Book Review: ‘Francesco, Artist of Florence: The Man Who Gave Too Much’ by Anita Mathias

The story of Francesco, artist of Florence is one that whilst written for children, will touch the hearts of adults too. Anita has a lovely way with words, that say just enough but at the same time invite one to imagine more. I love books like this, in the 21st century so much is laid out for us on a plate and yet one of my favourite things as a child was reading books that captured my imagination as well as my heart. Francisco’s story does both.

Francesco himself is a craftsman, making boxes decorated deliciously in pietre dure, a decorative art that uses inlaid semi precious stones to make images and designs. It was a particularly popular art in 16th Century Florence. Like many artists Francesco struggles with the pricing of his work. He gives away his pieces at ridiculously low prices, being swayed by the covetous glances or persuasive words of his customers, and the desire for his work to go to those who love it as much as he does. (Having been an artist for some years and given away many paintings for nothing, I totally understand where he is coming from!).

I have to admit to feeling a certain affinity with this book having been one of those who proof read it for Anita before publication. Then, as now, as I read it again, I just love the amazing descriptions of semi precious stones, reminding me of biblical descriptions of the temple, so detailed that you can begin to picture them in your own mind. I’m a creative type and these kind of descriptions capture me, leading my imagination in a dance of colour and shape and pattern. But this book is not even really for me, it’s for children who I am sure will be as captivated as I was.

Francesco is a devout man, balancing the voice of his heart with that of his clearly long suffering wife, Elisabetta. This is not just his story but one of him learning to forgive himself. Is he simply a fool, as his customers rudely proclaim, or is he a man with the generous heart of an artist, delighted to see his work desired so much?

‘And so I carve gardens of unfading flowers, in which I place a singing bird on a golden bough, to keep a drowsy emperor awake with his eternal songs’. 

This is a one of those books you’ll want to keep forever! One for the grandchildren. If you’re a parent you might know what I mean. Our bookshelves are full of hundreds of kids books, some less dull than others. There’s some old favourites, a bit tattered around the edge, some losing the cover, one with a bit of juvenile srawl on a few pages. But then there are a few that get looked after. They are the ones the children ask for almost with a sense of awe. These are the ones with beautiful hand painted illustrations, or the ones with the quirky story, or the ones that Mummy had when she was ‘little’. Francesco’s story is one of those. Not only is it a lovely story but it’s a book that you will want to keep. A book you will want to read not just to your kids, but to your grandchildren, or maybe, even to yourself.

Anita Mathias

Anita Mathias is the author of ‘Wandering Between Two Worlds’ (Benediction Classics, 2007) and blogs at Dreaming Beneath the Spires. You can also visit her at Facebook or on Twitter.

The book is available on Amazon for just £3.99

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