The sublime Michelangelo Buonarroti, painter of the Sistine Chapel and sculptor of the David, was also a gifted writer of letters and sonnets. He was the first artist to have not one, but two biographies written about him during his lifetime, one by the famous Giorgio Vasari and another by fellow painter Ascanio Condivi. And he was the subject of one of the most popular modern works of biographical fiction ever written, Irving Stone's "The Agony and the Ecstasy," first published in 1961 and still in print.
In honor of the artist's 537th birthday, here is a collection of books about his seminal life and work, some in his own words.
"Michelangelo: The Artist, the Man and His Times" by William E. Wallace
Wallace's vivid biography reexamines the life of Michelangelo in the context of his family's origins, using the artist's own words and the words of his contemporaries to argue that it was his enduring ambition to improve the fortunes of his Florentine family and raise the social standing of artists. "I sucked in the craft of hammer and chisel with my foster mother's milk," Michelangelo wrote of himself in the lap of his wet nurse, whose family were stonecutters. "When I told my father that I wish to be an artist, he flew into a rage, 'artists are laborers, no better than shoemakers'."
"Michelangelo" by Howard Hibbard
This watershed biography of 1974, written by the eminent Columbia University professor of art history and one-time editor of The Art Bulletin, dispelled the myths surrounding the life of Michelangelo. Professor Hibbard relates the great artist's works to his life and the turbulent times in which he lived, drawing upon the contemporary biographies and Michelangelo's letters and poems.
"The Letters of Michelangelo" Translated from the original Tuscan, Edited, and Annotated in Two Volumes by E.H. Ramsden
Published to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Michelangelo's death, Ms. Ramsden's 1963 translation of almost 500 of the artist's letters included an erudite survey of his life and pithy, useful annotations. The letters rarely speak of the master's art, but brim with talk of money, family quarrels and, oh, by the way, the difficulties of dealing with Popes. When the vault of the Sistine Chapel was complete he wrote to his father, simply, "I have finished the chapel I have been painting; the Pope is very well satisfied." While writing in detail about buying some good azure for his fresco or such delightful tidbits as "I got a barrel of pears, which numbered eighty-six. I sent thirty-three to the Pope..." he keeps his artistic dreams to himself. The more he shares with us of his everyday life, the more astounded we are at the genius of his achievements.