Sample K14 from Irving Stone, The Agony and the Ecstasy. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1961. Pp. 294-298. A part of the XML version of the Brown Corpus2,023 words 223 (11.2%) quotesK14

Used by permission of Irving J. Stone. 0010-1740

Irving Stone, The Agony and the Ecstasy. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1961. Pp. 294-298.

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He brought with him a mixture of myrrh and aloes , of about a hundred pounds' weight . They took Jesus's body , then , and wrapped it in winding-clothes with the spices ; ; that is how the Jews prepare a body for burial .

Listed as present at the Descent were Mary , Mary's sister , Mary Magdalene , John , Joseph of Arimathea , Nicodemus . Search as he might , he could find no place where the Bible spoke of a moment when Mary could have been alone with Jesus . Mostly the scene was crowded with mourners , such as the dramatic Dell'Arca Lamentation in Bologna , where the grief-stricken spectators had usurped Mary's last poignant moment .

In his concept there could be no one else present .

His first desire was to create a mother and son alone in the universe . When might Mary have had that moment to hold her child on her lap ? ? Perhaps after the soldiers had laid him on the ground , while Joseph of Arimathea was at Pontius Pilate's asking for Christ's body , Nicodemus was gathering his mixture of myrrh and aloes , and the others had gone home to mourn . Those who saw his finished Pieta would take the place of the biblical witnesses . They would feel what Mary was undergoing . There would be no halos , no angels . These would be two human beings , whom God had chosen .

He felt close to Mary , having spent so long concentrating on the beginning of her journey . Now she was intensely alive , anguished ; ; her son was dead . Even though he would later be resurrected , he was at this moment dead indeed , the expression on his face reflecting what he had gone through on the cross . In his sculpture therefore it would not be possible for him to project anything of what Jesus felt for his mother ; ; only what Mary felt for her son . Jesus' inert body would be passive , his eyes closed . Mary would have to carry the human communication . This seemed right to him .

It was a relief to shift in his mind to technical problems . Since his Christ was to be life size , how was Mary to hold him on her lap without the relationship seeming ungainly ? ? His Mary would be slender of limb and delicate of proportion , yet she must hold this full-grown man as securely and convincingly as she would a child .

There was only one way to accomplish this : by design , by drawing diagrams and sketches in which he probed the remotest corner of his mind for creative ideas to carry his concept .

He started by making free sketches to loosen up his thinking so that images would appear on paper . Visually , these approximated what he was feeling within himself . At the same time he started walking the streets , peering at the people passing or shopping at the stalls , storing up fresh impressions of what they looked like , how they moved . In particular he sought the gentle , sweet-faced nuns , with head coverings and veils coming to the middle of their foreheads , remembering their expressions until he reached home and set them down on paper .

Discovering that draperies could be designed to serve structural purposes , he began a study of the anatomy of folds . He improvised as he went along , completing a life-size clay figure , then bought yards of an inexpensive material from a draper , wet the lightweight cloth in a basin and covered it over with clay that Argiento brought from the bank of the Tiber , to the consistency of thick mud . No fold could be accidental , each turn of the drapery had to serve organically , to cover the Madonna's slender legs and feet so that they would give substantive support to Christ's body , to intensify her inner turmoil . When the cloth dried and stiffened , he saw what adjustments had to be made .

`` So that's sculpture '' , commented Argiento wryly , when he had sluiced down the floor for a week , `` making mud pies '' .

Michelangelo grinned . `` See , Argiento , if you control the way these folds are bunched , like this , or made to flow , you can enrich the body attitudes . They can have as much tactile appeal as flesh and bone '' .

He went into the Jewish quarter , wanting to draw Hebraic faces so that he could reach a visual understanding of how Christ might have looked . The Jewish section was in Trastevere , near the Tiber at the church of San Francesco a Ripa . The colony had been small until the Spanish Inquisition of 1492 drove many Jews into Rome . Here , for the most part , they were well treated , as a `` reminder of the Old Testament heritage of Christianity '' ; ; many of their gifted members were prominent in the Vatican as physicians , musicians , bankers .

The men did not object to his sketching them while they went about their work , but no one could be persuaded to come to his studio to pose . He was told to ask for Rabbi Melzi at the synagogue on Saturday afternoon . Michelangelo found the rabbi in the room of study , a gentle old man with a white beard and luminous grey eyes , robed in black gabardine with a skullcap on his head . He was reading from the Talmud with a group of men from his congregation . When Michelangelo explained why he had come , Rabbi Melzi replied gravely :

`` The Bible forbids us to bow down to or to make graven images . That is why our creative people give their time to literature , not to painting or sculpture '' .

`` But , Rabbi Melzi , you don't object to others creating works of art '' ? ?

`` Not at all . Each religion has its own tenets '' .

`` I am carving a Pieta from white Carrara marble . I wish to make Jesus an authentic Jew . I cannot accomplish this if you will not help me '' .

The rabbi said thoughtfully , `` I would not want my people to get in trouble with the Church '' .

`` I am working for the Cardinal of San Dionigi . I'm sure he would approve '' .

