The Agony and the Ecstasy – Irving Stone

Agony

This is a unique book in that it’s a biographical novel.  It’s a biography – with all the facts and dates and actual people associated with the subject – Michelangelo.  But it’s also a novel, which means the author included dialogue, motives and thoughts.  It made for fascinating reading and I really enjoyed it.

It is not, however, a quick read.  The book is 776 pages and explores the whole life and work of Michelangelo, who lived to be 89.  That said, since it’s a novel the story kept me engaged and I liked going back to it.  It started a little slow, but after the first 75 pages or so really picked up.

The author does a great job of making something that I would not have thought to be all that interesting – sculpture and painting – compelling to read about.  And for me the timing was right because I was actually able to see the Sistine Chapel, the Pieta, and David this summer – it made reading about how he created those amazing works even more fun (Did that sound casual?  I tried to make it casual, like it was just a typical summer for the Loy family).

Some things I learned:

  • Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael were all contemporaries and all from the same area of Italy. Think about that.  Two of the most genius artists in world history were alive at the same time and both in Florence, Italy.  And Raphael – who probably doesn’t quite rise to those two – was only a little younger and learned from both.  [If you’re a Ninja Turtles fan, you’re probably wondering about Donatello.  He was a generation ahead of Michelangelo and da Vinci but was also from Florence.  He died in 1466.  Da Vinci was born in 1452 and Michelangelo was born in 1475.]
  • Michelangelo was angry and discouraged when the Pope commissioned him to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. He considered himself a sculptor first and foremost and didn’t want to spend years painting the ceiling of an ugly building (he considered it a dump) and invest so much time in something no one would appreciate.
  • He spent four years painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel when he was in his thirties, and then almost thirty years later – when he was in his sixties – another Pope commissioned him to paint the Last Judgment on the wall.
  • The city of Florence was so wowed by his sculpture of David that they started referring to time in terms of “Before David” and “After David.” Even with that, however, vandals associated with a jealous fellow-sculptor tried to destroy it as it was being moved to its display site.

I would definitely recommend the book.  Like I said, even if you’re not into art (as I’m not) it’s a good read.  However, if you don’t want to take the time to get through a lengthy book, there IS a movie that came out in 1965 (the book was written in 1961) starring the great Italian actor Charlton Heston as Michelangelo and Rex Harrison as Pope Julius II.  I’ve not seen the movie and so can’t recommend it, but it would definitely save you a ton of time versus reading.  And since it’s a 1960s-era movie with religious themes starring Charlton Heston, it has to be good, right?

Agony2

2 thoughts on “The Agony and the Ecstasy – Irving Stone

  1. Good review. Didn’t know Heston was of Italian descent. Family must have changed name becauuse of 19th and early 20th century bias against Italians in U.S. Many Jewish families also for the same reason.

    Like

  2. Good review. Didn’t know Heston was of Italian descent. Family must have changed name becauuse of 19th and early 20th century bias against Italians in U.S. Many Jewish families also for the same reason.

    Like

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