Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

In The Agony and the Ecstasy, Stone uses Michelangelo as a working definition of the idealized artist, a creation who is, simultaneously, a godlike creator. Early in the novel Michelangelo refers to God as the “first sculptor” and as the “supreme carver”; later, he refers to artists as the species “apart” who will speak for God. “To draw is to be like God,” asserts Michelangelo, who claims elsewhere that sculpture is “my faith.” As he gazes at his Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo recalls Genesis, and Stone has him, in analogous terms, see all that he has made and “find it very good.”

This extraordinary analogy is extended when Michelangelo sees himself as not only God the Father, but as “God the Mother,” source of a “noble breed, half man, half god”; as God the Mother, he inseminates himself with his “creative fertility.” Stone thus incorporates sexuality within religiosity and provides his readers with a new metaphor involving the equation of sex with sculpture. In its coarsest terms, the relationship is described by Beppe: “What you put into the ladies at night, you can’t put into the marble in the morning.” In more elevated terms, the conflict between art and sexuality is akin to the traditional opposition between the body (sex) and spirit (art). Given that conflict, the sculptor expresses his relationship to marble in sexual terms; having expended himself on the marble, he has no creative energy for...

(The entire section is 596 words.)