Synopses & Reviews
The author of the bestselling Brunelleschi's Dome
brings to life the creation of a masterpiece amid the upheaval of Renaissance Italy.
In 1508, despite strong advice to the contrary, the powerful Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo Buonarroti to paint the ceiling of the newly restored Sistine Chapel in Rome. Four years earlier, at the age of twenty-nine, Michelangelo had unveiled his masterful statue of David in Florence; however, he had little experience as a painter, even less working in the delicate medium of fresco, and none with the curved surface of vaults, which dominated the chapel's ceiling. The temperamental Michelangelo was himself reluctant, and he stormed away from Rome, risking Julius's wrath, only to be persuaded to eventually begin.
Michelangelo would spend the next four years laboring over the vast ceiling. He executed hundreds of drawings, many of which are masterpieces in their own right. Contrary to legend, he and his assistants worked standing rather than on their backs, and after his years on the scaffold, Michelangelo suffered a bizarre form of eyestrain that made it impossible for him to read letters unless he held them at arm's length. Nonetheless, he produced one of the greatest masterpieces of all time, about which Giorgio Vasari, in his Lives of the Artists, wrote, 'There is no other work to compare with this for excellence, nor could there be.'
Ross King's fascinating new book tells the story of those four extraordinary years. Battling against ill health, financial difficulties, domestic problems, inadequate knowledge of the art of fresco, and the pope's impatience, Michelangelo created figuresdepicting the Creation, the Fall, and the Floodso beautiful that, when they were unveiled in 1512, they stunned his onlookers. Modern anatomy has yet to find names for some of the muscles on his nudes, they are painted in such detail. While he worked, Rome teemed around him, its politics and rivalries with other city-states and with France at fever pitch, often intruding on his work. From Michelangelo's experiments with the composition of pigment and plaster to his bitter competition with the famed painter Raphael, who was working on the neighboring Papal Apartments, Ross King presents a magnificent tapestry of day-to-day life on the ingenious Sistine scaffolding and outside in the upheaval of early-sixteenth-century Rome.
"Ross King expertly wipes away the smudges from the story of this great painting, only to uncover a truth even more exciting and impossible." John Freeman, San Francisco Chronicle
"A legend-busting, richly detailed account of the four-year making of the Sistine Chapel frescos....King supplies a righly nuanced view of Michelangelo and company's day-to-day life....[A] pleasure." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"[King] demythologizes and dramatizes without hectoring or debasing....King makes the familiar fresh." Publishers Weekly
"[An] exciting account....King chronicles Michelangelo's aesthetic decisions and clarion triumphs over myriad forms of adversity with expertise and contagious enthusiasm." Donna Seaman, Booklist (Starred Review)
"Scrupulously researched, written with wit and panache, Ross King's Michelangelo & The Pope's Ceiling is a sublime peek into a remarkable era." Larry Goldstone, The Miami Herald
"Ross King expertly wipes away the smudges from the story of this great painting, only to uncover a truth even more exciting and impossible." (San Francisco Chronicle
Writer King, who made a splash with Brunelleschi's Dome, here brings to readers the human dimension, the day-by-day details, and the political and social contexts of Michelangelo's creation of the Sistine Chapel in Rome.
In 1508, despite strong advice to the contrary, the powerful Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the newly restored Sistine Chapel. With little experience as a painter (though famed for his sculpture David
), Michelangelo was reluctant to begin the massive project.
Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling recounts the four extraordinary years Michelangelo spent laboring over the vast ceiling while the power politics and personal rivalries that abounded in Rome swirled around him. Battling against ill health, financial difficulties, domestic problems, the pope's impatience, and a bitter rivalry with the brilliant young painter Raphael, Michelangelo created scenes so beautiful that they are considered one of the greatest masterpieces of all time. A panorama of illustrious figures converged around the creation of this great work-from the great Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus to the young Martin Luther-and Ross King skillfully weaves them through his compelling historical narrative, offering uncommon insight into the intersection of art and history.
About the Author
Ross King is the bestselling author of Brunelleschi's Dome and the novels Ex-Libris and Domino.
Table of Contents
Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling Acknowledgments
Chapter 1. The Summons
Chapter 2. The Conspiracy
Chapter 3. The Warrior Pope
Chapter 4. Penance
Chapter 5. Painting in the Wet
Chapter 6. The Design
Chapter 7. The Assistants
Chapter 8. The House of Buonarroti
Chapter 9. The Fountains of the Great Deep
Chapter 10. Competition
Chapter 11. A Great Quandry
Chapter 12. The Flaying of Marsyas
Chapter 13. True Colors
Chapter 14. He Shall Build the Temple of the Lord
Chapter 15. Family Business
Chapter 16. Laocoö
Chapter 17. The Golden Age
Chapter 18. The School of Athens
Chapter 19. Forbidden Fruit
Chapter 20. The Barbarous Multitudes
Chapter 21. Bologna Redux
Chapter 22. The World's Game
Chapter 23. A New and Wonderful Manner of Painting
Chapter 24. The First and Supreme Creator
Chapter 25. The Expulsion of Heliodorus
Chapter 26. The Monster of Ravenna
Chapter 27. Many Strange Forms
Chapter 28. The Armour of Faith and the Sword of Light
Chapter 29. Il Pensieroso
Chapter 30. In Evil Plight
Epilogue: The Language of the Gods