Florence can easily boast that she has produced more top-quality Renaissance artists than any other Italian, or indeed European, city. What’s more, she can even boast that she has nurtured the three artists who are undisputedly among the ‘top of the top’—Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli and Michelangelo. It is fitting, therefore, that McRae Books Srl should have selected this triad as the first Renaissance artists in its series of monographs entitled Lives of the Artists.
The format of these three books conforms to that of the typical children’s book: hardcover, 48 pages long, with many colour illustrations on the double-page spreads. The artists are introduced as men of their times, with plenty of information about contemporary historical events. The style of writing and presentation of the material will also appeal to adult readers, and I suspect that there will be many parents and grandparents who will want to enjoy these books together with the younger members of the family.
Like most volumes published in McRae Books’ series about history and art, they are beautifully illustrated. I only wish that they had included the kind of scenes of daily life in former times that make McRae Books’ history series so successful. The compelling realism of those scenes, which is enhanced by the familiar look of the faces, props and settings, pulls the viewer-reader right into the picture. In fact, this tableau vivant quality would have been entirely appropriate for the books on Leonardo, Botticelli and Michelangelo. Renaissance artists often used recognizable figures and settings in their narrative scenes. Just look at Ghirlandaio’s frescoes in the Sassetti Chapel in Santa Trinita, where members of the Medici and Sassetti families are portrayed grouped against the background of Palazzo della Signoria, Loggia dei Lanzi and Santa Trinita.
Let us hope that McRae Books will not wait too much longer for the next crop of monographs on Florentine Renaissance artists—the list of worthy candidates is lengthy.
Antony Mason, Leonardo, Florence: McRae Books Srl 2004, €13,50.
This page last updated: December 9, 2007.