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A Biography

by George Bull

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-312-15172-1
Publisher: St. Martin's

 This attempt at a panoramic biography of one of the dominant artists of the Renaissance reads more as a recap of the period's events than a persuasive dissection of character. Bull, a journalist (Inside the Vatican, 1983, etc.) and translator, seems more concerned with the times than the man: He's very good at weaving together a portrait of the social dynamics of patronage, the everyday lives of artists, and the political currents shaping and buffeting Florence and Italy during the Renaissance. But somehow Michelangelo gets a bit lost in the tapestry. The outline of his life is well known: As a teenager, Michelangelo was apprenticed to a sculptor by his impecunious father, who clung to the family's claims to nobility. The boy almost immediately distinguished himself. He proved to be socially savvy as well and was soon taken up by the immensely wealthy and powerful Lorenzo di Medici. For the rest of his life, he did not lack for patrons; several popes were among those who commissioned his work, although his ambitious, frequently monumental (and costly) works often made them uneasy. Yet his robust personality enabled him to negotiate the ever-shifting terrain of politics and religion. As a sculptor, architect, poet, and humanist, he came to define essential aspects of his era: its outsized appetites, intellectual curiosity, prodigious creativity. While Michelangelo was part of an immensely gaudy, violent, inventive period, Bull's book lacks any sense of the passion and excess that characterized the era; it pales sadly in the face of the artist's stupendous output and fails to plumb the sources of his art or to offer a particularly persuasive or detailed portrait of the man himself. A thorough and informative reference book that tells us much about the times but fails to capture the genius of one of our greatest artists. (b&w photos, not seen)