Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Oil and Marble by Stephanie Storey

Oil and Marble: A Novel of Leonardo and MichelangeloOil and Marble: A Novel of Leonardo and Michelangelo by Stephanie Storey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I met Stephanie Storey at a lecture she gave in Winston-Salem, NC. The focus of her talk was research for historical fiction, but she also spoke about other aspects of her writing. When she was done I was impressed enough to buy Oil and Marble. And now that I've read the novel, I'm even more impressed.

This is a story about Michaelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, set when they were both living and working in Florence. It is, in Storey's own words, “unapologetically a work of fiction.” But in my opinion, historical fiction is more accurate than straight history. Both require accuracy concerning known facts, but a good work of fiction goes a step further by capturing human emotion. And Oil and Marble isn't just good. It's wonderful.

This was the time when Leonardo painted the Mona Lisa and Michaelangelo chiseled his David. Leonardo was a master, older than Michaelangelo, so his reputation was established, while Michaelangelo had complete the Pieta and was trying to build on the reputation that work had brought him. Despite the fact that they were at different points in their careers, they were rivals and both experienced the crazy mix of admiration and jealousy that comes when one artist studies the work of another.

As I expected the novel was about the love of art, but there were many themes running through it. Leonardo was concerned with various aspects of his career. He was an engineer as well as an artist, so he worked on other projects. Most of those related to military threats, particularly from the neighboring city of Pisa. And he also had an interesting relationship with Lisa del Giocondo, the model for the Mona Lisa. Meanwhile, Michaelangelo was concerned about his family. He had brothers who depended on his ability to earn money and a father who wasn't happy with his choice to be a sculptor. He was constantly torn between his artistic drive and his love for his family.

In Oil and Marble the stories of Leonardo run side by side, constantly veering over to interfere with one another, but also keeping their independence. I expect that is what the real lives of these two artists were like in the sixteenth century. The book has romance, ambition, and consistent action. It's a great way to study history or to just get lost in a good story.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

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