Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Review: Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling

Michelangelo and the Pope's CeilingMichelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling by Ross King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pretty interesting book. A lot of lively detail about Michaelangelo, other artists, and that wild choleric warrior Pope, Julius, who seems even more eccentric than the artists.

The reconstruction of how Michaelangelo actually worked, seems pretty convincing. Yeah, for one thing, he had help, which should be no surprise. The idea that he laid in all the plaster himself and laid in every square inch of the background color would be pretty unbelievable. He seems to have been responsible for all of the full size mock up drawings (called cartoons in the technical term) and substantially all the significant painting.

Since he had only a rudimentary knowledge of fresco (he was a sculptor!) he had to get experts to advise him and get him started off right. (As he gained expertise and confidence he was able to use more junior assistants.) By the way, the earlier ceiling was a simple star pattern design, a fresco that was falling off. So he did not destroy anything of any great artistic value. The fact the plaster was falling off the earlier attempt was not reassuring. He wanted to use the best paint and use boun frecsco the "manly" way to do things, in which you could not afford to botch as it could only be changed while wet. He made more mistakes early on, and the work went very slowly at first. The worst preserved part seems to be in the earliest. The best parts were finished later on, and only took a fraction of the time the earlier parts had taken.

In a way this is assuring to read for the practicing artist who may fear trying something new; although Michaelangelo was a master artist, he had to work through the difficulties of working in a totally unfamiliar way.

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