Tag Archives: Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling

Book Club Reflection: Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King

13 Nov

In a quick follow-up to my Tuesday review of Ross King’s Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling, here’s our book club discussion! And yes, this does mean I’m behind on reviews again. Darn.

I walked into the meeting room and saw the woman across from me holding the movie I was picturing the entire book, The Agony and the Ecstasy starring Charlton Heston. I watched this at a church movie night when I was in high school and I remembered vividly seeing Heston painting while on his back, paint dripping on his face. Of course, that’s not the image King paints. Instead of a lone Heston lying supine, King gives us a Michelangelo with assistants galore who’s standing tall, leaning back.

I believe I was the only attendant who had read the book in its entirety. Many had skipped around and glossed over parts they didn’t care for, but I suffered my self-inflicted curse and finished the whole thing. (I hope this is setting the mood well.) So the basic question: Did you like the book. We tried to put a positive spin on everything. There was a lot of detail and it was well researched, there’s no denying that. King didn’t leave out a single name, even when one can argue he should have. He had a lot of terms used in painting and was able to detail the processes very well. We thought it was interesting that we knew so much about these people because of their letters. A lot of the quotes King used were from letters and there’s a fear that my generation won’t have that because of the digital age. Maybe we’ll be another dark ages.

We talked about who might enjoy this book more than us. Perhaps art history students or friends very interested in either Roman or Catholic history. I think if I were about to go to Rome, this would be more interesting. We saw on the cover that it’s a New York Times best seller. My quick research finds that it reached a high of 22 on the Hardcover Nonfiction list in March 2003. (In the same week, The Devil in the White City by Eric Larson was #3 if that puts it in perspective.) While this is impressive, I understand why I missed it.

One of our members pointed out a passage she found horrific. It comes from the beginning of chapter 19, page 188 in our copies:

The Roman carnival that took place in February of 1510 was even more jubilant and unruly than usual. All of the familiar entertainments were on show. Bulls were released into the streets and slain by men on horseback armed with lances. Convicted criminals were executed in the Piazza del Popolo by a hangman dressed as a harlequin. South of the piazza, races along Via de Corso included a competition between prostitutes. An even more popular attraction was the “racing of the Jews,” a contest in which Jews of all ages were forced to don bizarre costumes and then sprint down the street to insults from the crowd and sharp prods from the spears of the soldiers galloping behind. Cruelty and bad taste knew no bounds. There were even races between hunchbacks and cripples.

This is not exactly the typical church festival. We were shocked at a few of the things King describes as being associated with the church and the Pope. He had illegitimate children and the church went to war. This doesn’t exactly jive with my image of the current Pope, Francis. It’s no wonder that Martin Luther, after visiting Rome, found it unpleasant and was disgusted. In truth, I might be, too. Erasmus, upon returning to London after a Roman visit in 1509, wrote The Praise of Folly in which he mocked Rome under Julius II’s command. It seems very few were as impressed with Julius as he was with himself.

The relationship between Michelangelo and the Pope was really weird to us. The Pope would summon him, and then ignore him for months so that Michelangelo would leave and go back to his family, at which point the Pope would demand he come back. At one point, Michelangelo was throwing boards at the pope to get him out of the chapel. At some point, Michelangelo knew he wouldn’t be fired because he had to finish his work and knew the Pope wanted to see it finished. He took advantage of that relationship more than once.

A lot of emphasis was placed on Michelangelo’s use of the figure. He drew a lot of large and muscular nudes in each of his paintings, making them the central focus of his art more than other artists at the time. It’s interesting to us that he used only male models (and maybe some prostitutes) to do the models, even for women because of the ideas around sexuality at that time. We thought it was really cool that he would study cadavers to learn the structure of bone and muscle. It makes sense that he was very drawn to the figure because of this.

