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Michelangelo and The Pope's Ceiling [Paperback]

Ross King
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 8 2006
In 1508, Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The thirty-three-year-old Michelangelo had very little experience of the physically and technically taxing art of fresco; and, at twelve thousand square feet, the ceiling represented one of the largest such projects ever attempted. Nevertheless, for the next four years he and a handpicked team of assistants laboured over the vast ceiling, making thousands of drawings and spending backbreaking hours on a scaffolding fifty feet about the floor. The result was one of the greatest masterpieces of all time.

This fascinating book tells the story of those four extraordinary years and paints a magnificent picture of day-to-day life on the Sistine scaffolding — and outside, in the upheaval of early sixteenth-century Rome.

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From Publishers Weekly

When Pope Julius II saw Michelangelo's Pieta, he determined to have his grand tomb made by the artist. Summoned from Florence to Rome in 1508, Michelangelo found himself on the losing side of a competition between architects and the victim of a plot "to force a hopeless task" upon him-frescoing the vault of the Sistine Chapel. How the sculptor met this painterly challenge is the matter of this popular account, which demythologizes and dramatizes without hectoring or debasing. Forget cinematic images of Charlton Heston flat on his back-Michelangelo's "head tipped back, his body bent like a bow, his beard and paintbrush pointing to heaven, and his face spattered with paint" is excruciating enough to sustain the legend. King (Brunelleschi's Dome) re-creates Michelangelo's day-to-day world: the assistants who worked directly on the Sistine Chapel, the continuing rivalry with Raphael and the figures who had much to do with his world if not his art (da Vinci, Savonarola, Ariosto, Machiavelli, Martin Luther, Erasmus), including the steely Julius II. King makes the familiar fresh, reminding the reader of the "novelty" of Michelangelo's image of God and how "completely unheard of in previous depictions of the ancestors of Christ" was his use of women. Technical matters (making pigments, foreshortening) are lucidly handled. The 16 color and 30 b&w illustrations were not seen by PW, but should add further specifics to a nicely grounded piece of historical dramatization.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

A celebrated novelist as well as a lively nonfiction writer, King casts fiction's spell as he tells the creation stories of crowning artistic achievements, first in the widely acclaimed Brunelleschi's Dome (2000), and now in this exciting account of the making of Michelangelo's magnificent Sistine Chapel ceiling frescoes. Not only is King fluent in the complicated art of frescoing, a chancy technique sculptor Michelangelo (1475-1564) was loathe to undertake, he also relishes the tumultuous politics of early-sixteenth-century Rome, particularly the escapades of the irascible, syphilitic, gourmand Pope Julius II, Michelangelo's demanding patron. Everyone in Rome was terrified of this stick-wielding, bearded, warrior pope except for moody, homely, antisocial Michelangelo, and King recounts their skirmishes with as much verve as he chronicles the arduous efforts involved in creating the most famous ceiling in the world. Brilliant and tireless, Michelangelo designed an ingenious form of scaffolding and quickly mastered fresco's secrets so that he could paint his powerful, anatomically exact Old Testament figures freehand in an inspired frenzy. King chronicles Michelangelo's aesthetic decisions and clarion triumphs over myriad forms of adversity with expertise and contagious enthusiasm. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mr. King Stays on Point March 6 2003
Format:Hardcover
I enjoy reading biographies and Mr. King is one of the better writers when documenting those periods of European History he chooses. He wrote a wonderful book about Brunelleschi, and now offers readers and even more ambitious work on Michelangelo and Pope Julius II. Many writers seem to often stray, and are too sweeping and inclusive of other persons and events that also took place during the time they are documenting. Mr. King gives enough information to keep his subjects and their pursuits in context without diluting the premise of his books.
The painting of the Sistine Chapel may seem like too well worn a subject for another book but the author dispels so many misconceptions about the events that were involved in this creation that his clarifications are worth the read on their own. The book also includes magnificent color plates and numerous black and white drawings that make the book all the more interesting. But the images add to the book, they do not act as a crutch for an author lacking information.
Did Michelangelo paint while lying on his back, the book answers that question by sharing a letter and diagram of Michelangelo that he penned himself sharing the manner by which he worked? Were the frescoed ceiling and vaults designed and painted by Michelangelo on his own, how long did the work really take, and how close did the work come to be handed over to another artist before its completion?
The author also demonstrates the influence and politics that were a daily part of working for The Vatican and this particular Pope. Mr. King will share the discovery and rapid rise of the artist Raphael who was painting at The Vatican simultaneously with Michelangelo. Bramante who was to initiate the rebuilding of St.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating! Dec 23 2013
By Pierre Gauthier TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This lively, well written book details the history of the world's most famous fresco.

