Three Worlds of Michelangelo

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The personalities of artists often lie hidden behind veils of fact, myth, and hearsay. Seizing on clues found in hundreds of contemporary documents, many in the artist's own hand, a scholar-detective redefines Michelangelo from his earliest relationships to the days of his heroic labor on the Sistine Chapel. In James Beck's account, three men perceived and helped shape Michelangelo's creative powers. His stern father, Lodovico, instilled in him a rigorous work ethic. Their relationship, however, would be defined ...
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Overview

The personalities of artists often lie hidden behind veils of fact, myth, and hearsay. Seizing on clues found in hundreds of contemporary documents, many in the artist's own hand, a scholar-detective redefines Michelangelo from his earliest relationships to the days of his heroic labor on the Sistine Chapel. In James Beck's account, three men perceived and helped shape Michelangelo's creative powers. His stern father, Lodovico, instilled in him a rigorous work ethic. Their relationship, however, would be defined by bitterness: Lodovico longed for his son to train for a lucrative occupation, perhaps as a merchant or a lawyer, vigorously opposing Michelangelo's desire to become a painter. Even after Michelangelo achieved fame, he wrote Lodovico that "all the difficulties I have undergone, I always did for your love." At a critical juncture in Michelangelo's youth, support came from the most powerful man in Florence, the imperious ruler Lorenzo de'Medici. In his late twenties, Michelangelo began his third crucial alliance, this time with the recently elected Pope Julius II, in Rome. Three Worlds of Michelangelo offers an entirely new approach to understanding the mind, temperament, and sexuality of an unparalleled artist who, even in his own time, was called divine.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This anemic treatment of Michelangelo Buonarroti's early career aspires to "reach the quality that lies behind both his life and his work--his humanity," in order to counterbalance the epithet "divine" that has been his since the Renaissance. Beck (coauthor of Art Restoration: The Culture, the Business and the Scandal), a Columbia University art historian, identifies three strong father figures who, Beck writes, served as distinctive "epicenters" for Michelangelo's surging creativity: Lorenzo de' Medici, the de facto leader of Florence who encouraged the artist during his adolescence; Lodovico Buonarroti, his biological father, whose querulous influence increased markedly with Lorenzo's death in 1492; and Pope Julius II, his greatest patron. However, Beck fails to exploit this promising analytical framework, instead proceeding in a ploddingly chronological fashion. Rather than bringing the artist's multiple "worlds" into useful focus, or demonstrating how the three men informed his work (beyond the tender family scenes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel), Beck sets out to debunk stock theories about Michelangelo: his terribilita (terrible disposition), his homosexuality, his aesthetic leaning toward the non finito (unfinished) and the conceptual grouping of the central Sistine narratives (opposing the conventional three groups of three, Beck contends for a four-one-four arrangement, a point hardly relevant to the lay reader). Granted, Beck offers some wonderful anecdotes, and his account of a meeting held on January 25, 1504 to discuss the placement of Michelangelo's 13-foot David is nothing short of thrilling, as Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Perugino, Filipino Lippi, Piero di Cosimo and everyone else of consequence in the Florentine art world all weighed in on the subject of their fellow artist's greatest triumph. Ultimately, this is a frustrating book with some very engaging passages. B&w illustrations. (Feb.)
Library Journal
Beck (art, Columbia Univ.) takes an uncommon approach to his well-trodden topic in this entertaining but disjointed biography. Having uncovered personal papers not previously known, he's structured the book around the three persons whom he thinks had the greatest creative and personal impact on the Renaissance master: his father; his early patron, Lorenzo di Medici; and the sponsor of the Sistine Chapel frescoes, Pope Julius II. Beck skillfully sketches a complicated psychological portrait yet does so without becoming heavy-handed and overinterpreting where the evidence is scanty--as regards Michelangelo's sexual identity, for example. But the biography is suddenly truncated when Julius dies in 1513, when Michelangelo is only 38 and has 51 more years in his long life. Surely, subsequent patrons warrant attention. Perhaps the best thing about Beck's study is the captivating accounts of the creation of the Sistine ceiling and the monumental marble David, both finished while the artist was relatively young. Recommended for academic and large art collections.--Douglas F. Smith, Oakland P.L., CA
Terry W. Hartle
,,,[A] beautifully written volume that will satisfy the scholar's desire for precision and detail while remaining completely accessible to the interested lay reader.
The Christian Science Monitor
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393045246
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/28/1999
  • Pages: 273
  • Product dimensions: 5.84 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.14 (d)

Table of Contents

Illustrations
Preface
A Michelangelo Chronology
Prologue: A Divine Mission 1
I Michelangelo and Lorenzo il Magnifico 11
II Michelangelo and His Father, Lodovico 77
III Michelangelo and Pope Julius II 141
Epilogue: A Celestial Triangle at Macel de' Corvi 215
A Note on Sources 233
Bibliographic Note 235
Notes 239
Acknowledgments 253
Index 255
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 31, 2000

    I don't reccomend it.

    I chose this book because I had been assigned to do a report on a person from the Renissance Period. I was hoping to be able to read the book quickly and still be well-informed about Michaelangelo and his life. Unfortunately, neither one of these occurances came about. The book was anything but easy to read. The high amount of names caused the book to resemble Numbers from the Old Testament. There were also far too many extraneous details that clogged the otherwise simple biography of Michaelangelo's life. Unless you are interested in the full names of the brothers of everyone Michaelangelo came in contact with, I would not reccomend this book.

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