Many of us hadn’t realized that Leonardo da Vinci, Rafael, and Michelangelo were contemporaries let alone rivals. We thought it was interesting how King was able to draw so many distinctions between Rafael and Michelangelo. Michelangelo had a terrible self-image and didn’t bathe much while Rafael spent his time with the most beautiful courtesan in Rome It’s a good thing they only competed in fresco and not on a runway.

We continued to be unimpressed with Michelangelo’s family. His father stole money from him twice yet they continued to treat his disrespectfully because he was a craftsman. His brothers, who depended on him to start a business, thought less of him because his painting was considered manual labor. We felt bad for him in light of how his family treated him.

We argued if Michelangelo was more famous for the Sistine Chapel or the David. It’s really a toss-up between these and some of his other great accomplishments. Michelangelo was not confident when he started the ceiling because he didn’t consider himself a painter. He thought of himself more as a sculptor and he would probably consider the David his greatest accomplishment. As he continued to paint, however, he grew more confident. He used cartoons less and painted by freehand more and more. Something he started almost hesitantly is now arguably one of the greatest art works of all time. He didn’t seem to care much for the details at first and things were almost haphazard but as he went, he tied in his own little jokes and flourishes. The only way to learn is practice.

I’ll refer you to my book review for my real feelings on this book. A lot of my fellow readers felt the same way: Good book, not good for book clubs.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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WWW Wednesday, 12-November-2014

12 Nov

Time for MizB’s WWW meme yet again! And while I’m moving forward, it’s not fast enough. Darn.

www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading:  My ebook is still The Domesday Book by Connie Willis, and it’s still checked out to someone else and waiting on hold. I hope I don’t forget too much of it before I get it back! I’ve finished the next section of Read Along #2The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar and OMG I want to keep reading. I’m torturing myself to read this so slowly. I’m making steady progress Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett on audio. I just renewed it for the third time yesterday so I hope to make some more progress in the next month so I don’t have to hold onto it through the holidays. The audiobook on my phone is California by Eden Lepucki but I have no progress to report. I haven’t had much time to listen to it by myself. I’ll use it as my next car audio selection but that requires finishing Pillars so it might be a while. I’m working through my next book club selection, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. So far it’s pretty great. The only struggle is keeping all the Indian names straight between this and Umrigar’s novel. I think I can handle it.

Recently finished: Nothing finished this week unfortunately. I’m not sure what I’ll finish next, to be honest. I’m right in the middle of most of these.

I did get around to writing a book review of Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King if you want to check that out. Warning: it’s not flattering.

Reading Next:  I’ll get a copy of The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver soon so I’m still planning to read that. I’ve been told the woman before me is ‘almost done’ so this will be next after Namesake.

I’m going to make an effort to listen to California this week. There’s got to be some time I’m free while cleaning, right?! How is your WWW? Leave a comment and let me know and check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Review: Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King (1/5). A good book, but not for book clubs.

11 Nov

Books can be good for different things. A book can be entertaining, thought-provoking, informative, or inspiring, just to name a few. And certain books are good in certain settings; beech reads, book club books, how-to books, research books, children’s books. And not all books work in every category. What I’m trying to say is, this book was not right for the book club. It would have been great had I been writing a thesis or about to go explore Italy and was really interested in art history but it was not good for a group discussion. Not at all.

Book Cover image via Goodreads.com

Book Cover image via Goodreads.com

Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King

Summary from Goodreads:

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 Michelangelo spent laboring over the vast ceiling while the power politics and personal rivalries that abounded in Rome swirled around him. Battling against ill-health, financial difficulties, domestic problems, the pope’s impatience, and a bitter rivalry with the brilliant young painter Raphael, Michelangelo created scenes so beautiful that they are considered one of the greatest masterpieces of all time. A panorama of illustrious figures converged around the creation of this great work-from the great Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus to the young Martin Luther-and Ross King skillfully weaves them through his compelling historical narrative, offering uncommon insight into the intersection of art and history.

