I had high expectation with this book, since I enjoyed [b:Brunelleschi's Dome|148821|Brunelleschi's Dome How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture|Ross King|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1309288056s/148821.jpg|515240] and [b:The Judgment of Paris|56912|The Judgment of Paris The Revolutionary Decade that Gave the World Impressionism|Ross King|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1316729328s/56912.jpg|1283019] alot. However, the book somewhat falls short of it.
Ross King does not deliver a story as exciting and riveting as his other works. As usual, he focuses on political and artistic climate in which Michelangelo habited. It is indeed revealing to read about Julius II and his military campaigns, or about Raphael and his artistic achievements. Since I already read a lot about them, the book does not have much to offer. Still, for other readers, it should still be a good introduction.
Yet, even with old information, a book can still be a wonderful refreshment if told masterfully enough. King tells the story well and I always like his somewhat distant voice, but now I start to realize it is a bit too distant. I need sth more engaging, more involved. His argument is very carefully made, and he removes himself from expressing his attitude straightforwardly. That, can work with other stories where the context of the artwork is intriguing by itself, but for the Sistine's Chapel, it doesn't. Michelangelo's working process with the ceiling did not involve that big drama.
The genius of Michelangelo and this very work of him lies in the overall design of the whole ceiling as well as the individual of each image. King sometimes tries to relate images to the external context, for example the artist's background (his religion, belief, his family, his personality) as he argues that Michelangelo has quite a lot of freedom to choose what he wanted to paint. But that is quite doubtful. Yes the artist's background plays a big role in the birth of images, especially for Michelangelo. However, the complex theological message, the religious content, no matter how devout Michelangelo was, or how educated he was, cannot be left for him. Again, the marvel lies in the formal design. And this marvel cannot be expressed fully if the writer refrains from voicing his stance, his own belief. As a result, the book lacks a sense of wonderment, of awe that I crave for. King does not make much formal analysis, nor comparative analysis of the ceiling paintings with works done before or to be done later (the final chapter briefly summarizes how influential the man was, but that is not quite enough), which is a big issue.
Still, I remain faithfully a fan of Ross King. His research is thorough, his interpretation careful (better than being over-dramatic and far-fetched), and his information is readable enough. Still highly recommend.