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A Splendid Sin by Alana Bolton Cooke

I am a ‘stick with it’ type of person when it comes to book reading and will not give up easily. That stubborn trait was rewarded when reading this novel about Michelangelo. The book is certainly wide ranging, covering the whole of his life from his childhood to his death. During that time the main dilemma Michelangelo faced was the same one, the chance of discovery, that someone might betray his feelings for the young men he surrounded himself with. It was a theme that reoccurred again and again, but in the end this is an enjoyable romp around the art and sex life of the great Renaissance artist.

The premise of the novel is that the great artist was too fond of some of his male apprentices and later in his life fell passionately in love with a young nobleman, Tommaso de Cavaliori. While attempting to espouse the theories of new Platonism about the admiration of beauty bringing a person closer to God, both men ‘fall off the wagon’ a couple of times and give in to their physical needs. At the same time Michelangelo writes letters and poems to his younger lover and uses him repeatedly as a model in his drawings and paintings. It must have been obvious what was going on to those around the great man, so the question just becomes will anyone within the church do anything about it?

Much of the book covers the time when Michelangelo was painting of The Last Judgement behind the alter of the Sistine Chapel, in which a host of naked male figures are represented. The naked art, as well as rumours of amoral behaviour, bring Michelangelo into conflict with a number of cardinals who try to censure his work. Thankfully a series of Popes are more enlightened, and allow the great man to continue to focus on his art. Some of the most enjoyable aspects of the novel were the descriptions of the painting of The Last Judgement, and I was forced into Google to explore some of the great painting. As Michelangelo paints sinners and saints, giving some the features of friends and enemies, the reader is more and more intrigued about how this will look when finished. It is hard to give the sense of scale and perspective on the printed page, let alone how this was all achieved by candlelight.

Another successful aspect of the book was the way it reflects the turmoil of the times. Michelangelo lived into his late 80s and during his lifetime King Henry VIII in England broke away from the Catholic church, causing turmoil across Europe. One gets a sense of this struggle within the church through characters such as Reginald Pole, who was a Catholic cardinal exiled from England and living in Rome.

Reviewer: Marcus Hobson

Published by Cloud Ink Press, RRP $29.95


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