Sloooooooooooow. Details, facts, side stories, speculations and quotes. All of that together does not make for a very exciting read. Books usually take me about two weeks to get through when I have a paper copy. This one took me a full month. It wasn’t that long, I just stopped reading as much as I normally do. It’s obvious the author did his homework and this book is really complete with details, but it’s not what I wanted to discuss in a book club.

The characters were very much brought to life int he book. From reading the letters they’d written, King was able to give each a distinct personality. Michelangelo is self-defeating, Raphael is a smooth-talking lady-killer and the Pope is a glutton. Many historical figures seem so flat that it was great to see them brought to life through their own words.

The Pope was my favorite character. It was a ‘love to hate him’ kind of a relationship that I had with the Pope. He was so opposite from what I’ve always though a Pope should be like and how one should behave. I know that the restrictions on chastity and poverty were a little less strict at certain points in history than they are today, but it was interesting to get into his character as much as King was able to.

Ross King Image via the New York Times website

Ross King
Image via the New York Times website

I liked the descriptions of the techniques Michelangelo used to paint the ceiling. I’m glad that King was able to clear up the image of Michelangelo laying on his back to paint the ceiling. I never understood how that would work logistically. It was cool to find out how the paintings were broken down into a days work and to hear bout how big an area Michelangelo would pursue in a day. I thought this was the most interesting part and was a bit where I didn’t mind the crazy amount of detail.

I wasn’t interested in the parts that talked about Rafael. I was reading a book about Michelangelo and I didn’t like how much detail there was about the people Rafael was entertaining or sleeping with. I didn’t think it added to the story. It felt like an unrelated fact King ran into that he found interesting enough to include but I didn’t think it was necessary.

The biggest lesson I learned from Michelangelo was about dedication. Michelangelo was more or less tricked into painting the ceiling and it wasn’t what he felt strongest doing. He did it anyway and was dedicated to the act throughout. He was also the provider for his family and had to discipline himself a lot to continue to provide for them and help them become self-sufficient. Even when he finished the ceiling, he wanted to start right away on the tomb for the pope he had been so excited about. I wish better things had happened to Michelangelo because he seemed to suffer so much for his art.

Writer’s Takeaway: I’m not sure I have any criticisms of this book from a writing perspective. It was well written and full of detail, which for a historical biography, is perfect. It’s just not  perfect for a book club selection. I’m not sure who in our group picked this one, but it’s not something I would recommend for other groups. If you’re looking to do some research or you’re going to Rome soon and want some background, this is a really great pick. But don’t pick it up expecting a fast read. It’s not good for that.

Overall, 1 out of 5 stars because it wasn’t what I wanted. At all.

This book fulfilled Italy for my Where Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
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WWW Wednesday, 29-October-2014

29 Oct

Time for MizB’s WWW meme yet again! I’ve finally started moving forward, thankfully! So here’s a new set of books!

www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading:  My ebook is still The Domesday Book by Connie Willis, but I don’t have it checked out now and it’s likely to be two weeks before I can get it back. Stay tuned. I’ve finished the next section of Read Along #2The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar. I want to keep plowing ahead with this one, it’s a struggle to stop each week. I’m making steady progress Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett on audio. I’m around disk 14 now and I’ve renewed it for the first time. I’ll keep counting how many times I need to do that. And there are two new books! I started an audiobook on my phone, California by Eden Lepucki. This was a free Audible download courtesy of the Ford Audiobook Club. If you haven’t seen this on Goodreads, go check it out. You get a free audiobook every month and they don’t expire. This was the September selection so I’m behind on discussion, but I’ve got the October selection downloaded as well. This book is perfect for time spent unpacking and cooking. I recommend it. I’ve also jumped on the bandwagon with my physical book selection; Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I’ve heard so much about the movie that I want to read the book so I can go see it! I have two other books that I need to be reading now, but I’ve got to get this one out-of-the-way first.

Recently finished: I’ve finally finished Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King. YAY! I finished it and promptly took an hour-long nap. It’s that kind of book. I think this would be a great research book if I were writing a thesis, but this was not a good book club selection and I wish I’d skipped it.

