Agony And The Ecstacy

This essay has a total of 1853 words and 9 pages.

Agony And The Ecstacy

The Agony and the Ecstacy depicts Michelangelo's struggle to become the embodiment of
Renaissance humanism. In the course of the novel Michelangelo must overcome the
interference of his family, religious dogma, political intrigue, papal patronage, military
campaigns, and artistic jealousy to realize his artistic ambition.

Despite his father's opposition, twelve-year-old Michelangelo becomes an apprentice, first
to painter Ghirlandaio and then to Bertoldo, a sculptor, who directs a school financed by
Lorenzo de' Medici, patron of Florentine art. Michelangelo quickly wins Lorenzo's esteem,
meets his children (among

Them two future popes, Giulio and Giovanni, and Contessina, his first love), suffers the
first of several attacks by jealous colleagues (his nose is broken by Trrigiani, whose
later appearances always threaten Michelangelo), and through forbidden dissection learns
the anatomy and physiology he needs.

Eventually Savonarola, a reform priest, comes to power, and his crusading zeal threatens
Lorenzo de' Medici's family and the Florentine art world.

When Savonarola gains political, as well as religious control, Michelangelo flees Florence
and travels to Bologna, where he meets the sensuous Clarissa Saffi and carves the Bambino
that attracts the attention of Leo Baglioni. In Rome for the first time, Michelangelo
meets Jacopo Galli, a banker, who commissions a sculpture; Giuliano Sangallo, an
architect; and Bramante, another architect and an adversary. In Rome, Michelangelo carves
the Pieta, learns about the whims of religious patrons, and becomes interested in St.
Peter's - the building of the new St. Peter's will embroil him in controversy and
ultimately consume his last years.

Michelangelo return to Florence, where he carves "the Giant," a sculpture of David which
becomes the symbol of Florence. There he meets Leonardo da Vinci, his principal rival, and
Raphael, the painter - the three become the triumvirate of Renaissance Italian art.
Jealous of Leonardo Michelangelo competes with him as the two artists paint frescoes for
the rulers of Florence.

Word of Michelangelo's work reaches Pope Julius, who forces Michelangelo to work in
bronze, rather than his beloved marble, and to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling. It is
Julius who resolves to build a new St. Peter's.

Julius is followed by two Medici popes who only add to Michelangelo's problems: Giovanni,
by forcing him to work with marble from Pietrasanta, an almost inaccessible region,
thereby making Michelangelo an engineer, and Giulio, against whose forces Michelangelo
must use his engineering talents to fortify the city of Florence. The Medici popes are
followed by Pope Paul III, who commissions Michelangelo to paint the Last Judgment and
who, after bitter disputes about the ongoing building of St. Peter's, appoints him as
architect for the cathedral. The dome, Michelangelo's last creation, is the appropriate
capstone for his creative efforts. In addition to achieving artistic acclaim, he finds an
assistant, Tommaso de Cavalieri, who is to complete St. Peter's, and Vittoria Colonna, the
female epitome of

Renaissance humanism and his last great love.

The Characters
Stone presents Michelangelo as the idealized Renaissance humanist, the artist whose
commitment to his work becomes a religion and whose creative efforts are no less than
godlike. In fact, his commitment to art is such that it alienates him from society, makes
him a misunderstood recluse, and, in becoming the outlet for his passion, prevents him
from finding love. Because art becomes religion, art cannot be commercialized; the artist
is not a businessman. Overly generous to his parasitic family and deaf to the warnings of
his banker/agent Galli, he lives in relative poverty, unlike Leonardo and Raphael. Also
unlike them, he works alone, refusing to compromise his work by using, even in the Sistine
Chapel, other painters. Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael, despite their stature, exist in
Stone's novel primarily as foils, artists whose deficiencies help define Michelangelo's

Other characters serve to demonstrate the plight of the artist whose superior work is
often prey to the jealousy of less talented colleagues. Torrigiani breaks Michelangelo's
nose, itself part of a work of art, as Stone carefully points out in the first paragraph
of the novel. Later Vincenzo, an inferior sculptor in Bologna, defaces Michelangelo's St.
Petronius because of jealousy. Perugino's vicious attack of Michelangelo's work motivated,
according to Raphael, by envy and despair: Michelangelo has made Perugino;s work obsolete.
Another act of "desecration" is committed by Bandinelli, who breaks into Michelangelo's
studio during the attack on Florence. "The forces of destruction march on the heels of

Despite the obstacles posed by such critics, Michelangelo succeeds because of his own
talent, which is shaped by his mentors: Ghirlandaio, who instructs him in painting;
Bertoldo, who instructs him in sculpture; de" Medici, Il Magnifico, whose Platonic Academy
instruct him in poetry and in the blending of classical and Christian cultures that
characterizes his work. Even after his death, Lorenzo;s ideas and influence inform
Michelangelo's art.

The women in the novel serve primarily as symbols which ultimately are related to
Michelangelo's work. Contessina, Lorenzo's daughter is inaccessible, because of her
exalted position, and pure; Michelangelo is bound to her aesthetically, spiritually, and
mystically. Clarissa Saffi, a fictional rather than historical character, represents the
emotional and physical side of love, and she is accessible. According to Michelangelo, she
is the female form "already carved" and is the incarnation of love in its "ultimate female
form." During the Florentine War he thinks of both women, and when their images merge,
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