Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel Ceiling, fresco, 1508-12, (Vatican City, Rome)
Michelangelo Paints the Sistine Chapel
by Annette Bartlett-Golden
Recently, I’ve been reading a hodge podge of books on subjects such as meditation, Barcelona, olives, Granada, and Canadian painters. Often, I’ll start one of these tomes and halfway through lose interest. So what book can I write about to share with you? Casting my thoughts back to nonfiction books that captured my attention and have stayed with me,Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King leapt to mind. While, I confess it’s been years since I read it, the images evoked remain vivid and zestfully alive.
Ross King chronicles the creation of Michelangelo’s glorious frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome for Pope Julius II beginning in 1508; but more than that, he paints a stunning picture of a virtuoso artist and the milieu of his times. Traveling through the pages, I was transported to a time when Rome was the powerful seat of the Christian world, prostitution and syphilis ran rampant, and extraordinary artistic genius abounded. I met dazzling Raphael at work painting private papal rooms; young, brash, pious Martin Luther on business representing German monasteries; worldly Pope Julius II, also known as “The Warrior Pope” and an extravagant art patron; and of course, masterful Michelangelo.
“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,” declares the text on the Amazon page where you can buy the book.
What I remember most about Michelangelo, however, besides his brilliance in handling such an ambitious commission and his arduous labor during the project which included painting during a frigid Roman winter, are the odd things. For example, he would go for weeks without taking off his boots, with rather unpleasant results. And, despite his genius, he was reluctant to take the job of painting the Sistine Chapel. It’s these sorts of things that bring to life the seminal artist Michelangelo, and one of King’s specialties as a historian and exceedingly engaging author.
I hope you have the opportunity to experience this fascinating book for yourself!
Annette Bartlett-Golden paints a wide range of subjects from landscapes to animals and makes abstract works with paper. Using vibrant colors, she imparts a sense of immediacy, vivacity and optimism to her paintings and paper collages.