The Agony and the Ecstasy
The Agony and the Ecstasy, a biographical novel by Irving Stone, begins in Florence in 1488, when Michelangelo is thirteen years old, and concludes with his death, approximately eighty years later. Although Stone covers the greater part of the life of Michelangelo, the book is more concerned with the artist’s education and early work. When Michelangelo is sixty years of age, which is approximately two thirds of his life, the novel is virtually complete. The fight becomes more important than the victory. Due to the large amount of details, grounded in letters about the extensive life of Michelangelo, Stone had to select the material well, in order to provide a dramatic structure for the story of a man and his existence. Stone introduces us to Michelangelo the complete artist: painter, sculptor, poet, architect and, finally, engineer. The agony and the Ecstasy seeks to showcase his struggle to become one of the main icons of the Renaissance. Throughout the course of the novel, Michelangelo must overcome interference by religious dogma, political intrigue, his family, papal patronage, military campaigns, and artistic difficulties and jealousies to achieve his ambitions as an artist. Despite the opposition of his father, the Michelangelo of twelve years of age manages to become an apprentice, first to the painter Ghirlandaio, and then of Bertoldo, a sculptor, who directs a school funded by Lorenzo de Medici, at the time one of the, if not the biggest patrons of Florentine art. Michelangelo quickly earns the esteem of Lorenzo, he meets his children (Giulio and Giovanni, and Contessima, his first love), and suffers the first of several attacks by violent students. He refrains from practicing dissections and physiology which was required in his studies. Eventually, Savonarola, a reformist priest, came to power, and his movement endangered the Medici family’s control, and Florentine art. When Savonarola won politically, and acquired more control, Michelangelo left Florence and traveled to Bologna, where he meets the sensual Clarissa Saffi. In Rome for the first time, Michelangelo meets Jacopo Galli, a banker who finances and commissions a sculpture from him.
In Rome, Michelangelo sculpts his famous Pieta, and learns about the notions of religious patterns. He is interested in the building of the new Saint Peter’s, which gets him involved in a dispute. Finally, in his last years Michelangelo returns to Florence, where he sculpts “The Giant”, a sculpture of David that becomes the symbol of Florence. Around that time, he meets Leonardo da Vinci, his most important rival, and Raphael, the painter – the three become the triumvirate of the Renaissance of Italian art. Jealous of Leonardo, Michelangelo competes with him, creating works for the governors of Florence. Pope Julius hears about Michelangelo, and commissions him to paint ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The Duomo Michelangelo’s last creation is the appropriate crowning achievement to his creative efforts.