Michelangelo is universally recognized to be one of the greatest artists of all time. In this vividly written biography, William E. Wallace offers a substantially new view of the artist. Not only a supremely gifted sculptor, painter, architect, and poet, Michelangelo was also an aristocrat who firmly believed in the ancient and noble origins of his family. The belief in his patrician status fueled his lifelong ambition to improve his family's financial situation and to raise the social standing of artists. Michelangelo's ambitions are evident in his writing, dress, and comportment, as well as in his ability to befriend, influence, and occasionally say "no" to popes, kings, and princes.Written from the words of Michelangelo and his contemporaries, this biography not only tells his own stories but also brings to life the culture and society of Renaissance Florence and Rome. Not since Irving Stone's novel The Agony and the Ecstasy has there been such a compelling and human portrayal of this remarkable yet credible human individual.
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Customer Reviews (8)
The Syrian Bow
"Michelangelo, The Artist, the Man, and His Times" is a watershed event, marking a generational transformation in the way we think about the greatest artist of western civilization.This is important.We live in the shadow of Michelangelo.The relationship between creative people and wealthy, powerful patrons: the powerful coming (or should come) as supplicants to the creative--was established by Michelangelo, and ever since, western artists have, often unconsciously, modeled themselves on what they believe Michelangelo to have been like.
Relying on new scholarship, much of it his own (and some the result of exhaustive investigation by Rab Hatfield into Michelangelo's banking records), Wallace demolishes the myth that has grown up around (or instead of) the man.Where we were once asked to believe the artist was an aloof, grouchy, troubled, hypochondriacal loner given to rages and outbursts of violence, and a man wholly unable to work with others in any kind of joint project, Wallace shows, thoroughly and convincingly, that Michelangelo wry, funny, and likeable, was at the center of a large cadre of friends, family, and admirers.He was generous with his money, his time, his concern for others, and his advice.This was a man who could supervise teams of over three hundred construction workers during the initial building phases of the Laurentine Library, and who raised a four-year-old niece and later a nephew.Michelangelo playing with a little girl, on the floor drawing pictures of her feet with her is not the Michelangelo we have been given to expect.The various stories offered up by Vasari and others have been taken by other writers as historical truth.Wallace is careful to sift through the historical record and filter out suspiciously tall tales.
I advise anyone reading this book to also buy Wallace's "Michelangelo Sculpture Painting Architecture," a comprehensive "complete works" without the pretensions of the recent 14-pound Taschen footrest of a volume.Wallace's biography obviously can't supply the images he talks about.(This is a problem with all artist biographies.)
Wallace focuses on projects other writers skate past.When Michelangelo is coerced into creating a huge bronze statue of Pope Julius II in Bologna, a seated figure twelve feet tall, few writers have seemed to comprehend what a gigantic engineering challenge this was.Wallace makes clear the almost endless intense work involved in creating such a gigantic object.
Wallace is forced by the very nature of the subject to treat the Sistine ceiling in painfully few pages but here again, as with the bronze Julius, an entire book would be (and has been) required to cover the material.He limits himself to an overview of the ceiling and doesn't touch the complexities of its creation.But he scarcely could.It's too complex.I suggest watching "The Divine Michelangelo," in which Wallace participated.It can be found in sections on YouTube.
The book opens with narrative style, describing the Rome that Michelangelo at 21 would have seen as a near ruin, a far cry from the flourishing Florence, his homeland.It then commences a brisk and comprehensive retelling of the creation of the Bacchus (for Cardinal Riario) and the Pieta.Here Wallace is careful to say only what he knows.After explaining that the Bacchus was "eventually acquired" by the banker Jacopo Galli, and only suggesting (instead of asserting, as is usual) that Riario didn't like it, Wallace says that Michelangelo "spent five ducats on a piece of marble that proved to be bad, and then purchased another for five more ducats."No mention is made here of what that marble may have been used for, and this may be Wallace's way of avoiding the (for now) very unsettled issue of the Young Archer statue, currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and championed as a Michelangelo but by no means generally accepted as one.(I've seen it.It isn't.)
Later Wallace tells the almost universally accepted story that Michelangelo carved a "sleeping cupid" that so matched the antique in style that it was indistinguishable from an antique, apart from the fact that it was obviously brand new, and at the suggestion of a friend distressed and aged it so that he could "sell it more profitably."The cupid is said to have then been sold to Cardinal Riario as an antique.Riario, we have been told, somehow figured out he'd been duped; Michelangelo hurried to Rome to straighten matters out.Much has been made out of this story, especially by some current art historians looking for proof of Michelangelo's capacity and willingness to commit deliberate forgeries and pass them off as genuine antique statuary, but Wallace shrewdly suggests that this story, too, might be a fabrication.
