Michelangelo is best known for great artistic achievements such as the Sistine ceiling, the "David," the "Pieta," and the dome of St. Peter's. Yet throughout his seventy-five year career, he was engaged in another artistic act that until now has been largely overlooked: he not only filled hundreds of sheets of paper with exquisite drawings, sketches, and doodles, but also, on fully a third of these sheets, composed his own words. Here we can read the artist's marginal notes to his most enduring masterpieces; workaday memos to assistants and pupils; poetry and letters; and achingly personal expressions of ambition and despair surely meant for nobody's eyes but his own. "Michelangelo: A Life on Paper" is the first book to examine this intriguing interplay of words and images, providing insight into his life and work as never before.
This sumptuous volume brings together more than two hundred stunning, museum-quality reproductions of Michelangelo's most private papers, many in color. Accompanying them is Leonard Barkan's vivid narrative, which explains the important role the written word played in the artist's monumental public output. What emerges is a wealth of startling juxtapositions: perfectly inscribed sonnets and tantalizing fragments, such as "Have patience, love me, sufficient consolation"; careful notations listing money spent for chickens, oxen, and funeral rites for the artist's father; a beautiful drawing of a Madonna and child next to a mock love poem that begins, "You have a face sweeter than boiled grape juice, and a snail seems to have passed over it." Magnificently illustrated and superbly detailed, this book provides a rare and intimate look at how Michelangelo's artistic genius expressed itself in words as well as pictures.
One of the The Daily Beast's (Brad Gooch) Favorite Books of the Year for 2010 "But for sheer joy of reading, reach for Michelangelo: A Life on Paper, by Leonard Barkan ($49.50). The writer is a professor of comparative literature at Princeton, and his view of the artist usually regarded as superhuman, a Sistine-style colossus, is through the intimate, sometimes all-too-human medium of his words--private letters, poems, notes to self--as well as drawings. Personable in tone, astute in observation, Mr. Barkan's book is that rare thing, a historical study as absorbing as a novel."--Holland Cotter, New York Times "In Michelangelo: A Life on Paper (Princeton University Press, 366 pages, $49.50), scholar Leonard Barkan has not only found something new to say about this well-picked-over artist; he has come up with a new approach to his subject, producing one of the most absorbing books of the year. Like many Renaissance artists, Michelangelo often used the same piece of paper for multiple purposes. A given sheet might contain sketches, wording for a contract, fragments of verse and a shopping list--what Mr. Barkan vividly describes as a 'riot of activities.' Until now, scholars have approached these sheets piecemeal, focusing on the parts of greatest interest to them--the figure sketches, say--to the exclusion of the others. Mr. Barkan's simple but, as it turns out, revolutionary idea was to ask himself: 'What can we learn by taking each sheet as an organic unity and regarding everything on it as equally relevant?' Mr. Barkan's book blends art history, biography and detective work to give us an unparalleled insight into the mind of Michel angelo as a creator, citizen, papal lackey, businessman and family man."--Eric Gibson, Wall Street Journal "Leonard Barkan's ingenious, lavishly illustrated study does not linger over the familiar aspects of the Divine One's life and work. It focuses instead on the artist's 'life on paper,' the hundreds of sheets that have survived containing drawings, poems, doodles, instructions to assistants and 'notes to self.' For Barkan, a professor of comparative literature at Princeton, these sheets are a treasure trove of aesthetic delights; traces of the historical context of Renaissance art making; and, most important, a window onto the personality and artistic practice of a figure who came to define genius... Barkan is a tentative but deeply learned interpreter. His close readings of these complex traces are marvels of erudition, even though he understands that claims about the meaning of these images will never be proven... Barkan is a sensitive and thoughtful guide through this fragile legacy of a monumental figure. Michelangelo, he writes, 'remains stuck in the paradox of a godlike creativity that cannot bring him closer to God.' This biography of the artist's 'life on paper' reveals both his solitude and his efforts at communion. Barkan's reading of the richly evocative paper trail reminds us how much we still have to learn about this towering, quivering man."--Michael S. Roth, Washington Post "A sumptuous art book full of brain food, Michelangelo is a book and concept that has been hiding in plain sight for centuries. Princeton University Comp Lit Professor Leonard Barkan has decided to shift his eye, and attention, two inches to the left and right to take seriously all the scribbling, doodling, lines of poetry, and notes to workshop assistants, in the margins of Michelangelo's drawings on paper. (The volume includes more than 200 museum-quality reproductions of the artist's most private papers, many in color.) As quirkily brilliant--and ultimately more satisfying and helpful than--Derrida's '80s meditations on Nietzche's laundry list, Barkan's book is both fun and a paradigm shift."--Brad Gooch, Daily Beast "With a similar spirit of pure joy in language's capacity to illuminate great art and great artists, Leonard Barkan in Michelangelo: A Life on Paper gives us a more human Michelangelo who looks and sounds a lot like us today, but with all the genius left intact."--Bob Dugan, Big Think "Barkan explores the full complexity of Michelangelo as revealed in hundreds of pieces of paper on which the artist combined both writing and drawing. This is the first study to fully explore the intriguing interplay of words and images, providing numerous insights into the artist's life, work, and unconscious motivations... His brilliant analysis of individual sheets vividly highlights the important role played by the written word in Michelangelo's artistic process and creativity. The book provides a rare and intimate look at how Michelangelo's artistic genius expressed itself, especially in moments of unselfconscious expression when the artist shifted from drawing to words and vice versa. Illustrated with more than 200 excellent reproductions, many in color, this sumptuous volume is beautifully produced."--Choice "Barkan's analyses are rich and complex--this is a book that rewards close reading... The book is beautifully produced, with excellent reproductions."--Bernadine Barnes, European Legacy
Preface ixAcknowledgments xiiiChapter 1: Hieroglyphs of the Mind 1Chapter 2: O n the Same Page 35Chapter 3: Picture Writing 69Chapter 4: Making a Name 97Chapter 5: Crowded Sheets 127Chapter 6: Private in Public 173Chapter 7: V at. lat. 3211 235Chapter 8: Drawing the Line 287Notes 305Credits 353Index 357