cover image Michelangelo


Diane Stanley. HarperCollins Publishers, $18.99 (48pp) ISBN 978-0-688-15085-3

There is no one like Stanley (Leonardo da Vinci; Joan of Arc) for picture-book biography--she brings to the genre an uncanny ability to clarify and compress dense and tricky historical matter, scrupulous attention to visual and verbal nuances, and a self-fulfilling faith in her readers' intelligence. Returning to the Italian Renaissance, she looks at Michelangelo: ""In an age of great artists, he was perhaps the greatest,"" she posits, pointing to his masterpieces in the three major arts--sculpture, painting and architecture. Her panoramic telling of his life story, fascinating in and of itself, also illuminates papal politics, the machinations of the Medicis, the technical difficulties of painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling (an assignment so unpleasant that Michelangelo thought his rival Bramante had put the pope up to it), the heady climate of Florence and other complex topics. The illustrations again manifest Stanley's prodigious talents. Her detailed rendering of the pre-Michelangelo Sistine Chapel, for example, is dramatic, expressive and historically accurate. Unfortunately, the digital techniques she used to good effect in Leonardo--collaging in photos of her subject's work--are not successful here. She skillfully integrates reproductions of Michelangelo's own paintings and other two-dimensional art, but when she shows him toiling on the Piet or with other sculptures, the difference in the depths of field is jarring: one portion of her composition is flat, another seems three-dimensional. The dislocating effect blemishes an otherwise outstanding work. Ages 8-up. (Sept.)