Fact and fiction combine in tale of world-famous artwork
By Mary Hoffman
Published by Bloomsbury
ISBN 978 1 4088 0052 2
The marble statue of the biblical character David, by Italian sculptor Michelangelo, is recognised all over the world. It stands outdoors in the Italian city of Florence, and every year thousands of tourists travel to the city just to see this work of art. There has been an air of mystery behind Michelangelo's five-metre masterpiece of a naked young man ever since it was unveiled in a public square in Florence in 1505.
Who was the model who posed for the sculpture? Michelangelo didn't sculpt his statue from imagination. Someone must have posed for him, but who was the young man whose likeness is now so famous? In the simply-titled David, her new novel for older teens, Mary Hoffman gives some interesting possible answers to the mystery surrounding the statue.
Florence in 1501 was brimming with political intrigue. The once powerful de Medici family, who had ruled Florence, was in disgrace and had been exiled from the city and a republic had been established. The city's people were divided into pro-Medici and pro-republic factions. It was dangerous to be on either side. The one thing that can bring the city together is art - Florence wants to be the most beautiful, fashionable city in all of 16th-century Italy.
An 18-year-old youth called Gabriele arrives in the city from the countryside, intent on making his fame and fortune. It isn't long before the city has him in its clutches. As an innocent country bumpkin, he gets robbed as soon as he arrives; but he soon learns he has one thing that he can always rely on to save him in almost any situation. Gabriele is a very handsome young man, and he starts to use his looks to great advantage.
A wealthy young widow has been watching Gabriele from her palazzo, and he soon moves into her household. This is his first step into Florentine society. Other women have their eye on Gabriele, and his fame as a handsome, available young man soon spreads. Almost by accident, he is given the job of posing for a new statue that the sculptor Michelangelo is planning to carve. Gabriele doesn't realise how much this will change his life - or the enormous danger he faces as he gets sucked into the politics, deadly rivalries and romance of the city.
Hoffman writes classy, lively historical fiction for young adult readers, and David is enthralling from the first page. Florence is as much a character in the novel as the people, and Hoffman's love of the city and its art is clear on every page. Renaissance Florence with all its politics, intrigue and love of art really comes alive in the author's hands. She skilfully puts actual historical figures and fictional characters side-by-side, and the seams never show.
David is exciting, obviously well-researched and surprisingly uncomplicated to read considering how much is going on. It does contain some adult themes, and is recommended for older teens and young adults.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com