Francesco, Artist of Florence The Man Who Gave Too Much on Amazon.co.uk
Might your children, or your favourite children, or you yourself, enjoy my lavishly illustrated first children’s book, Francesco, Artist of Florence—a meditation on art, beauty, creativity, forgiveness and self-forgiveness set in Florence of the Renaissance?
Scroll to the end of the post for reviews.
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Francesco, Artist of Florence: The Man Who Gave Too Much
The child gazes at the jade parrot on my jewellery box, her eyes bright and fascinated.
I come to look too.
The perky parrot grasps a cherry. He is surrounded by carnations, cosmos and lupins.
I love that little pietre dure jewellery box which I inlaid with semi-precious stones! I thought it would make a good bridal gift.
The little girl stares at it in silence, and glows. She is captivated.
“It’s twenty florins,” I say. It took me three hours to carve it, but the hours were joy.
And Signora Farnese bows, and looks helpless, and the child looks up at her, understands and her face collapses, but they both keep standing there, keep looking at it, the bambina on tiptoes.
And I say gently, “Signora, would you like it?”
She nods. Her little daughter nods vigorously.
“How much can you afford?” I say, resigned, wishing I had remained silent.
“Seven florins,” she whispers.
I wrap it up, for the bambina has not lifted her eyes from the parrot since she entered the shop, and I would like the little box to go to one who loves it.
And the child goes out, holding it aloft, like the Corpus Christi itself, and I am repaid.
My little pietre dure studio in which I “painted” with inlaid precious stones in Marble was always crowded. After Duke Ferdinando I de’ Medici started collecting treasures in pietre dure, every Florentine wanted what the Medici had.
And so they thronged into the Via Ricasoli, coveting my vases, fountains, and the bowls in which I inlaid gems, creating birds which would never cease singing, and flowers which would never fade
And if I could have held out for a good price, perhaps I could have made as much money as it was rumoured Michelangelo did, or Leonardo or Masaccio. Cosimo de’ Medici paid Donatello, Brunelleschi, and Michelozzo 600,000 florins! 600,000 florins!
Perhaps I am lacking in ambition.
But my happiest hours are when I forget everything and time is no more as I work with the wafers of precious gems that the craftsmen from Ferdinand’s laboratory,
Opificio delle Pietre Dure, let me have cheaply–lapis lazuli, jade, moonstone, topaz and amethyst. I feel the smoothness of carnelian and jade beneath my fingers as I carve wild
flowers which will never wilt, and dragonflies that shall never die.
Working with them is my great good luck!
As I carve, beauty appears. Pietre dure–inlaying semi-precious stones in marble–is indeed painting for eternity, as Ghirlandaio says. 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.
“Francesco, Francesco, stop all this carving. How many days has the shop stayed shut while you carve and carve? Go and sell what you have made.” Elisabetta stands in the doorway of my workshop, her hands on her hips.
I sigh and leave to open up my shop.
And as they see me pull up the shutters, people bustle in from the Piazza del Duomo.
My heart swells when they freeze and point at the clock I placed in the window, black marble inlaid with butterflies that almost flutter.
But why doesn’t somebody buy it?
Me, though Elisabetta calls me an old fool, I never ask people to sell me things for less than they want to. If that is what they want to sell it for, I buy it, if I have the florins. If not, I bow and leave.
But my customers. Bargaining! Infinite bargaining. And it makes me sad, for I price my treasures so that those who really want them, and are willing to sacrifice for them, can have a little loveliness in their homes: a cameo, a bowl, a table.
For I have longed to work with semi-precious stones I could not afford–with malachite and onyx and jasper. I have yearned to own pietre dure treasures in jade and lapis lazuli which I also could not afford. I cannot bear the thought that anyone should yearn for beauty as I have, and be unable to have it.
And so I price my art so most people can afford it, and our family can have pigeon occasionally, and I can buy Elisabetta a new brooch, and set something aside for Lucia’s dowry, and for old age, when arthritis might stiffen my fingers.
But no matter how low my prices, they are never low enough.
As they throng through, Signora Stallardi says, “Francesco, Caterina will be married at the Duomo next month. She is marrying a Ridolfi. I see you have marked four hundred florins for your marriage chest, but could you let me have it for three hundred?”
