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Free MonkeyNotes Summary-The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone-Notes
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Chapter Two - The Sculpture Garden


Though apprenticed to Ghirlandaio, Michelangelo keeps visiting the garden and observes the other students working on stone. Ghirlandaio assigns him work and allows him to paint on the scaffold of the church. At the end of a year of his apprenticeship, Ghirlandaio throws a party in his honor. The master painter also announces his intention to send two of his students to the Medici school for learning the art of sculpting. When Michelangelo expresses a desire to join the school, Ghirlandaio releases him and Granacci from his tutelage.

Michelangelo is excited about the prospect of entering the sculpture garden. When he visits the garden with his friend, the students and the teachers welcome him. The cordiality of the students and the free atmosphere in the garden is conducive to learning. Bertoldo is not only a good teacher but also a good human being. He helps his pupils and also makes them laugh by cracking jokes. However, he is a strict disciplinarian when it comes to work. He begins Michelangelo’s training by testing the boy’s skill at drawing. He convinces the boy about the importance of drawing, in sculpting figures and makes him draw innumerable figures.

Grannaci is unhappy with his new assignment. Interested in painting, he considers sculpting tedious. However, he encourages Michelangelo to pursue his ambition. In fact, he speaks to Lodovico on Michel’s behalf and seeks the elder man’s permission to learn sculpting. Lodovico dislikes the idea of Michelangelo joining the sculpting school since it promises no return of money. And at the end of six months, as Michelangelo is still at the stage of drawing figures, he asks his son to quit the scene at the earliest. Michel becomes restless. Whenever he finds the garden deserted, he works secretly on discarded marble pieces. Once while he is carving on a small slab of stone, Contessina, Lorenzo’s daughter visits the garden and commends his work. The charming girl’s words of appreciation delight him and he gifts her the carved piece. He likes Contessina and feels jealous whenever she pays more attention to others. When Contessina absents herself from the garden, he looks distressed.

Michelangelo admires Torrigiani for his good looks and talent. He is happy, befriending the handsome youth and copying his work. Bertoldo chides Michelangelo for imitating Torrigiani’s sketches and persuades him to evolve his own style. He makes the boy work on wax and clay before introducing him to stone. He also takes Michel to the palace to show him the statues and carved figures adorning the place. Michelangelo is fascinated by the stone marvels around him and desires to create wonders like them. He is particularly attracted towards a Greek faun, though he finds it lacking in expression.

As days pass into months, fear grips his heart. The thought of his father stopping his work at the garden frightens him. In a troubled state of mind, he visits the garden early one morning and starts carving a faun on a slab of marble. At the end of three days, as he is giving finishing touches to his creation, Lorenzo enters the garden and observes his work. He is impressed by the sculpture and commends the boy on his work. Later, he calls Michelangelo to the palace and offers him a job under his roof. He wants the boy to sculpt figures of his liking and uphold the great tradition of the stone art. He speaks to Lodovico and seeks the permission of the latter to keep Michelangelo in the palace. He also secures a job for Lodovico. Lodovico is happy with the bargain and Michelangelo looks forward to brighter days.


Irving Stone succeeds in recreating the longings, desires and disappointments of Michelangelo as he waits to carve on the marble. Michelangelo enters the Medici school with great expectations but is disappointed with the slow progress of his work during the course of his training. Bertoldo is a good teacher but a hard task-master. He starts training Michelangelo by asking him to draw figures. The next few months, he makes the boy draw different kinds of figures and criticizes the latter for making mistakes. Michelangelo is disappointed and turns to Torrigiani for moral support. He admires Torrigiani for his charming looks and copies the art of the latter unconsciously. When Bertoldo warns him from imitating Torrigiani, Michelangelo feels guilty and concentrates on his own style.

Michelangelo observes others doing work on stone and taking part in competitions. He feels cheated. His father’s taunts further agitate him and he becomes restless. Bertoldo, understanding the boy’s dilemma, makes him work on wax models. After acquainting him with wax, he asks the boy to mould clay. Michelangelo finds everything new and educative but waits impatiently to work on the marble. At the end of almost a year, when he finds the prospect of working on the marble a distant dream, he starts visiting the garden secretly and begins carving on the white stone. The vision of the Greek faun haunting him, he starts carving a faun of his imagination. As he sits giving finishing touches to his creation, Lorenzo Medici pays a surprise visit to the garden and applauds the boy for his impressive work. Lorenzo invites him to the palace and gives him a commission to carve out statues of his liking.

Michel’s longing is fulfilled at last! Irving Stone beautifully expresses the boy’s feelings on achieving his aim.

"For him the milky white marble was a living, breathing substance that felt, sensed,

judged. ... He was not frightened, or even startled. He recognized it for the simple

truth. It was his primary need that his love be reciprocated. Marble was the hero of his life, and his fate. Not until this very moment, with his hand tenderly, lovingly on the marble, had he become fully alive. For this was what he wanted to be all his life; a white marble sculptor, nothing more, nothing less."

Michelangelo’s longing and desire to carve in marble could not have been expressed any more explicitly!

The atmosphere in the garden is quite different from that in Ghirlandaio’s studio, even though its apprentices appear similar to the students at the studio. The Medici school is uninhibited and allows the students to learn and execute their work leisurely. The trainees are taught to perfect the art and not to commercialize it as it is done at Ghirlandaios. So the students are initiated into the art of sculpting slowly. They are taught to master the skill of drawing and moulding wax and clay models, before trying their hand at sculpting on stone. Bertoldo, unlike Ghirlandaio, is in no hurry to complete his job; he is only interested in imparting intricacies of the art to his students and making them excel in their work. Thus, he makes Michelangelo undergo severe training, before allowing the boy to carve on the marble. And he succeeds in his mission. He moulds Michelangelo into superb craftsmen and sculptor of repute.

Lorenzo’s character gets unfurled in this part of the book. All the while, people had spoken of him as a man of great wealth and admirer of art. In this book, he presents himself as a lover of art, admirer of talent and a humanitarian. After observing Michelangelo’s talent, he is convinced that the boy would evolve himself as a great sculptor. In an effort to encourage Michelangelo to pursue his art for the benefit of humanity, he invites the boy to the palace and accepts him as a member of his family. He admires the boy’s daring and determination and excuses him for his brash manner. Detecting the germ of genius in Michelangelo, he induces the boy to do his best in sculpting. Following the norms of propriety, he seeks the permission of Lodovico to keep Michelangelo in the palace and offers the elder man a job of his liking. After experiencing agony for almost two years, Michelangelo is more than rewarded. He couldn’t have got a better patron than Lorenzo Medici!

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