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Il Gigante: Michelangelo, Florence, and the David 1492-1504

Il Gigante: Michelangelo, Florence, and the David 1492-1504

by Anton Gill
At The Turn of The Sixteenth Century, Italy was a turbulent territory made up of independent states, each at war with or intriguing against its neighbor. There were the proud, cultivated, and degenerate Sforzas in Milan, and in Rome, the corrupt Spanish family of the Borgia whose head, Rodrigo, ascended to St. Peter's throne as Pope Alexander VI. In Florence, a golden


At The Turn of The Sixteenth Century, Italy was a turbulent territory made up of independent states, each at war with or intriguing against its neighbor. There were the proud, cultivated, and degenerate Sforzas in Milan, and in Rome, the corrupt Spanish family of the Borgia whose head, Rodrigo, ascended to St. Peter's throne as Pope Alexander VI. In Florence, a golden age of culture and sophistication ended with the death of the greatest of the Medici family, Lorenzo the Magnificent, giving way to an era of uncertainty, cruelty, and religious fundamentalism. In the midst of this turmoil, there existed the greatest concentration of artists that Europe has ever known. Influenced by the rediscovery of the ancient cultures of Greece and Rome, artists and thinkers such as Botticelli and da Vinci threw off the shackles of the Middle Ages to produce one of the most creative periods in history -- the Renaissance. This is the story of twelve years when war, plague, famine, and chaos made their mark on a volatile Italy, and when a young, erratic genius, Michelangelo Buonarroti, made his first great statue -- the David. It was to become a symbol, not only of the independence and defiance of the city of Florence, but also of the tortured soul who created it. This is a wonderful history of the artist, his times, and one of his most magnificent works.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The 12 years between the death of Lorenzo de' Medici and the unveiling of the David are "the most dramatic in the history of Florence, and... the most dramatic of Michelangelo's life," according to Gill (Art Lover: A Biography of Peggy Guggenheim). That drama never fully emerges, however, in this hit-and-miss account. Picking up Michelangelo as "the flower in bud" as he apprentices to the great fresco painter Ghirlandaio, Gill tracks the artist as he begins to sculpt for the de' Medici, produces the early portents of the David, accomplishes the Piet and completes his "first and only monumental statue," il Gigante, the nickname early given to the David. In presenting the works (fleshed out in 10 illustrations and an eight-page color insert), fellow artists (da Vinci, Donatello, Verocchio) and an assortment of popes, dukes and kings, Gill's tone swings between lively (Savonarola as "a true hell-fire preacher," the Bacchus as "a real drunk," frescos as "the blockbuster movies of their day") and dutiful, as he offers correspondence and contractual minutiae. Complicated political maneuvering tumbles onto the page, while Pope Alexander's "bloated and unpleasant corpse" lies in state for three days and three pages. According to Gill, his book is "designed to give people who do not already know it a taste of a world in which great creativity lived alongside political realism." But such tastes prove the book's undoing; by the end the reader feels like a cocktail party guest who arrived too hungry, gobbled too many hors d'oeuvres and left feeling both overstuffed and unfed. (July) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Gill (Art Lover: A Biography of Peggy Guggenheim) takes as his subject the creation of Michelangelo Buonarroti's David. As with any tale of Renaissance art, much of the background story revolves around the politics and personalities involved. Focusing on the Medici in Florence, the Borgias in Rome, the military adventures of the French, and the spiritual machinations of Savonarola, Gill sometimes allows his main character, the strong-willed Michelangelo, to fade into the background. In addition to various military and political tidbits, the reader will pick up a few interesting facts about the creation of David-for example, that the block of stone had originally been planned for another piece of sculpture begun 40 years earlier. For another take on the artist as he creates one of his masterpieces, see Ross King's Michelangelo & the Pope's Ceiling. Gill does not offer much new to the recent spate of books on the period or the artists involved, and his book is more about the history of the period than about the sculpture itself, as the title suggests. Recommended only for larger collections with an interest in Renaissance art or culture.-Martin R. Kalfatovic, Smithsonian Inst. Libs., Washington, DC Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Disappointing account of the creation of a great work of art. In spite, or perhaps because of, the strife and turmoil in 16th-century northern Italy, the arts, particularly the visual, flourished there to a degree not seen before or since. Florence, owing to its nascent democracy as well as its merchant class, led by the Medicis, benefited particularly from this artistic explosion and was home of, among others, Donatello, Leonardo, and Michelangelo. The latter, born into a noble but financially distressed family was discouraged from becoming a sculptor by his father who considered it beneath his station. Fortunately, he was "discovered" by the greatest Medici of all, Lorenzo the Magnificent, who took the young Michelangelo into his family and all but adopted him. Gill (Art Lover, 2002, etc.) spends most of these pages describing the turbulent events leading up to the creation of the world's best-known statue-but his heart seems not to be in it, telling what should be an enthralling tale in lackluster and listless prose. Sloppy repetitiousness further bogs down the narrative. He twice describes the Guild of Physicians and Apothecaries, as well an administrative building known as the Bargello and combines repetition with inconsistency when he writes that Michelangelo was little influenced by the countryside or nature and pages later tells of his "willingness to copy from nature." Nevertheless, the author follows all this up with a wonderfully written, fast-paced description of Michelangelo's actual sculpting of the David. Successfully placing the reader at the scene, Gill at last proves an adept storyteller as well as history writer, making the lead-up all the more regrettable. Overall,there are better choices in this crowded field.
From the Publisher

“There is certainly nothing rushed about this excellent account of the world's greatest sculptor... Through Gill's sensitive and accessible reading of the David in particular we can perhaps feel a little closer to [Michelangelo]... It would be well-deserved if this book is as successful as those by [Dava] Sobel and [Ross] King - Gill is a perceptive and accessible critic” —Sunday Herald

“A few pages into Anton Gill's new book and any readers who have never seen a Renaissance painting or sculpture will be packing their bags and heading for Italy. Not a page goes by without the excitement and drama of this period catching at your imagination... A compelling story that is well told.” —Country Living

“Gill's project may be ambitious, but his style and approach are aimed firmly at the general reader. In this he succeeds admirably and as an introduction to the Italian Renaissance Il Gigante could hardly be bettered.” —Daily Mail

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.78(w) x 8.66(h) x 1.17(d)

Meet the Author

Anton Gill was educated at Chigwell School and Clare College, Cambridge. He became a full-time writer in 1984 after a few years working in the theatre, for the Arts Council and for the BBC. He is the author of a number of books, largely in the field of contemporary history, including studies of Germany before, during, and after World War II. He is also the author of Art Lover, a highly acclaimed biography of the collector of surreal and abstract art Peggy Guggenheim. When he isn't writing, Anton Gill travels. When he is, he lives in Bloomsbury, London.

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