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Thursday, 12 June 2008

Book Review: A Journey into Michelangelo's Rome

For travelers who like art, there's a new series out from Roaring Forties Press called ArtPlace, which looks at popular destinations through the eyes of their greatest artists. A couple of days ago on my other blog, Midlist Writer, I interviewed Angela K. Nickerson about how she landed a job writing A Journey into Michelangelo's Rome. Today I'm reviewing the book itself.

First off, the book is beautiful. There are high-quality color photos on every page, many being the talented work of Nickerson herself, and the layout is clean, well-presented, and friendly to the eye. The whole project shows the typical love of the book you get from the small press. There are also readable maps showing all the major sites where you can see Michelangelo's art in Florence and Rome.

The text is well-written, lively without being pat, informative without being burdensome, and at 163 pages, it's easily readable on the plane as you head to Italy. It is not a comprehensive guide to Rome, but rather a supplementary book for a visitor who already has a guidebook but would like to know more.

There were a couple of rocky bits in the first chapter, where Nickerson is talking about the world into which Michelangelo was born. Christopher Columbus did not land on the coast of North America, but on various Caribbean islands and the coasts of South and Central America. The Portuguese, not Spain, conquered Brazil. But once she gets to her main topic Nickerson hits her stride. She leads us through the master's early work in Florence, to his first commissions in Rome. She's especially good at putting him in the political and religious context of the time, where popes and powerful merchants tried to prove their worth through patronizing art. Sidebars fill us in on such things as Renaissance manners, some of Michelangelo's sonnets, and the Bella Figura of the Italian woman.

Even avid history readers will discover something new here. I had no idea the ruinous cost of expanding St. Peters was a major cause in the selling of indulgences (forgiveness for sins), which in turn was an important impetus for the Reformation.

In all, A Journey into Michelangelo's Rome is a worthy addition to your luggage.

Cover shot courtesy of Roaring Forties Press. Other images courtesy Angela K. Nickerson.

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