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Published on November 18th, 2013


Michelangelo: His Epic Life by Martin Gayford

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Blurb: A new biography of Michelangelo by Martin Gayford, the acclaimed author of Constable in Love and The Yellow House.

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There was an epic sweep to Michelangelo’s life. At 31 he was considered the finest artist in Italy, perhaps the world; long before he died at almost 90 he was widely believed to be the greatest sculptor or painter who had ever lived (and, by his enemies, to be an arrogant, uncouth, swindling miser). For decade after decade, he worked near the dynamic centre of events: the vortex at which European history was changing from Renaissance to Counter Reformation. Few of his works – including the huge frescoes of the Sistine Chapel Ceiling, the marble giant David and the Last Judgment - were small or easy to accomplish. Like a hero of classical mythology – such as Hercules, whose statue Michelangelo carved in his youth – he was subject to constant trials and labours. In Michelangelo Martin Gayford describes what it felt like to be Michelangelo Buonarroti, and how he transformed forever our notion of what an artist could be.

Martin Gayford has been art critic of the Spectator and the Sunday Telegraph. He is currently Chief European art critic for Bloomberg. Among his publications are: The Yellow House: Van Gogh, Gauguin and Nine Turbulent Weeks in ArlesThe Penguin Book of Art Writing, of which he was co-editor, Man with a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud, and contributions to many catalogues. He lives in Cambridge with his wife and two children.

(Fig Tree, 2013)

Was Michelangelo a better artist than Leonardo da Vinci? | Telegraph

Rachel Spence, Financial Times 

“Most valuable is the lucid way Gayford documents the birth of the paradox that fuelled Michelangelo’s vision. On the one hand, the young sculptor soaked up the Neoplatonism that was the lifeblood of Medici culture … Yet a contradictory credo called just as fervently. Scourge of the Medici and of the humanism he regarded as pagan, the Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola advocated an “intense, reformed Christianity centring on a personal relationship with Christ” … It is a measure of his magnitude, and of Gayford’s skill in capturing it, that you finish this book wishing that Michelangelo had lived longer and created more.”

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Jerry Brotton, The Telegraph 

“So do we really need another biography of Michelangelo? It is a testament to Gayford’s skill as a writer that he nearly manages to convince us that the answer is yes … Ultimately, Gayford is overwhelmed by his task, but it is hard to imagine who would not be when faced with such a Herculean challenge. For a brisk and reliable read on Michelangelo’s life, with flashes of intuitive brilliance on the works, Gayford’s book does what it sets out to achieve, but I hope he soon returns to what he does best: pursuing the fugitive fragment, rather than the epic colossus.”

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James Hall, Literary Review 

“Gayford’s work could easily be subtitled ‘Ninety Interminable Years in Italy’ … This is a blue whale of a book, with names, numbers, facts and events swallowed in bland, plankton-like profusion. One regrets the general lack of verve, vision and incisiveness. Gayford only sporadically makes interesting new observations, and discussions of major works are delayed by extended detours into current affairs of often tangential relevance. His broader observations tend to be bland or baffling. One is rarely convinced Gayford has more than a passing professional interest in Michelangelo’s art.”

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