(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Agony and the Ecstasy, a biographical novel, spans most of Michelangelo’s life: It begins with him as a twelve-year-old and concludes with his death approximately eighty years later. Although Stone covers most of Michelangelo’s life, he seems most concerned with Michelangelo’s apprenticeship and early work; when Michelangelo reaches sixty, approximately two-thirds of his lifetime, the novel is practically completed. Struggle appears to be more interesting than success. Because of the mass of details, many gleaned from previously untranslated letters about Michelangelo’s long life, Stone had to shape his material, to provide dramatic structure to the history of a man and his time.

As Stone presents him, Michelangelo is the complete artist: painter, sculptor, poet, architect, and, ultimately, engineer. The Agony and the Ecstasy depicts Michelangelo’s struggle to become the embodiment of Renaissance humanism. In the course of the novel Michelangelo must overcome the interference of his family, religious dogma, political intrigue, papal patronage, military campaigns, and artistic jealousy to realize his artistic ambition.

Despite his father’s opposition, twelve-year-old Michelangelo becomes an apprentice, first to painter Ghirlandaio and then to Bertoldo, a sculptor, who directs a school financed by Lorenzo de’ Medici, patron of Florentine art. Michelangelo quickly wins Lorenzo’s esteem, meets his children (among them two future popes,...

(The entire section is 612 words.)