When looking at the life of one of historys greatest men, the lessons we might learn are countless, despite Irving Stones fictional twists. Before we can begin to examine The Agony and the Ecstasy, we must understand Michelangelo and other artists as Stone saw them. Stone considered the artist a creator as well as a part of creation, just as God is seen in many of todays ideologies. Michelangelos life can likewise be paralleled to Genesis. At first Michael is lonely and friendless, he then decides to take up and apprenticeship and create works of art just as the Lord years to love and creates man. His creation however will face the evils of envy and jealousy just as we must in our everyday-lives.
Knowing this we can best point out several themes and ideas one of which is the idea that we are always under the Lords watch and that while we may not always notice his deeds he is listening. This idea of God is personified in Bertolodo but may also be seen through Michelangelos life itself. Time and time again he is spared from the anger of unsatisfied customers by the popes (messengers from God). While the popes also seem to cause him troubles however the reality of the matter is that their imposings actually benefit him and when they do not the Pope seems to conveniently pass away. It is because of Guilio that Michelangelo betters himself by becoming an engineer and because of Paul III becomes an architect, finally, through Julius he expands his trade to bronze.
Yet another of the many clear themes is the majesty and divinity of art but most importantly its required devotion and incapability with business and social life.
The Agony and the Ecstasy gives the reader a vivid view into the world of Michelangelo Buonarroti. Detailed descriptions of the people, culture and architecture of Italy actually are vividly portrayed. Cities included are Rome, Florentine, Settigano and Bologna during the 80 years of Michelangelos career in the 13th and 14th centuries.
Just as his father, the young Florentine boy examining his reflection in the mirror of his cramped bedroom, while most of Florence slept, was unfortunate enough to have been born at the wrong time. Moreover, just as his father, Michelangelo Buonarroti would inherit a longevity of life during which he would encounter great people, making long-lasting friendships with some of the most famous in Europe, discovering heated rivalries and malices between the most powerful and feared men of over half a century and forge passionate eternal love affairs with the most beautiful women of Italy. For now however Michelangelo would have to attend to more urgent matters in particular his application for apprenticeship under Florences greatest painter of the time, Ghirlandaio.
It took little convincing for the great master to discover the talent in Michelangelo that his apprentice and Michelangelos only friend, Granacci, had spoken about. The greatness of this talent was perhaps best exemplified when Ghirlandaio actually decided to pay Michelangelo for his apprenticeship in order to appease the boys extremely frugal yet lazy father Lodovico. Despite his impoverished familys protests, Michelangelo continued his apprenticeship, he was working as an artist, for once in his life he found friendships and a feeling of belonging through the other apprentices; nothing could draw him away from his vocation except of course, the passion and yearning that had drawn him to the apprenticeship.
When he first applied to become Ghirlandaios apprentice, he had done so only because his birth had missed the great era of Florentine sculpting by several decades. Since he was a small child living on the family farm in Settigano, near the rock quarries of the Topolinos, Michelangelo yearned to wield the hammer and chisel, to model shapeless and plain marble into models of beauty. His master understood this quiet plainly and thus when Lorenzo Medici, the most richest and most powerful man in Europe after the pope, requested two of his apprentices for his new school of sculpting, Ghirlandaio knew plainly who he must release from his contract.
Although greatly disappointed about having to leave Ghirlandaio, with whom he had grown attached, Michelangelo was overwhelmed with joy at his entry to his acceptance into Lorenzos sculpture garden. The master of the garden and Donatellos inheritor, Bertolodo, had recognized the same talent Ghirlandaio had recognized and took an immediate but concealed interest in all his work. Bertolodo considered Michael his one student with great potential and knew immediately that he must learn discipline while testing his love of the art. Bertolodos trial by fire would be a difficult one for the young artist but in the end he proved his dedication and the true apprenticeship began.
During Michaels ordeal his only driving force was the beautiful and radiant daughter of Lorenzo, Cortessina de Medici and her daily visits to the garden. When he became Bertollodos disciple and eventually Lorenzos adopted son; Michelangelo becomes ever the more closer with Cortessina, during which time they discover themselves to be soul mates. As wonderful the latest turn of events were the evils of jealousy and envy would shortly destroy his happinessthis unfortunate trend would come to dominate his life.
Michelangelo thought that with his new income his family would be ecstatic, instead they were upset and envious. He was certain that his close relationship with Lorenzo would widen his circle of friends instead he enraged the Medici sons who were against the entry of an outsider into the family. He prayed that he might forge a closer relationship with Cortessina but instead he discovered that a contract was signed and for a political marriage. Finally he was confident that his artwork would be admired by all, instead his fellow artists became jealous and envious; a former friend, Torrigiani, even broke his nose in a rage.