Three hundred florins! I smile ruefully. I have probably spent that on the gems which now gleam in the inlaid surface of the chest. However, if I sold it and took home three hundred florins today, perhaps Elisabetta might be happy…I run my fingers over the cool stone. I remember melding those precious stones together, my eyes rejoicing in the harmony of colour.
And I remember Caterina as a bambina, her eyes brimming with suppressed laughter; she would love my chest, as would her bambini. And I cannot argue with Signora Stallardi, who played chess against me as we grew up in the Via delle Oche—and always won!
“Si,” I say.
As she steps out into the street, I hear her say, “Thank goodness Elisabetta wasn’t there. That old fool! He’d agree to anything.”
And so my day goes. Girolamo, who wrestled and played football with me in the Piazza Santa Croce, wants my table, which is exactly like the one in the Palazzo Medici Riccardi. I’ve inlaid all my wafer of semi-precious stones in those intertwined lilies and roses. I had wild hopes for it.
“Now, now, Francesco. No more of that; we are old friends,” he stood there, arms akimbo, brushing aside my objections.
“No, not less than a thousand florins, Girolamo,” I say. “It is the most valuable piece in my shop.”
That would cover my costs, and pay all bills for a few weeks.
“Three hundred!” he says.
Would that even cover costs?
My head spins as I try to calculate, but I can see that he will not leave without the table, so I sadly sell it to him for four hundred florins
And I can see from the suppressed glee on his face, that he too believes I have been a fool, and that he will go home and gloat.
I go home, my money bag jingling with florins, which I pour onto the sala table. How beautiful is that heap of gold with the gleaming fleur-de-lis. Elisabetta is indeed happy, until I tell her what I sold to bring them in.
“Francesco, Francesco!” she cries, “You are just recovering the money you put in! This is no way to run a business.”
“But we have enough to pay our bills. We pay our taxes,” I protest.
“The money we spend on marble and gems is flowing back, yes, but we are barely saving anything. Carrara and Pietrasanta are
charging more and more for marble. We cannot afford to do business like this.”
“But we are living, aren’t we?” I falter. We have argued about this before, but it always confuses me.
But I bow my head for I sense she is right. Nobody else runs their business as I do.
However, when I see the eyes, the captivated eyes, the longing eyes, even the shrewd, greedy eyes of those who desperately want what I have made, I forget how much each piece cost. I just see the eyes of those who want my art.
And when I overhear people say, “He practically gave it to me,” I am filled with shame. I should have fought harder to get a fair price, but haggling is not in my nature.
However, when Cosimo de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, reined in his horse, pointed at my little table and murmured, and his secretary gave me a thousand florins, when I would have asked for six hundred, these things happen too.
And that paid all bills for a long time.
“There are the generous too, Elisabetta. There are the good. We eat, don’t we? And as for Lucia’s dowry–see how her beauty shines! Perhaps much will not be
We go to Mass at Santa Maria Novella, and the text is from Saint Matthew. It says the Lord will care for us as he cares for the lilies and the birds.
I glance at Elisabetta, but she looks distraught.
And I look at Masaccio’s La Trinità, the father upholding his suffering son.
I pray, “Lord, I am your lily, even as those I carve. As the birds of the air are yours, even so am I. Will you not protect me? Protect my family. Elisabetta says I am no better than a child. Let me come to you as you let the children.”
And we pray the prayer He taught us–that we must forgive our enemies as we hope to be forgiven.
I bow my head and forgive my old friends who put their interests above mine. Who kept asking, “Dear Francesco, won’t you lower your prices?” And then offered me even less, after I did so. Who plead poverty when they are rich. Whose words cannot be trusted.
These are my friends and neighbours with whom I went to abacus school, and one day I will be buried with them outside this church.
I forgive them. I cast their offences into the depths of the sea, as the Lord Jesus will, I pray, cast mine.
If I meet them tomorrow, I will meet them with a smiling face and open heart, having forgiven them, though I pray I will be wiser, firmer, for a man must learn wisdo
m from his folly.
Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.
But there is one I have not forgiven, and he is the hardest to forgive.
The greatest enemy of my family, though an unwitting one, who wished them nothing but good.
