The Arts

San Marco, Byzantium, and the Myths of Venice

by Henry Maguire and Robert S. Nelson

The church of San Marco of Venice has long played a central role in Venetian political, ceremonial, and religious life. Its renowned assemblage of mosaics, sculpture, metalwork, and reliquaries are, in origin, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian, or Venetian imitation of Byzantine designs. In San Marco, Byzantium, and the Myths of Venice, the authors assess the significance of the embellishment of the church and its immediate surroundings, especially during the 13th and 14th centuries, when most of the Byzantine material was acquired, largely from Constantinople. The church and its decoration are studied in relation to Venice’s interests abroad and on mainland Italy. The authors address the diverse styles, sources, meanings, and significance of this art, both individually and as an ensemble. Building upon developments in scholarship since Otto Demus’s masterly studies of the church, the book offers new insights into the inspiration, purposes, and mutability of San Marco and the myths that inspired and motivated Venetians.

Pontifex Maximus

by Christopher Lascelles

This book, aimed at the general reader who is short on time and seeks an accessible overview, tells the history of the popes — one occasionally so bizarre as to stretch credulity. Popes have led papal armies, fled in disguise, fathered children (including future popes), and authorized torture. They have been captured, assaulted and murdered. While many have been admired, some have been hated to such a degree that their funeral processions have been disrupted and statues of them torn down after their deaths. Many have been the enemies of freedom and progress – divisive rather than unifying figures. In a fascinating read for Catholics and non-Catholics alike, Christopher Lascelles examines the history of the popes through the ages, laying bare the extent to which many of them fell so very short of the Christian ideals they supposedly represented. He explains how it was that, professing to follow a man who said ‘My kingdom is not of this world’ and ‘Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth,’ they nevertheless became heads of a rich state that owned more land in Europe than any king, relying on foreign military aid to keep power; and how pride, greed and corruption became commonplace in an institution founded on love, faith and forgiveness.

 

Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel

by Andrew Graham-Dixon

You cannot stand underneath the masterwork that is the Sistine Chapel without considering the genius and painstaking work that went into its creation. But Michelangelo Buonarroti never wanted to paint the Sistine Chapel. Appointed by the temperamental Julius II, Michelangelo believed the suspiciously large-scale project to be a plot for failure conspired by his rivals and the “Warrior Pope.” After all, Michelangelo was not a painter—he was a sculptor. The noble artist reluctantly took on the daunting task that would damage his neck, back, and eyes (if you have ever strained to admire the real thing, you know). Andrew Graham-Dixon tells the story behind the famous painted ceiling over which the great artist painfully toiled for four long years.

Linking Michelangelo’s personal life to his work on the Sistine Chapel, Graham-Dixon describes Michelangelo’s unique depiction of the Book of Genesis, tackles ambiguities in the work, and details the painstaking work that went into Michelangelo’s magnificent creation. Complete with rich, full-color illustrations and Graham-Dixon’s articulate narrative, Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel is an indispensable and significant piece of art criticism. It humanizes this heavenly masterpiece in a way that every art enthusiast, student, and professional can understand and appreciate.

 

The Miracles of Prato

by Laurie Albanese and Laura Morowitz

A vibrant and enthralling historical novel about art and passion, The Miracles of Prato by Laurie Albanese and Laura Morowitz brings Italy in the era of the Medici to glorious life—as it tells the story of an illicit love affair between the renowned painter Fra Filippo Lippi and his muse, a beautiful convent novitiate. A magnificent blend of fact, historical color, emotion, and invention, The Miracles of Prato is a novel that will delight the many fans of Tracy Chavalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring and Susan Vreeland’s Girl in Hyacinth Blue.

Oil and Marble: A Novel of Leonardo and Michelangelo

by Stephanie Storey

From 1501 to 1505, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti both lived and worked in Florence. Leonardo was a charming, handsome 50-year-old at the peak of his career. Michelangelo was a temperamental sculptor in his mid-twenties, desperate to make a name for himself.

Michelangelo is a virtual unknown when he returns to Florence and wins the commission to carve what will become one of the most famous sculptures of all time: David. Even though his impoverished family shuns him for being an artist, he is desperate to support them. Living at the foot of his misshapen block of marble, Michelangelo struggles until the stone finally begins to speak. Meanwhile, Leonardo’s life is falling apart: he loses the hoped-for David commission; he can’t seem to finish any project; he is obsessed with his ungainly flying machine; he almost dies in war; his engineering designs disastrously fail; and he is haunted by a woman he has seen in the market—a merchan’’s wife, whom he is finally commissioned to paint. Her name is Lisa, and she becomes his muse. Leonardo despises Michelangelo for his youth and lack of sophistication. Michelangelo both loathes and worships Leonardo’s genius. Oil and Marble is the story of their nearly forgotten rivalry. Storey brings early 16th-century Florence alive, and has entered with extraordinary empathy into the minds and souls of two Renaissance masters. The book is an art history thriller.

