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Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling Paperback – November 25, 2003

4.5 out of 5 stars 187 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Almost 500 years after Michelangelo Buonarroti frescoed the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, the site still attracts throngs of visitors and is considered one of the artistic masterpieces of the world. Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling unveils the story behind the art's making, a story rife with all the drama of a modern-day soap opera.

The temperament of the day was dictated by the politics of the papal court, a corrupt and powerful office steeped in controversy; Pope Julius II even had a nickname, "Il Papa Terrible," to prove it. Along with his violent outbursts and warmongering, Pope Julius II took upon himself to restore the Sistine Chapel and pretty much intimidated Michelangelo into painting the ceiling even though the artist considered himself primarily a sculptor and was particularly unfamiliar with the temperamental art of fresco. Along with technical difficulties, personality conflicts, and money troubles, Michelangelo was plagued by health problems and competition in the form of the dashing and talented young painter Raphael.

Author Ross King offers an in-depth analysis of the complex historical background that led to the magnificence that is the Sistine Chapel ceiling along with detailed discussion of some of the ceiling’s panels. King provides fabulous tidbits of information and weaves together a fascinating historical tale. --J.P. Cohen --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

King's historical account of the four years Michelangelo Buonarroti spent frescoing the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome is splendid, thorough and detailed. But its larger appeal lies in the way King (Brunelleschi's Dome) brings out the story's human elements. Listeners learn of Michelangelo's bitter disappointment when a project he was eagerly looking forward to (the construction of the Pope's tomb) was cancelled and that he had little experience with the art of fresco and was reluctant to take on the Sistine Chapel. King explains the craft of frescoing with involving details: for example, fresco dries quickly, so the artist could work only in small sections, and if a mistake was found after the paint dried, the whole day's work had to be chipped away and redone. Listeners also learn of Michelangelo's financial woes and family problems and the political upheavals of the time. Sklar's narration is perfect for the project. His lively and expressive reading add a realistic edge to a centuries-old tale. He speaks passionately and his accent on the Italian names and phrases is flawless.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reissue edition (November 25, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142003697
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142003695
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (187 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #328,140 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ross King is the author of the bestselling Brunelleschi's Dome and Michelangelo & the Pope's Ceiling, as well as the novels Ex-Libris and Domino. He lives in England, near Oxford.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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