[FROM THE DUST JACKETT] In 1508, despite strong advice to the contrary, the powerful Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo Buonarroti to paint the ceiling of the newly restored Sistine Chapel in Rome. Four years earlier, at the age of twenty-nine, Michelangelo had unveiled his masterful statue of David in Florence; however, he had little experience as a painter, even less working in the delicate medium of fresco, and none with the challenging curved surfaces of vaults. The temperamental Michelangelo was himself reluctant: He stormed away from Rome, incurring Julius's wrath, before he was eventually persuaded to begin.
Michelangelo & the Pope's Ceiling recounts the fascinating story of the four extraordinary years he spent laboring over the twelve thousand square feet of the vast ceiling while the power politics and personal rivalries that abounded in Rome swirled around him. Contrary to legend, he neither worked alone nor on his back: He and his hand-picked assistants stood bending backward on a special scaffold he designed for the purpose. Battling against ill health, financial difficulties, domestic and family problems, and the pope's impatience, Michelangelo created scenes - including The Creation, The Temptation, and The Flood -- so beautiful that, when they were unveiled in 1512 they stunned onlookers. In the end, he produced one of the greatest masterpieces of all time, about which Giorgio Vasari, in his Lives of the Artists, wrote, "There is no other work to compare with this for excellence, nor could there be."
For almost the entire four years, Michelangelo was shadowed by the brilliant young painter, Raphael, who was working in fresco on the neighboring Papal Apartments, creating a rivalry the pope seemed to enjoy. For his part, when he wasn't ill, Julius spent most of his time on military campaigns against other Italian city-states or against Louis XII of France. A panorama of illustrious figures intersected during this time, and Ross King skillfully weaves them through his narrative: The fiery preacher Girolamo Savonarola, who held a young Michelangelo in thrall in the 1490s as he prophesied from a Florence pulpit, continuing to shape his apocalyptic imagination a decade later as the ceiling developed; the great Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus, then forty-three, who visited Rome in 1509 as a guest of the pope's cousin and may have met Michelangelo and seen the Sistine ceiling taking shape behind its screen of canvas; and a youthful Martin Luther, who made a trip to Rome at this time, his initial excitement quickly turning to disillusionment at witnessing the corruption all around him.
From Michelangelo's experiments with the composition of pigments made by monks in Florence, to Niccol`ò Machiavelli's defense of Florence against Julius's attacking forces bent on restoring the Medicis to power, Ross King presents a tapestry of day-to-day life on the ingenious Sistine scaffolding and outside in the upheaval of early-sixteenth-century Italy, as well as insight into the intersection of art and history.
ix and 373 pages long.