican has a nice site, but it would have been better in real time. Many reviewers of the print text complained about the lack of photos in the book.

The book discussed Michelangelo's influences: Donatello, other works of art, and other sculptures. It also delved into his many frustrations: Pope Julius II, DaVinci, Raphael, his father and brothers, and his commission on the ceiling, which interrupted his sculpting.

Then the author went chasing rabbits into the lives of other artists, their works and the competitions between them. The pope, his character, illnesses, and battles, the cultural influences on the artists and other influential religious leaders, such as Savonarola, Medici, Machiavelli and Borgia are also examined. Other trivia occupying much space were how colors were achieved in fresco, the costs of materials and fights over payments, the use of nude models (only in warm months please), nicknames of artists and popes, land battles in Italy, France and Spain, and on and on it goes.

If you are a history buff you will really like this book. If you are wanting background and inspiration for the depictions on the Sistine Ceiling, this book has that, but it can get lost amid all the other stuff. 

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