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Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling

Okay, someone asked on another thread what I'm reading now to prepare for our upcoming 21 Day Best of Europe tour. I'm about 2/3 of the way through Ross King's "Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling," which is, of course, about the painting of the vault of the Sistine Chapel.

I am enjoying it, and appreciate that it covers much more than just the design etc. of the ceiling. King's explanation of how and why frescoes work is wonderful. He actually describes the chemical reaction that results in paintings that last for centuries, and in some cases, even millennia. He also describes in detail exactly how the process is done.

But it's not at all a technical book. It's highly readable, with lots of interesting background on Michelangelo and his family, Julius II and his battles, and other prominent artists and architects of the time, especially Bramante and Rafael. There's even a funny anecdote about Martin Luther's visit to Rome at that same time.

King manages to put the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo in an interesting social, cultural, and historical context. I recommend it.

He is also the author of "Brunelleschi's Dome," about the Florence Duomo. I guess I'm going to have to add that one to my list.

Posted by
745 posts

Agreed! It's an excellent, detailed and very readable book. I learned much about Julius that I hadn't known. I read it before our trip to Italy last May, where I finally saw the Sistine Chapel after 50 years of anticipation. SILENCIO! NO FOTO! NO VIDEO!

Posted by
2909 posts

Loved both books and actually had both in my junior high library. They really made the time period come alive for me and lots of our students who study the Middle Ages in 7th grade.

While I'm not one who has to climb towers in every city we visit, I made a trip to Florence just to climb the dome after reading the Brunelleschi book. I could see the work unfolding above me with each step and almost came to tears when we got to his difficult, narrowing challenges. When I saw the tools that were actually left in the upper most area, I think I did shed a tear. Seeing the inside, more so than the view, was a highlight for me.

Posted by
4524 posts

Both great books and easy reads. If going to Rome, definitely read the Pope's Ceiling and for Florence, Brunelleschi's Dome. King also wrote The Judgement of Paris, which covers the emergence of Impressionist art. A good read for those heading to Paris and planning to visit the Louvre and D'Orsay museums. That one is the longest of the three, but still a fun read.

Posted by
1770 posts

Thanks for the tips..I’ve put holds on both books at our library. I’m looking forward to them. I just finished Walter Isaacson’s Leonardo da Vinci. Also very readable.

Posted by
4651 posts

Mona, it had never occurred to me to climb the dome to study the construction; I may try it this time. I'm not sure I'll get a chance to read that book before we go; the Tulsa library system has two copies, but they're both checked out, a month overdue, and I'm third on the waiting list. So there's still a chance, but we leave in a month.

Denny, thanks for the da Vinci tip. I'll see if that one is available.

Posted by
2909 posts

Jane I hope you do get a chance to read the book before you go and definitely climb the dome. Maybe your library system has a bigger network they could reach out to? It wouldn't hurt to ask.

Edit: in your state library system it shows up as available to borrow from OU. https://libraries.ok.gov/librarians/interlibrary-loan/

(I was a librarian in Oklahoma many years ago when my husband taught at OU)

Posted by
4651 posts

Just got the notice from the Tulsa Library the "Brunelleschi's Dome" is in! I had to order it from a library exchange program; the two copies the Tulsa system owns are months overdue... I'll try to run over there later today and pick it up. I was afraid it would come too late for me to be able to finish it.

Posted by
2909 posts

So glad the library system came through for you! Enjoy your read and then ascent!

Posted by
1770 posts

I got both books after reading about them here. Brunelleschi’s Dome is a quick 167 pages if you omit footnotes, etc. so shouldn’t take too long. For the record, Michelangelo & the Pope’s Ceiling is 318 pages. Reminiscing to self...I don’t remember counting pages since I had to choose what to read for book reports in fourth grade :)
And a plug for the wonderful Columbus Metropolitan library, newly expanded to include more libraries and many, many more titles. Happy reading and safe travels.

Posted by
633 posts

While on the topic, "The Agony and the Ecstasy" was an excellent book and movie about Michelangelo's life and especially the painting of the Sistine Chapel.