Agony and ExtasyFinished reading Michelangelo’s biography by Irving Stone. Judging from the cover I’d assumed it was a recent book. Looking for reviews just now, I learned that it was first published in 1963. And in 1965 part of the book – the struggle between Michelangelo and Pope Julius II over the Sixtine Chapel – was made into a movie starring Charlton Heston and Rex Harrison. Pretty old hat both.

This may explain in part why I got bored with it. Informative – yes. Gripping – no. The author really tries to get into Michelangelo’s head, tries to explain how his creative process works. Admittedly,  this is no easy thing to do. Problem with the book is that Michelangelo lived a very long life (he died at 89) and created many masterpieces. The author gets repetitive in describing the way the master works.  Add to this that Michelangelo had almost no life outside of art, and the problems his biographers face become clear. His famous clashes with the Popes of his time provide material to work with – but this, in the end, stops being very interesting after the third Pope has put his spoke in the Michelangelo wheel.

Refusing to speculate about  Michelangelo’s fascination for the male nude, the biographer sidesteps the possibility that he was gay. Four loves in his long lifetime: twice an unavailable woman, once a man but platonic, once a courtesan that he had an affair with until art claimed too much of his time. He loved his family, and provided for them all his life, as an unmarried Tuscan son was expected to do. Individualism hadn’t struck yet, and the good family name was of paramount importance.

One interesting quote from a blog source: “Michelangelo was an artist, and when he could manage it, a sculptor. But as we can tell from the account given by Stone, he also held a far less glamorous, but nevertheless inescapable title: Michelangelo was a project manager. The story suggests that Michelangelo’s fame was not only due to a trained eye, undaunted perfectionism, and sheer talent, but to the well of energy and determination he drew on to bring together all the aspects necessary for simply the opportunity to chisel marble.”

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