Friday, March 6, 2009

A Journey Into Michelangelo's Rome--Angela Nickerson (book review)

Seven things you may or may not know about Michelangelo Buonarotti:

1. His dad was so against having a painter for a son that he beat him as a child, to discourage him from doodling.

2. As well as a sculptor and a painter, he was a poet. He often came up with ideas for sonnets while sculpting.

3. He loved stone so much that he left part of each of his sculptures unfinished so the raw stone would be visible.

4. The pope built a secret drawbridge from the Vatican to Michelangelo's studio, so he could visit with him at work without appearing to play favorites.

5. He wore boots made from dog skin.

6. In fact, he wore them for months at a time, without taking them off. With bare feet.

7. Today (March 6th), was his birthday. He lived to be 89 years old (1475-1564).

I learned all this from Angela Nickerson's A Journey Into Michelangelo's Rome, my third book in the Roaring Forties Press's ArtPlace Series (the others being A Journey Into Dorothy Parker's New York, and A Journey Into Steinbeck's California). Of the three, I'd say Nickerson had the toughest task. Rome was, after all, a huge city with millenia of history behind it by the time Michelangelo was born in 1475. So, how does one take a tour of Michelangelo's Rome, without visiting the ancient structures that helped define the city in his day, as well as ours? Then there's the inconvenient fact that Michelangelo spent part of his life in Florence and Bologna, rather than Rome. A thorough biography of the artist can't focus exclusively on his time in one city.

All this to say: I found this book to be less of a journey through Michelangelo's Rome, than it was a history of Rome and a biography of Michelangelo, twisted together into one illustration-packed 163-paged volume. There's a fine line between providing context and overwhelming the reader. Maps and illustrations contain both Renaissance-era and ancient structures. Meanwhile, the site one of Michelangelo's residences, (now replaced by modern buildings), is mentioned but not mapped.

With its translations of sonnets and excerpts of letters written by Michelangelo, A Journey Into Michelangelo's Rome offers an engaging introduction to both the artist and the "Eternal City." However, a narrower focus on the points where the two intersect would have made it more fully stand out, among the dozens of books that can be found on either subject.

For the soundtrack: Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525ish-1594) rocked the renaissance. He was a famous composer in Rome during Michelangelo's time, and his music is still sung today. I'm delighted to have found a recording of a piece that my choir has done to share with you. So gorgeous, so fun to sing.

My next review in the ArtPlace series is coming up on March 17th. I'll be journeying into Ireland's Literary Revival with author R. Todd Felton, in celebration of St. Patrick's Day.


  1. Eek! #6 is a little disturbing :P

    Loved the list, though.

  2. I own, but have not read Ireland's Literary Revival...I too should read it for St. Patrick Day!

  3. Eeeew...Michelangelo had stinky feet!