Algernon's Reviews > Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling

Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling by Ross King
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Aug 03, 2009

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bookshelves: renaissance, history, art
Read in July, 2009

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 II to paint, in fresco, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel - an almost impossible commission. In this event, there was intense drama (both within the Vatican, as tensions simmered between the artist and his patron, and outside Rome as the French military advanced on Italy). There was a project requiring innovative engineering. There are aesthetic rivalries, between Michaelangelo on one solitary side and on the other Da Vinci and Raphael, among others.

On the whole, however, there is more diversion than education here. While entertaining, I learned little new about the period, the military conflicts, or the art aside from some details about fresco-painting and the scaffolding Michelangelo designed for work on the chapel. The color insert could be expanded into plates that could be cited in the text, with more of the Genesis scenes enlarged for study. If you're going to do it at all, may as well maximize its use.
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John Very good critique at the last paragraph. I picked up a full blown pictography of all the panels of all three giant frescoes at the vatican, (Raphael, Michaelangelo,Botticelli, Gherlandaio, Perugino, Signorelli, Rosselli etc,so leafed furiously while reading. It helped immerse me in the accuracy of the depicted scenes!

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