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Michelangelo And The Pope's Ceiling
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Michelangelo And The Pope's Ceiling [Format Kindle]

Ross King

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The Summons

The Piazza Rusticucci was not one of Rome's most prestigious addresses. Though only a short walk from the Vatican, the square was humble and nondescript, part of a maze of streets and densely packed shops and houses that ran west from where the Ponte Sant'Angelo crossed the River Tiber. A trough for livestock stood at its centre, next to a fountain, while on its east side was a modest church with a tiny belfry. Santa Caterina delle Cavallerotte was too new to be famous. It housed none of the sorts of relics - bones of saints, fragments from the True Cross - that each year brought thousands of pilgrims to Rome from all over Christendom. However, behind this church, in a narrow street overshadowed by the city wall, there could be found the workshop of one of the most sought-after artists in Italy: a squat, flat-nosed, shabbily dressed, ill-tempered sculptor from Florence.

Michelangelo Buonarroti was summoned back to this workshop behind Santa Caterina in April 1508. He obeyed the call with great reluctance, having vowed he would never return to Rome. Fleeing the city two years earlier, he had ordered his assistants to clear the workshop and sell its contents, his tools included, to the Jews. He returned that spring to find the premises bare and, nearby in the Piazza San Pietro, exposed to the elements, a hundred tons of marble still piled where he had abandoned them. These lunar-white blocks had been quarried in preparation for what was intended to be one of the largest assemblages of sculpture the world had ever seen: the tomb of the reigning pope, Julius II. Yet Michelangelo had not been brought back to Rome to resume work on this colossus.

Michelangelo was thirty-three years old. He had been born on 6 March 1475, at an hour, he informed one of his assistants, when Mercury and Venus were in the house of Jupiter. Such a fortunate arrangement of the planets had foretold 'success in the arts which delight the senses, such as painting sculpture and architecture'. This success was not long in coming. By the age of fifteen, the precociously gifted Michelangelo was studying the art of sculpture in the Garden of San Marco, a school for artists fostered by Lorenzo de' Medici, the ruler of Florence. At nineteen, he was carving statues in Bologna, and two years later, in 1496, he made his first trip to Rome, where he soon received a commission to sculpt the Pietá. His contract for this statue boldly claimed it would be 'the most beautiful work in marble that Rome has ever seen' - a condition he was said to have fulfilled when the work was unveiled to an astonished public a few years later. Carved to adorn the tomb of a French cardinal, the Pietá won praise for surpassing not only the sculptures of all of Michelangelo's contemporaries but even those of the ancient Greeks and Romans themselves - the standards by which all art was judged.

Michelangelo's next triumph had been another marble statue, the David, which was installed in front of the Palazzo della Signoria in Florence in September 1504, following three years of work. If the Pietá showed delicate grace and feminine beauty, the David revealed Michelangelo's talent for expressing monumental power through the male nude. Almost seventeen feet in height, the work came to be known by the awestruck citizens of Florence as Il Gigante, or 'The Giant'. It took four days and considerable ingenuity on the part of Michelangelo's friend, the architect Giuliano da Sangallo, to transport the mighty statue the quarter-mile from his workshop behind the cathedral to its pedestal in the Piazza della Signoria.

A few months after the David was finished, early in 1505, Michelangelo had received from Pope Julius II an abrupt summons that interrupted his work in Florence. So impressed was the Pope with the Pietá, which he had seen in a chapel of St Peter's, that he wanted the young sculptor to carve his tomb as well. At the end of February, the papal treasurer, Cardinal Francesco Alidosi, paid Michelangelo an advance of a hundred gold florins, the equivalent of a full year's salary for a craftsman. The sculptor then returned to Rome and entered the service of the Pope. So began what he would later call 'the tragedy of the tomb'.

Papal tombs were usually grand affairs. That of Sixtus IV, who died in 1484, was a beautiful bronze sarcophagus that had been nine years in the making. But Julius, a stranger to all modesty, had envisioned for himself something on an entirely new scale. He had begun making plans for his sepulchre soon after his election to the papacy in 1503, ultimately conceiving of a memorial that was to be the largest since the mausoleums built for Roman emperors such as Hadrian and Augustus. Michelangelo's design was in keeping with these tremendous ambitions, calling for a free-standing structure some thirty-four feet wide and fifty feet high. There were to be over forty life-sized marble statues, all set in a massive and highly detailed architectural setting of pillars, arches and niches. On the bottom tier a series of nude statues would represent the liberal arts, while the top would be crowned by a ten-foot-high statue of Julius wearing the papal tiara. Besides an annual salary of 1,200 ducats - roughly ten times what the average sculptor or goldsmith could expect to earn in a single year - Michelangelo was to receive a final payment of 10,000 more.