Baseball Italian Style: Great Stories Told by Italian American Major Leaguers from Crosetti to Piazza

by Lawrence Baldassaro

Baseball Italian Style brings together the memories of major leaguers of Italian heritage whose collective careers span almost a century, from the 1930s up to today. In these first-person accounts, baseball fans will meet at an intimate level the players they cheered as heroes or jeered as adversaries, as well as coaches, managers, front-office executives, and umpires. The men who speak in this collection, which includes eight Hall of Famers (Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Ron Santo, Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Tom Lasorda, Tony La Russa, and Joe Torre) go beyond facts and figures to provide an inside look at life in the big leagues. Their stories provide a time capsule that documents not only the evolution of Italian American participation in the national pastime, but also the continuity of the game and the many changes that have taken place, on and off the field. At a time when statistical analysis plays an increasingly prominent role in the sport, the monologues in this book are a reminder that the history of baseball is passed on to future generations more eloquently, and with much greater passion, through the words of those who lived it than it is by numerical data.

The Vatican Princess: A Novel of Lucrezia Borgia

by C.W. Gortner

For fans of Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir, bestselling author C. W. Gortner effortlessly weaves history and drama in this captivating novel about one of the world’s most notorious families. Glamorous and predatory, the Borgias fascinated and terrorized 15th-century Renaissance Italy, and Lucrezia Borgia, beloved daughter of the pope, was at the center of the dynasty’s ambitions. Slandered as a heartless seductress who lured men to their doom, was she in fact the villainess of legend, or was she trapped in a familial web, forced to choose between loyalty and survival?

With the ascension of the Spaniard Rodrigo Borgia as Pope Alexander VI, a new era has dawned in Rome. Benefitting from their father’s elevation are the new pope’s illegitimate children—his rival sons, Cesare and Juan, and beautiful young daughter Lucrezia—each of whom assumes an exalted position in the papal court. Privileged and adored, Lucrezia yearns to escape her childhood and play a part in her family’s fortunes. But Rome is seductive and dangerous: alliances shift at a moment’s notice as Italy’s ruling dynasties strive to keep rivals at bay. As Lucrezia’s father faces challenges from all sides, the threat of a French invasion forces him to marry her off to a powerful adversary. But when she discovers the brutal truth behind her alliance, Lucrezia is plunged into a perilous gambit that will require all her wits, cunning, and guile. Escaping her marriage offers the chance of happiness with a passionate prince of Naples, yet as scandalous accusations of murder and incest build against her, menacing those she loves, Lucrezia must risk everything to overcome the lethal fate imposed upon her by her Borgia blood.

The Vatican Pimpernel: The World War II Exploits of the Monsignor Who Saved Over 6,500 Lives

by Brian Fleming

During the German occupation of Rome from 1942 to 1944, Irishman Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty ran an escape organization for Allied POWs and civilians, including Jews. Safe within the Vatican state, he regularly ventured out in disguise to continue his mission, which earned him the nickname “the Pimpernel of the Vatican.” When the Allies entered Rome, he and his collaborators – priests, nuns, and laypeople of numerous nationalities and religious beliefs – had saved the lives of over 6,500 people. The first new telling of this extraordinary story in decades, this book also addresses the fascinating dichotomy between O’Flaherty and Herbert Kappler, the Gestapo chief in Rome who ordered him killed, and who, after the war, reconciled with the monsignor, and even asked him to perform his baptism. For his heroic efforts, O’Flaherty was awarded the highest honors, including a Congressional Medal, and was the first Irishman named the Notary of the Holy Office. His story was immortalized in the 1983 film The Scarlet and the Black, which starred Gregory Peck as O’Flaherty.

Fire in the City: Savonarola and the Struggle for the Soul of Renaissance Florence

by Lauro Martines

A gripping and beautifully written narrative that reads like a novel, Fire in the City presents a compelling account of a key moment in the history of the Renaissance, illuminating the remarkable man who dominated the period, the charismatic Girolamo Savonarola. Lauro Martines, whose decades of scholarship have made him one of the most admired historians of Renaissance Italy, here provides a remarkably fresh perspective on Savonarola, the preacher and agitator who flamed like a comet through late 15th-century Florence. The Dominican friar has long been portrayed as a dour, puritanical demagogue who urged his followers to burn their worldly goods in “the bonfire of the vanities.” But as Martines shows, this is a caricature of the truth – the version propagated by the wealthy and powerful who feared the political reforms he represented. Here, Savonarola emerges as a complex and subtle man, both a religious and a civic leader who inspired an outpouring of political debate in a city newly freed from the tyranny of the Medici. In the end, the volatile passions he unleashed – and the powerful families he threatened – sent the friar to his own fiery death. But the fusion of morality and politics that he represented would leave a lasting mark on Renaissance Florence. For the many readers fascinated by histories of Renaissance Italy–such as Brunelleschi’s Dome or Galileo’s Daughter, and Martines’s acclaimed April Blood, Fire in the City offers a vivid portrait of one of the most memorable characters from that dazzling era.

Monte Cassino: The Hardest-Fought Battle of World War II

by Matthew Parker

Monte Cassino is the true story of one of the bitterest and bloodiest of the Allied struggles against the Nazi army. Long neglected by historians, the horrific conflict saw over 350,000 casualties, while the worst winter in Italian memory and official incompetence and backbiting only worsened the carnage and turmoil. Combining groundbreaking research in military archives with interviews with 400 survivors, as well as soldier diaries and letters, Monte Cassino is both profoundly evocative and historically definitive. Clearly and precisely, Matthew Parker brilliantly reconstructs Europe’s largest land battle–which saw the destruction of the ancient monastery of Monte Cassino–and dramatically conveys the heroism and misery of the human face of war.