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I, who worked so long and hard on the table, fit for the Medici, and then just let it go to Girolamo who bullied me. I do not think I made a profit on it, and I dare not calculate, for it will make me sad.
I, who cannot resist the longing in the eyes of a child, or the worry in the eyes of a father, scraping together a dowry.
I forgive myself, I say. For being too willing to please. For being so easily manipulated. For giving in to the impulses of the moment. For the soft-heartedness which makes me an easy prey.
Numbers are cold, and one must deal with them coldly, but I deal with money with my heart, not my head, and how I have disappointed Elisabetta!
I must forgive myself, as I forgive all of them.
I forgive myself for how easily I gave away the fruits of my fingers, my time and labour. I forgive myself for sacrificing my interests and my family’s for my customers who cared only for their own interests.
I forgive myself for my weakness, as I forgive those who took advantage of that weakness.
I look forward to the latter day of eternal beauty, which shall be for all creation.
I look forward to the day of eternal flowers, and the everlasting banquet when the hard-nosed shall sit with the soft-hearted, when it will be safe for the lamb to be gentle as he sits down with the lion, for the lion will now be gentle too.
I look forward to the day when time and money shall be no more, and no longer shall we need to take advantage of our neighbour, but we will dwell trustfully together in the eternal city of pure gold, whose walls are made of jasper, whose gates are made of pearls, and whose foundations are sapphire, emerald, ruby and amethyst.
Francesco, Artist of Florence The Man Who Gave Too Much on Amazon.co.uk
Anita is an Oxford English graduate – not one of those whose faces have been screwed and desiccated by criticism of others – instead her use of words is honest, wide-eyed and lyrical, sometimes breathtakingly so. I respond to her writing with delight as one curious human being to another, almost as a child might.
Which is fortunate, since Anita Mathias‘ new book “Francesco, Artist of Florence” or ‘The Man Who Gave Too Much’ is a small, poignant testament to goodness. It is “good seed”. It takes good people to create other good people and Francesco the Florentine, always selling his beautifully inlaid work at ridiculously low prices, is a good, good man. He has no head for business, he justifies his knockdown prices by all kinds of emotional acrobatics, and worries that his wife will scold him for not making enough money.
This little book is about forgiveness, not least in learning how to forgive ourselves. For this reason, children of a certain age, full of misdemeanor and transgression, unless their fundamental goodness is established early and they learn that “forgiveness of trespasses” carries with it a completeness and totality that extends even to their own follies and mistakes, often fail later to practise the delicate but necessary art of forgiving themselves.
This book is a small, beautifully illustrated tool in the hands of an artful, imaginative parent. It should be read aloud to children, talked about, prayed with.
Anita is a master of awe and wonder. The illustrations perfectly complement a little story with the same captivating prose as “The Little Prince” and will be the kind of book that will remain on a child’s shelf, like a favorite stuffed toy, and when they are grown , they will read it again to a new, wide-eyed and curious little person.
Adriana Cunningham of Classical Quest has written a review that is itself a work of art.
I was certain my daughter would appreciate Francesco, Artist of Florence: The Man Who Gave Too Much by Anita Mathias. I read it aloud to her, pausing occasionally to answer some of her questions and take careful note her responses to the images and text. It turned out to be quite a pleasurable and enriching experience for us.
We were amazed by the lush, colorful images of pietre dure in the book.
Francesco’s first person narrative helps us envision the unique struggles and quandaries an artist might have faced during the European Renaissance.
In the most tender portion of the book, Francesco turns to God in prayer and forgives those who have taken advantage of him. He then forgives himself for being weak. He resolves to henceforth approach his profession with greater wisdom and discernment. He envisions the “latter day of eternal flowers, and the everlasting banquet when the hard-nosed shall sit with the soft-hearted.”
Kim Murden’s beautiful review is also a joy in itself. Check it out.
Here’s an excerpt.
Anita’s story is illustrated with fine photos of the most exquisite work; precious stone, laid like wooden pieces in a marquetry picture, birds and flowers, scrolls, fruit, and carefully arranged tessellating shapes. Such fine colours laid against shining black marble, I notice how the natural grain of the stone is married to the shadow and contours of a fruit or the wing of a bird, the stems of the flowers are impossibly fine and the veins in the wings of a butterfly executed with a precision and symmetry that seem impossible.
