The Agony and the Ecstasy, Irving Stone, Doubleday & Company Inc, 1961, 758 pp
My reading list for 1961 started with this fictional biography of Michelangelo. It was the #1 bestseller that year, demonstrating that readers found a huge fat book about a renaissance artist worthy of their time and dollars in the early part of such a momentous decade.
The whole novel is a moving testament to art, artists, and the creative life. Michelangelo was never as famous or wealthy as other artists during his lifetime. For one thing, he was not a good businessman and cared not a whit for money or comforts. Even so, he was the sole support of his father and brothers. He lived only to carve marble and later to paint.
He was fortunate to have the backing of the Medici family in Florence while still a young man just starting out. However the Renaissance was a turbulent time subject to fanatics like Savonarola and rather rapidly changing Popes. In fact, those Popes were his nemesis throughout his life.
Despite all, he broke new ground in sculpture and created those lasting works we still revere today: the David statue, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the dome of St Peter's Cathedral, and many more. His drive to create art was more enduring than any political insanity. He simply could not be stopped or contained.
This is not to say he didn't suffer. Bouts of despair and depression could paralyze him for months at a time but he rose again and again from the emotional ashes only to create something even more wondrous.
Naturally I found his agony and his ecstasy inspiring. I have believed for a long time that no amount of oppression can kill the urge to create, but is is always an uplift to read about real examples of that belief.
I recommend this book to anyone who walks a creative path in life.
(The Agony and the Ecstasy is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)