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KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS
The novel is mostly set in Florence and Rome, though Bologna also provides the background for some parts of the novel. Michelangelo was born in the land of the marble cutters, Settignano near Florence as Irving Stone has described it "It was said of Settignano that its surrounding hills had a stone heart and velvet breasts." Having spent his infant years in this township, Michelangelo had developed such love for the marble that nothing less than sculpting on the white stone could ever give him pleasure.
The childhood and youth of Michelangelo is spent in Florence. Michelangelo is proud of this city "compact within itswalls, immaculately clean, a self-governing Republic, inspired of art and architecture, growing rapidly without poverty, proud of its tradition, revered throughout Europe for its learning and justice." The city flourishes under the reign of Lorenzo de Medici and artists like Michelangelo get inspired to carve out beautiful pieces of marble in it.
In this colorful and prosperous city, Michelangelo begins his life as an artist. At the age of thirteen, he joins the studio of Ghirlandaio as an apprentice to learn painting from the master of frescos (that is, the art of painting with watercolors on wet plaster). A year after, he gets admission into the marble garden as an assistant to Bertoldo, the famed sculptor. Lorenzo Medici spots his talent in this garden and invites him to his palace to carve out many memorable pieces of marble.
After the death of Lorenzo de Medici, Michelangelo escapes to Bologna and works for the benevolent Aldovrandi. Though a sleepy city, Bologna provides the necessary relief and change to Michelangelo. Michelangelo spends a year of peace and contentment in this city. He falls in love with the beautiful Clarissa and expresses his love for her through passionate poems. He gets the opportunity to carve the images of St. Petronius and St. Proculus for Dell’ Arca San Domenico’s tomb. However, after completing his task at the end of the year, he bids goodbye to both Clarissa and Bologna before returning back to Florence.
Michelangelo gets due recognition in Florence but before he can enjoy the fruits of his labor, he is called away to Rome. Cardinal Riaro invites him to the holy city to offer him a commission. Michelangelo enters Rome with stars in his eyes but leaves it with disappointment after getting completely disillusioned with its inmates. If Michelangelo stays on in the city it is only because of genuine art lovers like Jacopo Galli who encourage him to carve beautiful pieces of sculpture and boost his morale. He goes back to Florence only to return to the holy city shortly afterwards.
At last he finds a patron and friend in Pope Paul and executes beautiful paintings, magnificent sculptures and fine pieces of architecture. He thus gets to paint the niche in the walls of the Sistine chapel, construct the tomb of Pope Julius II and decorate the upper floors of palace of St. Peters. He spends the last years of his life in this holy city and dies a contented man after toiling hard for hours creating memorable pieces of art.