The Pope's Man is a novel of approximately 104,000 words set in the first decade of the sixteenth century. With a plethora of historical characters--Pope Julius II, Michelangelo, Raphael, Agostino Chigi, Cardinal Alidosi--the story begins in Rome at the apogee of the High Renaissance. A disgruntled Michelangelo, offended by the brusque treatment he has received from the hands of the pope, decides to flee the Eternal City for his native Florence. But the mercurial Julius II has great plans for the rebuilding of St. Peter's and the beautification of The Sistine Chapel. He sends his most trusted legate, the Franciscan friar Francesco della Rovere, to retrieve the famous artefice Michelangelo. Rovere is a devout man, serious in demeanor, and vaguely related to Julius. Though only twenty-nine years of age, Rovere has traveled the Christian world to serve as an ambassador of the papacy, but he has never encountered anyone quite like Michelangelo.
Michelangelo, whose reputation rests on his skill as a sculptor and not a painter, returns to Rome and reluctantly begins to fresco the ceiling of The Sistine Chapel. Only a stone's throw away, the elegant and urbane artist Raphael Santi starts to decorate the four walls of Julius's private library. And Julius's daughter Felice, a high-spirited girl who has been carefully guarded by her protective father, suddenly finds freedom when the pope entrusts her care to Rovere. How can a severe man like Rovere, a Franciscan who has kept women at a safe distance, cope with his new responsibility? His devotion to God and the severe requirements of the Franciscan order will be sorely tested when he must battle the forces unleashed by Julius's decision to abandon Rome and lead an army to retake papal lands occupied by the Venetians. Julius also trusts Michelangelo to Rovere's care, and as the magnificence of his design for the ceiling of The Sistine Chapel becomes plain, two great men of Rome--the wealthy banker Agostino Chigi and the powerful but debauched Cardinal Alidosi--will stop at nothing to wrest the great artefice from the clutches of Julius.
The story unfolds in the hallways of the Vatican, in the long abandoned rooms of the dreaded Cesare Borgia, son of Julius's hated predecessor Pope Alexander VI, and in a subterranean passage of mysterious origin. Beneath the streets of Rome, near the fortress Castel Sant'Angelo, Rovere and his faithful mercenary friend Tommaso are witness to a crime and are forced to defend themselves. A member of the blood thirsty Orsini family is killed, and this sets off an orgy of violence between that family and their sworn enemies, the Colonna. Caught between this feud and the insatiable desire for Michelangelo by Chigi and Alidosi, Rovere will only survive if he is resourceful enough to outsmart his enemies.
The Pope's Man is part mystery, part thriller, and part a primer on the glory of Renaissance art. Inside its pages, the reader discovers how Michelangelo came to paint the famous pointed fingers, The Creation of Adam, at the apex of Chapel's ceiling. Nearby, Raphael paints The School of Athens, considered to be the most "sophisticated" painting of the Renaissance. Raphael and Michelangelo have a grudging respect for each other, even though the former refers to Michelangelo as "the hangman." And along the way, Michelangelo is present when the famous statue Laocoön and His Sons is found moldering in the ground on the Esquiline Hill.
The first decade of the sixteenth century was a violent time in Italy, a time when the Pope and his lackeys were preoccupied with temporal power and the accumulation of wealth. But even as they destroyed the church from within and set a course that would lead to the Reformation, the most powerful men in Rome were generous patrons of the arts. The greatest icons of Renaissance painting and sculpture emerged from the wreckage of the Catholic Church. This is an historical novel about Michelangelo. This is the story of The Pope's Man.
Old St. Peter's Church before the additions begun under the reign of Pope Julius II.