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Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling

3.82  ·  Rating Details ·  20,733 Ratings  ·  548 Reviews
In 1508, despite strong advice to the contrary, the powerful Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the newly restored Sistine Chapel. With little experience as a painter (though famed for his sculpture David), Michelangelo was reluctant to begin the massive project.

Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling recounts the four extraordinary years Michela
Paperback, 384 pages
Published November 25th 2003 by Penguin Books (first published 2003)
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Sean Gibson
Dec 23, 2016 Sean Gibson rated it really liked it
There are some works of art that are so transcendent, so seemingly divinely inspired, that you almost don’t want to look too closely at the individual(s) responsible for creating such magnificent beauty lest they turn out to be total douche bags. It’s a little bit like seeing how the sausage is made. “Man, this sausage is delicious…I can’t wait to see how you guys do—wait…oh…oh, no…hold on…is that pig anus you’re putting in there?! Seriously? Like, the anus of a pig? I’m eating a pig’s ass? Why ...more
Jean Tessier
Oct 02, 2011 Jean Tessier rated it it was amazing
Shelves: leisure
What a treat. This book felt like the best read I've had in a long time. This may seem unfair to some of the great books I've read recently, but this one was at the same time instructive and of very easy access. It covered everything from the technical aspects of painting frescos to the artistic concerns that went into the vault of the Sistine Chapel, to the geo-political landscape of Italy at the beginning of the 16th Century.

The books starts with Michelangelo's early career and how he landed t
Jan 09, 2008 Tung rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
Russ King’s bestseller describes the painting of the Sistine Chapel under the reign of Pope Julius II, a notorious tyrant of a pope. The book details the technical challenges of the painting of the Sistine Chapel (ranging from paint issues to scaffolding issues to design issues), the life of Michelangelo leading up to the commission, the historical events during the reign of Julius and how they intersect with the chapel painting, and other such details. Overall, I had a hard time getting through ...more
Susanna - Censored by GoodReads
Another fine volume of art history from Ross King. This covers most closely Michelangelo's early years in Rome, from 1505 when he got the commission for Pope Julius II's tomb, through 1512, when he finally finished the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The notoriously grumpy genius was immortalized twice (at least) by artists working at the Vatican in those years - by himself as the prophet Jeremiah, and by Raphael as the notoriously grumpy genius Heraclitus in his "The Academy of Athens."

By the en
Linda Harkins
Mar 29, 2011 Linda Harkins rated it it was amazing
Having immensely enjoyed reading Brunelleschi's Dome by the same author, I knew this bestseller about Michelangelo would not disappoint. Through thorough research, Ross King exposes truths that rectify many prevailing myths, particularly those promulgated by cinema. Indeed, Michelangelo did not lie flat on his back to paint painstakingly the frescoed scenes on the curved Sistine Chapel ceiling. The artist, in fact, wrote to his father describing how he had to stand on raised scaffolding in an un ...more
Jun 11, 2009 Karyl rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a fascinating trip through early 16th century Italy, focusing mainly on the frescoing of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I read several reviews here on Goodreads in which the reviewers felt that the author should have stuck solely to Michelangelo and his art, and that all the other information given is completely extraneous. I have to say I completely disagree with that. A work of art is not created in a vacuum. There were many events, political and religious, swirling around Mic ...more
Oct 06, 2011 Amy rated it did not like it
why is this book soooo boring?! I'm only on page 100-ish and it's taken me forever to get that far because it's so boring. not sure how much longer i can hang on

Can't hang on any longer! made it to like 70 pages left, figure i will pick it back up again when i get a bad case of insomnia as it is sure to cure it!
Kathy Doll
Far from the usual dry commentary that is found most art history books, Michelangelo is portrayed as a real person living in his world with all of the problems and challenges that are familiar to us today. Family issues, living conditions, a demanding boss, technical challenges and financial problems plague him as he works on this unwanted commission from Pope Julius II.

I was surprised to learn of the simmering rivalries with his contemporaries, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci.

