Thursday, 17 March 2011

LAPBOOKS: Michelangelo's Surprise ~ By: Tony Parillo

We are still putting the "finishing touches" on our Michelangelo lapbook.  It was inspired by "Michelangelo's Surprise", a colourful storybook written by Tony Parillo.  The book is now due, so I thought I would post about it, before putting it in the book return slot at the local library.

The book is based on an event that took place in 1494 in Florence, Italy when, "after an unusually heavy snowfall, Piero de' Medici, the ruler of Florence at that time" summoned "the young artist [Michelangelo] to his palazzo to make a snowman."  Michelangelo did not disappoint and sculpted a snowman with a human-likeness and not just the typical three balls of snow propped on top of one another!

I recently came across a New York Times interview with Tony Parillo, by Donna Greene.  It was published on January 17, 1999.  Here are some excerpts:

Q. What prompted you to do a book about Michelangelo?

A. I've been interested in him as an artist and in the time period he lived in my entire life, really. My dad, who was a commercial artist and obviously an Italian, taught me who Michelangelo and Da Vinci were when I was really a little kid. I knew who they were before I knew who Washington and Lincoln were. So I was always interested in them. In the course of reading about the time period, at one point or another years ago I came across this anecdote in biographies about Michelangelo.

What they say is, It snowed very heavily one night, which was not a common thing for Florence. Michelangelo was 19 years old, and he had been living in the palace when Lorenzo de' Medici was still alive. Lorenzo de' Medici had been his patron. But after Lorenzo died, Michelangelo moved back to his father's house. This snowfall happened a year or two afterward, and Lorenzo's son, Piero, wanted to have a snowman built in the courtyard as entertainment. So he remembered this kid from when his father was alive and had him brought to the town and had him make this snowman in the courtyard.

Q. By 19 he was famous enough to be summoned to do this?

A. Actually, at that point he wouldn't have been famous. At that point he would have probably been the one person the prince wouldn't have to pay because he was still an apprentice.

Q. Is the snowman you depict based on what Michelangelo actually sculptured?

A. No. In my initial draft of the book, I used as its basis a small, eight-inch clay statue of a project that he would have been working on at that time. But in editing the book we decided that statue wasn't right. It was a standing sculpture and it was too high off the ground and Michelangelo wouldn't have been able to reach it the way I drew it. So I changed it to a sitting statue, and I took the liberty of inserting the face of God the Creator from the Sistine Ceiling. It's a book about Michelangelo. It's a book to introduce children to his work, and that would be a way to slip a reference in.

Q. Through this book you are trying to acquaint American children with Michelangelo?

A. Right. But it's not just Michelangelo, it's that time period. It would be fun to think of kids looking at the pictures in the book and wondering: Why are people dressed this way? Why do the houses look like this? Why are those paintings there? Also, it's a way to introduce them to the idea of history in general, that when people lived at a different time period things were different.

Q. How did you determine the authenticity of the clothes and other aspects of the period?

A. It's not that I thought up the idea for the book and then did research. I have been interested in this time period really all of my adult life. So I've read a lot of general books, and I've read a lot of general art history books and a few scholarly books on this. I have bookcases filled with reproductions of paintings from this period. I've read about all aspects -- the political life, the economic life, the social life and how it relates to art. So I have a lot of this stuff around. And several years after I came across this anecdote, when it occurred to me that it was the kind of subject that might make an entertaining children's book, I kind of had everything on hand.

Q. Who do you think is a greater artist, Michelangelo or Leonardo?

A. That was a time period that was particularly rich for artists. I think it's really difficult to make a choice as to who is greater. I think Michelangelo's influence in the long run was probably greater because he completed a lot more work and what he did with a figure turned out to be a lot more innovative. His manner of treating the figure is something that influenced artists after him. But Da Vinci is probably just as great and, not being an art historian, I'm probably not qualified to judge who is better.

Q. Didn't Leonardo have more of a diversity of interests? He was also a scientist and did other things?

A. Well, the products of his diversity are a lot more well known. But Michelangelo was a military engineer for a while as well. There was a siege in Florence later on in his life, and it was after he painted the Sistine Chapel. They called on him to be a military engineer and help in the city's defense. All artists at that time did everything. They just didn't sculpt. They had to design pageants; they would design everything from costumes to toys. There is a story of Da Vinci designing a mechanical lion to entertain the court that would walk and would open its mouth. And instead of sound coming out there were a bunch of lilies that came out of the mouth of the lion. This whole thing with the snowman with Michelangelo's part and Da Vinci being more than just a painter, this is representative of the age.

Q. What do you think they would have done with the computer technology of today?

A. I think they would have used it quite a bit. Michelangelo burned all his drawings when he finished whatever project he was working on. Those were his working notes.

Because with a computer you can save what you were working on and then do a variation, they would certainly have used computers as a tool, which is what they were designed to be.

Q. Do you think there is anyone that has come along like them since?

A. That's a hard question to answer. There are certainly people with that kind of talent and ability, and there have certainly been things that have come along in art that have been as exciting. But there is something about that time period. Maybe it's that it was just so long ago and it's got this sort of patina of romanticism about it. But the time period itself contributed to them being a certain type of person.

Q. Also, the concept that artists could have a patron to take care of them must have made a difference.

A. The entire economic situation for artists and the whole way society worked was so entirely different.

Q. Do you think if we met someone like Michelangelo today we'd appreciate him?

A. You can't compare the eras. Today images are so cheaply produced. I don't think that kind of person is going to happen any more. It's too easy to alter an image. In those times there was a tradition of making things with the hands. And this had great status, and the job market was different and the mind set was different.

Q. Do you get the feeling that Michelangelo and Da Vinci could have been anything they wanted to be?

A. I think so. And Leonardo was known as a musician, too, and an engineer. And Michelangelo wrote poetry and was an architect. In those days to be an architect was to be a builder. People are more specialized today. Whatever talent you have you have to focus it on a single thing.

Q. Bill Gates is said to be a genius, and he put his ingenuity mainly into computers?

A. Right. But he recently bought Da Vinci's notebooks, so maybe he has plans we don't know about.

According to the back of the dust jacket, Parillo is a teacher, graphic designer, and illustrator with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting from Pratt Institute.  "Michelangelo's Surprise" is his first picture book, but I am sure it won't be his last!  He lives in Lincolndale, New York with his wife and son.

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