Michelangelo had begun this daunting project with energy and enthusiasm, spending eight months in Carrara, sixty-five miles north-west of Florence, supervising the quarrying and transport of the white marble for which the town was famous, not least because both the Pietá and the David had been carved from it. In spite of several mishaps in transit - one of his cargo boats ran aground in the Tiber and several others were swamped when the river flooded - by the start of 1506 he had transported more than ninety wagonloads of marble to the square before St Peter's and moved into the workshop behind Santa Caterina. The people of Rome rejoiced at the sight of this mountain of white stone rising in front of the old basilica. No one was more excited than the Pope, who even had a special walkway built to connect Michelangelo's workshop with the Vatican and thereby facilitate his visits to the Piazza Rusticucci, where he would discuss his magnificent project with the artist.

Even before the marble had arrived in Rome, however, the Pope's attentions were being distracted by an even larger enterprise. Originally, he had planned for his sepulchre to stand in a church near the Colosseum, San Pietro in Vincoli, only to change his mind and decide it should be installed instead in the grander setting of St Peter's. But soon he realised that the old basilica was in no fit state to accommodate such an impressive monument. Two and a half centuries after his death in ad 67, the bones of St Peter had been brought from the catacombs to this location beside the Tiber - the spot where he was believed to have been crucified - and the basilica that bears his name constructed over them. By a sad irony, this great edifice housing the tomb of St Peter, the rock on which the Christian Church was founded, therefore came to occupy a low-lying patch of marshy ground in which, it was said, there lived snakes large enough to eat babies whole.

These undesirable foundations meant that, by 1505, the walls of the basilica were leaning six feet out of true. While various piecemeal efforts had been made to rectify the perilous situation, Julius, typically, decided to take the most drastic measures: he planned to have St Peter's demolished and a new basilica built in its place. The destruction of the oldest and holiest church in Christendom had therefore started by the time Michelangelo returned from Carrara. Dozens of ancient tombs of saints and previous popes - the inspiration for visions, healings and other miracles - were smashed to rubble and enormous pits twenty-five feet deep excavated for the foundations. Tons of building materials cluttered the surrounding streets and piazzas as an army of two thousand carpenters and stonemasons prepared themselves for the largest construction project seen anywhere in Italy since the days of ancient Rome.

A design for this grand new basilica had been put forward by the Pope's official architect, Giuliano da Sangallo, Michelangelo's friend and mentor. The 63-year-old Sangallo boasted an impressive list of commissions, having designed churches and palaces across much of Italy, among them the Palazzo Rovere, a splendid residence that he built in Savona, near Genoa, for Julius II. Sangallo had also been the favourite architect of Lorenzo de' Medici, for whom he designed a villa near Florence at Poggio a Caiano. In Rome, he was responsible for making repairs to the Castel Sant'Angelo, the city's fortress. He had also repaired Santa Maria Maggiore, one of Rome's most ancient churches, and gilded its ceiling with what was said to be the first gold ever brought back from the New World.

So confident was Sangallo of gaining the commission to rebuild St Peter's that he uprooted his family from Florence and moved it to Rome. However, he faced competition for the design. Donato d'Angelo Lazzari, better known as Bramante, had a collection of equally prestigious works to his credit. Hailed by his admirers as the greatest architect since Filippo Brunelleschi, he had built churches and domes in Milan and, after moving to Rome in 1500, various convents, cloisters and palaces. To date, his most celebrated building was the Tempietto of San Pietro in Montorio, a small classical-style temple on the Janiculum, a hill south of the Vatican. The word bramante means 'ravenous', making it an apt nickname for someone with the 62-year-old architect's overweening aspirations and vast sensual appetites. And the voracious Bramante saw, in St Peter's, the chance to exercise his considerable abilities on a larger scale than ever before.

The competition between Sangallo and Bramant...

