Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Master's Apprentice

The Master's Apprentice

Rick Jacobson
Illustrator:  Rick Jacobson , Laura Fernandez 
Historical Fiction Picture Book
For ages 7 to 9
Tundra Books, 2008   ISBN: 978-0887767838

Marco has come to Florence from his home in Venice to serve as a Michelangelo Buonarroti’s new junior apprentice. Marco’s father is a master chemist who creates beautiful paints for artists like Michelangelo, and Marco has learned many of his father’s secret recipes. He is hopeful that his skills will impress his new master.

Michelangelo is famous for his bad temper, and when Marco arrives at the master’s home later than expected, he is on the receiving end of this temper. Clearly, Marco is going to have to be careful what he does and says around the volatile artist. Soon Marco also understands that another apprentice, Ridolfo, will do anything to get rid of the competition. On Marco’s first real day of work, Ridolfo tells Marco to go to the chemist to get ultramarine for the master, and though Marco cannot understand why Michelangelo would send him to get such an expensive color, he does what he is told. The chemist laughs at Marco for coming to his shop without money in hand, and Marco has to go back to the master’s house empty-handed. The master soon realizes that Ridolfo tricked Marco into doing the false errand, but he is still very angry.

Not long after Marco’s arrival, Michelangelo gets a letter. He is being summoned to Rome to work on an important project. Marco soon finds out that only one apprentice will be accompanying the master. Somehow he has to convince Michelangelo that he has skills that are valuable, but Marco does not know how to do this. Maybe if he makes a beautiful color for the master, he will be the one to go to Rome.

Loosely based on a story from the life of Michelangelo, this special picture book paints a picture of what it was like to be an artist in Italy in 1503. It was a hard life, with many painters pursuing just a few patrons, and all of them hoping that their next commission will be the one that will make them famous. In the case of Michelangelo, the commission he was hired to do in Rome was indeed the one that would make him admired for centuries to come.

Seen through the eyes of a young boy, this story is both entertaining and enlightening. Readers will get a sense of what it was like to be around the temperamental Michelangelo, and they will enjoy learning about his world.