Monday, October 26, 2009

The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone

The Agony and the Ecstasy is the biographical novel of Michelangelo Buonarroti of Florence... it is a book that I have wanted to read since I was in my late teens, but just simply never did; and for this I am quite grateful, as I would have missed many of the nuances of the historical references that permeate each page of this book.

Only twice did the thought cross my mind that perhaps the 'agony' was that of the reader trying to slog through the particulars of the Italian Renaissance, while the 'ecstasy' was simply coming to the end of the book! Those thoughts were short lived however as the life of Michelangelo became increasingly compelling in his almost manic need to create from marble. Some of the most beautiful passages of this book are those that are so richly descriptive in showing Michelangelo's greatest love, beyond that of painting, architecture or poetry, that of sculpting marble.

Irving Stone's personal research to write this book took 6 years, and it shows; it covers the life of Michelangelo, from birth to death and weaves throughout it's pages, in colourful descriptions, his family members, friends, and opponents - it recants the bitter rivalry he has with both Leonardo Da Vinci and Raphael, his struggles with the Popes, the Medici family, and his own family. The intricate descriptions of the streets and Piazzas of Florence are incredible as are those of San Marco and Santa Maria Novella; at times I found myself floundering in the Italian phrases, yet on the whole I came away with such an appreciation of this man's passion and perseverance under the most atrocious and physically taxing conditions.

Perhaps my most memorable, or thought provoking, portion of this book came mid-way through as Michelangelo began, worked on, and completed his Pieta of Jesus and Mary. He poured through the crucifixion account in the book of John, but could find no place where Mary could have been alone with the dead body of her son. He finally concluded that perhaps after He was laid upon the ground by the soldiers and while Nicodemus was gathering the spices for the burial and Joseph of Arimathea was before Pontius Pilate asking for the body of Jesus, that perhaps then, Mary could have cradled her son on her lap.

Michaelangelo's intent was to have those that would view his Pieta in the years to come, to take the place of the biblical witnesses. I was struck by the fact that he was absorbed in the realization that the only emotion that could be displayed would have to be upon the face of Mary, as Jesus was dead and could only be passively sculpted, with his eyes closed.

What fascinated me about all this, and why this portion was so thought provoking to me, is that Michelangelo intentionally made Mary's face without line, without wrinkle, without age; he purposed to sculpt Mary to give the appearance of still being in her teens, younger in appearance than that of her son, Jesus. She is literally void of expression, of experience, of life. Michaelangelo even sought the help of a Rabbi to find him a young Jewish man to use as a model for the figure of Jesus, as he wanted to sculpt an 'authentic Jew'; this fascinated me, because if he had truly wanted authenticity then surely Jesus would have born the evidence of the torture that He endured prior to the cross, yet only the cleanest of puncture marks are reflected, a subtle suggestion of the ghastly spikes that were driven into the body of Christ.

Towards the end of the detailed account, after the Pieta has been placed within St. Peter's in the Chapel of the Kings of France, Michelangelo pays a visit and overhears someone giving credit to another artisan. Michelangelo, that night, enters with his tools into St. Peter's and chisels into the band across Mary's chest, above the body of Jesus... "MICHAEL. ANGELUS. BONAROTUS. FLORENT. FACIEBAT",  - "Michelangelo Buonarroti of Florence created this".

Maybe it's just me - but I pondered quite a bit about that ..

Monday, October 5, 2009

Indulging in All Things Pilcher!

Just before Summer began this year, I had planned an excursion to the little Secondhand Bookshop to purchase a few books for my Summer reading. One of the books that I found that day was Rosamunde Pilcher's 'Coming Home'. It took a while for me to get into this book, but once I did I was swept away with the author's wonderful description's of the coasts of Cornwall, the Highlands of Scotland and the life in London during the latter part of the 1930's.

This was not a book that I was intent on reading quickly, but rather one to be savoured and enjoyed. I soon began to look forward to those moments when our home was quiet, when I could gather my book bag, a cold drink and go outside to curl up in my big comfy, cushioned chair, settle in and enjoy 'Coming Home'.

Then just last week, while sorting through my bookshelf, I came across two little purse sized novels that were tucked away behind a few other larger volumes. They had been placed there not too long ago when my husband's grandmother had been moved into an extended care facility and his grandfather had also made a move of his own in order to be closer to her. During the events of the move, many things were given to family members and it was then that these little books had come into my possession; what a surprise I had when 
I looked at them closer and realized that they were a compilation of short stories written by Rosamunde Pilcher!

I have been happily reading them both, just finishing 'The Blue Bedroom' last night... sheer indulgence! I now have a list of all the books she has written and intend on reading every one of them - in her early years, Mrs. Pilcher wrote under the pseudonym of Jane Fraser - I am looking forward to searching those out as well.

I realized, while reading, that when the Cornwall wind blew through the tresses of one of her characters, the wind was also blowing through mine; and after an afternoon spent traipsing on the moors of Scotland, damp with the mist and ravenous for a bite to eat, when the characters stepped through the back door and into the stone walled kitchen, the smell of fresh bread and the warmth emanating from the oven wrapped around me as well.

I thoroughly enjoyed the depth of writing as well as the authenticity to life and all that it brings. I would consider these books 'gentle reads' with characters, young and old, that are easy to identify with and enjoy. It's good to read a wholesome, fresh and invigorating book from time to time.... and I certainly have done my fair share of indulging in all things Pilcher!