Oil and Marble: A Novel of Leonardo and Michelangelo

Written by Stephanie Storey
Review by Monica E. Spence

1501: Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti return to their Florentine homeland in the opening years of the 16th century. At 50 years of age, Leonardo is a showman, but also a respected “elder statesman” of all forms of art and scientific investigation. Michelangelo, an angry young man in his twenties, considers himself primarily a sculptor, and has distinguished himself in Rome – but Rome is not Florence. When a commission to carve the Duccio stone – a huge but damaged piece of marble – is offered by the city fathers, it is refused by Leonardo, but the destitute Michelangelo takes the job, hoping to prove his worth in Florence and to his disapproving father.

Bad blood develops between the two artists. It is not until Leonardo begins work on a portrait of a silk merchant’s wife that he understands Michelangelo’s fixation on the statue. At the same moment, the two men fight to create arguably their most famous and best loved works: the David and the Mona Lisa.

As a self-confessed “Florentine-ophile,” I have a deep love for the city and appreciation for its history and art. Before I got to the bottom of the first page, I was completely engrossed in Oil and Marble. I especially liked the way Ms. Storey involved all the great names of the early 16th century in the art of politics and the politics of art. This is an eminently readable tale, with the two giants of art giving the story its heart and soul. A fabulous and fun read.  Recommended.