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A Life on Paper
Leonard Barkan

One of the The Daily Beast's (Brad Gooch) Favorite Books of the Year for 2010

Hardcover | 2010 | $49.50 | £41.95 | ISBN: 9780691147666
384 pp. | 8 x 10 | 165 color illus. 40 halftones. 3 line illus.
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Michelangelo is best known for great artistic achievements such as the Sistine ceiling, the David, the Pietà, 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.


"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

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Table of Contents:

Preface ix
Acknowledgments xiii
Chapter 1: Hieroglyphs of the Mind 1
Chapter 2: O n the Same Page 35
Chapter 3: Picture Writing 69
Chapter 4: Making a Name 97
Chapter 5: Crowded Sheets 127
Chapter 6: Private in Public 173
Chapter 7: V at. lat. 3211 235
Chapter 8: Drawing the Line 287
Notes 305
Credits 353
Index 357

Another Princeton book authored or coauthored by Leonard Barkan:

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File created: 7/11/2017

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