Research and Recommended Reads

A lot of people ask about the research that went into my art historical novel, Oil and Marble. I’ve been obsessed with Michelangelo, Leonardo and the Italian Renaissance for over 20 years (I’ve read every book I could find, crawled into the back of dark library stacks to track down obscure documents, studied art at the University of Pisa, driven up and down the Italian Peninsula, and been on a pilgrimage to see every work on public display by Michelangelo), so I can’t give you an exhaustive list of every piece of research I’ve ever conducted…

But in case want to read more on these artists or their times, here’s a list of some of my favorite books (including other historical fiction set in the time period) and some sources that influenced this novel in a significant way.

(Use these links to jump to the topic of your choice)

Michelangelo        Leonardo       Renaissance Florence       Fiction


Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King (from a few years after my time period, but it will give you extraordinary insight into Michelangelo. Plus, it’s a great read)

Michelangelo: The Artist, the Man and His Times by William Wallace (I’ve read a ton of Michelangelo bios and this one is both enlightening and entertaining… I may be biased as I briefly studied under Dr. Wallace, but if you want a great intro to Michelangelo’s life, this is one of the best out there)

Michelangelo: A Biography by George Bull (5 Stars if you want a big bio)

Michelangelo by Howard Hibbard (before Wallace and Bull, this was my Bible)

Young Michelangelo: The Path to the Sistine: A Biography by John T. Spike  (LOVED this book and felt closer to Michelangelo after reading it)

Il Gigante: Michelangelo, Florence, and the David 1492-1504 by Anton Gill (this story centers around the creation of the David, so it was invaluable for me)

Michelangelo: A Tormented Life by Antonio Forcellino (Sometimes an odd, obtuse book, but it sheds light on parts of his life that are often left in the dark. If you really want to go down a rabbit hole with Michelangelo, you probably can’t beat this read)

Michelangelo’s Mountain: The Quest For Perfection in the Marble Quarries of Carrara by Eric Scigliano. (If you want to understand Michelangelo’s obsession with marble, this is the book for you)

Three Worlds of Michelangelo by James Beck. (Explores his relationships with his father, Lorenzo de’ Medici, and Pope Julius II — three of the biggest influences of his life)

Michelangelo: Complete Works by Frank Zöllner (this is one of those HUGE Taschen books. And it’s awesome. The pictures are, obviously, stunning, but the stories are also enlightening. Just a flip through this tome should inspire you)

Complete Poems and Selected Letters of Michelangelo (If you want to get to know Michelangelo, you can’t top reading his own words. His letters are often about mundane domestic and financial affairs, but his poetry spans the gamut from love to death)

The Life of Michelangelo by Ascanio Condivi. (The artist had complete control over this biography, making it as near to an autobiography as we have. You can practically hear Michelangelo ranting in some of these pages).

The Life of Michelangelo Buonarroti by John Addington Symonds. (Published in 1893, this is the first modern biography of Michelangelo. If you want to get back toward the roots of Michelangelo scholarship, this is the best place to start).

Charles de Tolnay’s five-volume study of Michelangelo. (You may have to dig in the back stacks of a big library to get your hands on these books, but they are invaluable if you really want to study Michelangelo)


Leonardo da Vinci: Flights of the Mind by Charles Nicholl (Hands down the best bio of Leonardo. One of my favorite reads of all time)

Leonardo and the Last Supper by Ross King (from a few years before my time period, but Ross King begins to crack into Leonardo’s soul…)

Leonardo’s Notebooks (There is no better way to try to crawl into the mind of Leonardo than to spend quality time hanging out in his notebooks. Pick any collection — I happened to like the way this one was laid out — and dive in)

Anything by Martin Kemp: Leonardo, Leonardo Da Vinci: The Marvelous Works of Nature and Man, Leonardo on PaintingLa Bella Principessa: The Story of the New Masterpiece by Leonardo Da Vinci… (Kemp is the master of Leonardo. To hope to understand Leonardo, you must read Kemp)

The Science of Leonardo: Inside the Mind of the Great Genius of the Renaissance by Fritjof Capra (LOVED this book – there were some great stories, great insights, and looked at Leonardo in the way he very well may have seen himself).

Da Vinci’s Ghost: Genius, Obsession, and How Leonardo Created the World in His Own Image by Toby Lester (Explores Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man, but gives wonderful insight into Leonardo’s mind)

Leonardo da Vinci: Complete Paintings and Drawings by Frank Zöllner (another of those brilliant Taschen books. Get up close and personal with the beauty of Leonardo’s work)

Leonardo’s Universe: The Renaissance World of Leonardo DaVinci by Bulent Atalay and Keith Wamsley (Love this book — large, coffee table book-type. I returned to it time and time again…)

Leonardo’s Machines: Da Vinci’s Inventions Revealed by Domenico Laurenza and Mario Taddei (there are lots of books that explore Leonardo as inventor/engineer — but this one was probably my favorite)

Leonardo da Vinci on the Human Body: The Anatomical, Physiological, and Embryological Drawings of Leonardo da Vinci by Charles Donald O’Malley and John B. Saunders (anatomy was such an important part of Leonardo’s studies, I think this kind of an approach to Leonardo’s mind is invaluable)

Renaissance Florence

The Lives of the Artists by Giorgio Vasari (This is the original source — first published in 1568 — for much of what we know about Renaissance artists. If you want to get closer to these great masters, start here. Plus, Vasari is a great storyteller)

The Lost Battles: Leonardo, Michelangelo and the Artistic Duel That Defined the Renaissance by Jonathan Jones (For great historical recounting of their rivalry)


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