Summary and book reviews of Michelangelo by Miles Unger

Michelangelo

A Life in Six Masterpieces

by Miles J. Unger

Michelangelo
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2014, 448 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2015, 448 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Suzanne Reeder

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Book Summary

The life of one of the most revolutionary artists in history, told through the story of six of his greatest masterpieces.

Among the immortals - Leonardo, Rembrandt, Picasso - Michelangelo stands alone as a master of painting, sculpture, and architecture. He was not only the greatest artist in an age of giants, but a man who reinvented the practice of art itself. Throughout his long career he clashed with patrons by insisting that he had no master but his own demanding muse and promoting the novel idea that it was the artist, rather than the lord who paid for it, who was creative force behind the work.

Miles Unger narrates the astonishing life of this driven and difficult man through six of his greatest masterpieces. Each work expanded the expressive range of the medium, from the Pietà Michelangelo carved as a brash young man, to the apocalyptic Last Judgment, the work of an old man tested by personal trials. Throughout the course of his career he explored the full range of human possibility. In the gargantuan David he depicts Man in the glory of his youth, while in the tombs he carved for the Medici he offers a sustained meditation on death and the afterlife. In the Sistine Chapel ceiling he tells the epic story of Creation, from the perfection of God's initial procreative act to the corruption introduced by His imperfect children. In the final decades of his life, his hands too unsteady to wield the brush and chisel, he exercised his mind by raising the soaring vaults and dome of St. Peter's in a final tribute to his God.

A work of deep artistic understanding, Miles Unger's Michelangelo brings to life the irascible, egotistical, and undeniably brilliant man whose artistry continues to amaze and inspire us after 500 years.

I
Michelangelo: The Myth and the Man

Michael, more than mortal man, angel divine

—Ariosto, Orlando Furioso

I. MICHAEL, MORE THAN MORTAL MAN, ANGEL DIVINE

In the spring of 1548, Michelangelo Buonarroti dashed off a brief note to his nephew Lionardo in Florence. As was often the case with the seventy-three-year-old artist, he felt aggrieved. "Tell the priest not to write me any longer as 'Michelangelo sculptor,'?" he wrote in a huff, "because here [in Rome] I'm known only as Michelangelo Buonarroti, and if a Florentine citizen wants to have an altarpiece painted, he must find himself a painter. I was never a painter or a sculptor like one who keeps a shop. I haven't done so in order to uphold the honor of my father and brothers. While it is true that I have served three popes, that was only because I was forced to."

One reason for his annoyance was practical. As he suggests at the end of the letter where he enlists his nephew in a little deception—" ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

This meticulously researched book is equally insightful and entertaining, teeming with detailed accounts and rich descriptions that bring not only Michelangelo to vivid life but also the Renaissance era in which he lived, when "the princes of the Church" had the power to make or break an artist's career.   (Reviewed by Suzanne Reeder).

Full Review Members Only (844 words).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Highly readable... [Unger] reminds readers why Michelangelo's work matters... Delightfully informative.

Booklist

Starred Review. A masterful portrait of a dauntingly complex figure.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Unger's edged prose shows us a clear Michelangelo emerging from the stone of history.

Reader Reviews

Ann

Preparation for first trip to Italy
Reading much historical fiction set in Renaissance Italy, I knew I needed to find out more of the real facts about Michelangelo and his work.

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Beyond the Book

Michelangelo and Six of His Greatest Works

During his long life Michelangelo created numerous great works of art. Six are particularly renowned and are located either in Rome or Florence. In his book Michelangelo: A Life in Six Masterpieces, Miles J. Unger examines the artist through these monumental works. The following offers a condensed history and description of each.

Pietà

Pietà In 1496, Michelangelo was in his early twenties and had moved from his native city of Florence to Rome, "burning with ambition," according to Unger's book. After clashing with the Cardinal di San Giorgio over a commissioned work, he caught the notice of the French Cardinal of St. Denis, who was seeking a sculptor to carve his tomb in the shrine of Santa Petronilla, an ancient mausoleum attached to ...

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