I just finished reading Irving Stone's The Agony and the Ecstasy, a biographical novel of the life and works of Michelangelo. Despite the enormity of his work in the Sistine Chapel his sculpture of the Pieta is the one I look forward to seeing the most this coming summer. A sculptor at heart, he was forced to paint to make ends meet per Stone's biography.
This work was completed when he was just 24 years old. It was not his first Madonna figure. The author does the sculptor justice as he describes the challenges of sculpting the Mother of Jesus. When he was describing the sculptor's thought processes he writes:
"Could so important a task, the most important assigned to any human since Moses, have been forced upon Mary without her knowledge and consent?...And if she did have freedom of choice, would she be likely to exercise it?...Once she accepted, must she carry the burden from that moment until the day that her child was crucified?...Was ever mortal woman cast in so pain-fraught a dilemma?" (Stone, 139)
I have read another biography by Irving Stone, The President's Lady. This was not as quick of a read--as the political climate of ancient Rome was more complex than that of early American history. Michelangelo was subject to the whims and machinations of more than five popes through his lifetime. So much more beauty could have come from this great artist if not for the battles these Popes created within Italy, the papacy, Florence, and in Michelangelo's life in particular.