Thursday, December 10, 2009

Book 15: The Agony and the Ecstasy

The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone

This is another of the books that I bought as a result of my trip to Florence (in fact, since they told me not to wear anything tight, I showed up at the dental clinic today in my black adidas sweat pants and my Florence T-shirt - I really, really love that city).

This book took me a very long time to read. This may have been partially due to everything that was going on at work last week but I think it was also due to the fact that it took a while for the book to really capture my attention too much. However, on Sunday, I finally had a chance to just sit and read, and it became much more interesting to me (basically, after page 200, when it started dealing with the David and the Sistine Chapel and so forth). Still, it was a slow read, and oddly paced. One of the later chapters ends as follows: "If the astrologists . . . had cried out to him . . . that he still had before him a third of his years, two of the four loves of his life, the longest, bloodiest battle, and some of his finest sculpture, painting and architecture . . . he would have laughed. But they would have been right" (670). Yet there are less than a hundred pages of the 700+ page book remaining at this time.

Granted, I don't think it needed to be longer, so I'm grateful that it wasn't but it did seem rather odd to me, especially given how long the book focused on Michelangelo's short apprenticeship. The one other weakness in the novel is that Stone really didn't do very well at writing about Michelangelo's loves. They just seemed slightly juvenile in their description or too flowery. However, since altogether his four loves takes up less than fifty pages of the novel, this isn't exactly a huge issue. The book, much like Michelangelo, is devoted to the art.

Despite its weaknesses, Stone did a great job of making all the art come to life and placing it within context as well as providing the intent behind it and art analysis. I've been to many of the places that contain Michelangelo's art and have seen much of it, but I'm now really tempted to go on a trip specifically devoted to seeing Michelangelo's art rather than my usual seeing art with the knowledge that I will observe some amazing and famous artists in the process.

I also liked all the politics involved and how they often interferred with Michelangelo's work and life. Since just about every pope wanted to commission him, he often had to abandon other jobs for later since no one can say no to a pope, especially in that time in day. What is also amazing is the fact that Michelangelo didn't even consider himself a painter, and always saw himself as a sculptor but made one of the most well known paintings of Western art.

While Stone shows that Michelangelo has a bit of a gruff personality, he shows him in a very positive light - I'm not sure if this is completely accurate but the man had one driving force and passion and revolved his life around it, even if it also led to a rather lonely and solitary life. The other parts I found interesting where the portrayal of his family (Michelangelo did not marry but as the only money maker in the family was somehow responsible for providing for all his brothers and his father) - they are constantly bombarding Michelangelo for money and making investments that appear to bring absolutely no profit. Yet they would become angry when Michelangelo didn't send more money because perhaps he hadn't been paid recently (for me, I just can't imagine how they could expect more money for investments when they are obviously rather lacking in business savvy).

It was definitely a very informative read but I was ready to be done with it. I think I should probably read an actual biography, too, to see how accurate the novel was but I think this novel was detailed enough that I don't feel in too much of a rush. I I should probably also read something about Leonardo da Vinci since Michelangelo wasn't too found of him, and I should probably read something by someone that's an admirer of his for balance. I admit I have a certain fondness for da Vinci due to Everafter (such a horrible reason - at least I didn't say The Da Vinci Code) and I like many of his drawings and works but I really don't think the Mona Lisa should be as famous and popular as it is.

One thing I also find ironic is that all of the popes that commissioned him expected to be remembered since they were popes, and yet, I don't think any of their names are remembered except by history buffs or people very interested in religion - Michelangelo, however, is more famous than all of them combined. I know of course that there were always popes in Rome, and some of the important decisions they made that affected world history but I have no clue which one did what. Michelangelo's name, however, has lived on through the ages.

Copy of the David at its original location

Copies of two of Michelangelo's Slaves/Captives (the other two are in the other corner, I couldn't get a good angle) - originally intended for Pope Julius II's tomb, the originals are now in the Accademia in Florence

A Pieta in the Opera del Duomo, Florence

Michelangelo's Final Sculpture - The Rondanini Pieta, Castle Sforzesco, Milan

Michelangelo's Tomb in Santa Croce, Florence