The Agony and the Ecstasy: Top Ten Quotes
- “Bleed me of art, and there won’t be enough liquid in me to spit” (Book 1, p. 19).
The thirteen-year-old Michaelangelo pleads for his father’s permission to be an apprentice to the fresco painter, Ghirlandaio, and his father thinks it is beneath the family’s position to be an artist.
- “No man is born into the world whose work is not born with him” (Book 1, p. 19)
Michaelangelo’s grandmother, Monna Alessandra, takes his side, understanding why he must follow his own bent rather than his father’s desire for him to be a merchant.
- “If a peasant woman brings you a basket that she wants ornamented, do it as beautifully as you can, for in its modest way it is as important as a fresco on a palace wall” (Book 1, p. 21).
Ghirlandaio, Michaelangelo’s first painting master, is a generous and humble man, who takes any work offered and uses a lot of apprentices to help him. He teaches the boy about the integrity of his art, but he contrasts to Michaelangelo’s need to work alone and pick large and challenging projects.
- “What your eyes see, your hand can draw” (Book 1, p. 24)
The apprentices of Ghirlandaio do not understand how Michaelangelo can draw women realistically if he has never been with one or used a naked model. He explains that he observes the movement of women in the fields or carrying a basket and can see how their limbs move under their clothes.
- “God was the first sculptor; He made the first figure: man. And when He wanted to give His laws, what material did He use? Stone.” (Book 1, p. 39).
The young Michaelangelo speaks to the other painting apprentices of his longing to be a sculptor instead of a painter. They are surprised by his outburst. At this time sculpture is almost a lost art in Italy and has a lower status.
- “Sculpture is hard, brutal labor. One should not become an artist because he can, but because he must” (Book 2, p. 84).
Bertoldo, Michaelangelo’s sculpture master, explains the differences between painting and sculpture to the new apprentices in the Medici Sculpture Garden. Painting is faster, easier, and more lucrative. Michaelangelo is one who must be an artist and is contrasted to the young Soggi, who runs away because carving is too demanding.
- “White marble was the heart of the universe, the purest substance created by God; not merely a symbol of God, but a portrait, God’s way of manifesting Himself. Only a divine hand could create such noble beauty. He felt himself a part of the white purity before him, felt its integrity as though it were his own” (Book 3, p. 115).
Michaelangelo goes into the Sculpture Garden at dawn to test the marble by the first rays of the sun, as he had been taught by the stone cutters he grew up with. He has a tendency to become one with his materials and creative work. He sees his art as sacred.
- “ . . . nothing would suffice for his vault but Genesis itself, a re-creation of the universe. What nobler work of art could there be than God’s creating of the sun and moon, the water and the earth, the evolving of man, of woman? He would create the world in that Sistine ceiling as though it were being created for the first time” (Book 7, p. 516).
Michaelangelo hated turning from his beloved marble to painting the Sistine ceiling until he found his theme. In the creative act of painting, he is able to understand how God creates.
- “As the figures came alive under his swiftly moving fingers and mind, Noah and his wife, the three nude sons of Noah, their wives, the ram to be sacrificed to the Lord, his workroom filled up with energy and vividness, vitality and color. His hunger, his sense of isolation receded. He felt secure among his companions in this world of his own creating” (Book 7, p. 526).
Michaelangelo has sent away all his apprentices and helpers and insists on doing the Sistine ceiling alone. He works day and night and has no friendship or company, but he knows his loneliness is self-imposed. His created characters become his only friends.
- “Time was a yeast . . . form matured . . . a work of art meant growth from the particular to the universal. To a work of art, time brought timelessness” (Book 9, p. 652).
After three years of war in Florence, Michaelangelo returns to his sculpture pieces that had been interrupted, realizing that time can also be helpful in letting the “emotional ideas solidify,” so all is not wasted, after all. He wants to create something immortal, and time has ironically helped him.