This kind of responsible scholarly restraint is evident throughout the book.Where Vasari tells us that Michelangelo's friend (they were both teenagers) was exiled from Florence for breaking Michelangelo's nose, Wallace warns us that there may be "a hint of embellishment" here.Indeed.Tactful.
Throughout the Raiders-of-the-Lost-Ark-Final-Warehouse-Scene avalanche of literature on Michelangelo the "hint of embellishment" has been too often permitted to pollute our understanding of the man and his times.Wallace avoids all the pitfalls that Michelangelo himself warned of when he complained that an ambassador insisted on some kind of confession or apology the ambassador felt owed."My answer is that he has fashioned a Michelangelo of his own."Previous writers could have fashioned a Michelangelo out of facts, rather than one of their own.
Finally scholars, Wallace chief among them, are starting to cast overdue doubt on the more mythological claims, the hagiography, and whatever one might call the reverse of hagiography is (it's not exactly iconoclasm) and are bringing to light a real man whose accomplishments, in the now revealed ordinarinesses of his life, make his extraordinary accomplishments all the more astonishing.
I am loath to write in books, so it's a mark of a centrally important text when I find myself making notes in margins, or highlighting or dog-earing pages.My copy of "Michelangelo The Artist, the Man, and His Times" is covered with marginalia.
"Michelangelo, The Artist, the Man, and His Times" is a vital and seminal work.I cannot recommend it highly enough.
While seasoned Michelangelo scholars will read this book, it's also for students of the Italian Renaissance at all stages of expertise.Better to start off right to avoid unlearning the myths of lesser minds.
Michelangelo, the Genius
I am a keen reader of good biographies, and I have long wanted to read one of Michelangelo. This
book by William Wallace met my expectations. It is a very well written book about the artistic
genius most people in the western world know about.
The author uses correspondence between Michelangelo and others extensively in presenting a very
interesting portrait of Michelangelo, his life, devotion, genius and charater. The letters and
quotations seem to fit naturally and do not in anyway interfere with the beautiful flow of the
One minor point that I found rather unwelcome was the author's frequent references to the subject's
death ahead of its time thus preventing some anticipation by the reader. Despite this shortcoming,
I found the book to be extremely well written. I would strongly recommend it to anyone interested
in reading about Michelangelo, one of the greatest artists who ever lived.
Many new ideas.
This book will remain a treasure of information about the man. Professor Wallace presents many new ideas. For example, he dispels the accepted characterization of the isolated anti-social genius and shows that Michelangelo indeed corresponded with thousands of people from the most humble worker to the most exalted of Rennaisance society. We learn of the long friendships and of the importance of family loyalty. Michelangelo always left lesser jobs for better opportunities and always mastered new mediums with remarkable speed. Wallace understands as few scholars do, that carving marble is a subtractive process, a one way street, one can correct only by taking away. The writing is often wonderful as when he describes the old sculptor and the Pieta Rondanini. As no other, Wallace has revealed the depth of faith of the artist who has given us so many profoundly religious works.
Michelangelo: The Artist, The Man and his Times
The life of Michelangelo is the most documented outside of Leonardo da Vinci, both in fiction and non-fiction, from the movie //The Agony and the Ecstasy// to the many books written on the life and art of Michelangelo, from the Sistine Chapel to David.Is there room for yet another biography on Michelangelo?William Wallace attempts to answer the main question.He only slightly answers the question.Mr. Wallace takes a more academic look at Michelangelo's life, from going out on his own instead of working in a traditional workshop, to supporting family and good friends.
The scholarship is sound; Mr. Wallace uses primary source documents when it is possible to take a look at the life and mind of Michelangelo.Mr. Wallace looks at the major works, and examines the impact that they had on Michelangelo and the culture of Renaissance Italy. The literature on Michelangelo is vast and dense, though not all of it good.There is not a lot of room for a new biography on Michelangelo; this is a good work it will have to fight for attention from the other works.
