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MICHELANGELO
Kim's Book Reviews
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MICHELANGELO
by Diane Stanley

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Stanley, Diane. MICHELANGELO. New York: HarperCollins, 2000. ISBN 0688150853.

 

A biography of the Renaissance sculptor, painter and architect from Florence, known for his work on the Sistine Chapel.

 

Diane Stanley begins her book with the provocative statement, “If Michelangelo had lived in some other time or some other place, he might never have become an artist.”  This is an excellent “hook” to draw young people into this picture biography about one of history’s greatest artists. It inspires several “why” questions for the reader to ponder while reading.

 

Young people will also be drawn in by the beautiful design of the book. Each turn of the page reveals beautiful illustrations, usually one full page for each page of text. The detailed illustrations, prepared using watercolors, colored pencil, and gouache, are perfect compliments to the text. In some cases, photographic images of Michelangelo’s art are incorporated into the illustrations to present an amazingly realistic glimpse of the master at work. My favorite example of this technique shows Michelangelo as he chisels a detail into the beautiful sculpture, Pieta. Stanley also places small illustrations on the text pages which provide additional interesting details of the time, such as a reproduction of the mark Michelangelo placed on his work and the Medici coat of arms.

 

The lively narrative begins in 1475, with the birth of Michelangelo and follows his life, mostly as it relates to his career as an artist, until his death, in 1564. Stanley provides many details that help us to know Michelangelo as a person, not just a name from the past. For example, we learn that while apprenticed to a sculptor, he was scornful of his peers and provoked one of his fellow apprentices to break his nose. Another example of his human side describes how he added one of the critics of his work on the Sistine Chapel into the painting. The man appeared naked, in hell, “with the ears of a donkey, in the grip of a hideous snake.” His failures, such as his disastrous undertaking to build the tomb of Pope Julius II, are presented along with his triumphs. These interesting asides show Michelangelo in a manner other than just as a genius of his day.

 

Stanley includes a complete bibliography of her sources at the end of the book. Her well researched narrative is clear and interesting, and she avoids fictionalized conversations to tell the story. She also makes a distinction between fact and hearsay. In her author’s note she recounts a story about Michelangelo as a young man the she says, “may or may not be true.” There are no chapter divisions in the book, but there are natural breaking points which would allow the book to be read in several sittings, if necessary. In the author’s note at the beginning of the book, there is a brief explanation of the significance of the Renaissance and a map of Italy as it was during this period. This map is a good reference tool while reading about the various places that Michelangelo visited and worked during his life.

 

Diane Stanley has created a well-rounded portrait of an artist who was at the very center of the late Renaissance, and whose brilliance still inspires and amazes us today.

Historical Fiction