Thursday, July 14, 2011

Review: David by Mary Hoffman

David by Mary Hoffman (July 2011, Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, ISBN: 1408800527)

Review: The David of the title is Michelangelo's famous statue in Florence and this is the fictional story of the model who posed for it and the heady times he lived in for the few years he spent in Florence.

The man behind the face is actually Gabriele who has a close connection with Angelo, as Angelo was wet-nursed by Gabriele's mother; they are milk brothers. Gabriele is a stone-cutter and leaves his family and first love to go to Florence to earn money.

He is only 18 and naive with it. On his arrival in the city he finds himself robbed and then taken in by a widow who looks after him in return for certain duties.

When he finally gets to stay with Angelo, he is told he must choose a political side as the city is divided between those who want the return of the Medici family as ruler, and the republicans.

Gabriele's beauty has him in demand for modelling and gains him access to important homes and gradually he becomes a spy not really realising the danger he's in. And all the time the giant David statue is coming to life and causing practical and political problems of its own. (See photo for scale.)

David is a very readable and fascinating look at Florence during the early 1500s and I've certainly learnt a lot. Gabriele is fairly ignorant so the political situation is, thankfully, explained to him and thus to the reader. Other artists of the time make appearances, in particular Leonardo da Vinci who paints his most famous portrait, the Mona Lisa, during this time. Mary Hoffman has taken a few wisps of fact and constructed a tightly-plotted, plausible scenario for the life behind one of the most well-known faces in the artistic world.

NB. There is a warning on the back stating not suitable for younger readers.

Also of possible interest to a prospective reader of David is the (adult) novel, The Secret Supper by Javier Sierra which is set a few years earlier in Milan and revolves around a hidden meaning in da Vinci's The Last Supper. I read it a few years ago and enjoyed it.

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