Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Michelangelo: A Life in Six Masterpieces by Miles J. Unger

When taking a big trip abroad, I read some in preparation and read more after the journey. Portions vary. To know what to see and its significance requires some prior study. I never do as much of this as I could, so I am fortunate that Bonnie is thoroughly prepared. She gets us to the right places at the right times and answers my immediate questions. I often read after the trip seeking more understanding of what I saw. Having already seen places, buildings and works of art, I connect with their descriptions and stories more readily. The big drawback is that I do not have the upcoming opportunity to look again on these places, buildings, and works of art in person.

Before our trip to Florence and Rome, I perused several guidebooks and magazine articles, as well as every photocopy Bonnie passed to me. About a week before our departure, I started Michelangelo: A Life in Six Masterpieces by Miles J. Unger with the intent of finishing before packing. It is a moderately heavy book that I did not want to carry. By trip time, however, I had read only the introduction and the chapters about The Pieta found in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome and David now at the Accademia in Florence. After the trip, I read chapters about Michelangelo's work on the Sistine Chapel, the Medici Chapel in the church of San Lorenzo, The Last Judgment, and the dome of St. Peter's Basilica.

The experience of reading is shaped by both the author and the reader. With Michelangelo: A Life in Six Masterpieces, the author contributes a well-written story balancing the details of the sculptor's life* with accounts of his masterpieces and his times. This is quite enough to insure a good reading experience for anyone with a general knowledge of history and art. Still, in the wake of the trip, my experiences helped the story jump higher from the page.

Don't be fooled by the subtitle into thinking Michelangelo: A Life in Six Masterpieces is a narrowly focused biography. Unger addresses many aspects of Michelangelo's personality and the events of his times, and because he is a central character in the story in the Italian Renaissance, having worked in both Florence and Rome, having served and survived many popes as well as his Medici sponsors, his sculptor's story is a good introduction to the period. It is easy to find in public libraries.

*Michelangelo always insisted that he was a sculptor not a painter or architect, though he is now famous for a wide range of work. He even wrote poetry.

Unger, Miles J. Michelangelo: A Life in Six Masterpieces. Simon and Schuster, 2014. 432p. ISBN 9781451678741.

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