WARNING – POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD
When Leonardo da Vinci was just past the apex of his career and Michelangelo Buonarroti was still just a young. upstarting sculptor looking to make a name for himself, the two both lived and worked in Florence, Italy at the same time. Michelangelo is still in awe of the famous master when both men look to be given a famous block of marble (famous for its poor quality and previously botched attempts at getting a figure from it). Da Vinci, in Storey’s telling, is resting on his laurels, relying on his name and reputation to help him succeed. However, part of his reputation is that he is very slow in finishing his projects (if he finishes them).
Da Vinci is not pleased when the upstart Michelangelo gets the marble and he, Leonardo, needs to quickly find another commission in order to pay his bills and stay in Florence. He connects with a wealthy man who appears to appreciate Leonardo’s genius in all things, including his military planning and employs Leonardo to build his ‘tank’ (a spectacular failure) and to reroute an entire river (with horrific effects). Meanwhile, he will meet often with a young housewife and attempt to paint her portrait – a small painting of the lovely Lisa.
Michelangelo, meanwhile, must confront a family who disapproves of his profession in general and more-so once they learn of his sacrilegious behavior of examining dead bodies. And when it is learned that his statue will feature a nude figure …! The young sculptor will also face his own fears about his own skills and how they might be perceived by others.
The two artists, who have had much contempt for each other since the decision of granting the marble to Michelangelo, will feel the awe of the others’ finished work and have mutual respect for the others’ skills.
I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to getting around to reading this book. Author Stephanie Storey’s writing was direct and compelling and I was pulled into this historical fiction novel quite completely and thoroughly.
Way too long ago, when I was in high school, I had anticipated a career in art, so this story of two of the world’s most famous artists had a great deal of appeal to me. Add my more recent appreciation for historical fiction and this book seems almost tailor-made for me. Fortunately the writing is strong and carries it off well.
I definitely learned a few things along the way – I ended up doing a lot of Googling – and it seems as though Storey did some really good research for this work. Perhaps most fascinating is the history behind the marble stone from which Michelangelo carved the famous David statue.
The book alternates the POV with each chapter, going from Leonardo to Michelangelo, which generally works quite well. There are only a couple of times when we get to look at the same event from the two different view-points, which I find to be the most interesting reason to use the two-POV device.
There are moments when the characters take on some more modern-day attitudes, which takes away from the ‘historical’ sense for me and serves a reminder that this is fiction. There’s nothing particularly provocative or revealing in the book, but it is a nice way to get some history on these two artists. I’d recommend this as a really good beach read. But note that the book does cover a very specific time period and there’s SO much more about these artists and their lives that isn’t even touched on.
Looking for a good book? Oil and Marble, by Stephanie Storey, is a historical fiction tale of two of the world’s greatest artists, Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti, whose lives connected briefly. The writing is compelling and the research strong.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.
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Oil and Marble
author: Stephanie Storey
hardcover, 320 pages