Clearly, incredible research has been carried out by the author on a variety of specific topics, including the background and personality of Michelangelo's assistants, the location and lay-out of his workshop and how frescoes are actually made (from pre-drawn cartoons, largely by assistants, and, in this case as in general, standing up, not lying on your back!).

The author intertwines the story of the fresco with the contemporary history of Rome and even includes cameos about Erasmus and Martin Luther. Though the chapters are short and the book easy to read, some readers may indeed find that the flow of thought is in fact too frequently interrupted by these sidebars.

The major shortcoming for this book is the lay-out. It is hopelessly traditional with rough grained black and white images inserted in the main text and all colour photos grouped together in a few pages in the middle of the book. The reader must resort to an outside source to obtain visuals that allow full understanding of the text!

Nevertheless, this book will prove worthwhile to all interested in Rome, art or the Renaissance.
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5.0 out of 5 stars book July 30 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
very good book and very good stories (story) when you start reading it you can't stop ever after I recommand it
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful story. Jan. 31 2006
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
A well written account of Michelangelo's life,personality and various works. It also gives a flavour of the history and times he lived in as well as including relevant photographs that are beautiful. It includes so much detail that really added to my enjoyment of the book.
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By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I'm not a fan of historical books but the topic of arts intertwigled with the Papacy was too good for me to resist. The book is a very well written, real non-fiction page-turner, which does not have the typical hundred names and hundreds places and dates of the typical historical book. It has plenty of interesting facts about the time of Michelangelo's fresco paintings, and places the topic well in the time and place context of such an age. However, there is a relatively small proportion of the book that is specifically focused on the topic of the title. Rather, the author sidetracks time and time again on events that occur at the time when the Sistine Chapel ceiling was being painted. Although not related, the topics described are quite interesting and the overall narration flows quite well.
This is definetly not a biography on Michelangelo, neither is it a compendium on fresco painting. It is a very good historical book, which could have been complemented with plenty of more insights into the subject matter rather than delving on tangents.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Tremendously focused and comprehensive history July 7 2004
Format:Paperback
Appreciators of art, particularly the classics, will have a field day with Ross King's Michelangelo & The Pope's Ceiling, not just because it gives a blow-by-blow account of how one man, figuratively if not literally, could achieve a creation of such power, grace, and style that it still remains today one of the most famous works of art in the world. Add to that a complex history of the papacy and European monarchies and you've got a wonderful narrative, supplemented by accurate technical information on exactly how the whole thing was brought about.
If you've seen the film The Agony and the Ecstacy, you've only gotten a fraction of the story behind the Sistine Chapel ceiling and indeed, the perceptions of one man painting while on his back that have lingered are in large part due to tales like it. However, as King is quick to point out, while Michelangelo's genius was the driving force there were other artists involved who get the short shrift of history.
The book also gives generous space to Raphael, the rival and artist working elsewhere in the Vatican at the time and, naturally, to the amazing character of Julius II, a pope who clearly did not conform to tradition. Elements of both the Sistine ceiling and Raphael's work are given thoughtful attention and analysis.
The detailed descriptions of the methods and techniques employed by the artists were interesting, but in some instances went on for too long and took something away from the narrative flow that had been established. Even so, it was very educational and entertaining.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The best way to meet Michelangelo
King exhibits a masters touch in his descriptive writing, panache and almost daily record of the artists life. Read more
Published on July 3 2004 by William A. Gast
3.0 out of 5 stars Good... but somehow not so good
I know I'm a lone voice on this, but I felt the same way about Brunelleschi's Dome. This book really should have been fascinating: it is so chock full of very interesting... Read more
Published on June 26 2004 by Megan
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book
I got this book as a BDay gift and although being a history fan, I tought it is gonna be just way too much information about Sistine Chapel's painting, but how wrong I was. Read more
Published on June 25 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful
This is a fascinating story if you're interested in art and italy! brings the best of both worlds and you'll have trouble putting the book down!
Published on June 18 2004 by Florentine at heart
5.0 out of 5 stars An Intellectual Page-Turner
A well-written book that balances the telling of the rich history of the time with the many human stories involved in the painting of the Pope's ceiling. Read more
Published on June 13 2004 by Susan L. Moscareillo
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating tale of fresco work at the Sistine Chapel
None of Michelangelo's other works ever won him quite the same renown as his fresco in the Sistine Chapel, a building now virtually synonymous with his name. Read more
Published on May 25 2004 by Matthew M. Yau
5.0 out of 5 stars Michaelangelo still shines brightly
I just finished this wonderful book by Ross King. It details the life of Michaelangelo during the 4 years he spent painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Read more
Published on April 18 2004 by Douglas E. Welch
5.0 out of 5 stars Intretgration of Chemical methodolgy and artistic creativaty
As a chemical engineer by training and an amature historian by choice, I found King's book to be hard to put down. Read more
Published on March 14 2004 by James F.Albus
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