I’ve also gotten a book review done, so check out my recap of The Compound by S.A. Bodeen.

Reading Next:  I’ll get a copy of The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver soon as a part of my work book group. The first person to read it really liked it and the second person is in process. No word yet to how that’s going.

Ideally, I’ll finish Gone Girl this week but with Halloween and the beginning of NaNo (which I’ll post on soon), that doesn’t seem likely. How is your WWW? Leave a comment and let me know and check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 22-October-2014

22 Oct

Time for MizB’s WWW meme yet again! It’s safe to say progress has stalled. And I know where to point the finger.

www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading:  My ebook is still The Domesday Book by Connie Willis. I just had it e-returned to the e-library until my e-hold brings it back. I’m about half way through and I’m really loving it so I hope I get it back soon. I’m working my way through the next section of Read Along #2The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar. This book is so good and so sad at the same time. I’m torn. The book club book of the moment is Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King. Here I point the finger. This book is dragging! I can’t wait to finish the last 40 pages. I’ve chosen another book to read next to get me out of this slump! I’m making steady progress Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett on audio. I put disk 10 in today! Here’s to progress!

Recently finished: Nothing this week, again. This is what happens when you move.

Reading Next:   The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver has gone to the second person in our three person rotation so I’ll be reading that soon. And, my ‘big’ announcement, I’ve decided to read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn to try to get me out of my reading slump. I hope it works!

I’m more than determined to finish Michelangelo this week. I’ve got to move on to something else! How is your WWW? Leave a comment and let me know and check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 15-October-2014

15 Oct

Time for MizB’s WWW meme yet again! It’s safe to say progress has stalled.

www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading:  My ebook is still The Domesday Book by Connie Willis. I’ve only progressed another 5% to a total of 35% this week. I mean, its progress, right? I’ve finished the second section of Read Along #2The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar so no further progress to report. No progress on Misterio de La Guia de Ferrocarriles by Agatha Christie this week either. I’ve been reading my book club selection instead. Speaking of which, the book club book is Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King. Last week I said I could power through. This week, I’m not so confident. It’s put me in a bit of a reading slump. Though I’m making steady progress Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett on audio. I’m three disks in to the whopping 31 disk set, but at least I’m moving forward!

Recently finished: Nothing this week. But I did write two reviews, Canada by Richard Ford and The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory.

Reading Next:  No change here. I’m still targeting The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver for my work book club.

Between moving this weekend and being in a reading slump, I’m not too optimistic about finishing anything this week. We’ll have to see. How is your WWW? Leave a comment and let me know and check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Friday 56, 10-Oct-2014

10 Oct

Hey all!

I’ve been seeing a decline in WWW Wednesday participation in the last few weeks, so I’ve decided to switch to a different meme, The Friday 56 hosted by Freda on Freda’s Voice. Head on over there and check out the other participating blogs.

Friday 56

The way this meme works is pretty simple. If you want to join in, head over to Freda’s blog and add your link.

Rules:
*Grab a book, any book (I’ll grab the one I’m currently reading)
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader
*Find any sentence, (or few, just don’t spoil it) that grab you.
*Post it.

And now, for my first edition of the Friday 56! This is from one of my current reads, Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling.

Thus, during the summer of 1508 Rosselli and his team worked well into the evenings, the din of their hammers and chisels drowning out the chanting of the choir a few yards below.

I like this sentence because it gives us some of author Ross King’s prose and paints a nice pictures of the situation in which Michelangelo painted and worked during the years of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Rosselli was preparing the ceiling for Michelangelo to begin work and wanted to artist to begin before the cold winter set in.

