- Paperback: 424 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press (July 25, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1107673690
- ISBN-13: 978-1107673694
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 40 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #313,578 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Michelangelo: The Artist, the Man and his Times
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"...the artist who emerges from these pages is paradoxically a far richer character than the one captured in fiction-as complicated as his art, and as fiercely intelligent as his times."
"Wallace's (novel) is a detailed investigation that will repay the attention of a well-informed reader already familiar with Michelangelo's art."
-ADRIAN W. B. RANDOLPH,Dartmouth College
"Don't be intimidated by Wallace's reputation as one of the world's leading authorities on Michelangelo: this is a highly readable, and often very funny, tour through Michelangelo's life and career. It gives a fresh assessment of Michelangelo, showing him not as the moody genius of legend so much as a deft business manager who, among other things, gave his workmen nicknames like Stumpy and Fats. Modern CEOs could learn much from him."
-Ross King, The Daily Beast
Written from the words of Michelangelo and his contemporaries, this biography not only tells his own stories but also brings to life the culture and society of Renaissance Florence and Rome. Michelangelo's belief in his patrician status fueled his lifelong ambition to improve his family's financial situation and to raise the social standing of artists. Michelangelo's ambitions are evident in his writing, dress, and comportment, as well as in his ability to befriend, influence, and occasionally say "no" to popes, kings, and princes.
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As for the supposedly important new angle that Michelangelo considered himself an aristocrat, it doesn't affect our view of his work or life substantially, though it does help explain some of his behavior towards his patrons. More interesting was Wallace's debunking of the popular representation of Michelangelo as an antisocial hermit. The book makes clear that he had many significant friendships and that he was gracious and often generous.
I would recommend this biography but would urge readers to supplement it with another book that considers Michelangelo's art more closely, such as Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling or Renaissance Rivals: Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, Titian.
Relying on new scholarship, much of it his own (and some the result of exhaustive investigation by Rab Hatfield into Michelangelo's banking records), Wallace demolishes the myth that has grown up around (or instead of) the man. Where we were once asked to believe the artist was an aloof, grouchy, troubled, hypochondriacal loner given to rages and outbursts of violence, and a man wholly unable to work with others in any kind of joint project, Wallace shows, thoroughly and convincingly, that Michelangelo wry, funny, and likeable, was at the center of a large cadre of friends, family, and admirers. He was generous with his money, his time, his concern for others, and his advice. This was a man who could supervise teams of over three hundred construction workers during the initial building phases of the Laurentine Library, and who raised a four-year-old niece and later a nephew. Michelangelo playing with a little girl, on the floor drawing pictures of her feet with her is not the Michelangelo we have been given to expect. The various stories offered up by Vasari and others have been taken by other writers as historical truth. Wallace is careful to sift through the historical record and filter out suspiciously tall tales.
I advise anyone reading this book to also buy Wallace's "Michelangelo Sculpture Painting Architecture," a comprehensive "complete works" without the pretensions of the recent 14-pound Taschen footrest of a volume. Wallace's biography obviously can't supply the images he talks about. (This is a problem with all artist biographies.)
Wallace focuses on projects other writers skate past. When Michelangelo is coerced into creating a huge bronze statue of Pope Julius II in Bologna, a seated figure twelve feet tall, few writers have seemed to comprehend what a gigantic engineering challenge this was. Wallace makes clear the almost endless intense work involved in creating such a gigantic object.
Wallace is forced by the very nature of the subject to treat the Sistine ceiling in painfully few pages but here again, as with the bronze Julius, an entire book would be (and has been) required to cover the material. He limits himself to an overview of the ceiling and doesn't touch the complexities of its creation. But he scarcely could. It's too complex. I suggest watching "The Divine Michelangelo," in which Wallace participated. It can be found in sections on YouTube.
The book opens with narrative style, describing the Rome that Michelangelo at 21 would have seen as a near ruin, a far cry from the flourishing Florence, his homeland. It then commences a brisk and comprehensive retelling of the creation of the Bacchus (for Cardinal Riario) and the Pieta. Here Wallace is careful to say only what he knows. After explaining that the Bacchus was "eventually acquired" by the banker Jacopo Galli, and only suggesting (instead of asserting, as is usual) that Riario didn't like it, Wallace says that Michelangelo "spent five ducats on a piece of marble that proved to be bad, and then purchased another for five more ducats." No mention is made here of what that marble may have been used for, and this may be Wallace's way of avoiding the (for now) very unsettled issue of the Young Archer statue, currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and championed as a Michelangelo but by no means generally accepted as one. (I've seen it. It isn't.)
Later Wallace tells the almost universally accepted story that Michelangelo carved a "sleeping cupid" that so matched the antique in style that it was indistinguishable from an antique, apart from the fact that it was obviously brand new, and at the suggestion of a friend distressed and aged it so that he could "sell it more profitably." The cupid is said to have then been sold to Cardinal Riario as an antique. Riario, we have been told, somehow figured out he'd been duped; Michelangelo hurried to Rome to straighten matters out. Much has been made out of this story, especially by some current art historians looking for proof of Michelangelo's capacity and willingness to commit deliberate forgeries and pass them off as genuine antique statuary, but Wallace shrewdly suggests that this story, too, might be a fabrication.
This kind of responsible scholarly restraint is evident throughout the book. Where Vasari tells us that Michelangelo's friend (they were both teenagers) was exiled from Florence for breaking Michelangelo's nose, Wallace warns us that there may be "a hint of embellishment" here. Indeed. Tactful.
Throughout the Raiders-of-the-Lost-Ark-Final-Warehouse-Scene avalanche of literature on Michelangelo the "hint of embellishment" has been too often permitted to pollute our understanding of the man and his times. Wallace avoids all the pitfalls that Michelangelo himself warned of when he complained that an ambassador insisted on some kind of confession or apology the ambassador felt owed. "My answer is that he has fashioned a Michelangelo of his own." Previous writers could have fashioned a Michelangelo out of facts, rather than one of their own.
Finally scholars, Wallace chief among them, are starting to cast overdue doubt on the more mythological claims, the hagiography, and whatever one might call the reverse of hagiography is (it's not exactly iconoclasm) and are bringing to light a real man whose accomplishments, in the now revealed ordinarinesses of his life, make his extraordinary accomplishments all the more astonishing.
I am loath to write in books, so it's a mark of a centrally important text when I find myself making notes in margins, or highlighting or dog-earing pages. My copy of "Michelangelo The Artist, the Man, and His Times" is covered with marginalia.
"Michelangelo, The Artist, the Man, and His Times" is a vital and seminal work. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
While seasoned Michelangelo scholars will read this book, it's also for students of the Italian Renaissance at all stages of expertise. Better to start off right to avoid unlearning the myths of lesser minds.