I especially enjoyed
Nov 06, 2011 Laurie rated it it was ok
It was a huge chore to slug my way through this tome. Perhaps if a trip to Italy were in the near future I'd have enjoyed it more. As it is, I realized that the descriptions of more than one painting or fresco were ones I'd blithely walked past with barely a glance when I was in Florence a few years ago. I did learn a lot about the Sistine Chapel and if I ever see it I'll know more than most, but that's what tour guides are for, so why did I force myself to finish it? No reason but stubbornness ...more
Oct 10, 2013 Loraine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am torn between 3 and 4 stars for this book. I loved the history of the period and of the art enough for 5 stars but I just did not find the writing compelling. There is nothing wrong with it, it is all very well written, it just leaves a bit to be desired in the enjoyment category in that, for me, it was not a page-turner.
Especially interesting are the characters of Michelangelo and the Pope. There are wonderful scenes of Michelangelo showing why he was possibly the only man in Rome who could
Dec 09, 2009 Heidi rated it liked it
Although I enjoyed this book overall, and King does a good job dispelling some of the myths that have arisen around Michelangelo and the painting of the Sistine Chapel's ceiling, it read too much like an art major's master thesis. It felt like the author wasn't really engaged with his subject, or wasn't able to convey his enthusiasm if he was.

I was also disappointed that the picture section 1. did not show the ceiling in its entirety, and 2. did not have close-up views of the panels beyond one
Margie Parrish
Apr 16, 2015 Margie Parrish rated it it was amazing
Recently visited Italy and got to see the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican Museum and someone recommended this book which tells the story of Michaelangelo and the history of the four years it took to complete this monumental art project.
Sep 02, 2013 Louise rated it really liked it
At the age of 33, the sculptor Michelangelo Buonarroti, was summoned to Rome by Pope Julius II. Having been essentially fired from the job of sculpting the Pope's tomb, this strong willed artist defied and denied the invitation as long as he could. Since his patrons, the Medici, did not want a war over this, he reluctantly went. To finally arrive and learn that the task was a mammoth painting assignment must have been a shock. He was not a painter. He wanted to finish the tomb.

Then follows the a
Jan 11, 2017 Jeff rated it it was amazing
From the back cover:

In 1508, Pop Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to pain the ceiling of hte Sistine Chapel. The thirty-three-year-old Michelangelo had very little experience of the physically and technically taxing art of fresco; and, at twelve thousand square feet, the ceiling represented on one of the largest such projects ever attempted. Nevertheless, for the next four years he and a hand-picked team of assistants laboured over the vast ceiling, making thousands of drawings and spending b
I suppose I should give this book five stars because it has lead me on to a more extensive study of Michelangelo. It was somewhat slow going as I read the book because I kept switching to my iPad to look up pictures of various works of art mentioned in the book. Years ago I read Irving Stone's "The Agony and the Ecstasy," then saw the movie and was captivated by it. However, I learned through Ross King's book that there is much mythology in Stone's book. King has done a vast amount of research, ...more
Aug 03, 2009 Algernon rated it liked it
Shelves: history, art, renaissance
Ross King made an enormous contribution with his previous work on Brunelleschi and the dome at Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. With extensive illustrations, he gave us a history rich in entertaining anecdotal detail, but also an in-depth understanding of the engineering challenges and the aesthetics of the city, the period, and the people involved in this project.

That book was surely a tough act to follow, but this would have been a suitable subject: Michelangelo's engagement by Pope Julius I
Mar 15, 2012 Sara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
King does a fine job of pulling together information about Michelangelo himself, his struggles with "il papa terribile" Julius II as well as with his family members and his rivals. There is much detailed information here about the painting of the Sistine Chapel and some can get a bit tedious. But King uses short chapters to good effect in presenting the complex history of Julius II's wars with Louis XII of France and the Duke of Ferrara. Usually I nod off at the mention of a battle. But the inte ...more
Feb 19, 2015 Karen rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel-the-world
This year my goal is to read a book set in each country of the world. I find myself reading books that have been languishing in my physical library (as well as my ebook library) for a long time, which is a good thing. To my delight, I am loving this journey of finding new authors. For me a book is a good one when it points me to other books and more in-depth research. Michaelangelo and Pope's Ceiling is one of them. I had seen the Sistine Chapel, as well as the Pieta years ago during a trip to R ...more
Tim Muldoon
Apr 03, 2014 Tim Muldoon rated it it was amazing
What a great read! I'm fascinated by Michelangelo's work on the Sistine ceiling, and learning more about its production was a walk through a fascinating chapter of European and Church history.

