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Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  32,365 ratings  ·  681 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, 373 pages
Published 2003 by Penguin
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Sean Gibson
Dec 23, 2016 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 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 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 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
Aug 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
I remember myself standing in Sistine Chapel. I was standing there speechless, throwing my head back, absolutely dazzled by what I was experiencing. Later I thought, though, what other people had felt standing there. Did they know the story behind Pope's ceiling in question? Did they understand the narrative of each scene they saw? Did they try to imagine what creating such a masterpiece required? Or were they simply standing there thinking why on Earth THIS is considered to be one of the greate ...more
Jun 11, 2009 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 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!
Nov 06, 2011 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
Czarny Pies
Jul 03, 2019 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Those in need of entertainment. It's a hoot.
Shelves: european-history
Although balderdash from cover to cover, Ross King's "Pope's Ceiling" is wildly entertaining. I heartily recommend it to anyone planning to visit Rome in the next twelve months. However, muddled the facts may be, the text is clear and easy to follow making the book ideal for reading on a long trans-Atlantic flight.

The thing that set my teeth on edge (Jeremiah 31:29) was King's decision on page 203 in a discussion of five medallions of the Sistine Chapel fresco modelled on a recent printing of t
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
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Jun 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: italy
The story of Michelangelo’s struggle to obey a pope and paint a fresco on a ceiling though he always considered himself a sculptor makes for a dramatic book. The author shares the story sequentially, as Michelangelo slowly makes his way across the ceiling, over a four year period, and intertwines this story with the story of the pope and his desire to keep France out of his realm.
Apr 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This isn’t my usual read but it was fascinating, it appears I like a warmongering bullying pope and a miserable complaining artist. It sounds like it would be a dull bit of history but it really wasn’t, it’s full of characters and events, there’s even a cameo for Henry VIII.
Deborah Ideiosepius
This very interesting book tells the story of how a notable sculptor such as Michelangelo Buonarroti came to spend four years or more of his life painting the ceilings of the Sistine Chapel for pope Julius II.

Ross King does a masterful, well researched job of describing the circumstances leading to pope Julius insisting Michelangelo abandon the craft forms he knew and delve into painting, (which he had some training and a little experience with) and more importantly fresco, with which he had vi
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
Mar 15, 2012 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 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
Oct 10, 2013 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
Tim Muldoon
Apr 03, 2014 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
Dec 09, 2009 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
Feb 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Another excellent popular account of the painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. I found the discussion of Italian history during this period, especially the wars of Pope Julius II to be informative. I read this on the Kindle; one problem with a book about art is that you want to see what the author is talking about, and the Kindle version only provided microscopic (IMO) views of what he was talking about.

The book also covers Raphael's murals in the Papal Apartments. This was also interesting, b
Feb 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
comprehensive and fascinating discourse about Michaelangelo and Pope Julius II as well as Raphael, contemporaneous politics, religion, culture, etc. in another book, Vittoria Colonna was said to be an inspirer to Michaelangelo; this book seemed to indicate that he had no female intimates of any kind even though the time periods seemed to overlap.
Liz (readwildly)
I enjoyed the details about Michelangelo's labors and his rivalry with another famous Renaissance painter, Raphael. Now that I know more about the lives of these two men, I have a deeper appreciation for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. ...more
Joe D'Alesio
Mar 08, 2018 rated it liked it
Never explained why Michelangelo didn’t sign ‘Kowabunga Turtle Power’ but overall a solid read.
Sathya Vijayakumar
Dec 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed taking a month to read this book. Like all of Ross King's books on Renaissance artists (I previously read one about Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man and another on the construction of Il Duomo in Florence), it immersed me in the artist's life, the time period, and the intricate details of the art itself. I don't have any training in or experience with painting or sculpting, but King is a strong enough writer to explain technical points like the nuances of the Buon Fresco technique or th ...more
Bobby Bermea
Mar 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: resident-madness
Michelangelo seems so easy. He's always fascinating. Trying to capture what he accomplished and put it into words with nothing but whatever facts you can get your hands on and by making whatever inferences seem plausible, seems like an impossible task and so it is. What makes it fun is trying to get at that mystery of creation anyway, to figure out at what exact point Michelangelo was touched by God and put that moment in some kind of terms the rest of us mere mortals can understand. It can't be ...more
This was a super interesting non-fiction book that looks at how Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The book also went into the political dealings going on in Rome while he was competing the chapel, as well as Michelangelo's family issues.

I really enjoyed this book. It's a really cool concept and I loved learning about the technical elements of the painting of the sistine chapel. It was also interesting to get a glimpse of relationships and rivalries between renaissance arti
Nov 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
In addition to being informative about Michelangelo, Ross King provides an interesting history lesson about Pope Julius II, Rome, Florence and the challenges from France for Italian soil. Many other accomplished Italian artists, sculpture, fresc0-ists, religious figures and politicians are included in this history book.
Need to re-shelve and read another time.
Sep 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The characters seem a little overdramatic, but the art history is fun.
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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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