As if Michaels troubles were not large enough with the constant blackmail and bickering of customers desiring to commission Michelangelo and both his biological and adopted families fighting, an obsessive monk named Savonarolla, began a massive movement for drastic political and religious reform and attacked the Medicis and their art just before Bertolodo fell sick and died. Michelangelo had by then carved such masterpieces as the Madonna of the Stairs, the Centaurs and was working on the Medici Faade now he would have to finish them alone, without his great instructor.
Lorenzo was preparing to eliminate the Savonarola threat just before he, like Bertolodo, fell sick. Yes Lorenzo had the wealth, power, and friendships to stop the monk but he was void of his health and while the monk had little by way of material possession, he certainly had the upper hand in the minds of the people. In the end, Lorenzo passed away leaving his eldest son, Piero in his place. He is an incompetent ruler however and reigns as a tyrant until the Savonarola backed by the Medici cousins who were adamantly opposed to Pieros rule, and Charles the VIII of France, drove Piero from the city. While the Medici family made their exodus from Florence, Michelangelo worked his best to preserve the Medici artwork the mob would undoubtedly ransack. After doing all in his power, Michael fled for Bologna where he met Gianfrancesco Aldovrandi, an associate he had made during a dinner with Lorenzo Medici several months earlier. Aldovrandi offered Michael a home but more importantly he introduced the now 19-year-old sculptor to the beautiful young Clarrissa Saffi. Just as Cortessina completed him spiritually, Clarrissa made Michelangelo physically whole. After secretly dissecting several human cadavers and applying what he observed in his Goliath, Michael completed a Tomb at San Domenico rather quickly. Although he would miss Clarissa his homesickness had over come him.
Upon his return, Michael discovered that Savonarola had declared war on the Pope. In the meantime, Michael received a large square of marble as a birthday gift from Ganacci. With the birthday stone, Michael carved a Cupid forged to look like a classical Roman statue. This would sculpture attract a banker from Rome, Leo Baglionli.
During his future years in Rome, Michelangelo met, Jacopo Gali, Giulliano Sangallo an architect and Bramante his rival architect. In Rome, Michael completed the Pieta and returned to Florence, where his rivalry with Leonardo Da Vinci summoned the interest of Pope Julius who will keep the Master Sculpture under contracts for a good portion of his life under such commissions as the Sistine Chapels ceiling, his own sarcophagus, and a bronze statue of himself. Furthermore, Julius resolves to build a new St. Peters Cathedral.
Julius was proceeded by two Medici popes, Giovani and Giulio who proved to be just as difficult as their forerunner. During their reigns, Michael was forced to become an engineer and an architect. After they finally departed, the two Medicis were replaced by Pope Paul III, one of the few clients whom Michelangelo can work with.
Under the popes, Michael had received countless, unrejectable orders and had been burdened with an overwhelming number of commissions each with its own threatening warmonger. With Pope Paul III however, Michelangelo could finally work and express himself freely. Besides painting the Last Judgement and the frescoes of the Pauline Chapel, Michael was allowed to carve his own tomb and appointed the architect for St. Peters which he would fully design. Nearing the end of his life, Michelangelo Buonarroti had out lived his parents, four brothers, all of his former friends, three lovers, four great rivals, countless popes and many of his apprentices. In the end he had only his lover, Tommaso. After a long and eventful life, Michelangelo would finally meet the God, which he had so dearly loved throughout his lifetime.
The protagonist of the novel, Michelangelo personifies the Humanist spirit of the Italian Renaissance. He is seen almost as an all-powerful creator of great devotion, dedication and passion for his artwork. The force and energy that he derives from his love, sculpting, create massive conflicts between his desires and the business and politics of his day and age. He is so consumed by his work that he is torn from any hopes of enjoying any social indulgences but is compensated with his work. Moreover, because of his great emotions and yearning for love he becomes easily taken advantage over.
No other family more effects Michelangelos life than the Medici. The play a key role in the development of the plot and theme but also express all of the multiple types of conflicts and relationships that rise as a result of devotion and love of his art. Yes his very being wins him the admiration respect and love of Lorenzo however he dies early in Michaels life. The classic hero development thus begins, as Michael no longer has his old instructor in life. Through Contessina we clearly see the love that Michelangelos lifestyle could never translate into a secure relationship but instead one of yearning. Piero represents the conflict that arises between brutality and the finesse of art. Giovanni likewise represents the conflict between the art and extreme indulgence. Finally Guilios disposition and relationship signifies the incompatibility between art and destruction.
As it is explained in the theme, the Popes play a major role in theme development. It is they we discover, that truly shape Michelangelos career and will serve as Gods savants to help Michael.