Francesco, Artist of Florence: The Man Who Gave Too Much, is a brave children’s book: brave in subject and brave in human sentiment and spirituality. The starting point for this story is a sixteenth century artist who work in pietre dure.
In a culture where almost all the most popular children’s fiction occupies a relatively small range of possible worlds, Anita has ventured into a rare time and place, a foreign cities, lost treasures and the exceptional yet ordinary people who made them. Not content to stop there, she ventures into the emotional tensions of an artist’s life: an artist who must believe in himself and his gifting even when he receives no recognition or reward for his work.
Francesco is a artist who loves his work, bestowing upon it an almost sacred significance, creating flowers that will never fade and birds that will never die. With every selection of stone, the colours and the grain, its sympathy to the final picture, he is creating beauty that will never die, and “painting for eternity”.
Yet Francesco is troubled, a victim of the astute bargaining skills of his customers and his over ambitious ideal that every eager customer should own something of beauty for their own home. He is not a business man. Francesco must live with the pressure of his failure to make enough money and the wrath of his disappointed wife who constantly reminds him he has not provided for the family as he should.
In church, under the gaze of Masaccio’s La Trinita, Francesco brings his weaknesses and failures to God. He must forgive the friends and associates who have taken advantage of his kindly nature and robbed him of the reward that is due for the art, but most of all he must forgive himself. He must show himself mercy, he has not fulfilled responsibilities for the un-paid bills and the much needed savings. Towards the end of the story he says to himself, (or maybe to his God),
“I look forward to the latter day of eternal beauty, which shall be for all creation.
I look forwards to the day of eternal lowers, and the everlasting bouquet when the hard nosed shall sit with the soft hearted, when it will be safe for the lamb to be gentle as he sits down with the lion, for the lion will now be gentle too.”
This is a spiritual book aimed at children but can be enjoyed by adults alike.
This is a real family book. There is a rich vein of situations in the book that make good discussion points for children, whether it is love, greed, family priorities or forgiveness.
Adults can think about the messages of the story, which, as the story is a good parable, are many.
Small children will just love the illustrations.
I wonder if this book should be called The Man who Loved Too Much. At its heart, it is a book about love. Love of art and beauty and love of a family, and someone who loves so much he puts others ahead of himself.
It is a story of someone who sees the true value of money and puts relationships and beauty above gold coins. This does get him in trouble with his family though and his neighbours think he is foolish and mock him for his generosity.
This is an unusual book that can be read in the time it takes to have a cup of tea. But to rush through the book is to do it an injustice. I read it and then went back to reread it, savouring the images that glow from every page. For the illustrations are as much a part of the story as the words.
Francesco, Artist of Florence is a small book that you will want to hang on to and look at again and again.
This is a great little book. It deserves to be read on a couch, all cozied up, ideally with a child in your arms.
It’s a quiet and slow-paced read, without the razzmatazz often present in children’s books. It reminds me of the European fables I read or heard growing up, those by Leo Tolstoy.
In Francesco, Artist of Florence: The Man Who Gave Too Much we head to Renaissance-era Italy, where Francesco — a pietre dure artist — sells his inlaid, cut-stone creations. He’s a softie, to be sure, and finds himself in conflict between his heart and his family and his customers. We find out not the “right thing to do”, but how we respond when we feel that perhaps we didn’t do the right thing.
My 7-year old enjoyed the story. Even with the calm-and-easy telling of the story and her can’t-sit-still nature, she was happy to rest on my lap and just listen as the story unfolded. The first thing she said she liked about the story was the pictures, which surprised me. The pictures are traditional — both pietre dure pieces and Renaissance-style portraits — and I didn’t expect her to be engaged. But the opposite took place: she was intrigued by the bright colors and unique style of art.
It’s the message of the story, though, that’s the very best part and the reason I’d recommend this book to all parents and those that influence kids’ lives — both for the kids AND for themselves! Learning to make mistakes, learning to accept our weakness without giving it free-rein, learning what our souls need when we’ve been wronged — this is essential stuff. Anita Mathias gives simple, accessible, engaging instruction via story on taking care of our souls when we and others mess up.