Revue de presse

"Ross King deftly stitches modern Michelangelo scholarship into his fluent and gripping narrative. The result is a delightful book that overturns many legends" (Independent)

"A fascinating and carefully researched account of day-to-day life atop the Sistine scaffolding" (The Times)

"A narrative that never falls back on exaggeration or deviates from the facts" (Sunday Times)

"We learn an enormous amount by reading this book; King's grasp of and research into the period seem all-encompassing" (Spectator)

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138 internautes sur 141 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Highly Entertaining and Informative 8 janvier 2004
Par Bruce Kendall - Publié sur
I'd seen this book and BRUNELLESCHI'S DOME in bookstores for quite a while. I just couldn't bring myself to purchase either for a very silly reason. The author's name, Ross King, just didn't sound very authoritative to me, for some reason. More a name for a movie actor than a Rennaissance biographer. As it turns out, that was a baseless bias. King definitely knows his stuff, as the book's bulging bibliography will attest to.
Purists may be put off by the fact that this book is so entertaining, that it can't possibly be serious scholarship. I say let them stick to Jacob Burckhardt, I'll take Ross King, any day. This is a masterly book, and King is an excellent story teller, marshalling his facts and arraying them in taut, controlled prose. His is an excellent overview of the full panoply of figures and events that made late 15th, early 14th c. Italy such an extraordinary place and era. Michelangelo lived in a time that teemed with larger than life figures. The Borgias were still wielding influence in Florence and Rome. Amongst Michelangelo's contemporaries that put in an appearance in the book are the firebrand priest, Girolamo Savonarola, Martin Luther, Machiavelli, and two of the other greatest artists of the Rennaissance, Leonardo and Raphael. The rivalry between Michelangelo and Raphael is one of the keynotes of the book. Raphael and his team of artisans were frescoing the pope's private rooms in the Vatican at the same time Michelangelo was frescoing the massive vault of the Sistine Chapel. Raphael is depicted as an expansive, open-minded, hedonist, good looking and attractive to all. Michelangelo is a "jug-eared, flat-nosed, and rather squat, somewhat miserly loner, who also happened to possess an unparalleled artistic genius.
King is particularly adept at conveying exactly how delicate and painstaking the art frescoing actually was. The artist would have only a brief window of time to apply the precious pigments before the plaster dried. Michelangelo started the project knowing very little about the involved techniques necessary to perform under such a timetable. As the months and years went by, he became so adept that he could paint ever larger sections at breakneck speed. He had to learn his craft on the fly, however, under incredibly difficult conditions.
King dispels a couple myths that have come down to us, primarily via Irving Stone and from the movie version of his novel, THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY. It is highly unlikely that Michelangelo had to paint any sections of the ceiling on his back. He did however, have to assume some rather uncomfortable craning postures for hours at a time. It's also evident that the artist didn't work alone on the project. He would hire assistants as the need arose. He definitely didn't mix his own pigments, for instance, a time consuming, exact and laborious task in itself. This in no way diminishes just how Herculean an effort he exerted, however. The sheer physical toll the painting exacted on his body was quite real. His spirit was drained by the enterprise. It was, after all, not a project he was eager to pursue. Had it not been for the overbearing will of Julius II, he would have turned the opportunity down and concentrated instead on sculpture, his first love.
This is a book I recommend without reservation and it goes to the top of my current list of reading suggestions. It's relatively brief at just over 200 pages and will keep anyone with even the slightest appreciation of art and of genius riveted.
94 internautes sur 95 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 The Misanthrope And The Warrior Pope 27 janvier 2003
Par Bruce Loveitt - Publié sur
Ahhh.....remember Charlton Heston as Michelangelo- all alone, on his back- painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? Well, in this very informative and enjoyable book, Ross King quickly clears up those two major misconceptions. Michelangelo was not on his back: the scaffolding was placed 7 feet below the ceiling. Michelangelo painted while standing, reaching overhead, with his back arched. And, he had plenty of help in his glorious enterprise. Michelangelo took on the project with a great deal of reluctance. What he had really been excited to do was the job Pope Julius II had originally had in mind: the sculpting of the Pope's burial tomb. For Michelangelo considered himself to be a sculptor rather than a painter. Though originally trained, in his early teens, as a painter, he had devoted himself almost entirely to sculpting in the nearly 20 year period which had elapsed between his training and receiving the summons from Pope Julius II to begin work on the Sistine Chapel. Additionally, Michelangelo