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Michelangelo's Mountain

The Quest For Perfection in the Marble Quarries of

Eric Scigliano


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Discover the fascinating, crucial, and often dangerous relationship between Michelangelo and the stone quarries of Carrara in this clear-eyed and well-researched exploration that “recounts the artist's large life and lasting works with care and reverence” (Booklist).

No artist looms so large in Western consciousness and culture as Michelangelo Buonarroti, the most celebrated sculptor of all time. And no place on earth provides a stone so capable of simulating the warmth and vitality of human flesh and incarnating the genius of a Michelangelo as the statuario of Carrara, the storied marble mecca at Tuscany's northwest corner. It was there, where shadowy Etruscans and Roman slaves once toiled, that Michelangelo risked his life in dozens of harrowing expeditions to secure the precious stone for his Pietà, Moses, and other masterpieces.

Many books have recounted Michelangelo’s achievements in Florence and Rome. Michelangelo’s Mountain goes beyond all of them, revealing his escapades and ordeals in the spectacular landscape that was the third pole of his tumultuous career and the third wellspring of his art. Eric Scigliano brings this haunting place and eternally fascinating artist to life in a sweeping tale peopled by popes and poets, mad dukes and mythic monsters, scheming courtiers and rough-hewn quarrymen. He recounts the saga of the David, the improbable masterpiece that Michelangelo created against all odds, of the twin Hercules that he tried to erect beside it, and of the Salieri-like nemesis who snatched away the commission, turning a sculptural testament to liberty into a bitter symbol of tyranny and giving Florence the colossus it loves to hate.

In showing how the artist, land, and stone transformed one another, Scigliano brings fresh insight to Michelangelo's most cherished works and illuminates his struggles with the princes and potentates of Carrara, Rome, and Medici Florence, who raised intrigue to a high art.

Praise For Michelangelo's Mountain: The Quest For Perfection in the Marble Quarries of

"This is a terrific book, original in conception and exhilarating in its range and sweep. Eric Scigliano effortlessly marries the vibrant and tumultuous world of quattrocento and cinquecento Tuscan politics, philosophy, and art to his own 21st-century travels in the region. Whether sketching a landscape, exploring the geology of marble, following Michelangelo from commission to commission, waxing lyrical on the curing of pork fat, or talking stonemasonry to elderly quarrymen in a Carrara bar, Scigliano is a deft, eloquent writer; the connections he makes are always surprising and often revelatory. His Michelangelo emerges as a man as much of our time and place as of his own."

-- Jonathan Raban, author of Bad Land and Passage to Juneau

"From the Medici to Henry Moore, from Rome to the Renaissance to the modern quarry workers of Carrara, Eric Scigliano weaves a compelling narrative of marble, its mountains, and its greatest master and apprentice, Michelangelo Buonarroti."

-- William E. Wallace, Professor of Art History, Washington University, St. Louis

"This is a masterful work, in many respects a new kind of narrative nonfiction. Dancing seamlessly between past and present, Eric Scigliano illuminates Michelangelo through the sculptor's passion for special stone, set against the story of the stone itself and the people who still share that passion today. His strong, polished, yet informal prose -- reminiscent at times of the marble he describes -- is the perfect vehicle for this remarkable balancing act."

-- Paul Robert Walker, author of The Feud That Sparked the Renaissance

"Just as Michelangelo wrested works of genius from the grip of the stone that possessed him, Eric Scigliano, with a Carrarese quarryman's blood running through his veins, has chipped away at the remarkable history of man's two thousand-year obsession with the white mountain. His easy, almost conversational tone belies the comprehensively researched chronicle he narrates with erudition and wit."

-- David Tripp, author of Illegal Tender: Gold, Greed, and the Mystery of the Lost 1933 Double Eagle

"Eric Scigliano's book on Michelangelo is vivid, erudite, and highly readable -- a fresh take brilliantly executed."

-- Robin Brooks, author of The Portland Vase

"Eric Scigliano works magic -- in Michelangelo's Mountain he brings cold stone to brilliant, captivating life. With the tenacity of an investigative reporter, the deep knowledge of a cultural historian, and the infectious attitude of a bon vivant traveler, Scigliano prowls the Italian countryside uncovering the mystery of the marble that inspired Michelangelo's greatest masterpieces. You must listen to the stone, the master marble cutters of Carrara say, and in Scigliano's hands the stone yields an enchanting tale. Bravo!"

-- Bruce Barcott, author of The Measure of a Mountain: Beauty and Terror on Mount Rainier

Atria Books, 9781451656619, 368pp.

Publication Date: December 1, 2012

About the Author

Eric Scigliano's ancestors were quarry-men and stone carvers in Carrara. He is the author of Love, War, and Circuses: The Age-Old Relationship Between Elephants and Humans and two regional books, Seattle from the Air and Puget Sound: Sea Between the Mountains, and the co-translator of Trinh Công So'n's wartime poetry. An award-winning journalist, Scigliano has written for Harper's, Outside, Discover, and many other publications.