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Michelangelo’s Agony

There was a wise man who once said, “do it with passion or not at all,” because anything worth acting upon will ignite a spark within that is so insatiable that one cannot help but burn to act upon this desire. Passion can be defined as desire, and almost necessity, for something, whether it manifests through love, happiness, work, or simply life. In Irving Stone’s The Agony and the Ecstasy, it is quickly evident what could essentially be Michelangelo’s most defining trait: he is passionate.

Some might say he is too much so. Even at such a young age, he saw “life is to be enjoyed,” and “life is to work” as one and the same (Stone 107). He channels this intense desire into his art, flowing like blood through his veins as he hammers and shapes blocks marble, never caring about anything as much as when he will be able to begin his next piece or what other people think of the one he has already finished. Passion is both essential and detrimental to Michelangelo.

On one hand, he will go far in life; on the other hand, he rejects life also. This rejection of life can be closely observed when he declines Giovanni’s invitation to join in his hunt, for Michelangelo thinks that “marble has the excitement of the hunt,” so he sees no reason to join in with a silly game that provides little benefit to his art (145). Yet Contessina offers a different perspective; it is not so much about the hunt, but the implication of it. To decline an offer from someone such as Giovanni would be disrespectful.

Even her father takes orders from Giovanni when his hunt is in session, and making connections with people is as important for his art as practice is, As much as Michelangelo loves all forms of art, his true love is sculpture. His childhood consisted of helping produce brick and carve stone, leading him to believe it to be God’s art. When brought up, Michelangelo professes to his acquaintances at the Duomo that “God was the first sculptor,” and his first sculptures were man (19).

Since then, man has created numerous masterpieces, including the ten commandments, using the same tools as their creator: sculpture. Michelangelo longs to do the same and create pieces as God had created Adam, raw and naked, pure and untouched. However, everyone else perceives sculpture in art as they do Latin in language; it is dying quickly, not even worth pursuing. Nevertheless, “Michelangelo refused to compromise,” and countless mornings and nights were consumed with sculpting, away from his family (39).

Although family is still important to him, they are important for the most part due to the Buonarotti name and bloodline, while the Medicis become like a second family because they recognize his talents and encourage his desires, all while providing for him much of the things his own father could not, such as materials for his art, advice for improvement, and inspiration for his creation. Michelangelo’s preoccupation is also dedication to his art, therefore he could not possibly do anything but his best.

Presented with an opportunity to fit in with his friends at the Duomo, he asks if he can partake in their contest to draw a gnome from memory; the winner has to pay for dinner. Unsuspecting to the fact that this is a trick for him to pay for their meal, he inevitably wins the contest. Granacci says that “they couldn’t lose,” even if he had known their plan from the start (26). Had he settled to lose the contest to save money, he would have consequently also lost his integral beliefs. Even so, Michelangelo’s best work, and what he deems worthy, can be substantially unlike the opinions of others.

One of the greatest artists of the period, Leonardo Da Vinci, rejects the Duccio block commissions because “he despised marble sculpture as an inferior art” even though he was specifically selected to carve it over other deserving and skilled sculptors, such as Michelangelo (365). Moreover, people were of the opinion that the Duccio block had a multitude flaws, far too many to ever create anything significant. Michelangelo viewed the criticisms not as a dismissal, but as a challenge, and he creates one of his most well known pieces out of it.

Another influential trait, besides Michelangelo’s love for art, was his devotion, to friends and family alike; However, when asked where he lives, Michelangelo says that, “an artist lives everywhere,” because true art is not seeing, but rather it is doing (485). Anybody can look at a portrait and copy it, but skilled artists travel and observe every change from a creative point of view. Even though Michelangelo loves Florence and believes that “Florence is a good city for an artist,” he knows that more opportunities for better commissions await him elsewhere, even if places that are not as beautiful as Florence, such as Rome (18).

His passion for improving himself divides him from his loyalty to his home and everything he has ever known. Michelangelo not only lives because of his passion, he lives for it. He is one to believe that unsatisfactory things occur and failures happen owing to the fact that whoever “did not try hard enough,” even though there are times when Michelangelo devotes every second of his time and every ounce of his labor to something, only for it to fail (588). In a sense, he is naive, even blinded by his unrealistic passion and need for success.

Humans are flawed and Michelangelo’s understanding of that seems to be something he learns much later in life than most people. He puts people, such as Lorenzo Medici, whom he calls “il magnifico,” on a pedestal and imagines they can make no mistakes, when he grew up with a father who proved the exact opposite of that (101). Michelangelo himself is a good example of someone who is flawed; he is a bit progressive for the time he lives in, but the people around him see him as a mad man.

Nobody who knew Michelangelo, be it for a couple of hours or his entire life, could deny that he was passionate. Near the end of his days, it was passion still that kept him alive. It was believed that “as long as he had the strength” to fight back, he would still have his position as the architect of St. Peter’s, and that is precisely what he did (747). Well acquainted with these issues, he spent his entire life trying to prove many doubters wrong, including his own father who spent more time “figuring out ways not to spend money,” than he spent doing anything productive (16).

Michelangelo was the same way, but not for the same reasons. The artist did not see the point in buying lavish clothing that would inevitably get dirty or hoard material items that held no worth besides monetary value. Caring so little about money, he gave it all to his father, and yet it never seemed to please Lodovico. This knowledge of human nature proved useful not only in his fight to be the St, Peters architect but was also a life lesson. In comparison to Michelangelo, Torrigiani has as much passion for art as a fish does for land.

Constantly criticized, Michelangelo uses harsh words thrown at him to refine his techniques, while Torrigiani gets easily offended at Michelangelo’s implication that his lines are not “good charcoal lines,” in spite of all the talent he has obviously shown to Lorenzo to be chosen to work at the sculpture garden (123). The epitome of a gossip and a flirt, Torrigiani lacks the true values of an artist.. Where Michelangelo made friends easily and used the people around him for his craft, Torrigiani was “quarrelsome, having alienated several of his fellow apprentices” when he could have been making connections (71).

This is why he gets angry with Michelangelo, who goes to live in the Medici palace. Michelangelo’s dedication is one that cannot just be learned. What Torrigiani comprises in talent, he lacks in skill and vigor for the trade, which he refuses to acknowledge. The authenticity passion provides is what makes us human. Propelled by primal instinct, animals live purely to survive; humans pay no heed to instinct, opting instead to be pushed by passion into the pits of peril at every opportunity. It causes recklessness, perhaps even insanity, but in the end, passion is what creates inexplicably distinct humanity.

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