The Giant: A Novel of Michelangelo’s David

Written by Laura Morelli
Review by Julia C. Fischer

Laura Morelli’s novel transports readers to early 16th-century Florence. The Italian Renaissance is in full swing, and the cathedral has sponsored a competition for sculpting a figure of the biblical hero David out of a gigantic, unruly block of marble that has been left uncarved for a century. Michelangelo is drawn back to his hometown of Florence to enter the competition, which he wins. Morelli’s book, though, focuses not on Michelangelo but on his childhood friend and fellow artist, Jacopo Torni, a real-life but little-known historical figure. A struggling painter, Torni is affectionately nicknamed L’Indaco, and he is relentlessly envious of Michelangelo’s success. Sometimes L’Indaco loves Michelangelo, sometimes he hates him – but L’Indaco always wants to be Michelangelo. In his shadow, L’Indaco struggles to find satisfying work that will gain him the immortality he craves. Adding to L’Indaco’s troubles: he is a horrible gambler and owes money all over town, which prevents his beloved sister, Lucia, from marrying and having a life of her own.

Morelli’s book is described as “a novel of Michelangelo’s David,” but it is not that, as both Michelangelo and the David sit in the background. Most of the story is about L’Indaco’s jealousy, gambling, and constantly disappointing his sister. In between, Michelangelo occasionally makes an appearance, and L’Indaco checks on the progress of the famous sculpture. Readers who are expecting more about Michelangelo and his David will be disappointed. But if you’re okay with that, you will enjoy the vivid setting Morelli has created. Through her colorful descriptions, you can smell the tanneries on the Ponte Vecchio, crave Lucia’s stews, and hear the arriccio being scraped across the wall in preparation for fresco painting.