The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone

The Agony and the Ecstasy

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The Agony and the Ecstasy – what a wonderful title for this novel that tells the story of Michelangelo based on all the facts and details of his real life. Blessed to be born in Tuscany during the height of the Italian Renaissance, he dedicated his life to the arts. At the age of 10 he was already digging in the marble quarries learning the proper technique of mining for good marble slabs to use for sculpture.

By the age of 13, when the story begins, his raw talent is recognized by the best sculpting studio in Italy which eventually leads to a job working for the ruling family of Florence – the Medicis. Lorenzo de Medici welcomes Michelangelo into the royal palace as employee, friend, and confidant. As his fame grows he is summoned by the Pope to work on projects at the Vatican.

In many ways Michelangelo had a wonderful life – lived to an old age of 89 surviving under the reign of 10 Popes, several wars, and two outbreaks of the plague. He created some of the most beautiful art of the Renaissance including the Statue of David and painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican.

Michelangelo’s ecstasy was being able to create original works of art. He was a perfectionist and dedicated to his life to creating work that has inspired people throughout the ages. Michelangelo was a simple man – his needs were few. Just give him a good block of marble and a chisel and he was ecstatic.

The agony was in the details of of his daily life. He loved three women but never married. He was married to his work. His health suffered from twelve hour days of sculpting in freezing temperatures in open courtyards and years of lying on his back on scaffolding in the cold barren Sistine Chapel painting the ceiling. Often his work was unappreciated, and depending on which Pope was in charge he was lucky if he got paid.

Irving Stone dedicates 8 pages to listing the references and sources of information used in writing The Agony and the Ecstasy: biographies and autobiographies, history books – books on art, costumes, architecture, painting and sculpting including journals and encyclopedias. Even though The Agony and the Ecstasy takes place over 500 years ago Stone creates an authentic story of Michelangelo’s personal life.

Stone schools the reader on minute details of sculpting and painting – provides colorful descriptions of every day life in Florence and Rome. He provides descriptions of Michelangelo’s family home with stories interwoven of his 4 brothers and father. He tells of the bitter rivalry between Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo. And he takes the reader into the ruling families palace for social events and politics, and into the Vatican for outrageous behavior of the popes (gluttony, corruption and illegitimate children).

A quote from one of Michelangelo’s friends, “From my reading, Michelangelo I have been able to follow the rise, fulfillment, decay and disappearance of many religions. That is what is happening to our religion today. Christianity has had fifteen hundred years to prove itself, and has ended in…. what? Borgia murders, greed, incest, perversion of every tenet of our faith. Rome is more evil today than Sodom and Gomorrah when they were destroyed by fire.”

As I was reading The Agony and the Ecstasy I also read Michelangelo – Artist’s Life – an illustrated coffee table book I purchased while visiting Florence. It gives a brief biography and photographs of all Michelangelo’s greatest works which was a huge help in visualizing many of Irving Stones elaborate artistic descriptions. And it also confirmed that Stone truly based this fictional novel on Michelangelo’s real life.


Rated 5 Stars March 16, 2017

All contents © 2017 Lois Weisberg. All rights reserved.

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