The Agony and the Ecstasy Characters

Irving Stone

The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Stone presents Michelangelo as the idealized Renaissance humanist, the artist whose commitment to his work becomes a religion and whose creative efforts are no less than godlike. In fact, his commitment to art is such that it alienates him from society, makes him a misunderstood recluse, and, in becoming the outlet for his passion, prevents him from finding love. Because art becomes religion, art cannot be commercialized; the artist is not a businessman. Overly generous to his parasitic family and deaf to the warnings of his banker/agent Galli, he lives in relative poverty, unlike Leonardo and Raphael. Also unlike them, he works alone, refusing to compromise his work by using, even in the Sistine Chapel, other painters. Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael, despite their stature, exist in Stone’s novel primarily as foils, artists whose deficiencies help define Michelangelo’s greatness.

Other characters serve to demonstrate the plight of the artist whose superior work is often prey to the jealousy of less talented colleagues. Torrigiani breaks Michelangelo’s nose, itself part of a work of art, as Stone carefully points out in the first paragraph of the novel. Later Vincenzo, an inferior sculptor in Bologna, defaces Michelangelo’s St. Petronius because of jealousy. Perugino’s vicious attack on Michelangelo’s work is motivated, according to Raphael, by envy and despair: Michelangelo has made Perugino’s work obsolete. Another act of...

(The entire section is 546 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Michelangelo Buonarroti

Michelangelo Buonarroti (mi-kehl-AN-gehl-oh bwon-ah-ROH-tee), a skinny, unsociable thirteen-year-old who, as the action of the novel begins, wishes he could redraft his facial features with a crayon. He reflects on the death of his mother when he was only six years old and his consequent loneliness and hunger for love. First trained as a stonecutter and then sent away to school for three years, young Michelangelo prefers drawing to the study of Latin and Greek. It is not until he becomes a student at the Medici sculpture garden at the age of fourteen, having spent a year at Ghirlandaio’s studio, that he comes to know happiness again and forms lasting friendships. Tutored by the Plato Four, he develops a love for ancient culture and a familiarity with classical texts; at the same time, he begins working seriously in marble. A beating permanently disfigures his face, and he never overcomes his insecurity about his own ugliness. He becomes a victim of his own drive for artistic perfection. Carving as long as twenty hours a day, he persists for months without adequate food or sleep. At one time, he sleeps in his clothes for a month; when he finally removes his boots, the skin of his feet comes off with them. Working on the ceiling frescoes for the Sistine Chapel, he becomes racked from the position in which he must work and almost blind from the dripping paint. In addition to experiencing the agony of working and of being treated as a mere laborer by his patron, Pope Julius II, Michelangelo suffers the agony of producing great art only to have it destroyed. Rioting Florentines break an arm off his David, and the Bolognese melt down a bronze statue of Julius that took fifteen months to create, recasting the metal as a cannon. He is stoned by the rock cutters of Carrara because Pope Leo insists that he use marble from Pietrasanta instead of theirs. Because Michelangelo feels an inner compunction to complete a significant body of works, he has no time for social niceties or a love relationship. He shares his father’s pride in family, but he believes that as a mendicant artist working for long periods in self-imposed isolation, he cannot have a family of his own. Even as an elderly man, he retains the sense of the artist’s responsibility to convey human emotion and the very meaning of life...

(The entire section is 980 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In The Agony and the Ecstasy, the essential plot involving what many critics believe to be the ultimate of Michelangelo's painting...

(The entire section is 326 words.)