Although Michelangelo’s David is nearly synonymous with Florence, Michelangelo was not the first artist to attempt a sculpture of the biblical hero in the Tuscan city. For almost forty years, a large block of marble occupied a cathedral yard as a succession of sculptors attempted to elicit David from it. All gave up quickly. Then, someone invited Michelangelo, a young Florentine artist, to tackle the project. Over three years, he worked feverishly. The result was the athletic, formidable David who still awes Florence’s visitors.
In Stone Giant, Jane Sutcliffe and illustrator John Shelley communicate both the arduous nature of Michelangelo’s task and the wonder of his vision. Along the way, young readers and listeners learn something about sculpture, Renaissance art, and the creative process. Shelley’s illustrations invite a few trips through the book. His scenes of early 16th century Florence are warm and human; in one spread, a crowd of Florentines, their faces curious, eager, or skeptical, their attire and features distinct, gather around the work-in-progress; in another, a cat naps in a shop window. Others depict the sculptor intent on his work or stooped with exhaustion from his labors. On some pages, Shelley flirts with neoclassical themes and motifs – an approach touch considering the influence Greek and Roman artists had on the Italian Renaissance. For example, on a page that describes Michelangelo grappling with bad weather, Shelley arranges small images of the sculptor at work inside a wheel. The page’s corners show personifications of the weather – a cherub sprinkles snowflakes while a Zeus-like figure presides over a raincloud. Thus, Shelley provides some context for the sculptor’s work without words.
Stone Giant concludes with the public presentation of Michelangelo’s David. Citizens of Florence marvel at the sculpture. But, instead of celebrating Michelangelo’s new acclaim, Sutcliffe tells readers the artist “saw his David.” The artist’s reward is not wealth or even praise, but the simple satisfaction of a dream realized.
-Dorothy A. Dahm