had never before painted a fresco, which is a very tricky process involving painting on wet plaster. (He had once started preparatory work on a fresco project where he was supposed to go "head to head" with Leonardo. Alas, that project never came to pass!) So, Michelangelo did what any sensible person would do...he hired as assistants artists who had prior experience doing frescoes. Thus begins the fascinating tale of the four year project. Along the way we learn of Renaissance rivalries- Michelangelo had once taunted Leonardo da Vinci in public for having failed in his attempt to cast a giant bronze equestrian statue in Milan. Leonardo gave as good as he got: "He claimed that sculptors, covered in marble dust, looked like bakers, and that their homes were both noisy and filthy, in contrast to the more elegant abodes of painters." There was also the rivalry between Raphael and Michelangelo. The two artists couldn't have been more different- Raphael, handsome, charming, well-mannered and sociable (and a notorious connoisseur of beautiful women); Michelangelo- squat nosed and surly, pathologically suspicious, seemingly uninterested in anything unrelated to his art. Raphael was at work on a fresco in the Pope's library, in another section of the Vatican, at the same time Michelangelo was working on the Sistine Chapel. One of the most interesting parts of the book occurs when the ceiling is halfway completed. All the scaffolding was removed so that the Pope could examine the work to date. This was also the first time that Michelangelo could get an idea of how the ceiling would look from the floor of the chapel. He is said to have been shocked at how small his figures looked, and when he started work on the second half of the ceiling he decreased the number of figures portrayed but increased their size by an average of four feet. It is also said that at this time Raphael, realizing how much more public and prestigious the Sistine Chapel project was than his own assignment in the Pope's library, lobbied to be allowed to do the second half of the ceiling. Of course, that never came to pass. Mr. King manages to incorporate an amazing amount of material into such a relatively small book: We learn about the complexities of fresco painting, especially on a concave surface; what materials the pigments were made of and the processes involved in making them; Michelangelo's lack of interest in adding realistic landscapes to the backgrounds of his compositions (he considered landscape painting to be an inferior form of art); his sense of humor- in one of the tableaus he has a character "making the fig" at another character (an Italian equivalent of giving someone the finger). The author also shows us the difficult relationships Michelangelo had with his father and brothers (they were always hitting him up for money or trying to get him to use his influence to get them jobs, etc.). And, as a change-of-pace, punctuating the entire book we have Pope Julius II going out on various military campaigns to punish wayward Italian city-states (and dragging along his reluctant cardinals)! Somehow, Mr. King manages to weave all this together into a seamless, smoothly flowing narrative. This is an excellent book, both educational and entertaining!
41 internautes sur 43 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Superb author as engaging tour guide 6 février 2003
Par Matthew Spady - Publié sur
Have you ever visited a landmark and had a tour guide who brought history to life - an engaging and entertaining person who had all the facts at his (or her) fingertips, but who delved beneath the facts to bring the participants to life? If so, you will understand the appeal of Ross King's "Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling," for Mr. King is that kind of a tour guide. He takes us into the Sistine Chapel and fully explicates Michelangelo's masterpiece as a work of art, including everything from the technique of fresco to the kinds and colors of paint (and their origins) to the various challenges in the technique known as foreshortening. Although he liberally sprinkles the text with Italian and art terms, he explains each as he goes along.
Along the way, he also drops in interesting bits of information, such as, which panels in the painting, Michelangelo first saw from the floor of the chapel and what stylistic and color changes he incorporated in the panels after that, or which poses must have been difficult for the models (and who some of the models may have been) or why the medallions are disproportionately small to the rest of the work. Mixed in with art history and art appreciation are relevant pieces of contemporary history: the debauched and demanding Pope Julius II and the state of the papacy during his reign, the wars and diseases that afflicted the various participants and hindered work on the chapel, and numerous other small details that enliven the narrative.
King compares and contrasts Michelanglo with great rival, Raphael, who was painting the pope's private apartments at the same time Michelanglo was painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Raphael, who died relatively young, was more attractive, more popular, more adept at fresco (at least more adept than Michelangelo was when he began the ceiling) and generally a more sympathetic character than Michelangelo who lived to be almost ninety, had disgusting personal habits, was really not much to look at, and who really wanted to sculpt, not paint. While Raphael had the characteristic Italians call sprezziatura (making the difficult look easy), Michelangelo seemed to find everything difficult, or make it so.
