The Agony and the Ecstasy tilts toward agony

Irving Stone’s hefty 1961 novel The Agony and the Ecstasy : a Novel of Michelangelo starts off  with the 13-year-old Michelangelo signing on as apprentice to the leading artist in Florence. In a stunning reversal of normal practice, Michelangelo gets the artist to pay him for the privilege. It’s the most financially astute deal he ever pulls off . Once Michelangelo gets his hands on marble, he forgets all about money for the joy of sculpting.

Stone takes readers on a trip through Renaissance Italy as seen by Michelangelo, whose acquaintances included political leaders like the Medici, popes, writers, the best artists of he day, and a host of other 16th century celebrities.

Stone did extensive research for the novel, as the lengthy bibliography shows. Unfortunately, he tries to put everything he learned into the novel.

Stone packs so much detail into his narrative that nothing stands out.  Stone notes when the artist changes his clothes and what he wears to visit the Pope, but the man himself seems less alive than his statues.

Readers need a thorough grounding in Renaissance history to appreciate the novel, and  then they are likely to find reading it a tough job.

The Agony and the Ecstasy:  A Novel of Michelangelo
by Irving Stone
Doubleday, 1961
648 pages
1961 bestseller #1
My grade: C-

©2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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