five must-read books about the old Renaissance master

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Michelangelo needs little introduction. The Renaissance master (1475-1564) created some of the greatest works of art we have ever seen, from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel to his monumental statue of David. But many of his great masterpieces were created on a much smaller scale, like colored chalk on paper. An exhibition at the British Museum in London delves into Michelangelo’s final years, focusing on drawings such as his preparatory sketches for the Sistine Chapel. Below is the project curator of the exhibition Grant Lewis has selected five books for anyone who wants to get closer to the genius of Michelangelo.

Lives of the artists (1568) by Giorgio Vasari

“Michelangelo specialists have had a love-hate relationship with Vasari for a long time. He can offer moments of surprising accuracy, but his desire to seem close to his idol leads him to imagine something he does not know. Scholars have come to completely different estimates of its total value. But this is one of the great biographies of the Renaissance; a milestone in the writing of art history; and the standard against which even the most unruly lives are written. Without this image, our image of Michelangelo is incomprehensible.”

Corpus dei disegni by Michelangelo (1975-80) by Charles de Tolnay

“Few people are as familiar with Michelangelo’s drawings as Charles de Tolnay. As director of Casa Buonarroti in Florence, home to the largest collection of Michelangelo drawings, he embarked on a massive project to map the artist’s entire graphic legacy. The end product is a milestone of scholarship: the standard reference work for Michelangelo drawings, complete with some impressive interpretations of sheets that until now have left specialists scratching their heads.”

Michelangelo: Six lectures (1978) by Johannes Wilde

“Although he published little, Johannes Wilde remains one of the most respected Michelangelo scholars. Much of his reputation rests on his masterful catalog of the Michelangelo drawings in the British Museum; few articles followed, but in the best empirical traditions in which he excelled, Wilde busied himself exploring the implications of his forensic investigations until they were coalesced into a broader overview of Michelangelo’s work.

Michelangelo’s architecture (1986) by James Ackerman

“When it was first published, Ackerman’s book gave the English-speaking world a much-needed overview of one of the lesser-known aspects of Michelangelo’s career. Although the text shows its age, it remains a brilliant illumination of the qualities that make Michelangelo’s architecture great.”

Il carteggio di Michelangelo (1965-83) by Giovanni Poggi

“During Michelangelo’s lifetime, acquaintances even cherished business communications, and after his death the Buonarroti family did their part to preserve his papers. The result is more than a thousand letters to and from Michelangelo, which have proven to be a bottomless pit of biographical information. There are as many letters about agricultural products, deliveries and dowries as there are discussions about works of art – plus frequent references to his favorite Trebbiano wine.”

Michelangelo: the last decadesBritish Museum, London, until July 28