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.
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. ~ Publisher Weekly