It’s a story my daughter needed to hear and it’s a story I needed hear — and probably more than once.
Today, I have the pleasure of reviewing a really cool children’s book (maybe 8-years old and up) called “Francesco, Artist of Florence”, by Anita Mathias.
I think that this book has a really good lesson for all of us, kids included, in what passion for what you do looks like, and about how rich forgiveness is. . It is also beautiful to look at, and is illustrated with actual Renaissance-era art. Check it out!
Uplifting & engaging. This is a real treasure. A beautiful parable interwoven with stunning artwork. Highly Recommended! Jonathan Barber
A charming story which moved me to tears (partly because I can really relate to Francesco!) A simple but powerful prose style together with beautiful illustrations makes this a jewel of a book. I’m getting my Dad one!
As someone who wouldn’t necessarily define themselves as Christian, the Christian message of the book sat very well with me. It didn’t feel in the least prescriptive or preachy, but rather had a universal appeal. Daniel
A delightful short story that touches on themes of integrity, forgiveness and diligence. Both the images and the illustration of human nature will stay with you long after reading. I highly recommend the works of Anita Mathias – who like this story would seem to be an undiscovered gem, with a gift for revealing matters of the heart through the written word. A captivating read for both adults and children alike. A Carter
Francesco, Artist of Florence: The Man Who Gave Too Much is a delightful story about an artist who painstakingly creates beautiful works of piete dure—pictures created by inlaying precious stones in marble. But he regularly allows people to take advantage of him when they barter to pay less than his art is worth. He cannot haggle with neighbors and friends.
Although it is billed as a children’s story, young children might not grasp the major thrust. It is not about standing one’s ground against people who violate you but about forgiving. And Francesco learns to forgive not only those who take advantage of him—but to forgive himself because he lets them do it. Nevertheless, children would enjoy the story, and eventually appreciate the message of forgiveness. I was deeply touched by the man’s heart so poignantly portrayed.
In addition, the artwork was almost unbelievably wonderful. And there are so many pictures, a veritable feast. On the left side of every open page, the text. And on the right side of every open page, what would you like to see illustrated in a book about piete dure? Piete dure, of course! High-quality photographs of the Renaissance art form feature exquisite singing birds, flowers in all stages of bloom, luscious fruit causing branches to hang low. And more. I had no idea the medium could be so intricate and so lovely. Furthermore, each illustration corresponds to Francesco’s work as described in the text.
And to add more loveliness, some illustrated pages feature copies of what I can only surmise are Renaissance paintings. I’m not even a fan of this type of art, but again, the chosen works beautifully and appropriately enhance the text.
Anita has a lovely way with words. One of my favourite things as a child was reading books that captured my imagination as well as my heart. Francesco’s story does both.
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 reallyfor me, it’s for children who I am sure will be as captivated as I was.
This is one of those books you’ll want to keep forever! One for the grandchildren. 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.
As you enter into Francesco’s world you get a glimpse of 16th century Florence, an exquisite place of art and beauty through the eyes and hands of one of its struggling artisans, who introduces you to its residents. Reading Francesco’s story is a bit like taking a stroll down one of the cobbled streets of Florence, as you meet his neighbors made up of former schoolmates, children and a mother desiring to provide a worthy dowry for her daughter.
The book includes rich and vibrant illustrations of pietre dure that go hand in hand with Francesco’s story.
Although Francesco is a children’s book, readers of all ages will walk away from Mathias’ tale having had an enjoyable journey into this artisan’s world and experiencing the beauty and artistry of Florence and pietre dure.
This delightful little book is a little gem.
Anita brings us a story that brings a 16th Century Florence Artist and his family to life and takes us on a journey of forgiveness. Forgiveness for others and most importantly for ourselves.
He may be considered weak and a fool, but he is lovely. In part a reminder of Jesus.
When I read the last paragraph aloud I was choked with emotion…honestly Anita, you have written a beauty!
Simon Cutmore– it is a gem of a book and a beautiful parable and I think could be read by you and old alike.
Joanna Mitchell– I thought it was lovely – sweet and true and good — – and a bit like one of Francesco’s jewels.