Yesterday’s review of Michelangelo for Kids introduced us to a Renaissance artist few people know. Today, the author gives us more insight into her research, her background, and Michelangelo the man. Be sure to scroll down for links to our other interviews with Simonetta about Anselm, Augustine, and other heroes of the faith.
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- I read in the author bio that you were born in and studied art in Italy. Could you fill out your “Italian background” a little more?
Italy is like a walk-in museum. People are surrounded with history, art, and beauty. We didn’t have school trips to Disneyland. We went to Florence, Venice, and Medieval castles. I was very aware of the history around me. When I was very young, I put my imagination to work. In an open field, I imagined I was an ancient Roman girl spying some soldiers who were riding over the hills. If I visited a castle, I was of course a powerful princess.
While I was in high-school, I attended an evening art school (Scuola d’Arte Applicata) at the Sforza Castle in Milan. I also took private lessons with renowned artist Luigi Timoncini. I love art, even if I probably do better as an admirer than an actual artist.
Being Italian was obviously a bonus in writing this book because I could read Michelangelo’s letters and poems, as well as other documents, in the original language. I could also relate to places and objects he mentioned, and to some of his typical expressions. For example, one of his favorite phrases was, “One must be patient.” I still remember my parents and grandmother saying the same thing all the time: “Ci vuole pazienza.” Italy has had so many problems over the years that it’s almost become the national motto. For Michelangelo, however, it was a Christian virtue. “One must have patience and hope in God,” he often wrote in his letters.
- Tell us a little about your research. For instance, you mention in your Author Note that Michelangelo left a wealth of papers behind: were these easy to access? Did you travel to Italy for research, or draw on your memories and art background?
I drew on my memories, but they are not in the distant past, because I have been visiting Italy regularly until my mother died a few years ago. Michelangelo’s original letters (in Italian) are very easy to find, thanks to Foundation Memofonte’s free online archive.
I tend to go overboard with my research. One question generates another, and once I start reading one letter I want to read them all! I have an extra desk whose only task is to collect huge piles of books.
- What impresses you most about Michelangelo’s faith?
His depth, humility, and sincere struggle to understand more. He was rooted in the Roman Catholic Church, but was also sensitive to the challenges of the Protestant Reformation. I believe he had quite a thorough understanding of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. He went to church on Sunday, sought out good preachers (which were rare at that time) and had meaningful discussions with both the popes and the spirituali (a group of believers who worked to see a reform of the church). His faith is vibrant in his poems and quite evident in his works of art, especially in the latter half of his life.
- What might he want to share with the modern world, about art, about life, or anything else?
It’s almost impossible to speculate because he had such an unpredictable mind. I think he would agree with some forms of modern art because he was quite innovative and around the end of his life he gave priority to expression of feelings or ideas over careful imitation. On the other hand, he didn’t like the art of the Northern Renaissance, so he would probably have strong opinions about some of our art forms.
I wonder what he would think of our political situation. He was a strong defender of democracy in a republican type of government, but to him being republican meant being opposed to any type of dictator. It didn’t have the same meaning it has today in our political party. He would probably oppose any leader that appears to be autocratic.
- In what ways is the world different because of Michelangelo?
I think he raised the bar of excellence in art in ways that other artists had not done. In architecture, he explored new possibilities and pioneered methods and techniques that have influenced generations after him.
- After writing this biography, what do you admire most about him?
I remember being struck by his persistence and commitment to excellence. I end my book by saying that, even if Michelangelo’s adventurous life has all the ingredients for an exciting action movie, it “was not just one blaze of excitement. Most of his 89 years were characterized by long days of meticulous and patient work—yielding to fickle popes, teaching mediocre students, discarding ruined blocks of stone, sharpening tools, and beating his chisel, day in and day out. All of these things combined to mature him as an artist and as a man, and to make his works powerful and timeless.”
We tend to forget and overlook the tedious hours behind his work, but we understand them better when we read his letters about his ordinary life and mundane struggles. Since most of our lives are probably 90% ordinary, I was very inspired by the way he persevered with patience, Christian hope, and compelling conviction that it was his duty to produce his very best even when he disliked his tasks or circumstances.
Many thanks to Simonetta for her time. We’re big fans of her Christian biographies, and have interviewed her several times through the years. If you’re new to our site, you’ll want to take a look at her books:
Simonetta Carr on Heroes of the Faith (Augustine, John Owen, John Calvin, etc.)
The History of Faith (Lady Jane Grey)