`` What kind of models would you prefer '' ? ?

`` Workmen . In their mid-thirties . Not bulky laborers , but sinewy men . With intelligence . And sensitivity '' .

Rabbi Melzi smiled at him with infinitely old but merry eyes .

`` Leave me your address . I will send you the best the quarter has to offer '' . Michelangelo hurried to Sangallo's solitary bachelor room with his sketches , asked the architect to design a stand which would simulate the seated Madonna . Sangallo studied the drawings and improvised a trestle couch . Michelangelo bought some scrap lumber . Together he and Argiento built the stand , covering it with blankets .

His first model arrived at dusk . He hesitated for a moment when Michelangelo asked him to disrobe , so Michelangelo gave him a piece of toweling to wrap around his loins , led him to the kitchen to take off his clothes . He then draped him over the rough stand , explained that he was supposed to be recently dead , and was being held on his mother's lap . The model quite plainly thought Michelangelo crazy ; ; only the instructions from his rabbi kept him from bolting . But at the end of the sitting , when Michelangelo showed him the quick , free drawings , with the mother roughed in , holding her son , the model grasped what Michelangelo was after , and promised to speak to his friends . He worked for two hours a day with each model sent by the rabbi .

Mary presented quite a different problem . Though this sculpture must take place thirty-three years after her moment of decision , he could not conceive of her as a woman in her mid-fifties , old , wrinkled , broken in body and face by labor or worry . His image of the Virgin had always been that of a young woman , even as had his memory of his mother .

Jacopo Galli introduced him into several Roman homes . Here he sketched , sitting in their flowing gowns of linen and silk , young girls not yet twenty , some about to be married , some married a year or two . Since the Santo Spirito hospital had taken only men , he had had no experience in the study of female anatomy ; ; but he had sketched the women of Tuscany in their fields and homes . He was able to discern the body lines of the Roman women under their robes .

He spent concentrated weeks putting his two figures together : a Mary who would be young and sensitive , yet strong enough to hold her son on her lap ; ; and a Jesus who , though lean , was strong even in death a look he remembered well from his experience in the dead room of Santo Spirito . He drew toward the composite design from his meticulously accurate memory , without need to consult his sketches .

Soon he was ready to go into a three-dimensional figure in clay . Here he would have free expression because the material could be moved to distort forms . When he wanted to emphasize , or get greater intensity , he added or subtracted clay . Next he turned to wax because there was a similarity of wax to marble in tactile quality and translucence . He respected each of these approach techniques , and kept them in character : his quill drawings had a scratchiness , suggesting skin texture ; ; the clay he used plastically to suggest soft moving flesh , as in an abdomen , in a reclining torso ; ; the wax he smoothed over to give the body surface an elastic pull . Yet he never allowed these models to become fixed in his mind ; ; they remained rough starting points . When carving he was charged with spontaneous energy ; ; too careful or detailed studies in clay and wax would have glued him down to a mere enlarging of his model .

The true surge had to be inside the marble itself . Drawing and models were his thinking . Carving was action .

10 .

The arrangement with Argiento was working well , except that sometimes Michelangelo could not figure who was master and who apprentice . Argiento had been trained so rigorously by the Jesuits that Michelangelo was unable to change his habits : up before dawn to scrub the floors , whether they were dirty or not ; ; water boiling on the fire for washing laundry every day , the pots scoured with river sand after each meal .

`` Argiento , this is senseless '' , he complained , not liking to work on the wet floors , particularly in cold weather . `` You're too clean . Scrub the studio once a week . That's enough '' .

`` No '' , said Argiento stolidly . `` Every day . Before dawn . I was taught '' .

`` And God help anyone who tries to unteach you '' ! ! Grumbled Michelangelo ; ; yet he knew that he had nothing to grumble about , for Argiento made few demands on him . The boy was becoming acquainted with the contadini families that brought produce into Rome . On Sundays he would walk miles into the campagna to visit with them , and in particular to see their horses . The one thing he missed from his farm in the Po Valley was the animals ; ; frequently he would take his leave of Michelangelo by announcing :

`` Today I go see the horses '' .

It took a piece of bad luck to show Michelangelo that the boy was devoted to him . He was crouched over his anvil in the courtyard getting his chisels into trim , when a splinter of steel flew into his eye and imbedded itself in his pupil . He stumbled into the house , eyes burning like fire . Argiento made him lie down on the bed , brought a pan of hot water , dipped some clean white linen cloth and applied it to extract the splinter . Though the pain was considerable Michelangelo was not too concerned . He assumed he could blink the splinter out . But it would not come . Argiento never left his side , keeping the water boiled , applying hot compresses throughout the night .

By the second day Michelangelo began to worry ; ; and by the second night he was in a state of panic : he could see nothing out of the afflicted eye . At dawn Argiento went to Jacopo Galli . Galli arrived with his family surgeon , Maestro Lippi . The surgeon carried a cage of live pigeons . He told Argiento to take a bird out of the cage , cut a large vein under its wing , let the blood gush into Michelangelo's injured eye .

The surgeon came back at dusk , cut the vein of a second pigeon , again washed out the eye .