Michelangelo: Life & Work

Michelangelo: Life & Work

By: Frank Zollner, Thomas Poepper, and Christof Thoenes
Publisher: Taschen
Publication Date: May 2010
ISBN: 978-3836521178
Reviewed by: Amy Lignor
Review Date: July 12, 2010

There are adventure stories that keep readers on the edge of their seats; romance novels that make fans daydream about that perfect moment with that special someone; and, mystery/thrillers that make readers leave the lights on at night. But only once in a great while does a book come long that is absolutely beautiful; a celebration of a life that was filled with so much creativity and passion for a particular field, that the story is a learning experience that’s truly inspiring, and the pictures of works of art fill the reader with awe. This is one of those books…a book that deserves a well-thought-out essay far more than a four hundred word review.

Before he reached the age of thirty, Michelangelo had produced David, a sculpture that has become the very definition of the word genius. Like his fellow Florentine, DaVinci, Michelangelo was a literal star of the Renaissance in all areas of the art world, including painting, sculpting, draughtsman, and architect. He was a man born into a political family; his father was a magistrate for a term of one year and was ensconced in a social class very far up in the hierarchy of Europe. Using his family’s social connections, Michelangelo became very popular, very fast.

From 1475-1491, he was quite an emancipated artist; he chose to do things his way in a world that was run by the powerful Medici family. His father was a Guelph, and sought to defend the city of Florence from the threat of foreign rule, even though his son began his career under the protection of Lorenzo de’ Medici. As a young man, Michelangelo was a master of marble and produced The Battle of Hercules with the Centaurs that made his viewing public stand up and take notice. From there, he moved on to one of the most famous marble works of all time, the Pieta’. Here, was the first true masterpiece of his career; the figure of the Virgin Mother cradling her dearly departed son in her arms. Michelangelo even signed this particular sculpture, even though he rarely signed anything in his lifetime. Along the Virgin’s breast is a band with his name chiseled in antique-style lettering; made during a moment in time when he believed he was an intermediary between the earthly and heavenly realms.

From 1501-1504, he spent his time in Florence, and David was born. The commission was acquired because others had tried and failed to carve that particular piece of marble into anything that was remotely usable. But Michelangelo lived his life “seeing” the figures encased in the marble just dying to get out and be set free, and he went to work to produce the beloved boy King who killed the mighty giant.

Michelangelo joined up with Julius II in order to create the ruler’s tomb. They both owned unbending wills and the fights between the two men were legendary. From 1508-1512, while working and failing with Julius’ ideas, he was commissioned to paint the Sistine Chapel. Cracks had formed from the structural problems of the building, and his frescoes from the lives of Moses and Jesus were so amazing that today, after all this time, it is still the most photographed “piece” of art in the world.

The section of this gorgeous book dealing with the Sistine Chapel is absolutely breath-taking. In fact, without seeing the Chapel, no human being will ever quite understand what one person is capable of creating. The Creation of Adam has been used in movies, books – exhibits across the globe – and it is truly enchanting to see on paper. The roots of humanity were given a world of their own inside that Chapel, and Michelangelo made a “point” with every scene he created.

Later in life, Michelangelo became the “architect.” There are some absolutely amazing designs of the Laurentian Library and the New Sacristy/Medici Chapel that he created. The coving details, the strange staircases…everything that seemed to emerge from this man’s brain were works of art.

Then came The Last Judgment. Inside the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo returned, and created the large panel with the Redeemer at its’ center, orchestrating and presiding over the fallen and the ascension of the forgiven. Charon’s boat is on one side, as he ushers the sinful across the River Styx to a place of eternal punishment; and, Minos, the guardian of Hell stands…smiling…waiting for the ones his master can call his own. This is the one work of art that a human will never forget.

This celebration of life and work also offers some extremely fun facts about Michelangelo’s past. One is when DaVinci and he were both commissioned to paint an episode from Florentine history. As they both moved in a different direction, they painted scenes of battle, as the two artistic “giants” competed for the palm. Fun fact number two was that there was a time when Michelangelo spent six months sitting in a quarry, choosing exactly the “right” pieces of marble with figures waiting to emerge from the great, stone slabs.

As his life came to a close, Michelangelo was found to have been a miser in most respects. He had a thirst for money and commissions, yet very rarely ate meals and refused to accept gifts from people because he was afraid of being permanently obligated to the giver. When he was finally laid to rest in Florence, he was given a saint’s send-off. No one had surpassed him in the art world (and, frankly, no one has since). From the creation of marble sculptures to being chief architect on the project of St. Peter’s, Michelangelo was, and still remains, the most amazing “creator of beauty” that the world will ever know.

Quill Says: There is so much – page after page – of awe-inspiring photographs and detailed information on this genius’ life that all readers will want to bury themselves in this fantastic tome to immerse themselves in the amazing creations that Michelangelo gave to the world. This is not a book…this is a gift.

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