Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Agony and the Ecstasy

Part of prepping for my trip to Italy, now less than two weeks away, was to slowly read Irving Stone's magnificent life of Michelangelo Buonarroti, The Agony and the Ecstasy.  Written in 1961, it is a sprawling book that taught me about the life and times and works of Michelangelo (i.e., Renaissance Florence and Rome).

It also taught me about fresco painting, sculpting marble, and provided an excellent orientation guide to Florence and Rome.  I really enjoyed the thought processes that Stone gave to Michelangelo for each of his works of art--why he chose to carve David or the Pieta or Moses as he did or why he chose the particular scenes from the Bible that he did for his Sistine Chapel ceiling frescoes.

I also learned about the Popes and the Medicis and the Borgias, as well as fellow artists, Leonardo Da Vinci, Raffaelle, Brunelleschi, and a host of other Renaissance giants.

It was immensely readable, the pacing was great--a long book, it started with Michelangelo as an 11 year old apprentice, and ended with his death at 89.

Stone has written a number of historical biographies of artists and other notable figures--there are a number of them that appeal to me.  Here's the list, lifted from Wikipedia:

  • Lust for Life (1934) – Historical novel based on the life of Vincent van Gogh
  • Sailor on Horseback (1938) – A biography of Jack London
  • Immortal Wife (1944) – Historical novel based on the life of Jessie Benton Frémont
  • Adversary in the House (1947) – Historical novel based on the life of Eugene V. Debs and his wife Kate, who opposed socialism[3]
  • The Passionate Journey (1949) – Historical novel based on the life of American artist John Noble
  • The President's Lady (1950) – Historical novel based on the life of American president Andrew Jackson and his marriage to Rachel Donelson Jackson
  • Love is Eternal (1954) – Historical novel based on the marriage of Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd
  • The Agony and the Ecstasy – (1961) – Historical novel based on the life of Michelangelo
  • Those Who Love (1965) – Historical novel based on the life of John Adams and Abigail Adams
  • The Passions of the Mind (1971) – Historical novel based on the life of Sigmund Freud
  • The Greek Treasure (1975) – based on the discovery of Troy by Heinrich Schliemann
  • The Origin (1980) – Historical novel based on the life of Charles Darwin
  • Depths of Glory (1985) – Historical novel based on the life of Camille Pissarro

  • Now I want to want the movie version, with Charlton Heston as Michelangelo and Rex Harrison as Pope Julius II.  I know the casting sounds hokey, but it's gotten good reviews!


    1. SO JEALOUS of your trip to Italy -- I went last year and it was amazing. I would go back again in a heartbeat. I'd also recommend I, Claudius if you have time.

      And don't miss the Florentine steak, and the gelato! Can't wait to hear about your trip.

    2. Each time you write about this book I get my battered, falling to pieces copy off the shelf intending to read it and each time I don't get very far (I have a marker in page 42!) and it's so long in such a small font. So I am glad you have enjoyed it and I think I should get a new copy.

      Anyway, I'm sure it's encouraged you to see Michelangelo's works of art, especially knowing so much about them. Enjoy your trip - I'd love to go back there too!

    3. This sounds like such a rich book.

      I loved the movie. Everything film with Charleston Heston in it was by definition a little hokey but that adds to the charm for me :)

      Have a great trip!

    4. It's great you read Stone's book before your trip -- such great background info. Michelangelo seems fascinating. The author was certainly prolific!

    5. What a great way to learn history!