Born right in the midst of the Renaissance, Michelangelo is a brilliant artist living through turbulent times in Italy. Though he impresses his first painting master, Michelangelo longs to be a sculpter, only feeling at home with a hammer and chisel in his hand as he brings to life the being inside the stone. Intertwining his life with the influential first family of Florence, the Medicis, Michelangelo does learn to sculpt, but that is only the beginning of the life of one of Italy’s greatest artists.
This massive book is subtitled “a biographical novel of Michelangelo” and it certainly attempts that feat. From his teenage years, before which I’m assuming very little is known, right up to his death, Irving Stone does his very best to cover it all in detail. I learned more about sculpting, painting, and the many other things that Michelangelo gets up to than I’d ever really expected to. We even hear about the particular types of stone in Italy and how they are quarried. I was astounded by the sheer amount of information Stone appears to have gathered on his subject. He has a more extensive bibliography in the back than I’ve seen in some popular non-fiction books.
As for the book itself, I will admit that sometimes its prose drags. Stone is a bit of an old-fashioned writer, as the book is from 1961, and it takes a little adjusting to his style. It doesn’t help that he includes every detail about everything you could possibly imagine. I think, however, that its epic scope and immersion in Michelangelo’s life are totally worth it. I spent days with this book and I really enjoyed those days. I know a little about Renaissance Italy, and it was fascinating to see it from his perspective, particularly because his family wasn’t hugely wealthy. I felt like I was experiencing both the life of the rich and the life of the ordinary, even though Michelangelo himself was truly extraordinary.
More so, this book somehow made me long to actually see Michelangelo’s sculptures for myself. I’m glad I live in the UK now, because I can plan a trip to Italy and see all of his existing sculptures and paintings. The Agony and the Ecstasy has made me appreciate just what it took to produce such art, and as a result I expect my admiration of it will be far greater. This is a wonderful book, and I do recommend it.
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