King also debunks some of the more popular myths, particularly that Michelanglo painted the entire ceiling by himself, lying on his back. He had a host of helpers, some of whom also served as his teachers because he had minimal fresco experience when he began the chapel, and, while the scaffold was positioned so that neither he nor his assistants had to lie on their backs, the half squatting and bent-backward positions they did assume were equally uncomfortable, if not more so.
Though longer than "Bruneleschi's Dome," "Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling" moves just as quickly. King is never slow, dry or pedantic. He is, however, unfailingly informative. Should you be fortunate enough to visit the Vatican, this is obligatory preparatory reading. If you do not have that opportunity, King's tour of the Sistine Chapel is the next best thing to seeing it in person.
15 internautes sur 15 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Fascinating slice of history 19 mai 2003
Par J. Marren - Publié sur
Ross King's story of the "Pope's ceiling" is much more than the history of the painitng of the Sistine Chapel, as fascinating as that is. Spanning only four years, this book is art history, military history, church history and more all in one. Michelangelo was a renowned sculptor, who at the beginning of the 16th century was commissioned by Julius II to create the grandest tomb the world had known. But Julius, the feared and volatile ruler of part of Italy as well as the Pope, changed his mind before Michelangelo started, and directed him to paint the chapel instead. Unskilled in the complicated fresco process, and bitterly disappointed, Michelangelo nevertheless has no choice and begins the project. King details the challenging job of preparing the walls, transferring the design to the plaster, quickly painting before the walls dry. The author debunks many of the stories that have grown up over the years--Michelangelo did not work alone but with a changing crew of assistants; he did not lie on his back but painted in a much more uncomfortable position--standing, looking up.
King also offers an intriguing look at the corrupt church of the time, as we recall that the chapel is being painted on the eve of the Protestant reformation. The pope is hardly a spiritual leader, but one prince among many, with the extra power of condemning his enemies to hell or granting forgiveness and absolution for sins. Julius spends more time warring with rival kingdoms than worrying about salvation, and one cannot help thinking of the many lives lost during these useless escapades. Julius fancies himself as the successor not only of the first pope Peter but of Christ himself, and his triumphant entry into conquered cities in a fashion reminiscent of Palm Sunday are colorfully described. The clergy are uneducated, poor and hardly living a life of holiness--the vow of chastity simply means one cannot marry, and as a result Rome is overrun with prostitutes. In a wonderful aside, King quotes from the writings of the young Martin Luther--overjoyed at the prospect of visiting Rome's holy shrines, he quickly sees the filth and corruption in the city, which no doubt deeply influenced his subsequent break with Rome.
King does a wonderful job describing the fresco itself, explaining the origins of the designs in history, the classics, and earlier art works. We also learn quite a bit about Raphael, a young likeable man about town compared to the grumpy Michelangelo. Raphael was painting the pope's apartments at the same time as Michelangelo was working on the ceiling, and King does a great job explaining the differences between these two great masters. Leonardo da Vinci, the older, acknowledged master, was also working at this time, and King refers to his works throughout.
Whatever one might say about Julius and the corruption of the time, the popes did much to nuture the flowering of the Renaissance, and they certainly knew their art! This book is highly recommended--the audio version is also very well done.
23 internautes sur 25 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Things are Looking Up 3 janvier 2003
Par Un client - Publié sur
Continuing in the tradition of his earlier book, "Brunelleschi's Dome," Ross King explores the genesis of Michelangelo's masterpiece, the Sistine Chapel ceiling. King eloquently discusses not only Michelangelo's technique and composition, but also the contemporaneous rivalry with Raphael, who at the time was engaged in frescoing several of Pope Julius II's apartments. Written for the general reader, "Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling" is must reading for anyone visiting the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel for the first time--and indeed for the repeat visitor. What one misses, though, are more comprehensive illustrations of the various sections of the ceiling itself, which would assist in following King's descriptions and analysis. Still, by the end of the book, one realizes that the hand of God in the "Creation of Adam" is really the hand of Michelangelo, and we are all blessed by his divine inspiration.
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