“Think … the greater danger for most of us is not in aiming too high and falling short, but in aiming too low and hitting the mark.”
As a fanatic of both books and art, I couldn´t really imagine a book more fitting than this one. Oil and Marble is a novel about two of the great masters; Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti. From 1501 – 1505 both of these great artists lived in Florence, a city that has homed and inspired (and still does!) many artists. In the book, we even get mentions of many other artists and having Botticelli play a part in the book makes art nerds like me just that bit more excited.
But, not only are these artists living in the same city, they are also battling. Leonardo is already an established and well-known maestro while Michelangelo is still a young artist in his twenties and he is trying to make a name for himself, make people remember him. In the beginning, they start out in different places, Leonardo is in Milan showing his famous Last Supper and Michelangelo in Rome where he has just finished his Pietá. Their stories work around each other throughout the whole book, showing their own perspectives as they both strive for greatness. But, the real battle starts when the Duccio Stone, a great slab of marble from Carrera deemed unworkable, is up for grabs. Leonardo is first suggested for the project but when Michelangelo returns home in time for the decision to be made, he is determined the stone is his.
While just seeing and imagining how the great works of Mona Lisa and David were made was fascinating, I also really enjoyed how different their chapters were. Michelangelo´s chapters are focused and dedicated and you can feel how obsessed he is with his sculpting. Meanwhile, Leonardo´s chapters are more sporadic, he is constantly being inspired by so many things and he constructs machines and he wants to fly and he is always sketching and there is so much going on. I think to see that contrast in their artistry really added to the whole story and made it more interesting.
If there is anything I can say that would have made it better for me, is making me connect more with Leonardo and Michelangelo. They both have connections and friends and everything to establish their characters but for some reason, they still felt a little detached for me sometimes. I think a big reason for this was the book being written from a 3rd person perspective rather than a 1st person, where you truly would have seen it through their eyes.
Other than that, I loved this book. It´s exciting, it´s fascinating, the writing is beautiful and it´s actually quite educating! Storey spent 20 years (!) of research that has gone into this book and you can really tell she has. While it´s still fiction, an incredible amount of everything the book recounts is actually true.
For anyone who is interested in history, art or just a well-written story about rivalry and passion for the craft, I highly recommend you check this out. Pick up this little 300-page beauty and be inspired by Michelangelo´s absolute dedication to David or Leonardo´s love and fascination with flying and with his Lisa.