Well, there’s my first Friday 56! I’ll say to all new readers here that I do read mostly fiction, but this is a non-fiction thrown in for good measure. I’ll be back next week with more!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

 

WWW Wednesday, 8-October-2014

8 Oct

Time for MizB’s WWW meme yet again! Okay progress this week, but nothing special.

www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading:  My ebook is still The Domesday Book by Connie Willis. I’m almost 30% of the way in and so far it’s really good. I’m excited to see where it goes. I’ve finished the second section of Read Along #2The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar. This book is really great and tearing at my heart. If you want to join in, please send me an email! No progress on Misterio de La Guia de Ferrocarriles by Agatha Christie this week. I’ve been reading my book club selection instead. Speaking of which, the book club book is Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King. It’s slow, I won’t lie, but I think I can power through. I’ve begun yet another new audiobook, Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. That’s right, I got it! I had to go to another library and finally got it and I’m ecstatic. Woo!

Recently finished: I finished the audiobook of The Compound by S.A. Bodeen which was really enjoyable. Parts of it were far-fetched, but it was a good YA thriller.

Just one little book review, We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. It was a great thriller and will make for a good book club discussion.

Reading Next:  My work book club has chosen our next selection, The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver. I’ll be jumping on that one as soon as I can.

I hope I can finish Michelangelo this week, but it will be a push with all the hectic parts of moving! How is your WWW? Leave a comment and let me know and check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 1-October-2014

1 Oct

Time for MizB’s WWW meme! This week was the jump that I was posed for last week.

www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading:  My ebook is The Domesday Book by Connie Willis and as expected, this is a long haul. I’m 23% of the way through which I’m actually pretty excited about. It’s farther than I expected to be. I’ve finished the second section of Read Along #2The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar. It was a really great section and I can’t wait to read the next! As expected, I’ve started my ‘Reading Next’ books. The first is  Misterio de La Guia de Ferrocarriles by Agatha Christie which I’ll be reading slowly. That might work against me, but I think I can keep up with the story. It’s the Spanish that will be a problem! The other book is  Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King for my book club. I started it and so far, its dense, but still reads well. Hopefully I can get into it a bit more. I began a new audiobook, The Compound by S.A. Bodeen, which is yet another recommendation from my book calendar last year. That thing is hopping!

Recently finished: Two this week! The first is the drawn out Canada by Richard Ford. I liked this one, but I didn’t love it. As I was told it would, I was reminded of John Irving.  The second is The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory which I listened to in my car. Again, it was good, but it just didn’t blow me away.

One lonely book review this week. Check out my review of The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka.

Reading Next:  No new news on Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. I’m holding out for a miracle! I also need to pick out something for my work book club. Hmm. I’ll be deciding on that today.

I don’t expect to finish anything this week, but there are always book miracles. How is your WWW? Leave a comment and let me know and check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 24-September-2014

24 Sep

Time for MizB’s WWW meme! No new progress this week, but it’s looking like there will be some soon.

www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading:  I made some respectable progress in Canada by Richard Ford over the last week. It was my main read last week, but life got in the way. My audiobook of The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory is going well. I had a long car ride over the weekend and knocked out a few disks. My ebook is The Domesday Book by Connie Willis and as expected, this is a long haul. I’m 17% of the way through and that’s about 100 pages. Sit tight, we’ll be here for a while. The second section of Read Along #2 has begun and I’m working through Chapters 6 – 8 of The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar. I hope to finish it before Friday.

Recently finished: I’m sad to report there’s nothing new! I’ve made great progress in a couple, but nothing new for today. I may cry.

But book reviews! I’ve been doing pretty well on these so far. Check out my reviews for Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan and The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline.

Reading Next:  No new news on Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. It’s still waiting at the library and I’m waiting for a miracle to finally get it! Hoping I finish Canada by Monday, I’ll start Misterio de La Guia de Ferrocarriles by Agatha Christie. The English title is The ABC Murders. A co-worker gave it to me before he returned to Mexico and I want to start it soon because he’s coming back! My book club meets on Monday to talk about The Orphan Train so I’ll be starting our new title, Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King. I haven’t read a non-fiction in a while so this should be a good break.

Still trying to get through Canada. That’s my goal for next week! How is your WWW? Leave a comment and let me know and check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!