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

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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

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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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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: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (162 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #42,888 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

Definitely one of the best books I read in 2003.
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.
J. Marren
I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in art, history or just interested in a well written tale!
C. Miranda

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

148 of 151 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Kendall VINE VOICE on January 8, 2004
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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96 of 97 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Loveitt on January 27, 2003
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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44 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 6, 2003
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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