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Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel Paperback – March 19, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Graham-Dixon, former art critic for the Independent, brings to the fore the greatest achievement of the genius who perhaps best deserves the designation Renaissance man. After a short biography of Michelangelo up to his reluctant acceptance of the pope's commission, Graham-Dixon analyzes the masterpiece itself. He excels at contextualization, appropriately calling the chapel "a simple rectangular building" and making plain how the artist strongly insisted he was a sculptor, not a painter of frescoes. The figures created in this hallowed space are nearly as sculptural as anything truly in the round, a fact the author emphasizes. Graham-Dixon is adept at analyzing the pictorial scheme in its entirety and interpreting the dozens of individual sections of the ceiling's barrel vault. He has managed to resurrect, in an attenuated scholarly nugget, the popular appeal of this great and beloved landmark of the Western world. A focused and instructive read, this refreshing look at a familiar topic should attract a wide readership.—Douglas F. Smith, Berkeley P.L., CA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


Graham-Dixon depicts a wonderfully strange man and his strangely wonderful masterpiece OBSERVER

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Phoenix (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd ) (March 19, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0753823462
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753823460
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,019,876 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Grover VINE VOICE on August 8, 2009
Format: Paperback
Very easy and interesting read. I visited the Sistine Chapel a few years back but was unable to learn much as to the meaning of each of the paintings on the ceiling. The tour guide was knowledgeable enough for a quick tour but I wanted to know more. This book delivers.

The author shares what Michelangelo told friends and biographers as to the meanings of the various paintings.The author also shares with his readers how the ceiling was viewed at the time of its unveiling by the artists contemporaries.

This is not a dry, boring read, and I would recommend it to anyone traveling to Rome who plans on visiting the Sistine Chapel, or who just wants to know more about the artist and his greatest work outside of his sculpting.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Richard Masloski on May 11, 2009
Format: Paperback
There have been many, many books written about this subject - as well there should be! Some have been very good, many quite boringly bad, others just off-the-wall in their alleged revelations of obscure, arcane Da Vinci-type "codes" hidden in the paintings. So I bought the hardcover edition of this book with some trepidation, wondering what else was there to be said about the most famous ceiling in world. Having just finished reading this book, I can simply say that it truly isn't WHAT you do, it is HOW you do it. And Andrew Graham-Dixon has DONE it, admirably, wonderfully. His book is clear, concise, perfectly ilustrated - and it is also, by my lights, the best and most poetic description of Michelangelo's glorious ceiling ever written. I'll go even further: what the Maestro put on the ceiling in paints, this author puts into this book in words! One example may suffice: in discussing the fresco entitled The Deluge (depicting Noah and the survivors of the Great Flood) Mr. Graham-Dixon poetically points out the unique composition wherein half the fresco is crowded with human misery and the other half is virtually blank with calm but deadly and steadily rising waters. He concludes his insightful description and commentary on this compositional disparity with a summation of Michelangelo's apparent artistic intent - and that is to show that "The world is a picture that God can unpaint at any moment." What a line! An aphorism in and of itself. These types of rich and extremely well-worded interpretations fill the deceptively slim volume. Reading this book, one feels as if they were seeing the ceiling paintings for the first time.

The book also details Michelangelo's entire life in, again, the same pointed, poetic manner. Mr.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Bubbles1 on January 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is truly well written accompanied with fantastic photos from the sistine chapel.
I found it easy to follow and I only wish I purchased the book before I went to Italy last year.
The details were exquisite and I highly recommend this book to anyone who intends to visit the
sistine chapel or those who are interested in great artist like Michaelangelo.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By propertius on December 29, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Of course, let us not quibble and just be happy that Mr. Graham Dixon has presented the reader with a knowledgable and unique view of the Sistine Chapel, presented in a concise and intelligent structure. Lost to the neophyte is the fact that when we speak of the Sistine Chapel vis a vis Michelangelo (completely ignoring the wall frescos by other artists)there are two separate works seperated by time and philosophical changes in the attitude of the artist. The author does a yeoman's job in framing the differences between the Last Judgment and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

As Mr. Graham Dixon points out in his notes at the end of the book (Yes, I did read the entire book before I wrote this) a bibliography of works in English on Michelangelo comprises 5 volumes. So I imagine that one could devote an inordinant amount of mis-spent time nit picking and obsessing over each fact in this book. However, the author gently and adequately introduces the reader to a methodology that he can use to acquire a deeper understanding of the two works.

Alright allow me to quibble about two opinions offered by Andrew. I do believe that Michelangelo was not so reluctant to accept the commission to paint the chapel, to support this view, I cite a recently published book by John T. Spike, "Young Michelangelo: The Path To The Sistine: A Biography" an excellent companion to this book.

Secondly, I beleive that Michelangelo exaggerated the discomfort he experienced. I also cite and recommend Ross King's book "Michelangelo and The Pope's Ceiling." which gives an exhaustive description of the working conditions, the scaffolding, and the process of fresco painting.

Needless to say this places Andrew Graham-Dixon's book in some heady company and whether the reader is a student, art lover, or someone planning to view the chapel, he will be well rewarded by reading this book. Now if only they could get rid of all those fig leaves....
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Donald R. Gage on January 22, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The author stays focused on the subject of the book, and I like his interpretations of Michelangelo's reasoning behind the painting's design, they seem logical and plausible. The author explains his conclusions in a linear and easy to follow fashion.
I also liked when the author addressed details on some of the techniques used to paint the ceiling and also how the condition of the later paintings over the span of four years let's us compare Michelangelo's progress (painting freestyle and with increased speed) as a painter.
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