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SHORT PLOT/CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)
The novel opens with a picture of Michelangelo at the age of thirteen, contemplating to enroll himself as an apprentice to Ghirlandaio, the great fresco painter. Ghirlandaio accepts him as his student and also agrees to pay him stipends. Michelangelo starts sketching earthly figures, pulsating with life. However, his heart is towards marble and he longingly sits on the marble steps of the Duomo admiring the carved images in it. Soon an opportunity arises to fulfil his desire. Ghirlandaio chooses him and Granacci to send them to the marble garden to learn sculpting.
Michelangelo becomes an apprentice to Bertoldo and learns the basics of working on the marble. Bertoldo is a hard taskmaster. He makes Michelangelo draw innumerable figures and mould them in wax and clay before giving him the marble to work on. However, Michelangelo works secretly on the marble to fulfil his cravings. Lorenzo Medici spots his talent in the marble garden and invites him to the palace to start his career as a sculptor.
Life at the palace is the best period of Michelangelo’s life as an artist. Lorenzo treats him as a member of his family. He introduces the teenager not only to his family members but also to the members of the Plato academy. Michelangelo gets inspired to carve beautiful marble figures and also to read the works of Greek scholars and poets. Thus he sculpts wonders on marble like the ‘Madonna and the Child,’ ‘David,’ ‘Hercules,’ and ‘The Battle of the Centaurs." He is happy living under the shadow of Lorenzo. He enthusiastically carves on his favorite marble and fells delighted in the company of Contessina. However, he days of peace and contentment are short lived with the entry of Savonarola to Florence. Savonarola’s orthodox views and fanatical ideas on life hypnotize the Florentines and shock the sensibilities of liberals like Lorenzo de Medici. Michelangelo is so perplexed and confused that he is unable to concentrate on his work. With the death of Lorenzo Medici, the artist has no desire to stay in the palace or Florence. He leaves for Bologna with a few friends.
Aldovrandi, the influential aristocrat of Bologna makes Michelangelo his guest and also secures a commission for the artist. Michelangelo is happy renewing his work on the marble. He meets Clarissa, the beautiful mistress of Aldovrandi’s cousin and falls madly in love with her. Besotted by her beauty and youth, he pens down passionate lines of poetry for her. Shortly afterwards, on a festival day, he gets the opportunity to visit her and establish physical intimacy with her. The short but torrid affair delights him and urges him to work excitedly on the marble. However, after completing his commission, he bids goodbye to both Clarissa and Bologna and returns back to Florence.
In Florence, he meets Contessina, now a married woman with two children. He sympathizes with her plight and is moved to see her leading a humble life devoid of all luxuries that she had been used to. He volunteers to teach her son sculpting. In the city, he meets Soderini, the Mayor-Governor of Florence and requests him to consider his application for the competition sculpting on the Duomo pillar. Leonardo Da Vinci is a firm contender for the commission. Michelangelo envies the senior painter for his personality and status. However, Leonardo turns down the offer to sculpt on the pillar as he considers sculpting inferior to painting. Michelangelo considers Leonardo arrogant and develops animosity towards the latter. He starts working on the Duomo pillar with dedication and also secures permission to paint on the same part of wall of the great hall where Leonardo had been given a place of pride. As he progresses with his work, he gets a call from Cardinal Riaro of Rome. He leaves his task half done to travel to the holy city.
Leo Baglioni takes Michelangelo to Rome and fixes his appointment with the Cardinal. Cardinal Riaro recognizes his talent and promises him a commission. He also helps the artist choose a fine piece of Carrara marble. Michelangelo is delighted to start work on the marble and gets ready to show the Cardinal his designs. However, the Holy Father fails to suggest a specific topic and thus, retards the artist’s progress of work. After months of patiently waiting for the Cardinal to give him the signal, Michelangelo leaves Rome in frustration.
In Florence, Lodovico is upset that his son had antagonized the Cardinal and returned home penniless. Soderini also is afraid that the Cardinal might take his revenge on Michelangelo by turning hostile to Florence. Michelangelo is confused but prefers staying in Florence and pursuing his previous assignments. The Pope calls him over twice to Rome, but he postpones visiting the holy city. The third time when the Pope sends him word from Bologna, Michelangelo is unable to refuse his invitation. Thus, he returns back to Rome and meets Pope Julius II. The Pope welcomes him and offers him a commission to cast his bronze statue. Michelangelo is far from happy but gives in to the wishes of the Pope. He meets Clarissa and renews his affair with her. However, when he gets involved with his work, he is unable to give her the attention she needs. Thus, he parts ways with Clarissa as the latter leaves Bologna. He finishes casting the bronze statue with the help of Florentine casters and bids goodbye to the Pope.
In Florence, he moves into his studio and resumes work for the Duomo pillar with the help of Argiento. Hardly had he settled down, when the Pope calls him again to Rome to give him the commission for painting twelve apostles on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel. Michelangelo is not interested in the work but is compelled to execute his task. He calls all his fellow artists from Florence and seeks their help to do his work. However, when the models are ready, he is disappointed with the work. He bids goodbye to Grannaci and his other friends and decides to paint the Genesis all by himself. The Pope accepts his idea but expects him to finish the work fast. Michelangelo works in frenzy as he starts from Deluge to end with ‘The Creation of Eve.’ By the time he finishes painting the fresco he is exhausted both physically and mentally. He returns back to Florence to regain his moral strength.
After the death of Pope Julius, Giovanni is made the Pope and Guilia becomes the Cardinal. The brothers are cordial to him and encourage his work. Michelangelo sets up his house and studio and is happy to resume work on the marble. However, his happiness is short lived. The Medici brothers want him to abandon his work on the tomb of Pope Julius and start work on the tomb of Lorenzo Medici. Michelangelo is thus compelled to discard his work on Julius. He visits Carrara to choose marble for his new assignment. After days of selecting and getting ready to load the marbles, he is asked to visit Pietra Santa by the Medici brothers to choose better pieces of marble. Pietra Santa is a treasure house of fine marble but is unapproachable. Michelangelo wastes his precious time, energy and money transporting the marbles but the brothers do not appreciate his effort. They terminate his contract and leave him frustrated.
Political rivalry, wars and religious fanaticism rock Italy and interrupt the work of Michelangelo. However, his love for the marble keeps him going. After the demise of Giovanni, Guilia becomes the Pope and his son Alessander gains importance in Florence. Guilia asks Michelangelo to resume work on the Lorenzo tomb. Shortly afterwards, the descendants of Pope Julius II sue Michelangelo for violating his contract with the late Pope. Michelangelo is disturbed. He becomes the victim of political rivalry and religious differences. However, luck turns in his favor and he is relieved from his contract with Julius. Michelangelo finishes the Lorenzo tomb with gusto and speed and leaves Florence for Rome.
In Rome, the new Pope welcomes him and asks him to paint ‘ The Last Judgement’ in the niche of the wall of the Sistine chapel. Michelangelo is not sure whether he would be able to execute such a strenuous task at his age. However, Tomasso appears to him as an angel and inspires him to execute his work with ease. Urbino assistance at home and Vittoria’s charming presence outside aid him to complete his task. As he nears the age of eighty, he is assigned more work. Divine energy helps him to work on the Pauline chapel and also the floors of the St. Peter’s palace. Michelangelo continues working for years to complete his job and trains his assistants to finish the remaining tasks. Just before he can celebrate his ninetieth birthday, he is tied to the bed. As he breathes his last, he visualizes his past achievements and dies with a smile.