Reviewed by Kevin Winter
Since this book is entitled MICHELANGELO and subtitled THE ARTIST, THE MAN, AND HIS TIMES it would have been nice to have a portrait of the artist reproduced within its pages, especially the bronze bust done from life by one Daniele Da Volterra teasingly described at various points in the late pages of the book.It would have been a nice cover, instead of the Doni Tondo which for some inexplicable reason is given prominence on the book's dustjacket, designed by one Holly Johnson.Alot of Michelangelo's drawings and architectural works are vividly described yet not shown.What we do get by way of illustration are the same pictures we have seen a thousand times over of the Maestro's major works.If we are treated to images of these masterworks, might it be too much to want to see them from new angles?
Anyway, as to the book itself:William Wallace is a fine writer but herein relies too heavily on the letters of Michelangelo and his family and associates to tell the tale.While this is not bad in itself (as a matter-of-fact, quoting so extensively from the written record of Michelangelo does much towards bringing him to life), what is sorely absent in the rest of the book is scholarly speculation where written records are lacking.What I mean by this is that given that Mr. Wallace is presumably an "expert" on Michelangelo and his Art and his Times, it would have been so refreshingly nice to read some educated guesses as to Michelangelo's working methods on the Pieta and David and Moses, etc:were actual, living models used; were clay or wax models used and then enlarged via a size-ratio method; how did he keep his work from prying eyes; what were the actual techniques used in his marble sculpting?The first two-thirds of the book also lack in answering some basic questions that any casual reader might like to know the answers to, such as - what exactly is fresco painting?Why was Michelangelo wet-nursed by a stone cutter's wife as an infant?What was actually involved in the sculpting and casting of the Bologna bronze of Pope Julius - and what really became of it?(It was allegedly melted down by an invading army so as to make cannons - but this is not told in the book under discussion.) Who actually commissioned the David?Did Leonardo and Michelangelo exchange heated words in the Florentine streets, as related by Vasari or Condivi?Did they ever meet when doing preparatory work for the dual commissions for the Palazzo Vecchio? Leonardo was one of a committee who decided on the placement of the David - and even drew a sketch of it - yet nothing of the real interchange between these two titans is really addressed in this book.Raphael?Who's Raphael?Who truly conceived of the subject for the Sistine Ceiling?How was the scaffolding truly erected so that Michelangelo could paint?How big are the figures on the ceiling?What happened to the cartoons?How does a cartoon truly play into the making of a fresco?What did Florentines really think of David once it was unveiled - why was it not only hailed but also pelted with stones?When was it damaged when a bench was thrown out of a window knocking off the left arm?Who repaired it?The Pieta is behind bullet-proof glass now - yet we are not told why. In this book, Michelangelo works for years on David and the Sistine Ceiling and later the Last Judgement - yet "The Artist" part of the subtitle is practically breezed over.Was the Pieta an original conception?(I always thought it was - but it isn't - it just happens to be the best of a long line of Pieta-themed works.) Why is there a size disparity between Jesus and His Mother?Why does she look so young and what was Michelangelo's answer to this complaint?How did Michelangelo actually revolutionize the art world?Who truly influenced him?Did he secretly sign the Pieta by emphasizing the M in the folds of Mary's left hand - and only later, when the work was attributed to another, hurriedly sneak back into the church and erroneously carve his name across the Virgin Mother's sash? There is a mistake in the spelling of his own name - but we do not learn that fact herein - yet it lends credence to the story that the accentuated M in the palm was not enough to proclaim authorship to the viewing audience. What did the people of Rome really think when the Sistine Chapel - and Last Judgement - were finally unveiled to the world?Mention is constantly made of the work entitled The Risen Christ - yet what it is or who commissioned it aren't ever mentioned. And for a book that includes "His Times" in the subtitle, we learn actually very little of what was going on in the world during those times.The Lutheran Reformation is barely touched upon.Pope Julius and his ambitions never come to life at all. The Sack of Rome is covered in half-a-sentence. What was going on in the rest of the world as far as arts, science, politics, the New World?But judging from what we have, the book truly comes to lifeonly in the artist's later years - when the written record via letters comes into play - then the book truly (for me) comes alive.And that is my complaint:scholarly speculation could have done much towards making the preceding decades of the artist's life as rich and as vivid as the closing years and chapters.
I am glad that the author gives Michelangelo's poetry its just due (something another new biography of the artist does not do, sadly.) The book is an easy read - perhaps too much so - but...it could have been so much more.Of all three topics listed in the subtitle, the author succeeds best in delivering a portrait of Michelangelo the Man.But again, this is basically a depiction of the Maestro in his old age.
One day someone will trasmute Irving Stone's fictional biography into a historical masterwork and give us a complete Michelangelo.And as the Maestro advised so many of his restless brethren, I guess we'll just have to be "patient" until that time.
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