The Agony and the Ecstasy: A Biographical Novel of Michelangelo

The Agony and the Ecstasy - Irving Stone As Stone tells us in his note afterwards, he not only lived and researched in Michelangelo's Italy, he had this letters translated into English for the first time. Stone even worked in marble quarries and apprenticed himself to a sculptor. Needless to say, this biography of the great artist, architect and poet is well-researched. It's also decently written, even if some parts are a slog--over-written and over-long, but the inherent fascination of the Michelangelo's accomplishments and of the Renaissance Italy of the Medici definitely kept me engrossed. Stone definitely brings alive the details of the outer life of the man--the actual description of artistic creation, the tools, techniques is lovingly described. What I found wanting was more the inner life. There I didn't feel, despite the overblown title, that we got any sense of conflict or complexity that must have been an aspect of such a towering genius. Also, there's plenty of historical material to suggest Michelangelo was gay--or at least bisexual, given his relationship with the widow Vittoria Colonna. But there's no suggestion Michelangelo was homosexual in this novel. Yes, this was published in 1961. But Robert Graves and Mary Renault managed to write historical novels earlier (in the case of Graves' I, Claudius, 1934!) while dealing, even if not graphically, with homosexual themes. Both Renault and Graves also gave me more of a sense of the historical mindset of the eras they chose to write than Stone does in this novel. So worth a read? Yes. But I wouldn't rank this at the top of the historical novels I've read.