Like many, my image is taken from "The Agony and the Ecstasy"-- Charlton Heston's Michelangelo as a solitary figure, lying on his back painting. King's book explodes that myth. He shows him rather as the head of a team of skilled laborers, with the artist still emerging as a remarkable talent revered by hi
Nov 06, 2014 Jonathan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I was looking forward to reading this one; not only a NY Times Bestseller but also a narrative about one of mankind's greatest artistic achievements: the ceiling frescoes of the Sistine Chapel. And yet...while the book is entertaining and fast-paced, it tends to wander. Mr. King apparently couldn't stay focused on the main event, and so the story spends too much time on the geopolitics and other skullduggeries of Renaissance Italy, Papal politics, Michelangelo's family problems, his rivalry with ...more
Philip Girvan
Jan 26, 2016 Philip Girvan rated it it was amazing
Another extremely well-researched and crisply written art history by Ross King. Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling provides thorough detail on the political and martial maneuvering taking place in Italy during the early years of the 16th century; informative biographical information on Pope Julius II, Michelangelo, and Raphael, who was working on the Papal Apartments located closely to the Sistine Chapel; the slow, incremental process of each tableau that composes the Sistine Chapel's ceiling; ...more
Aug 09, 2009 Shelli rated it it was amazing
This is a biography of Michelangelo centering around his frescoing of the Sistine Chapel ceiling at the Vatican in Rome. It is a completely fascinating and well written description of the politics, artistic processes and interpersonal drama that went into the famous fresco. This book is full of art and Roman history, providing a very interesting context to Michelangelo's life and work. I was astonished by the corruption and narcissism of Pope Julius II, who commissioned the ceiling fresco and am ...more
Patrick Gibson
Jul 19, 2009 Patrick Gibson rated it it was ok
I want to soar to the ceiling in flights of inspiration and majesty. I want to marvel at the shear audacity of creation and imagination. I want the swirling images to be like the music of Mozart. I want to know how so few humans attain the divine. I want to taste the paint in the air as angels guide his hands. I want the world to bow in homage of magnificence. I want to stand silently and weep from beauty. I want to know God smiled.

The rest is details.

And the book covers all that.
switterbug (Betsey)
Dec 19, 2012 switterbug (Betsey) rated it it was amazing
Lots of suspense and character here. I felt I understood the early 16th century, and Michelangelo and his family, as well as the geopolitical atmosphere of the time, when I finished the book. Since I will be seeing the Sistine Chapel in a matter of a few months, I am glad I read this in preparation. It pumps me up for the big see!
Mar 25, 2012 Ann rated it really liked it
Very good. Very well written and easily readable, better if I knew Italian and could pronounce those names! But I did pretty good. It reads almost like a novel which made it a pleasure to read and it has great illustrations of the ceiling in the Sistene Chapel.
Dec 10, 2010 Whitaker rated it really liked it
A really great book shows us how everything is great and worth to die for
I found this an interesting read about an incredible Renaissance artist and a demanding Pope. However, I do have to be honest and say that the book was rather dry as it became bogged down with unnecessary detail. It certainly wasn't a page-turner, but I found the process of doing frescos, the sketches and cartoons, the paint mixing the finding the right pigments extremely interesting.

Also, what amazed me was, that at the time of painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo had never
Richard Wise
Mar 18, 2017 Richard Wise rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, art
Still reading but I am very impressed by King's scholarship. Much more than just a biography, King moves with facility between Michelangelo's travails and the career of the "Warrior Pope, Julius II. He describes and critiques each of the Sistine's panels, one by one as Michelangelo painted them.
Jim Witkins
May 12, 2017 Jim Witkins rated it liked it
Solid trip through the history of the Sistine chapel.
May 06, 2017 Margo rated it liked it
Not the best Ross King work, but worth reading if you are interested in art, Italy and the Popes.
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

Ross King (born July 16, 1962) is a Canadian novelist and non-fiction writer. He began his career by writing two works of historical fiction in the 1990s, later turning to non-fiction, and has since written several critically acclaimed and best-selling historical works.

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