Book review: The Agony and the Ecstasy: A Biographical Novel of Michelangelo

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Author:Irving Stone
Reading Level (Conceptual):Sophisticated readers
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 12 and up
Genre:Fiction, biography
Year of publication:1961

Reading this novelized biography of Michelangelo just now, after so recently reading the non-fictionalized Dancing To the Precipice was probably a mistake.

I did read The Agony and the Ecstasy to the end and found it mostly interesting, but -- so many unexplained wars, duplicate names, minor characters, changes of venue. Seems to me if you are going to fictionalize, you might want to streamline. If there are three characters named Ludovico, maybe rename one to be Vico?

I did learn a lot of facts, or at least I think they were facts, about Michelangelo's life and the history of the Papacy and the Italian city states. What I did not learn, and missed, was a bit more of an explanation about why this talented, obsessed artist allowed himself to be so taken advantage of? And why did the patrons who claimed to admire him so much abuse his gifts rather than help nurture them? I understand that they might need to use their enormous wealth to pay their armies, but -- Why the law suits? Why did so many popes ask the impossible when they clearly wanted Michelangelo to do great work for them?

The story felt to me like a history text, but because the text was labeled "fictionalized", I was never sure which parts were factual.

Seems like Irving Stone's message to us about Michelangelo is that his obsession with working marble led him to make foolish business decisions. But if he had not been so totally obsessed with working marble, would he have had the fortitude to keep on struggling given the financial strain he was under his entire life? On the other hand, maybe if he had refused to take on some projects until they were funded, he would have found himself under less financial strain?

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